TLDR: excellent, friendly convention organised through Twitter at a superlative venue.
The In a world made up of Venn diagrams, WinterCon exists in the intersection of many:
- it is an outgrowth of on of the many "Go Play" franchises held monthly across the country.
- It is one of many small conventions now being held at the wonderful Fan Boy 3 store in Manchester
- It is one of the many small - what I call "pop-up" conventions - now being organised through Twitter
- It is the second convention in the UK called "WinterCon". Though, to be fair, the other is called "Wyntercon" (with a "y"). Both wonderful but don't get them muddled up. They are VERY different
The "Go Play" events have been on my radar for the best part of a decade. In fact when I was writing the series of paperback diaries that preceded this blog - I was constantly nagged by one of them (Go Play Leeds) to include them. To date I haven't, because they're regular single game slot local events. More like a club than a convention - wonderful as they are.
WinterCon was basically a special edition of a regular Go Play Manchester event which had two game slots in the day. This qualified it as a convention in my eyes, and also makes it cost effective to make the journey to Manchester.
GPM is held at a wonderful venue. Fan Boy 3 is more of a games store than a games cafe - its catering facilities being very limited. Its shelves hold reams upon reams of games and accessories and it's well worth a visit just to browse for special items. I'll admit even I was tempted to buy some #TTRPG terrain! This was my third visit. It is clearly run by gaming enthusiasts who know what their clientele want. (The have a vending machine full of MAGIC cards!) It is simply the best venue of its type that I have ever visited. Superb!
Across 2019 I saw several events being arranged purely through Twitter. Twitter is a far more seductive and intimate digital platform than, say FaceBook, blogs and websites. People really interact with and feel as though they "know" each other. As such when somebody says they're thinking of running a convention, everyone in their circle piles in and encourages them. People who would never even think of going to conventions will attend these events. Because they feel safe with the people they already know and they can allay any fears by direct personal interaction with the organisers - and referees and other players - in the run up to the event.
These events are usually micro-managed with players being personally allocated to games well in advance of the day. And this is what happened with WinterCon.
So I am on Twitter, saw the event proposed and threw my hat in the ring as referee. I already knew the venue, organiser and likely costs. I was accepted.
The thing about Twitter is you get to experience the run up to the events as much as the event, which is a pleasure in itself. The moment I particularly enjoyed was when the organiser was surprised at the level of interest. He'd been planning on it being an extension of GPM and hadn't factored in the additional interest from the twitterati. He expanded the number of tables and I was one of a chosen few allowed to offer two games - morning and afternoon. There were many, many excellent and well known Referees at the event and I was honestly honoured to be chosen.
I offered my standard Blakes 7 adventure. I also offered to run a Judge Dredd scenario, for the first time. Both used my Code of the Spacelanes rules - which are so easy to run at conventions and are basically like giving players a big bag of candy and just giving them permission to eat as much as they want.
Blakes 7 and Judge Dredd? Wow! I'm really current, up to the moment and tapping into the zeitgeist aren't I?
I'd had the idea for the Dredd scenario for years but never had a chance to offer it. A Manta Prowl Tank crew downed in the Cursed Earth being picked off one by one in a futuristic version of an Agatha Christie whodunnit.
As it was a one day, two slot event, preparation was easy. I just booked a train ticket and printed out the new Dredd character sheets.
The Dredd character sheets proved more difficult than I'd imagined. Finding appropriate images was hard - with the Big Man himself dominating image searches. I also found it difficult to differentiate between different Judge characters. Lawgiver, Intimidating, Judge cover the three main attributes of the game and would be a perfectly playable character.
I ended up just sticking the images on the sheets and left the players to fill in the details.
As the overall costs were going to be relatively cheap, I chose to pay the tiny bit extra for an open return than saving a bit by buying advance singles a few weeks in advance. I could also go a little bit later than my usual "stupid o'clock" which meant trains were running from my local station and they are a lot more reliable than the buses.
So getting packed and travelling was an absolute doddle. The train was a cross-city train which - unlike Virgin - has fully functioning free wireless. And load of attendees were tweeting as they travelled. Fun.
Fan Boy 3 is a short 5 min walk from the station. I'd got lost when trying to find it in the past but the combination of Apple Maps and my I-watch took me straight there. (I've finally found a use for the watch!)
I arrived at 9:50 and people were already waiting outside. FB3 opens at 10am on the dot. * We all flowed in. Within 10 mins the organiser was making his opening speech and we call found our tables. I already knew that my game had four players though I hadn't paid any attention to their names. Within minutes they were at my table and we'd started.
To be honest we were going before I'd had my usual 5 minutes to set up, so I felt a bit disorganised.
A quick chat discovered that all the players were fans of Dredd from "back in the day" but none of them were super fans or followers of the modern more gritty take on the character. Phew!
They seemed happy with the blank but illustrated character sheets and pretty soon we had:
- Judge McCoy from the med-division. A glass cannon. Useless in conflicts but possibly the best Med-Judge in Mega-City One.
- Judge Scotty - a tek-Judge (do you see a theme here?) - actually a useless engineer but really good at blogging his way through life. (He was being played by a scouser who didn't even bother to change his accent.) His trusty spanner came in handy when his patter failed.
- Rookie Judge Crusher (REALLY!?). I forced the player to take the weakest possible spread of ability scores here.
- "First floor Reg" - the perp with a heart of gold. The locksmith and tech wizard who always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This game was a blast from the outset. Players at these sorts of semi-closed events feel comfortable and just want to have fun! It went a bit off track as they spent too much time in the crashed Tank before setting out across the Cursed Earth. Mainly because Scotty failed to salvage any useful gear and Crusher couldn't seem to avoid rolling 1's. After a critical failure trying to salvage power units from the tank's damaged Lawmasters set off their magazines, he was soon renamed Rookie "Error". But once they got going, thing went very fast as Crusher had managed to resurrect all the injured NPCs who were supposed to slow the group down. My favourite moment was when Reg's player rolled a double and used it to announce that Reg was actually an undercover Judge - a member of the "Wally Squad" - assessing the crew's performance!
The morning slot was a short 3 hours - 10:30 to 1:30 - but luckily the final conflict was resolved by negotiation and compromise rather than a shoot out.
You can buy sandwiches etc inside FB3 but their facilities are limited.* There are loads of pubs etc. nearby to eat at. (My players appeared to be going somewhere called "A pie and a pint".) However, I'm not keen on "unstructured socialising" and have developed a taste for Good Food. I've found a really nice kebab bistro hidden in a side alley just outside FB3 so I went there for a good meal, some craft cider and to catch up on my social media.
In the afternoon, my Blakes 7 game had only garnered one player. So I played in a game of TSR's "FASERIP" Marvel Superheroes. A personable and clever Referee (the organiser of the ConVergence convention - having Kang the Conqueror come back in time to harvest the potions of Kraven, Lizard and Mr Hyde). We were allowed to pick from a MASSIVE range of characters - we could have picked the core Avengers - but ended up with Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast and Captain Britain. Fun players. The guy channeling Wolverine was great, bub! I tried my best to embody Scott Somers' inner Boy Scout calling out orders that were just common sense.
But, by God, what a clunky system! I know I have a history where its release undercut my own game back in the day, but the only thing fun about it were the characters and their emulation was pretty samey.
The convention ended at 6pm and most people went to the pub for a drink and more unstructured socialising. These events double as Twitter meet ups. However I chose to catch an early train home.
When I got home, I checked my travel arrangements for the convention I'd planned to go to on Sunday (Northants games day) only to find that replacement bus service meant I could no longer get to it on time. I was VERY annoyed. That's two conventions - Northants Games Day and Contingency - I'd been planning to go to which the British rail system had barred me from. The trains which got me to Contingency in 2019 no longer seem to exist in 2020. And it's still only January.
Anyway, back to WinterCon. A well organised, friendly, event with the option for quality social interaction - because of Twitter. At a superlative venue.
* I LOVE Fan Boy 3. I have two recommendations, though. They could do with buying a larger/faster/professional coffee machine. And, though they should stick strictly to their 10am opening times, the could do with letting convention organisers (only) in a bit earlier.
The highest standard of referees. Personable and experienced players who just want to have fun. Highly, highly, recommended.
If you're on Twitter.
My costs -
Entry £5. I got I for free as a Referee, so I won't count it in my personal total.
Travel £27.60 - including 30% off for senior citizens travel card (ouch!) Cheaper options available by buying advance singles.
Food/drink - 1 can at FB3 £1.50, 1 coffee at FB3 £2, lunch & cider at "Bab" c. £15 but well worth it.
Personal total: £46
Cost per game: £23
Cost per hour: £7.08