GROGMEET2020, the fifth annual meet-up of the GROGSQUAD, had to be held online to avoid pathogens. It didn’t stop us having a fantastic weekend which included a Pub Quiz, a Mausritter Tournament Dungeon, and an eclectic mix of games over four time-slots: seventy sessions in total.
To end the event we recorded this live panel in the Zoom of Role-Playing rambling (with an audience of over 50 people!).
One of the most articulate and engaging commentators on the RPG scene past and present is Baz Stevens, from the What Would the Smart Party Do? podcast. Along with his co-host Gaz, he has always been incredibly supportive of the GROGNARD files and has contributed to several episodes. Over the years he has challenged and informed my thinking about RPGs and made me a better player.
He’s written an RPG rules set within a framework that imagines “Adventuring as a career” in a way that is flexible enough to fit in any setting. What would your obligations be to your guild? How would the clauses a contract be negotiated? How do you compete in a dog-eat-dog world where everyone is chasing the same gold piece?
At GROGMEET this year, the game is being set in both Glorantha and the worlds of Earthdawn.
The rules are based on 13th Age but stripped down to the essentials, so there’s a familiar old-school feel to how the rules operate. The character creation is great fun (you’ll spend evenings just generating interesting player characters with quirky features) and the resolution is quick but puts drama first.
The rules are written in a disarmingly chatty style that is like a mate, enthusiastically explaining how to play while drinking a pint.
Many GROGSQUADers are supporters of the campaign already, but in case you missed it, this is your alarm call. The best adventurers always have an eye on the prize.
INTRO: This is an unusual GROGPOD as it was recorded live at GROGMEET 18. Ian Cooper talks about HeroQuest and there’s a chance for you to win a copy of the game thanks to our friends at bonhomiegames.uk
Show us your favourite handout, character sheet, floor plan, prop, mini or any other physical item you’ve produced for your gaming before the end of Feb to be in with a chance of winning.
INTERVIEW: Ian Cooper talks about his formative years in gaming, oral story telling, Greg Stafford, HeroQuest and his Coming Storm campaign.
GAMESMASTER’S SCREEN: Blythy joins me in the Room of Role-Playing Rambling to talk about generic systems. Want to know more about Judge Dredd in the world of GUMSHOE? Then check out Steve Ray’s play reports.
OUTRO: Patreon thanks, the latest news about the GROGZINE and the plans for the next episode.
These are a selection of sights from last weekend for the archive. The sun sets on another GROGMEET.
The next meet-up is online on 12th April 2019 for Virtual GROGMEET: A chance to participate in the GROGMEET for Patreons who can’t make the trip to Manchester, or for people who attended who would like to have a crack at one or two of the other games available.
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 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.
Last year, we reached a tipping point where we realised that most of our Armchair Adventuring was taking place online. Our never-ending quest to get more people to play games with continues. To support our endeavours we created virtual GROGMEET to complement the annual event in November.
Some of the GROGSQUAD wanted to discover online play for the first time and have the opportunity to play with the GMGMs that make GROGMEET in Manchester such a distinctive experience.
Squadron members from all over the UK plus others from British Columbia, Australia and North America were joined games of Numenera and Maelstrom and others listed below.
Of course the curse of online play bedevilled it with glitches and interventions from real life, but it was an enjoyable event by all accounts.
Hopefully, new gaming connections were made during the event and this is the beginning of more groups forming, because “play’s the thing”. Dirk
Once you have signed up, your email details will be sent to the GM to contact you to make arrangements for your session. The slots are for guidance only.
Here’s the line up so far …
Title: Shattered Hope (introduction adventure)
Number of Players: 4
System: Dark Heresy (1st ed)
Brief description:Make ready your chainsword, strap on your bolter, and say a prayer to the God-Emperor, for Warhammer 40,000: Dark Heresy. You as the the closest ‘Inqusitor’ agents are sent to a world to deal with a particular problem. – this quick start is for those wanting to learn the system and explore the dark universe.
Beginner level …. there will be blood shed.
GM: Jon Dawson
Title: Forgive Us
Number of Players: 5
System: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
1625 was a plague year in Norwich. History tells us that it was an outbreak of the Black Death. History is wrong.
Hired to retrieve an item from the Tenebrous Hand, a powerful criminal gang in the city, our players may well find out what really happened. Or die trying…
GM: Neil Benson
Title: “..and the dragonewts are dancing..”
Number of Players: 4
System: Heroquest Glorantha
Brief description: Dancing dragonewts have been spotted not he edge of the Tula and you have been asked to investigate. Buried memories of your initiation resurface and you find your self reliving that very odd experience.
GM: Andrew Jones
Title: Enemies Within
Number of Players: 4
System: Night’s Black Agents
Brief Description: “…the miners are the enemy within” 1984, deniable assets required for active measures: suppressing subversion in Leeds, UK. Industrial relations are about turn nasty. Late Ken Loach meets early Tarantino.
GM: Dirk the Dice
Title: Sabeurs & Savants
System: Cthulhu Hack
Brief description: 1800, Napoleon has invaded Egypt intending to become a new Alexander the Great. Accompanied by scientists, he also intends to uncover the secrets of this ancient land. He’s despatched the player characters a mixed bag of scientists and soldiers to uncover an artefact from the desert sands….
Brief description: In the aftermath of the Apocalypse War, life is hard in Mega-City One, even for the Judges in Sector House 170. Widespread desolation, mutie incursions through the Cursed Earth Wall, and a scarcity of resources are making it hard to uphold the Law. But new teams are being put together to ensure the citizens are kept in line, and that law and order are maintained. While fighting crime on the mean streets of the Mega-City, the players will need all their skills and cunning, but can they also find… better living through chemistry?
GM: Alan Gairey
Title: Dr John Dee’s Crows
Brief description: Join the original Men and Women in Black protecting Queen Elizabeth’s England from Threats Corporeal, Magickal and Supernatural.
GM: Ian ‘Doc’ Griffith
Title: Who wants to live forever?
Brief description: The Queen of the red fleet pirates seeks immortality. She hasn’t aged for decades. Some say it’s just an illusion. Others think she found the Drowned City, a place legend says holds ancient secrets that can bestow immortality. Maybe you’ll find out the truth when you meet her to discuss a special and secret task.
Title: Mistaken Identity
Number of Players: 5
System: WarHammer Fantasy Role Playing
Brief description: Wanted! Bold Adventurers…
His Excellency the Crown Prince Hergard von Tasseninck of the Grand Principality of Ostland hereby gives notice that he is currently resident in Altdorf and wishes to engage the services of a party of skilled adventurers as soon as possible, for an indefinite period.
Would-be applicants are forewarned that they shall be required to undertake a most perilous mission into unexplored regions of the Grey Mountains. The matter is of the utmost delicacy and absolute discretion is required.
No laggards, cowards, or dwarfs need apply.
Mistaken Identity is the first adventure in the Enemy Within campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st edition and due to to be revised and re-released by Cubicle 7 for their new edition.
“Thank you, you’ve inspired me to go up into the loft and start reading my gaming stuff again, “ is the sign that my plot to awaken the sleeper cell of RPG gamers is working. Making that tentative step of sifting through the tea-chests in the attic is the start of a journey of bringing the past into your future.
Play is the thing. Reading rules and supplements is never enough. I’ll avoid the onanicistic metaphors, but having a well-thumbed book on the night-stand will never substitute the real thing. To have a proper, active, GROGNARD sleeper cell, you need to play. How do you do it? How do you reconnect to the hobby from a standing start?
It’s easier said than done when you’re a time-poor, middle-aged, put-upon denizen of the early 21st century: the toad ‘work’, the stresses and strains of family life, and lack of a gaming network conspire to frustrate even the most resolute reawakened gamer.
I’ve been there. I’ve studied the finer points of strike-rank with the nagging doubt that I’d ever see them in play. It took a force of will and a determined effort to get where I am today, with a bit too much stuff going on.
To help the GROGSQUAD realise their ambitions, I offer the following tips to kick-start your gaming future:
SMASH A CLIQUE
Conventional wisdom will advise you to use an app, such as ‘Meet Up’, or study forums like the soon to be retired UK Role Players, or RPG Net and seek out an active group in your area.
You’ll know if you are the kind of person who can cope with difficulties of integrating into an established group. If you’ve not played for a while, it’s a little daunting to put yourself in the thick of people who look like they know what they’re doing. I know of some people who have managed to bide their time before staging a coup, but it’s not for everyone.
Most of the tips that follow, assume you’ll be starting from scratch.
If you learn just one thing from these tips, it must be this: establish a fixed date in the calendar.
I looked upon my friends who were soccer fans attending every home match every other week: They could break away from their commitments in a socially accepted hobby; why can’t the RPG gamer?
When I asked them how they did it, they said, “everyone knows that it’s ‘what I do’”
You need to do the same. Establish a fixture; build it up, because it’s what you do.
Having a set fixture such as ‘Every First Sunday of the month’ or ‘fortnightly on a Wednesday’ is much better than trying to coordinate diaries on an ad hoc basis.
Set a rule that the meeting will take place as long as there are two people.
It’s a principle that we’ve applied to the Traveller Adventure and Storm King’s Thunder over the past couple of years. Within the narrative, characters can sit out a session “on the ship” or “back at camp” to allow the game to continue, if the player can’t make it in real-life.
It sharpens commitment to the fixture, who wants to miss out? It also establishes a pattern, to keep your eye on maintaining the fixture.
A MEDIOCRE SESSION IS BETTER THAN NOTHING
We all seem to want different things from the hobby, that’s why we tend to use ‘fun’ as a common-ground. Fun has a wide continuum. It’s possible to be slightly dis-satisfied and have tremendous fun too. Especially when you’ve been reading and rereading in preparation.
Back in the day, we had a mantra that said “playing a bad game was better than not playing at all”.
Now that time is precious, we can’t afford that luxury, so there’s a tendency to place too much weight of expectation on each session. It feels like every session should be “wonderful”. It’s unrealistic and unhelpful to have such high expectations.
As a rule, prepare yourself for a mediocre sense of fun. If it turns out better, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you’re going to GM for the first time in 30 years, having high expectations of yourself can be incredibly intimidating. It can also induce procrastination.
Aim for everyone to have a fair to middling time and you are guaranteed to succeed, and start playing again.
Finding likeminded players remains a challenge. ‘Likeminded’ is key here.
The best approach is to try and reacquaint yourself with the people that you knew back in the day. They’re probably sharing your desire to reacquaint themselves with the hobby that they left behind.
If Friends Reunited is not possible, then I encourage you to seek out other members of the GROGSQUAD. Over the past couple of years, I’m aware of at least 5 different groups forming as a result of connecting with others who listen to the GROGPOD.
To help you to make these connections, our friend the RPG Kitchen is developing a forum. It’s looking good so far and we are looking to launch before the summer.
Even if you can only find ONE other player, go for it, start small and build from there.
Try to make your first game a physical, around the table, game if possible.
Playing online through Skype, hangouts or mediated through Roll 20 is a great way of stealing time and getting an extra couple of sessions in, but again, it will never replace the real thing.
If you can avoid doing it online, then I urge you to play around the table. There’s a few reasons for this: technology is disappointing, the dynamic is different which takes a while to learn and it’s harder to have a really good laugh at rubbish rolls online.
However, it is good, once you’ve built up confidence, to experiment with online. Seek out a sample game as a player before you start GMing.
When you feel ready, then online can be a great option for those ‘away’ fixtures; “I can’t go to the game, I’m watching it on the telly!”
Online games are a great way of establishing an additional fixture.
If you are in the UK, there’s loads of meet-ups happening within a train ride, so you could go a whole year having a monthly field-trip.
Going to meet-ups are a different dynamic than entering an established club. Everyone is in a different mode. There’s a greater deal of openness and willingness to try something different and welcome all comers.
If you’re feeling a bit rusty on the rules and how to play, then the meet up is a licence to adopt the role of the faux-naif and no-one will be judgmental.
Once you have been playing at home or at a friend’s house, there’ll come a time when you’ll realise that you want to build up from your small base and open it up to others.
This is the tricky step as it usually means finding a more public space to play.
In my experience so far, finding a public-space for a regular session has been the most difficult transition to make. Game shops are ideal if you can guarantee that there’s enough space and it isn’t too noisy. Pubs are ok, but they introduce ‘drink’** into RPGs which can cause problems.
The best option is to book a cheap space. Tell the participants that they need to pay a sub to cover drinks and snacks so it doesn’t feel like you are charging them to play with you.
Mastery of this ‘step up’ is my resolution for 2018.
If you want to join me and Blythy in playing at a meetup, then here’s a reminder that we are appearing at Spaghetti ConJunction on 10th Feb and at UK Games Expo in June. The Golden Heroes game I’m running at ConVergence has sold out, but there’s lots happening and it’s a friendly experience.
If you want to try out online gaming, then there are more plans for the online GROGCLUB over at Patreon. Watch this space for the forum to connect with other like-minded players.
** I like a drink. Compared to Mother Theresa, I’m like Oliver Reed, compared to Oliver Reed, I’m like Mother Theresa. I’m a classic mid-life, metropolitan-elite, imbiber who functions on a regular dose of woolly ale and the odd whiskey. We decided a long time ago that drink and RPGs don’t mix. Your experience may vary.
In April last year, I sent out a speculative tweet, asking if anyone would be interested in meeting up in Manchester to play a game. Last time I did an advert like that, only Eddy and his mates turned up, this time it created GROGMEET.
Last year there were 8 games available, this time there was the opportunity to play 19 games over two days.
Thank you to everyone who attended, especially the Games Masters, without whom it wouldn’t be possible.
We also had a fundraising event to support the 24 Hour Game of RuneQuest that I’m running next week for Alder Hey children’s hospital. There were some very generous prizes provided by people attending and we raised £283.
I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Until next year …
(Check #GROGMEET #GROGMEET17 #GROGMEET2017 for more great pics)