You can tell you’re getting older when GROGMEET seems to come around more quickly than it did. Now in its fourth year, this is the annual meet up of the GROGSQUAD (listeners to the podcast) in Manchester. It’s a get together to play great role-playing games from the past or new editions of games from the eighties or games with old-school sensibilities (and some new ones from today to muddy the waters).
I now have to accept that it can be no longer described as a “one-day event with a few extra bits”: It’s an entire weekend of gaming where great GMs bring their best work and the players are always energetic and pleased to be participating. It’s a huge team effort, thanks everyone.
Last year the venue was a bit wonky, but this year the wonderful FanBoy3, Manchester’s terrific FLGS, opened its doors to us and made us feel very welcome. Thanks to Heidi and her team for being tremendous hosts.
“You must be very proud of this,” someone said during the day. Proud? All I’ve done is hire a room and arranged for people to be in the same place at the same time. What makes me proud is when come to GROGMEET and say, “thank you, I haven’t played for XX years, thanks to the podcast, me and my mates are back together again.”
Playing a part of reuniting old friends feels special.
As usual, I will give my personal experience of the event, with 5 highlights and a fumble.
Hosted by Old Scouse Role-player, Neil Benson, this is an OSR fringe event on the Friday afternoon. 5 Wardens (GMs), 5 tables of 5 players in a race against time to set the self destruct on the research vessel USS Arkhangelsk and to evacuate in the escape pod in crazy plan to destroy the weird dimensional rift that has dragged the spacecraft out of hyperspace.
The scenario* is a collaboration between Neil, Sam Vail, Rick Knott, Steve Ray and Dr RPG Griff, each of them have developed a fiendish, stress-inducing encounter as the crew make their way through a ship that has been compromised by demonic Gaunts.
I was a super-sub, called off the bench because Griff had lost his voice to laryngitis and the sub-titling machine was in repair. I focused on atmosphere and tried to keep it at a pace to cover-up the fact that I didn’t know what was going on. I think I got away with it.
The Mothership rules are okay in play. I’m new in the Old School so probably didn’t graduate because when the players came up with good ideas, I let them do it, “can I apply this array of skills to boost my chances?” Sure! “It there a mechanical quad-bike in the bio-dome?” Yes! It goes at the speed of a milk-float and you have to pre-programme it! During the break, it came clear from my fellow wardens that I needed to ramp up the stress.
The android has a distinct advantage that it can keep its head when all around people are losing theirs. The stress mechanic works well as the horror builds and the characters start to panic, while the skin-job creepily carries on obliviously.
When the characters panic, they have to roll on a table, stress points are added to the roll, it seemed to hit the “dies instantly of a heart attack” a little too often. Someone pointed out that they need to watch their cholesterol levels.
The dash for the escape-pod resulted in a bit of player verses player action: a hand-welder verses a sub-machine gun. The androids and ‘Mercy’ the teamster blasted off into space with ‘Free Bird’ booming through the pod.
A cracking start.
“You have a choice; violence or space-dust”
I’ve never been in a game GMd by Neil despite playing with him regularly for over 3 years.
Solar Blades and Cosmic Spells by Diogo Nogueira is a very rules-light game set in the pulp science fiction worlds of Flash Gordon and John Carter of Mars. We began the adventure as prisoners in a strange Panopticon when the doors suddenly open and we have the chance to be free.
In minutes I’d snapped the neck of Slit-Face the gang leader and appointed myself de facto numero uno of the place and had chance to rouse the other gangs with rubbish Henry V-lite speeches.
Now I understand the OSR; it’s all about the hit points, and losing them.
Through various improvised moves and acts of cunning, we managed to get to the control centre where all Hell broke loose. Old Scouser Role-playing came alive when our characters were facing death. There were only a couple of points between success and complete failure. The life-force was from our group was whittled away roll-by-roll as we had a last grasp chance of escape.
“Get out, or you’ll face Dura-hell at the hands of Copper-brain”
I’ve been on the hunt for Worlds of Wonder to add to my Chaosium collection for a couple of years. It’s always over-priced so I’m applying Zen-like patience in a hope that it will eventually become more at a more affordable level.
Paul Baldowski was great as the GM who worked with us to produce an adventure that was Marvel in the Matrix.
There were some very funny scenes involving Arachnid-Chap and Reckless Demon as they prevented the new civic museum being destroyed by the evil Copper-Brain and his fiery assistant Barbra Cue.
Failed rolls were in abundance as we tried to punch, swing, leap into action. “Can I push the roll?”
“I’m afraid you’ll need to wait for 35 years.”
“Okay, I’ll take the the duck …”
More BRP in the afternoon, this time, the stripped-down version, OpenQuest, devised by D101 Games Newt Newport. This was a playtest of the third edition of the rules, which are currently in development.
We were agents sailing on the seas of fate, intervening in worlds that we encountered on our travels. I took the Duck Sorcerer who immediately needed to be disguised as a dwarf as the land we visited didn’t recognise Ducks.
Newt wove-in some lovely eccentric folk-horror characters as we went on our quest to recover the Stone of Ossric. I liked the farm boy who wanted to be a monster hunter. He carried his granny’s eye in a jar filled with slime, saying it could detect enemies.
We pushed him to the front obviously.
I like OpenQuest, its an unfussy system that allows players to be tactical, I’m looking forward to the new edition.
Getting back on the horse …
I ran a game at Go Play Manchester on Sunday afternoon (a little something extra, because you can’t have too much). Regular followers will know that I ran VURT, the powered-by-Cypher-system game set in Manchester created by Jeff Noon) at Owl Bear and the Wizard’s Staff earlier in the year.
I was disappointed as the game never really took flight. The players were confused rather than intrigued by the adventure and the setting.
The world is a near-future where citizens of Manchester move into a consensual dream-space for entertainment by injesting feathers. Some of the VURT experiences are legal, others are prohibited because of their dangerousness.
I framed it differently this time by providing a more direct mission for them to solve at the beginning, added in some time pressure to keep up the pace and was better at using GM intrusions to inject interesting consequences.
The players loved throwing in the Cyphers – pollen bombs, speed-suppositories and pheromone sprays. I’m still not sold on the system, and I think the setting is a little too oblique if you’re not familiar with the novels, but it worked much better this time.
Fumble: Broken breakfast
Blythy and I started GROGMEET with an excellent breakfast. We even had a beer with it, we were on our holidays after all.
The final breakfast on Sunday wasn’t as successful. There wasn’t enough space for us at the swanky hipster place where everyone else was, so we went to another place nearby.
The best we could manage from a menu filled with yak’s milk and avocados was ‘Beans on Toast’. When it came, it was ‘deconstructed beans on toast’. You had one job people, one job.
Next: GROGMEET scrapbook
* the scenario will be available for download in the patreon GROGLOCKER early next month.