Sunday, 30 July 2017

Choose Your Adventure - at Geek Retreat - July

Sunday 30th July. It was my turn to host Tabletop RPGs at Geek Retreat in Birmingham today.

As usual I took along my "Choose your Adventure" set up. It was very successful. I had two players interested before I'd even finished laying out my display.

One had played my introductory The Black Hack scenario before and the other was beginning to put her toe in the water with D&D 5th Ed. I do have other D&D scenarios of course but I thought running TBH might confuse her.

(Note to self: get off your backside and put D&D 5th into your setup. It's the one everyone keeps asking for. And easy to do, given the starter set you've got.)

So they chose Steampunk and we started to run my 1 hour demo adventure "Evolution of Species", using my "The Code of Steam and Steel" rules. As we played, we were joined by two other players.

The scenario was as fun as always. This time the evil Prussian vivisectionist was felled by the superior moral arguments of the British aristocracy.

Having got the basics under their belt, they all agreed they were enjoying the game and wanted to continue playing. So they all made their own characters and it was off to Mars for "The Great Martian Tripod Race." Again, great fun as always - the best scene being the characters fighting their was out of the Martian city in a stolen tripod only to run straight into the artillery of the Sky Guard upon reaching the presumed safety of British territory.

The party resolved all the issues very effectively but ultimately had to cheat to win the race.

With a couple of hours left and facing players with seemingly indefatigable stamina, I ran "Superheroes vs Dinosaurs". This is meant to be a bit wild, what with Daleks in the Cretaceous period and all. But it went completely gonzo with Cybersaurs (Dinosaurs with Cyberman tech) and an Ice Warrior spaceship showing up.

This was a group that really embraced narrative control.

Everyone asked about other events at the venue and when I was returning, so I chalk this up as another successful day at Geek Retreat.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

LongCon 2017

Sometimes you just can't do everything. Sometimes two conventions that you really want to attend both come up at the same time. So it was this year with StabCon and LongCon.

I've already written my report on my visit to Summer StabCon from Friday 7th-9th July. Whilst I was having fun in Stockport, over at the Garrison Hotel in Sheffield LongCon was happening. I really wanted to attend both events but I can't be in two places at once so I had to choose and StabCon won. But it was a close thing.

This was the third year of LongCon. It's a unique convention devoted to longer games. Most conventions have several "slots" per day. Typically something like 3 slots of 4 hours each. The games on offer have to fit into those slots. This can produce some fun games but it can mean you miss out on some of the deeper character and story development which are one of the USPs of tabletop RPGs. At LongCon, the great majority of the games run for the whole weekend. There are some "day" games which run just for Saturday or Sunday in case people turn up just for those days. The primary focus, however, is extended two day games, basically mini-campaigns.

Last year I was able to referee and complete the entire, classic, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons adventure "Against the Cult of the Reptile God" using The Black Hack, lightweight D&D rules.

Even though I didn't attend this year, I followed the reports coming out of LongCon with interest.

As is usual with "Garrison" conventions, there is nothing formal organised for Friday night. Personally I wish there was. However, I suspect it's a combination of the staggered arrival time of attendees - many of whom are travelling after a full day's work - and the fact that the Hotel always has other events taking place on Friday nights. I guess that the extra amount the hotel would charge for the use of the rooms wouldn't justify the amount of use they get. Anyway, it's nice to meet up in the bar and people can always organise an ad hoc game of something if they want. This year there was a game to playtest some rules, for example.

The main games start Saturday morning and run until Sunday afternoon. You stay with the same Referee and the same group of players for the whole weekend, taking breaks when it's appropriate for your group.

Apparently this year there were:

a massive impressive looking D&D game
a massive impressive Symbaroum game
a game of "Mage" game
a Call of Cthulhu game set in WW2
two urban fantasy games
and a couple of others. (I know at least one other D&D game was offered along with a SciFi game).

This is a significant increase on previous years, and seems to show that the convention is growing. Apart from the increase in numbers, there were also a number of younger players present.

However, this year, people don't seem to be reporting the events of their games on line. In previous years the game reports were EPIC. It was like reading novels. This time  around people seem to have enjoyed their games but the stories have just disappeared into the ether. That's a shame because I'm sure they were just as memorable this time around as they were previously.

The other odd side effect of the convention set up is that, because you take breaks when it suits your game rather than according to a preset schedule, you're also eating and socialising with the people you play with all weekend. You don't meet up with the players of other games to swap war stories - which I think would be fun.

However, LongCon remains a fascinating and unique event which I thoroughly recommend you get to if you possibly can.

Apologies for my delay in posting this proxy report and thanks to Neil Gow for his report on UK Roleplayers upon which most of it is based.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Summer StabCon 2017 - Sunday

StabCon summer 2017 - Sunday

I've normally left StabCon at Sunday lunchtime in the past. But at winter StabCon I'd stayed in the afternoon to play the Trumpton RPG. So I felt like playing a game in the afternoon this time as well.

When I scanned the notice board Saturday night, however, I noticed several games on offer Sunday morning but nothing on offer for the afternoon. So I grabbed a blank sign up sheet and scribbled up a vague offering. 

When I checked Sunday morning only my friend (fan? Stalker?) who'd played in ALL my games that weekend had signed up. So I posted an invite on Facebook. (I may have posted in the Event rather than on the Page but I'm still quite new to Facebook.)

Breakfast was the same time Sunday as the rest of the week - 7am - so I had plenty of time to review/prepare my Star Wars game,  pack up and nip to the shop over the road for more cash.

Sunday morning is always my ongoing Star Wars campaign. This is played using my Manifold multi-genre rules. I have no idea where this came from. I ran a one off refight of The Force Awakens the year it came out (with original characters) and the players just keep coming back for more. 

This campaign is the main reason why - when forced to choose between StabCon and the magnificent LongCon in Sheffield - I chose attend StabCon.

The group has grown to 6 players but one of them was unable to attend. He was looking after some friends he'd invited to sample StabCon who'd decided to stay the whole weekend. (Another two fish hooked......)

So we had 5 characters - the Mandelorian Mercenary, the Albino Wookie, the not-a-Jedi, one of the two best pilots in the resistance and the force sensitive Twi'lek engineer. Because the last chapter had been too talky and cerebral, I wanted a more action packed episode. So, with the prior agreement of the players, I switched from the usual "theatre of the mind" style to full tactical - with figures and maps etc. I also wanted to playtest some recent refinements to the tactical rules.

As usual, the scenario didn't survive its encounter with the players. Instead of rescuing the ship being pursued by TIE fighters - and having determined that it didn't have a living pilot - they sat back and watched it being destroyed and the wreckage searched, only choosing to get involved by trailing the departing fighters.

 Then having located the New Order secret base, rather than doing the guerilla action sneaking in thing I expected, they tried to blag their way in. Great pilots in this team. Good fighters. Not so much the conmen. You've all seen The Force Awakens. Do the New Order strike you as the kind of people that'd give succour to a damaged ship stumbling on one of their secret installations?

Anyway, eventually they got in and combat was duly joined. If I'd known the players were going to bring such superb figures, I could've left my paltry offering at home and travelled lighter. (I later found out they had some superb terrain as well.)

All the new rules tweaks worked and produced a good battle with just enough tactical options for the players to enjoy. In fact, I forgot about a couple during play which would have given the players even more options.  I seem to have created a mid crunch RPG that's works well but is fractionally too crunchy for my current personal tastes as a player and referee. Interesting.

Anyway, it all came down to the last man standing but they managed to defeat the "not a Sith" whose powers were amplified by the ancient crystal unearthed by the New Order. Physically restraining their own force users - who also fell under its spell - they managed to smuggle it past the approaching New Order fleet and deliver it to "Top Men" in the resistance. Job done.

This is a superb group of players I love reffing for. Knowing the quality of the figures - passersby were stopping and staring - I'll make even better use of them next time. And that glorious Rancour figure WILL be making an appearance.

No-one signed up for my afternoon game so I paid my £15 to book my space at Winter StabCon and headed home.

My thoughts? It remains a great convention with, possibly, the nicest crowd of people of any I go to. And in the world of the Garrison cons and Concrete Cow that's saying a LOT.

My games are generally popular with Sunday morning and now, it seems, Saturday evening being a fixture. My Saturday morning fantasy game didn't run and I would have liked to game on Sunday afternoon. I guess if I want to run fantasy I should stick to The Black Hack. This is a very traditional crowd who like their D&D. Also for the slots which aren't "gimmes" (Saturday morning, Sunday afternoon) I should prepare "event" games - possibly based on quirky IPs  - and produce glossy A4 sign up sheets to actively promote them.

Small beans, though. Simply put I f*cking LOVE StabCon.

Summer StabCon 2017 - Friday and Saturday

Summer StabCon 2017

If you know StabCon, you know StabCon. If you don't it takes some time to get your feet under the table and it's best to have a guide the first time you come. Despite it seeming to be at capacity at one point, it now seems - to me - to have the odd space and there are certainly newcomers who come all the time. Apparently the summer StabCon (it runs twice per year) is less busy than the winter event.

It's mainly a board game convention of c.300 people but there are loads of people who come to play RPGs - mainly in the GURPS, D&D and/or SciFi realm. Many people seem to flit happily between both.

It's also the cheapest residential convention on the circuit IMHO. £15 entry and just over £100 for two nights, including breakfast.

It's organised by a magnificent couple who have been doing it for years and who. Are it look easy. It's looks like they're doing nothing except booking a hotel and leaving attendees to look after themselves. But, in reality, it's well oiled machine with lots of work going on below the surface that makes it run so smoothly. They even print a name badge for each and every attendee. Not standard computer printouts which slip easily into lanyards like most conventions. No, these are hand pressed button badges. That's 300 odd name badges individually created for each convention. That's a lot of work. (But they make great souvenirs.)

The hotel is set up for the convention with reasonable convention food at the bar along with reasonably priced drinks. As much as you can drink free coffee and iced water on tap. Friendly and helpful staff but - as usual at conventions - a little overwhelmed because their bosses don't spring to pay for the extra couple that'd speed things up. But - hey - it's cheap, right?

I arrived early enough to nip over the road (turn left) to the local store to pick up some and relatively healthy table snacks. (I need to drop grapes and savouries on table when other people bring out the chocolates and biscuits I now should avoid.) I ordered a pizza and pint fro the bar. Most convention meals are under £7 but I ordered the mega pizza which was almost a tenner - but well worth it. Enough for two normal people but I was hungry. £3.90 a pint of lager.

My Friday evenings are sorted. I have a great mate I've made here who runs superb Savage Worlds games on a Friday night. It started when I lucked into a game he ran featuring Yorkshire Goblins. This turned into a mini-campaign across a couple of conventions. He then took the group that had been built around those games and ran a more serious extended campaign based upon - and paralleling the events in - David Gemmel's Drennai books. This time he asked us what we wanted and we've just started an Indiana Jones style Dieselpunk game. I'm playing a munitions specialist who got blown up in a tank (his own fault) during WW1 and now has a frame he clips on to replace his missing right arm and leg. The other players are an ex-Chicago Mobster, the world's greatest thief (being able to walk through walls helps) and a famous war hero. 1938 - dispatched by HM government to foil a Nazi plot to acquire an ancient artefact from a Czech researcher in pre-war post "peace in our time" Prague. The plot has led to Mexico - as it does. Magnificent fun. The way our characters unleashed hell on the Nazis was, frankly, awesome. But the  best thing about the scenario was the MAGNIFICENT level of wordplay and puns. When we realised what was going on, we suddenly thought back and spotted all the other ones this superb referee had hidden in plain sight that had passed us by. I'm not going to reveal any here because he's printed off a few copies and you might be able to get your hands on one. I'll try to convince him to publish it. If you like Savage Worlds Pulp, it's well worth a look.

I don't stay up into the early morning, as many people do, playing silly games and drinking potent alcohol. I turned in before midnight. My £100 bought me a family room for three people. It wasn't one of the refurbished rooms and the free wifi didn't reach it. But it seemed more than adequate to my needs.

Until I woke up and found someone had snapped off the control for the shower. Cue an unshaven and grubby Simon heading to reception to point this out. The room next door to mine had no-one in and I was invited to shower in it but not transfer to it. However, an alternative room was found for me before breakfast.

Breakfast is adequate but not as good as it was right after the upgrade. Simple things like putting little packets of biscuits by the coffee and pre toasting the toast were good but the quality of the rest of the food is lower than most convention hotels. It's cheap, yes, but the breakfast was actually GOOD at winter StabCon.

I only had one signup for my morning game and this was a friend who'd signed up for all my Saturday games and who's in my Sunday campaign. It was a playtest of my forthcoming THE CODE OF WARRIORS AND WIZARDRY rules. I guess it didn't appeal to the D&D aficionados at StabCon. So me and my mate decamped to a GURPS game where we played Para's in the Falklands conflict, heading across the island to mark out the minefields. Unfortunately we ran into some nightmare Lovecraft madness - no tentacles but "Colour out of Space" type business. Fun was had by all but I still have no idea what the hell was going on.

After lunch (sandwiches £2, two pork pies for £1) I ran "The Antiquaries of Mars", the second of Martin Pickett's adventures set on the Victorian Colony of Mars for my Code of Steam and Steel game. I love these adventures and really need to do a deal with him to get them into print.

Hired by a shady collector to track down "The Great Martian Sphere" were an ex-soldier, a steampunk version of Macguyer, a local guide and a Russian Countess. Things started really well with the team gelling and overcoming initial difficulties, successfully camouflaging their hover carriage from the local authorities hunting them. Then things went south, with the guide fluffing her roll and leading them straight into the hands of The Great Green Martian Horde.

"You're surrounded by 2,000 Martian warriors," I said "I have no idea how you're going to get out of this." I was telling the truth. Needless to say they did manage to disentangle themselves through clever use of my game system.

Then came the wonderful set piece which makes this scenario so interesting. As usual, the party acquired the sphere but much destruction ensued - in this iteration of the scenario taking their Hover Carriage with it. Luckily it turned out that this Martian sphere was lighter than air and the party were able to escape by throwing a tarpaulin over it and each holding on to one corner.  This led to the wonderful image of them drifting through the air above the Martian landscape - with no idea how to land. Riotous fun as always. Four hours just flew by.

Tea was a bar meal again. Afterwards was my Blakes Seven scenario . I'd been introduced to a lady at breakfast who'd really wanted to play but my game was fully signed up, so I'd pushed the boat out and agreed to run for six players.

Blake, Avon, Vila, Cally, Jenna and Tarrant. It was generally agreed that Tarrant was just on work experience with the crew. The players knew the series and played to all the tropes. The pacing was weird with the introductory section taking almost two hours and the main part of the scenario clocking in at just over an hour. Blake died an heroic but horrendous death, Tarrant turned out to be a Federation plant, the Liberator was blown out of space and the surviving crew were all captured.

Great fun with knowledgable players eating up the scenary. The high point was Vila suggesting that Tarrant be the one to enter the alien atrium full of dead mutated bodies.

"Do I LOOK stupid?" asked Tarrant. EVERYBODY at the table burst out laughing and
simply pointed to the picture on his character sheet.

We finished well before midnight, so I was able to turn in early and record my thoughts on another great day at a great convention.