Sunday, 26 February 2017

A hobby for everyone

So I've got this setup I call "Choose your adventure" and I go to odd places trying to convince people to try out tabletop RPGs.

Part of this is going to Geek Retreat in Birmingham once a month. This has been a bit like pulling teeth so far - and I certainly don't intend to post about every one of my visits.  However, something happened today which was a bit special.

When I got there, it was a bit busier than it has been recently. It seems to be attracting lots of regulars in the late teens/early twenties bracket. Lots of Card games being played - mainly Magic - the gathering. There was an RPG going on. I heard later that they were playing "The Actual Cannibal Shia LeBoeuf" RPG but I suspect they must have been playing something else as well. I know (from refereeing it myself) that TACSLB doesn't take very long to play. (If you want more details ask.)

A couple of guys showed an interest in my set-up, especially my Dr Who stuff (based on my Code of the Spacelanes rules). They were joined by Sam, the owner, and a couple of Magic players. They requested a one hour demo with pregens as the Magic players couldn't go too long without getting another fix of their CCG. The game was gonzo fun with one of the players rolling a double and deciding that the Tardis had ended up in the Year 3000 in a world that worshipped "Busted". So what if the cybernetically preserved Busted when try appeared (Charlie, James and Oliver, apparently) had the same stats as Soloman and his robots (my original antagonists)? The players didn't notice and everyone had a fun time.

But then it was back to "Billy no mates" time. And I was considering knocking the rest of the day on the head and - possibly - not coming back to the store on spec again.

Then an older lady (I feel cheeky saying that - she was younger than me) came in with a teenage French boy. He was staying with her to improve his English. He was a gaming nerd and she'd brought him into town to visit Games Workshop. They'd referred them to Geek Retreat (after he'd bought some Necrophids-?- Warhammer 40K figures.) I was trying to chat to him about RPGs when I noticed two very young girls (early teens?) wandering around the store looking lost. I asked if they wanted to try a game like D&D and one of their faces lit up. She said she'd always wanted to try the game. She twisted her sister's(?) arm into playing. The French teacher decided that her charge wasn't ready to take full part in the game yet but she decided to play herself and sort of involve him through a running commentary.

So I had a table of all female players who'd never played before, from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, and decades apart in ages, with a French lurker. I was so pleased to have a full range of genders and cultural types available as pregens. The game was an absolute joy. It was only Matt Colville's "the Delian Tomb" played using The Black Hack but it was great. The older French teacher played very tactically, and the younger girls were on the edge of their seats with excitement. It was one of those games where they rolled badly and things got very tense.

Then a dad (30s or 40s - very working class) turned up with his son (7/8 ish?), who'd just wandered in, asked to join in. It was the most diverse table I'd ever had. None had ever played before. And they all just joined in together and had a fantastic time. The French student is going to be coming back as part of his training. The dad is going to play the games with his son to try and wean him off the PlayStation. AND he's coming back to Geek Retreat, without his son, but with a mate to play more. I don't know if the two girls were converts. I think one of them was. But THAT'S why I'm doing what I do. The simplest dungeon in the world using the simplest D&D rules bringing together a group of people of different ages, genders etc. who'd never played before all laughing and playing together.

This truly is a hobby for everyone.

Kickstarter - things no-one tells you

So I launched my first Kickstarter today.

Things they don't tell you:

1. There is very little structure in the initial setup. I was expecting lots of separate sections to fill in but, basically, it's just one long document called "your story". You format the stretch goals, images etc. yourself. Minor but worth knowing.

2. The site tells you it takes 3 days to get approval. My project was approved in 3 minutes. Took me by surprise. I guess easy low target ones like RPG rulebooks are checked by an automated process.

3. And the irritating one....... as soon as you go live hordes of vultures descend offering to promote your project - all offering you a "special offer". I've reported all off them to KS as spam but I doubt it'll change anything.

Just thought I'd share in case anyone else was considering it.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Wonderful AireCon perk

Something really great has happened. In March I'm going AireCon, an "Analog Gaming Convention" in Harrowgate. Though it's a fairly new convention, the organiser's clearly have big ideas. A couple of weeks ago they sent out a code giving attendees 25% off rail travel. I think this is a really cool perk. They just said to show your Convention ticket if requested.

Wanting the perk as a freebie I wrote back and pointed out that as a "guest" I don't actually have a ticket. Today on my email I receive a special guest e-ticket, with Bar Code, QR code and everything!

It's wonderful working with professionals!

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Choose Your Adventure - Sunday 26th February

If you enjoyed Spaghetti Conjunction 1a - just a reminder. I'll be at Geek Retreat on Sunday 26th February, ready, willing and able to offer a table role-playing game to anyone that wants to play. Whether you've got an hour free or the whole afternoon - I'll be there from 12:00 noon until 7:00pm.

You can race tripods on the Victorian Colony of Mars, carve your own Legend as a Superhero saviour of the city, use Swords and Sorcery in a epic quest for ancient treasures, face Horrors from beyond this mortal realm or ply the Spaceways in search of SciFi adventures.

Whatever genre you fancy for however much or however little time you've got - do I have a story for you!

If you fancy popping along, just drop in or feel free to comment and let me know what you're looking for.

Convention sign up systems

An appeal for calm:

When you have a gaming event, you need some way to allocate players to games. There are two broad approaches to this:

1. Pre-booking - the games are advertised well in advance and then players can book into individual games before the event takes place. (There is a SUPERB, free, on line facility that handles this for you called "Warhorn". But this post isn't about Warhorn or the PFS.)
2. You sign up for individual games at the event.

There are of course, mixed economies. Limited presigns with some spaces kept for allocation at the event is common. But these two approaches are broadly the alternatives.

Neither approach is right or wrong. There is no perfect way of handling game allocation. Each has its own pros and cons.

Presigning - you know before you go if you've got the games you want to play or - in the case of the referee - if you've got players. Makes your planning easier and you can decide whether or not it's worth going to the event. Makes the event look more organised and professional. Forces referees to think ahead and plan ahead, encouraging them to be more professional in their approach.

And prebooking is pretty much essential for large conventions.

However, as a referee, sometimes planning ahead can be difficult. It goes against spontaneity. To decide months in advance what adventures you feel like playing is hard. By the time the event comes around you might fancy running something different.

Also, prebooking favours those "in the know". There are some excellent offerers of games out there. People prize participation in their games. They hover over the website waiting for the bookings to go live so that they can get to the front of the queue to get the games they want. This seems fair but it means that casual gamers never get to experience those games. Also, it can sometimes look a bit like stalking when the same players choose the same providers games over and over again.

Being huge, UK Games Expo uses a prebooking system for its RPGs. It is a superb system. However, there is a couple of seconds lag when payments are taken as the system communicates with the banks about credit cards. Sometimes referees are so popular that so many people are trying to book their games at the same time that extra bookings are made during the lag. That's why you sometimes see "-1" bookings. I think I've seen up to -4 bookings at some point. This means at least ten people, probably more, online simultaneously trying to get into 6 available spaces.

By definition players who are new to the hobby or who aren't able to commit to a particular event months in advance receive a more limited choice.

And there's the problem that often people book a slot in a game and just don't turn up. Sometimes this may be unavoidable - due to traffic etc - but there are people who book slots speculatively without making an absolute commitment to turning up. Even when an event is chargeable, like at Expo, people will buy tickets and not turn up at the table.

Signing at the event - unlike prebooking, which uses a pretty standard template - there are myriad variations upon systems used for signing at events. Sometimes game details are advertised in advance - whether formally or informally. Sometimes you don't know what you're getting until you see the sign up sheets. Often there's a free for all as the sign up sheets go up, which may involve "shoving". Sometimes there's "muster".

But most of these variations occur because the organisers are seeking to be "fair" to everyone.

Signing at the event favours people who are more spontaneous in their approach. Referees can get a cool idea for an adventure on the train on the way down, write up a quick sign up sheet and stick it up. Players can just turn up without preplanning, browse what's available and pick something.

The variation in approaches makes each event special and unique.

There are always people who will seek to take advantage of particular sign up arrangements to get into the games they want. But, in general, these arrangements gives everyone - including newcomers to the hobby or event - a more equal chance of getting into more popular games or play with more sought after referees.

However, it IS more chaotic. You cannot guarantee when you pay for you train ticket, hotel and entry that you're going to get into any games you want. Referees can offer games and get no players. You're then left rooting around for a space to play in another game which - by definition - will be one of the less popular ones. This has happened to me several times and can be particularly galling when you've spent ages preparing an adventure and/or transported special or bulky resources for the game.

There is no silver bullet. No ideal solution. If there was, it would have been universally adopted by now. Different people favour different approaches. Personally I'm happy with any system as long as it's clear and the organisers do their best to make it fair. I slightly favour signing at events over prebooking but I'm happy to participate in events that prebooking games.

Actually having different events offer different systems means we get to cover all bases. Popular events which book out to the "professional" gamers at some events might be available to new or casual gamers at others.

Problems occur because everyone wants to get into games they want to play. Unfortunately some people forget that everyone ELSE also wants to get into the games THEY want to play. And they have an equal right to do so. Some people get upset if the system of allocating games at a particular event doesn't automatically let them play in exactly the games they want. They'll moan, complain, boycott the event - throw their dummies out of the pram, basically.  This has nothing to do with the system of allocating players to games. It's more about selfishness and unwillingness to try something new if they don't get their first choice. Everyone has an equal right to play in a great game - especially newcomers to the hobby. We want to be inclusive, don't we?

One final thing. What DOESN'T work is to try a mixed economy of prebooking and sign at the event as two parallel systems. Some large events completely segregate "organised" and "classic" games - each having their own systems. And that seems to work.

Others integrate them - for example prebooking some spaces and reserving the others for signup at the event. This also seems to work.

What doesn't work is having some games presigned but saying people are free to offer games for signing up at the event.

Gamers fall into three groups. Those that favour presigning and will book their games in advance. Then there are the die hards who determinedly wait to sign up at the event.

In the middle is a large group waiting to be led. They just give the website a quick peruse. When these gamers see the prebooked games filling up, they panic. They don't realise that there are going to be more games on offer for signup at the event. So they fill their weekend with presigned games.

The upshot is that, come the event, most players are signed up to prebooked games. You can offer a game for people to sign up at the event but you won't find many players, if any. Over time people stop offering spontaneous games and they're squeezed out in favour of the presigns. I've seen this happen at two conventions that I know of and it can lead to resentment.

Organisers need to choose one method or the other and stick to it, rather than trying to be all things to all people.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

The first ever Spaghetti ConJunction

I've attended loads of game conventions but Spaghetti ConJunction is the first one I've been involved in organising.

It wouldn't have happened without four very important people. James Mullen and Pookie were my co-organisers and I wouldn't have had the balls to take the plunge without them there to share the risk, responsibility and workload. Andy Hopwood who jumped in as minister without portfolio, offering his advice and support based on his own experiences of running events. And Sam, the guy who's opened and runs Geek Retreat in Birmingham. The perfect location for the event.

And, of course, the wonderful guys at Concrete Cow whose ideas and organisation we ripped off for all it was worth.

I had a bit of a ropey start. I said I'd get "Tombola Tickets" for the sign ups, but they were delayed in the post. So we had to use raffle tickets instead. I also said I'd bring a cash box, but I couldn't find the keys. So my Saturday morning was spent waiting for a shop to open where I could get a last minute replacement.

Then, of course, I fretted and fussed. Would we get enough people? Would there be too many? Not enough games offered? Too many? Would everyone find the place on time and would we get started according to our ambitious timescale?

As it turned out, I needn't have worried. Everything went smoothly. About 40 people turned up - a nice number for the space and for a first event. There were loads of games and several didn't run in the morning. But all the prospective GM's seemed happy to play instead.

I had six players for my morning game, Martin Pickett's wonderful "The Great Martian Tripod Race". The players chose to go the "Scientific Romance" route with paranormal elements, so it was very in the vein of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen".

The characters were:

James Coldfield - the werewolf mechanic.
Bradley Hyde - a hunter who used his difference engine to plot the routes of his prey
Luke "the antithesis" Cooper - a silver tongued campaigner for the rights of Humanity.
Noah Carlisle - a "trader" (thief) with the ability to adopt a ghostlike form
Zaccariah Zoddoff - a gentleman, and leader of the team


Rodney of Mars - a Martian outcast, shunned for his unnatural telekinetic abilities and raised by humans (currently acting as Zaccariah's bodyguard.)

From the very first scene, this was an absolute hoot. Highlights included the hunter staging a fake pursuit of the werewolf to cover the thief's robbery of crucial tripod parts from their Martian rivals. A hunt that rapidly degenerated into a pitched battle between the Human and Martian teams - sparking a diplomatic incident which nearly precipitated a war. Rodney telekinetically debagging the 80 year old swords mistress who was carving him up, in order to buy time for him and his comrades to escape. Zaccariah being tricked into marriage as he was forced to indecourously and publicly grope an ambitious young gold-digger in order to retrieve an important document secreted about her person. Rodney TKing the human mech around the course. This was first time that the scenario ended with a marriage taking place beneath the triumphant tripod. Great players, great fun.

Eating lunch during the first game meant that the break between games was a relaxed affair. Given the number of players vs. games I decided to scrap my afternoon game offer. I went around chatting and most people seems to want a repeat event, many in less than a year. We pulled the raffle after half an hour. There were loads and loads of good prizes. I'll let you into a secret - I'm not a huge fan of raffles at conventions. I was determined that ours wouldn't drag on and managed to bang through over 20 draws in well under ten minutes.

Afternoon sign ups went well and I was pleased to see two referees who'd missed out in the morning getting a full table of players in the afternoon. Also pleasing was her number of people arriving partway through, just for an afternoon game.

I signed up for Chris Dean's "I love the Corps" game. We've been circling and supporting each other at conventions for a couple of years now and it was nice to see one of his games through to the end. (I pass my character over to a newly arrived player and tootle off to start a game of my own at the introductory events we tend to go to.) Immensely detailed and well thought out, the game was a bit combat heavy for my current tastes up front but really took off when Chris pulled his neat "twist". I'm not going to reveal it but it was a good one. Chris is a high octane, high action entertainment kind of GM rather than a laid back facilitator and I can see why his games are so popular.

At the end there was bugger all tidying up to do because it was a games cafe and the staff did it all.

So, thoughts on Spaghetti ConJunction. I'd say it was a nice "games day" event rather than a full blown convention. But well worth doing and, if everyone stays on board, well worth doing again. Watch this space.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

London Anime Con 2017

I've been to London Anime Con a couple of times before. It's held twice a year at the "Rocket Complex" of the London Metropolitan University. It's a quirky and - it must be said - slightly tatty venue.

The bright and noisey website offers all sorts - with CCGs, board games and RPGs alongside all the Cosplay, guests etc. In reality these are all based in an out of commission, slightly out of the way, cafe area, which isn't ideal.

The whole RPG element of the anime conventions across the country has been spearheaded by a great guy called "Mr Purple" and, sometimes, this has been a thankless task. He's persevered, though. Hero!

In the past we've struggled a bit getting interest. And accommodation in London isn't cheap. So, though the convention is theoretically Friday to Sunday, I've never attended the Friday. I've even travelled down and back on Saturday and then separately on Sunday. It's cheaper than staying down there and gave me the option of knocking Sunday on the head if Saturday was a bust. This time, with the support of my wife (2nd weekend out of three on the trot RPGing - thanks love!) I booked a hotel to stay overnight. I also chose to travel Birmingham Moor Street to Marylebone rather than New Street to Euston. This has traditionally been cheaper, slower and less reliable. Nowadays though, there isn't much difference in the time and I've had some nightmares trying to get out of Euston on a Sunday evening.

I packed my "Choose Your Adventure" kit, got up at stupid o'clock Saturday morning and set off. The only glitch was forgetting my iPad. I can handle all my stuff on the iPhone (I'm typing this report on it now) but it's all so much easier on the iPad.

I got to the convention before it opened. Found the RPG room. There was no-one there. I was pleased to see Purple had invested in a table cover and some stands. (I wonder where he got that Idea from?) There was already an impressive but eclectic display of RPGs on offer, mainly microgames of the "Lasers and Feelings" variety.

I swept them to one end, added another table and set up my display.

There was good news. Purple has built up a team now and there were six of us.

There was bad news - the current renaissance in board and card games meant that the tables were stacked high with loads of colourful  offerings to take punters' interest away from MY offerings.

As usual, things were slow starting. Visitors have to filter their way through the convention to the Tabletop room and then usually take a look and say they'll come back later. Purple is clever, opening up with easy games to hook them and then gets them into more challenging ones. The big success was Jenga. There for a Dread game (which never ran) it just attracted player after player and crowds. I played several games of Alien Kerplunck, exploding kittens, one night Werewolf before running an RPG. (Apparently a full game of werewolf is perfect for a scout troupe).

Across the day I ran my The Black Hack and Code of Steam and Steel intros. But I also made contact with two anime artists about my forthcoming anime game and got my games mentioned on two podcasts. I was even interviewed for one. (I could see his eyes widening as I explained all about the story of Golden Heroes and Superhero RPG theory. I think I gave him more than he was expecting.)

So it was a fruitful day. I didn't stay for the evening shennanigans with the youngsters but retired early to the hotel to do some bloggjng.

On Sunday I ran The Black Hack, again, The Comics Code and The Code of the Spacelanes. These were just introductory games but were fun as always.

I also started to play in a game of "Frontier" a well designed forthcoming sci-fi game, refereed by its creator. He's from Greece and was refereeing at an RPG convention in English for the first time. Impressive. I say, started playing. It was the usual case of playing to make up the numbers to get the game going and then passing my character off to an interested bystander.

I also refereed a session of the "Actual Cannibal Shia Leboeuf" microgame. This is basically just a slasher/monster horror movie RPG with a neat mechanic that I was able to pick up and run on the fly. I think I did OK. The ending was perfect. The last surviving character trapped in an overturned fire engine, petrol dripping all around, rummages around and finds an emergency defibrillator. As the monster approaches she uses it to set fire to petrol, killing them both. Perfect. A draw.

I left slightly before the end of the convention to find my way home.

This convention has a very young demographic. I need to be sure that it's appropriate for me to attend. I'm pretty sure I put off a couple of people who might have played if they'd been offered a game by someone more their own age. But, I wasn't the only older face there (parents accompanying their offspring was a feature) and most people seemed to appreciate my games.

An anime convention is a safe space for devotees to feel comfortable wearing a wide variety of Cosplay so I won't give my personal opinion here except to say that most of it is extremely impressive.

An anime con definitely isn't for outsiders. I have a soft spot for the genre and can hold my own. (I can tell the difference between Dragonball Z and Attack on Titan.) But I helped over a dozen people experience Tabletop RPGs for the first time, widened some people's experiences to games outside D&D 5th, met other designers and gleaned numerous ancillary benefits. I definitely think it was worth me coming.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

One week to Spaghetti ConJunction

Less than a week to go until Spaghetti ConJunction, the new one day roleplaying event here in Birmingham to be held on Saturday, February 11th, 2017. We are looking forward to seeing you and providing a venue to play some great games, but in the meantime, we have news.

Spaghetti ConJunction has a website ( as well as Google+ community and a FaceBook group. Just search for Spaghetti ConJunction.

Game Announcements
We have nine games announced for the day so far and would welcome more so that you have as much choice on the day as possible. If you want to run a game on the day, please let us know so that we can post the details.

Here is what we have so far:

The Great Martian Tripod Race (The Code of Steam and Steel)
Kong Island Rangers (The Code of Shōjo and Shōnen)
28 Trains Later (I Love the Corps)
Pandora's Box (I Love the Corps)
The Wounded Wisp (Pathfinder)
Perfect World (Dead of Night)
The Score (The 'Hood (PbtA)
Interstellar Rescue: Mindjammers are Go! (System Mindjammer (2ed))
Dropship Down (Blue Planet)

Charity Support
Both the profits and the raffle money raised from Spaghetti Conjunction will go to its designated charity, Birmingham Children's Hospital Charity ( We already have a handful of raffle prizes that will be available on the day, but we are looking for more. If you can offer a raffle prize, please let us know.

News to come
Geek Retreat will be offering a menu on the day itself. We will have more more information about the menu soon.

Geek Retreat 29th January

Another thing I forgot to post about:

As I said, last Sunday I went to Geek Retreat in Birmingham to offer to run RPGs.

It was a bit slower than I'd hoped. My plan to run a sprawling drop in drop out game across the day never materialised. But I got to introduce a 6 player table to D&D using The Black Hack and Matt Colville's "Delian Tomb". And run a short Steampunk game.

Chris Dean, my "gaming nephew", was there running his "I Love the Corps" game, and I got to sample this at last. I joined in as a player so we could get a game going.

Great fun! He doesn't have a "Constitution" stat - in his game it's called "Drop and give me 50". As always, his table rapidly filled with enthralled, happy, players. They requested a follow up, so it looks like HE'S got a regular group there. I'll be back in February, to give it another go.

Contingency 2017

This is a bit of belated post. (If you're going to blog, you really should try to keep up.)

A rather special event happened last week. Contingency.

For a decade or so, there used to be a superb convention in the first couple of months of the year in the South West called Conception. It spanned 5 days, was residential and was pretty much all RPGs. Hundreds of people went making it the largest dedicated RPG convention in the country.

Thousands and thousands go to UK Games Expo, of course, but that includes board games, card games - in fact every type of Tabletop game. So it's not a purely RPG convention. Conception was the big RPG con.

Last year it became clear that Conception had to be cancelled. The owners of the Holiday Camp hosting it came up with a new business plan which couldn't accommodate Conception.

We were all gutted about it.

But some people - spearheaded, it seems to me, by a single visionary - had the bright idea to set up replacement convention at about the same time - Contingency. At first sight this seemed a daunting task - to replace a huge, long running convention, built up over years with one thrown together in just a few months.

Initially I threw my hat into the ring to help organise the "classic" Roleplaying games. However, I had to pull out when it became clear that I simply couldn't trust the British Rail system to get me down and back reliably.

So I didn't go and can't give a first hand report on what happened. However, from what I've read, it all seemed to go rather well. Given the scale of the task they set themselves, the fact that it happened at all with no major glitches is nothing short of a triumph.

It just goes to show what one woman with a vision can achieve. Well done!