This is the third time that I’ve been to UK Games Expo and it was my best experience so far; I know the geography of the place and feel more comfortable than I have on previous occasions.
I met loads of great people, missed many more; play’s the thing, I spent most of the time in the ‘Devon’ room in the Hilton Metropol, as a GM and player, which meant I didn’t have enough time to socialise outside of playing.
Somehow I even managed to fit appearing in a seminar into the schedule. It featured the collective wisdom of Baz & Gaz from the Smart Party with Paul Fricker from The Good Friends of Jackson Ellias with some inspiring, fluent and engaging tips on running games at conventions. I’m on there too, mumbling about middle-management for some reason. You can listen to it on The Smart Party feed.
“There’s a massive queue for your seminar!” someone tweeted. I thought, “they’ve gone to the wrong one.” Sure enough, Paul and I found a queue for another seminar running at the same time; he shouted over the crowd, “If you want the How to GM at Conventions seminar, follow us.”
He rolled against CHA and 1d4 hirelings emerged.
Here are my 5 highlights and a fumble.
1. Legend of the Five Rings
Earlier this year I bought the new edition of Legend of the Five Rings as I was intrigued by its setting of Rokugan, the Emerald Empire. The concept of a fantasy Far East is really appealing and the books are beautifully produced, but after reading it, I had no idea how to start playing.
It’s the kind of game that will be a hard-sell to our group because it needs a certain level of absorption to get the most out of the intrigue between the different competing dynasties. Asako_Soh (from Twitter) created an introductory adventure that focused on the House of Crane and the House of Crab being united by a wedding. We played samurai who discover that the bride-to-be has gone missing.
I’m still not entirely sure how the dice work (it’s a bit like reading tea-leaves) but the pre-gens and the setting allowed for some good interplay between players. There were some nice role-playing moments where the mannered, cultured and very judgey Crane were trying to hide the truth from the cruder Crabs.
The end was spectacular featuring an epilogue with a duel between the one-armed Samurai of the Crane, and my brutish, Crab samurai who was better with a blunt instrument than the finesse of the katana, so was struck down, across the clavicle.
It was an excellent introduction to the game. A great start to the convention.
2. Strontium Dog
“Bringing Akill-Ease to Heel is my homage to the early Pat Mills satirical Strontium Dog stories from the early 80’s using Savage Worlds and the Mongoose supplement. This was a Cecil B. DeMille production with lego and relentless events thrown at the Stonts from the moment it begins to the very end.
Thanks to some unfortunate rolls, their transporter craft Daze-14 (Fortnite -geddit?) crash-landed into the killing zone leaving many of them injured and confused, but they were cool and ruthless when dealing with their warrants.
There was a satisfying cheer when Leonard Stump was grappled around the ankle by Harpi Harry’s wire-launcher and yanked off a balcony to his death, prior to being rescued from the planet by Johnny Alpha himself.
I was very excited to play this game as I was promised a Ray Harryhausen experience by the GM Dimbyd. He didn’t disappoint. Translated from French by MindJammer games, this is a setting that creates a fantasy Arabian Nights and ancient world infused with magic. At its heart is a simple d6 dice pool system that works very easily and the characters were full of flavour.
I played a betrothed princess, heading out across the desert with a caravan; I liked to refer to the other players as my entourage (not sure how they felt about it), when we were invited inside a magnificent palace that appeared to us in a mirage. It is the first time I played Caroline Munro, Bollywood dancing through a bazaar in search of followers, I hope it is not the last.
“Anarchic” was the description offered by the players at the end of this session.
I like to think it was an extremely balanced and controlled session, filled with suspense, emotional highs and lows of the anxieties of teenage life in the 80s by reflecting on the turmoil of realising that you are different and society is oppressing your burgeoning desires.
The players could choose which side of the social divide they wanted to play. The PSIonic freedom fighters or the PSIonic protection agency. They chose to be the PSIonics with their special powers. Each player had their own school of PSIonic talents and they all deployed them in ingenious ways as they tried to track down and rescue a PSIonic in transition in Hiddenwood.
I made a school boy error that would get me drummed out of the Smart Party. I didn’t realise that the legend on the handout map actually revealed the location of the hideout of the target teens.
Well, to be fair, there was a Pre-Cog on the team, so I think I got away with it.
The session became increasingly frenetic as the PPA closed in on them.
In emotional and action-packed scenes they rescued the target. A levitating motorcycle caused a dramatic crash, a critical ‘Plumbing’ roll fixed the dripping tap of a water witch who was revealed as the grandmother of the target PSI and two lovers were reunited in a dramatic ‘hands across the divide’ moment.
An emotional meeting between grandmother and grand-daughter was interrupted when the young psionic was teleported away to safety. Their van squealed into the scene, taking down the PPA and rescuing the PSIs, delivering them to a place of safety in the Enclave. Mission accomplished.
Anarchic? No, poetry.
The Design Mechanism kindly wrote Coddifut’s Stipule, a scenario for their forthcoming Lyonesse game based on the Mythras system, specially for this convention; it was an honour to debut the adventure as I am a huge fan of the Lyonesse novels.
“Begin in media-res,” we recommend in the ‘How to GM at Conventions” seminar. How about ‘begin at breakfast’ instead? The rules provide four pages of tables that create an exotic Vancian breakfast, the name of the tavern they’re eating it in and the town where the scenario is based.
Within moments, after several dice rolls, we created a scene straight from the pages of the novels. The characters introduced themselves over a meal of boiled fish and sea urchin in a white wine celery infused sauce accompanied with stewed effervescent parsnip. The landlord of the Dreadful Mule served it to them before the burgher of Swinspool Water appeared.
What followed was a wonderful three hours encounter Vancian fairy magic culminating in a classic scene of cruel trickery where the players conspired to get the upper hand. The Mythras passions worked really well by compelling some of the action and there was an ingenious application of the Impspring Twinkle-Toe spell to get one of the players out of a tight spot.
I don’t want to reveal too much as the scenario is going to be made available as a taster of the new game. Follow the Design Mechanism
It was excellent. The highlight of my weekend. Thank you to Loz Whitaker for making it possible.
6. Beer Drought
This time the event was bigger than ever which is great for the organisers, but is it getting too big? Places felt uncomfortable, the queues for food were ridiculous, there weren’t enough staff serving at the hotel (there had a system where you had to queue twice for a cup of tea; a queue to pay, a queue to make it.)
As in previous years, the gamers and the Masonic Order of Ladies share the Hilton. This year, they drank the bar dry by Friday lunch-time.
We had to drink lager. I know. It was terrible. Next time they’re going to need more beer or ration those ladies.
My favourite FLGS, host of GROGMEET eve, FanBoy Three has a small collection of vintage RPG stuff for sale in a discreet corner of the store. I often dip in to see what’s on offer, as it’s usually at a reasonable price and often some real treasure can surface.
Normally, I can curtail my irrational impulses to buy things in a physical ‘bricks and mortar’ shop as I’m browsing with the default setting of “do I really need this” which usually short-curcuits my desire to buy things for the sake of it.
Last month was an exception. I went to Manchester with my good friend Judge Blythy and had a good old drink. After a few pints of Neck Oil we went to visit the vintage corner of FanBoy Three; It was like an analogue version of a Sunday late at night when I hit eBay after the bottle. The normal rules did not apply. I filled my real-life basket with old copies of White Dwarf, a couple of Citadel Companions with their covers missing, a dog-earred copy of Champions and, most interesting of them all PSI World.
There was something compelling about the title. “PSI World” sounds brilliant, doesn’t it?
Blythy kept repeating “are you sure” over and over; but he always does and the Neck Oil was drowning out his Jimothy Cricket advice.
The Armchair Adventurers are not collectors, we are players: if we get it, we play it. Them’s the rules.
PSI World was released by Fantasy Games Unlimited in 1984, written by Del Carr and Cheron with artwork by Bill Willingham and Matt Wagner. It feels like this was their home game that has been transformed into a commercial publication. The main rule book doesn’t offer much about ‘setting’ focusing instead on the convoluted character creation and the barmy combat. The authors encourage you to create your own ‘near future Earth’ setting where there are people with PSI powers and the ‘norms’ who feel threatened by them.
It’s a shame that they didn’t have more confidence in their own setting which is given more detail in the ‘The PSI World Adventure’ included in the box set. It details the history of the emergence of the PSIS and how they have become persecuted in a stratified society. It’s possible to play characters from different sides. The same setting is used in some of the other supporting material that was published for the game; all currently available for download at drivethru.rpg.
The rules are not crunchy, they’re clunky, (there’s a skill for riding a bicycle for goodness sake) but there are elements in here that I like and with a bit of work, could be entertaining.
I have an idea that has been insipired by Wild Wild Country, a documentary currently playing on Netflix about the Indian guru Bhagwan Shee Rajneesh (Osho) and his community of followers, that could work in PSI World.
Maybe it will surface in 2019. Maybe it’s the Neck Oil talking.