According to Tabletop Gaming Magazine, GROGMEET is the UK’s favourite “Manchurian” RPG games event; who can argue with that?
Back in the eighties, we would dream about having people to play with and it took thirty odd years for us to reach out and find more gamer friends. What started out as an experiment has become a regular feature of our gaming calendar. This year there were more events as we added a couple of ‘fringe’ meetings for those in the GROGSQUAD who arrived early on Friday and could stay a little later on the Sunday.
It’s now a three day event, how did that happen?
Mad Lab may have changed locations – transforming itself into a replica of Eddy’s shed complete with woodworking tools, 3D printers, and blood-splattered walls (eh?) and there were lots of new faces replacing familiar ones – but the atmosphere was the same as always; GROGMEET creates an enthusiastic, sometimes eccentric, energy fuelled by a friendliness that’s hard to ignore.
A meet-up rather than a convention with an emphasis on games – play’s the thing – but there’s also plenty of grog at GROGMEET as the convivial chats in the pub are often the most memorable moments of the weekend.
It’s a testament to the munificence of the GROGSQUAD that there was a stunning display of raffle prizes donated which generated £402 for Mind (the charity supported by the 24 Hour RPG in 2018).
The following table features five highlights and a fumble from my own personal experience of the event. There are other blogs popping up with different perspectives from The Welsh Wizard, Gaz (from the Smart Party), Guy Milner, Pookie and Keehar.
- GROGFIGHT – an Old School Brawl & Crawl
The Old Scouser himself, hosted an opening fringe event that was ambitious in scope: four tables, four systems, four GMs, in four hours with twenty players moving around which would include an old school brawl and dungeon crawl. The four tables represented four dimensions where the five adventure archetypes had been dispersed by a Soul-Forge that they had destroyed. Shards of the Soul-Forge had been scattered to different dimensions as had the souls of the adventurers. Simultaneously, the characters had to rediscover the Soul-Forge and bring it together. Are you keeping up?
My table was The Fantasy Trip, the MetaGame skirmish rules from back in 1978, designed by Steve Jackson and a forerunner to GURPS.
The location in my dimension was The Lamia’s Lips brothel in Endlespace, a ruined, decadent place at the end of time. This was my homage to the dungeons I created as a spotty teen. The brothel was the kind of puerile juvenilia that might be found in ‘zines in the 80s. I even used the Harlot Random Encounter table from AD&D’s Dungeon Master’s Guide, really.
There were hilarious scenes where the Wizard, whose magic didn’t work in the presence of halflings, was chucking ‘Saucy Stumpets’ off the balcony to land on the blind-fighting, eunuch hobbits below.
When the Soul-Forge throbbed, new players joined the table and the situation was explained to them: “We’re in a tower with a domed roof, with two circular chambers underneath.”
Soon the innuendo became tiresome and the players a bit ‘judgey’.
I don’t think the Lamia’s Lips will be opening again.
2. The Price of Breakfast
GROGMEET eve (6pm-9.30pm-ish) is the more traditional ‘pre-GROGMEET’ slot for newer games or a more experimental approach to older games. Doc Con ‘Cowie’ pitched an idea for West End Games Price of Freedom (1984), featuring the characters from The Breakfast Club, at UK Games Expo.
I was excited about the prospect as the game was extremely controversial in the pages of White Dwarf when it was reviewed. The concept of America being occupied by the Soviets and the armed struggle against the Red army was seen as problematic in the fevered context of the cold-war. Letters to White Dwarf reflected this moral panic. Throw John Hughes into the mix and there’s a winning formula.
The rules have an unfair reputation for being overly crunchy, as it is a war game after all, so in spite of its endless modifications and precise ‘statement of intent’ turn management, the mechanics worked really well for simulating a cinematic, yet lethal battles.
Doc Cowie has an indefatigable energy and the game cracked on at a pace. He offered us the option of three modes of play: ‘Punisher’ mode which were rules as written; ‘Red Dawn’ which meant that the opponents took damage one step higher than the player characters; and A-Team where the ‘death’ step is removed from the player characters. We went for Red Dawn mode and put the lethality to the test immediately at a check-point.
I was flagging a little and my ability to insert John Hughes references into my responses was failing. My reference to Abe Foreman, Sausage King of Chicago, fell on deaf ears as I’d lost the ability to speak due to lack of sleep the night before.
There were some great moments in the game, as well as epic scenes of conflict, the Doc wove in the ‘dad-issues’ themes from the movie which produced satisfying moments.
I got to see Molly Ringwald take down a helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade, so I can cross that off the bucket-list.
3. The Dying Earth
I’m a massive fan of Jack Vance. His Dying Earth novels in particular are a firm favourite, so I was very keen to participate in the RPG based on the novels designed by Robin Laws.
I was Quens a pedantic character who was a master of pettifoggery details who finds himself in The Hotel Grand Perdusz a manse of Urbotast, a magician, who has seemingly trapped the player characters into a contract to be his servants. The morning after the apocalyptic, party the night before, we had to work out what had happened to the previous servants and extract ourselves from eternal slavery.
The hotel had plenty of exotic locations to explore and NPCs to interact with, to piece together evidence: not so much ‘whodunnit’, more of a ‘how did they do it and can we escape in the same way’.
I had great fun trying to extract myself from employment by challenging “a contract predicated on the supposition of negligence” and bamboozling my fellow companions. There were elaborate arguments about haberdashery, petty pugilism over the status of one character over another and moments of hilarity as three different characters were persuaded to dunk themselves, head-first into a septic tank.
The epic escape at the climax hinged on a single dice roll. A real thrill, superbly handled by the GM Steve Ray (@OrlanthR).
If the session was transcribed, it would read like a Jack Vance story and I can’t give it a bigger compliment than that.
4. Gaming for Greg #WeAreAllUs
The weekend coincided with a memorial celebration of Greg Stafford’s life and work. Gamers all over the world were encouraged to include Greg in their games to connect with his spirit. I never met him, so it was great to hear the stories from people who had done. Over the weekend we played in Glorantha (RuneQuest and HeroQuest) and Pendragon, but he was also apparent in the other games too. His rune was the Soul-Forge, the instructions to closing the damn in Price of Freedom and many other inventive name-checks to the Grand Shaman of Gaming.
At the end of the day, the attendees clapped, cheered and shouted Waha! to thank Greg for his contribution to the hobby. I hope they heard us in Berkley.
5. The Room of Role-Playing Rambling with Ian Cooper
Memories of Greg appeared in the live recording of a future GROGPOD (Jan ’19) about HeroQuest. Ian Cooper is the line editor and he gave a fascinating interview about his formative years in the hobby, a demonstration of the core mechanic of HeroQuest and some tips on oral storytelling.
He chose Tolkien (the world builder) over Moorcock (the pulp, hack) which proves you can’t have everything.
It was a fantastic event and ran like a dream. I anticipated it being more complicated, shepherding people around Manchester, but it was easy as everyone was so laid back about it all.
The pre-work left me a bit too knackered, so there’s a few changes that I’ll need to make next time, but I’m not complaining because it was great seeing everyone enjoy themselves so much.
There’s enough in my second wind to start planning the next one; the GROGSQUAD have asked for a theme of ‘Anthropomorphic Animals’. Sigh.
Next: GROGMEET Scrapbook