Saturday, 27 July 2019

BurritoCon 3 - Saturday 27th March 2019 - Manchester

BurritoCon3 Saturday 27th July 2019

I can't remember where I found out about BurritoCon. It either appeared on Dave's wonderful master spreadsheet or I saw it being plugged on Twitter. (I've started tweeting more since G+ died.)

Anyway - it was a one day games day not too far from Birmingham - it's in Manchester - on a weekend where I had a spare slot. (You tend to get spare slots late July and throughout August.)

I wrote to the organiser - at quite a late stage - offering to run games. Turns out we knew each other and he remembered me. (I have difficulty, of course, remembering the hundreds of people I referee games for every year.) So he agreed I could offer a game - but only one, he was very strict on this.

As it got nearer the event the reason for this strictness became clear. It's a small, growing, event. Initially there was interest from fewer than 20 people so he booked three tables at the venue for three games in the morning and three in the afternoon and he had game offers from more than 6 people. And he wanted as many people to get to referee as possible.

As interest grew, he changed the booking to four tables so he could offer a total of eight games. (Still limited me to offering one, though).

All eight games were advertised on Twitter and on the organiser's blog. In fact the organiser did a great job promoting the event and it's always better to have a bit too much enthusiasm than too little effort being put in.

The game offerings seemed to be very eclectic. (Great! Just the way I like things.) I'd just caught and binge watched a bawdy Victorian police comedy series on TV and decided to "Hack" my Code Games to offer a game based on it.

I then playtested the scenario at StabCon and it worked. Well.

There's been some debate on Social Media recently about "comedy" TTRPGs and I generally come down against writing a "funny" game. So I didn't here. The only blatantly "funny" things I did were to called the missing Destroyer the HMS Prince Albert and to give one of the pregens a near the knuckle "quirk". The rest was a pretty basic police procedural story.

There was no prebooking. I enquired before the event about whether I should make my own sign up sheet, only to be told that they didn't use signup sheets. Interesting. The first time I've come across this.

Getting to Manchester from Birmingham was a breeze. Google maps let me walk from the station to the event, even going via a print shop to get some last minute printing done. (I bumped into a fellow GM doing exactly the same. Again, I'm sorry, he knew me but I had trouble putting a name to a face.)

We arrived just before the venue opened. It's in an area of Manchester with lots of "artisan cafe's" and loads of attendees had met up for breakfast at a bistro over the road.

We went across when the venue opened. I was towards the front and overheard the venue manager telling the convention organiser exactly which were the booked tables and so I grabbed the first one, sat down, and filled it with my full colour character sheets. Naturally I got lots of interest and could have had a table of six players. (We'd all agreed as Referees on Twitter in advance to prepare for 5 players but to have a 6th pregen ready just in case.) However, the organiser came around and asked if I could limit my table to 5 people as he wanted every table to have a good number of players 4-5. He'd been around counting. So I'm guessing the total attendance was just shy of 24 people. One of the players agreed to choose another game. (But it was a good choice. Apart from my game there was a FASERIP game, a classic IMAGINE D&D Scenario run using the new Old School Essentials and a Monkey game written by it's creator.)

Of the five players I was left with, four had arrived as a group so there were the usual in jokes etc. But I noticed some of the more socially adept of them deliberately working to include the singleton player as, of course, I did.

As I'd hoped and expected, they'd chosen my game because they just wanted to have a good time. So - even with me playing it fairly straight - it soon descended into an extremely adult version of a "Carry On" film. (We even had the gratuitous cross dressing scene). Laughter and gags flew thick and fast. These were entertaining and experienced players who "got" my system and made it do what they wanted. For large chunks of the time they were simply entertaining themselves and I could just sit back and enjoy the interplay. They made the introductory scene last an hour, somehow.

As we played, I noticed that the venue we were playing in was getting extremely busy. It isn't exactly a gaming cafe. It's a games store on two levels with loads of tables and vending machines and drinks and snacks. There was no special entry free for the convention, the players just paid £3 each for their time at the table and, as referee, I got £1 per player in "store credit" for Refereeing. (£5). Apart from our "convention" there was also a large Pokemon event on (one of the vending machines was just full of packs of Pokemon cards) and the shop was full of casual customers. It was the busiest, most successful shop of its type I've ever seen.

The first session ran from 10am to 1pm.  We then broke for an hour for lunch. I found an artisan cafe down the road with passable sandwiches and French toast. But the eating options were myriad. (I presume there has to be a Burrito place nearby).

As you'll have surmised, in the afternoon I had to PLAY a game. (Not my first choice, but still an enjoyable experience.) I stood back to let everyone choose their favourite one first.

Choices were: Heroquest Glorantha, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Star Wars Cassablanca and psychic secret agents preventing the Kennedy Assassination in Berlin. Good selection.

I ended up in the "Ich Bin Ein Berliner" game and was VERY happy with that. This, it turned out, was a well disguised Hack of Lady Blackbird, run by its designer who's tweaking it for publication. (Doesn't need much tweaking if you ask me). Off the books US psychic secret agents "Project Cassandra" foresee Kennedy being killed in Berlin. No one believes them so their bosses send them in to save POTUS and prove the validity of the project in one go. Obviously things don't go to plan.

It's actually a perfect set-up for a mid-budget action movie. Ideal Gerard Butler vehicle.

The characters were very well balanced. Everyone had their necessary role. I was the mercenary type who got a academic and the ex-thief into the city to let them do their stuff. I hope the arrogance of my character - and my luck with die rolls - didn't come over as an experienced player showing off. I tried to sit back and play up the other characters. (And not scream at their analysis paralysis at times.)

The system was basically a dice pool system. These aren't intuitive to me but I understood it pretty much from the start. As I said, I don't see much that needs fixing and it's pretty much ready for publication as it stands.

I paid for my afternoon game (£3 remember) out of my £5 shop credit. Apart from a couple of cans of Coke, the only thing I could find in the shop for £2 was an unpainted metal Superhero speedster figure in a sale box. (When did games stuff get so expensive?) so I asked to have it transferred to the Convention organiser's account and at least one other person copied my example.

Then I came home.

BurritoCon is typical of the new breed of "Games Days" springing up across the country. Just like our own much-loved Spaghetti ConJunction. Rather than a full scale convention, the organisers book a pre-existing venue - such as a games cafe - and just organise the games. Just about everything else is done for them. Today, for example, all the monies were paid directly to the venue using their usual systems.

And it was a really, really,good venue. You'll have noticed in these reports I rarely name people or venues. But this one deserves special citation. It's Fan Boy 3 in Manchester city centre. Large, bright, two floors. Bursting with gaming goodness. Loads of tables. All the snacks and drinks you want at reasonable prices (£1 for a can seems about right to me). It hosted BurritoCon, a Pokemon convention and still had room for scores of other customers during the day. I think they've got stuff sewn up. If anyone thinks about asking me about opening a game store/cafe, I'll simply suggest they visit Fan Boy 3 to see how it's done.

So, with the venue taking so much of the strain, did the convention organiser actually have any work to do? Well, yes. It's only a small event but he did a superb job of matching the number of referees to tables to players. He planned an offering and stuck to it and then trusted the players to respond to it reasonably without any complex signup systems being needed. And he grew the event through relentless on line promotion. Good job.

He's thinking of offering it again in the autumn - and I think he should, though I warned him it's a much more crowded time in the calendar. If another BurritoCon comes up and I'm free, I'll be back in a shot. Really enjoyed it. Really pleasant day out.

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