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.
Three years ago I had my debut running a con-game at the first ever Con-Vergence in Stockport. The event will always hold a special affection my heart, and last year I hosted Golden Heroes, which was one of my personal gaming highlights of 2018.
This year I could only get there for the Saturday afternoon, so I missed some of the other games that were on offer as I flew in and flew out. It was great to catch up with gaming buddies who I normally only see in a small square window online or at other conventions.
I ran my Savage Worlds of Strontium Dog game. I’m doing it at Uk-GamesExpo on the Friday evening, so forgive me if I’m a little coy about the details in this play-report: no spoilers.
As usual, 5 highlights and one fumble.
Role-Play Relief: Simon “Iron-GM” Burley was there this time to offer a full complement of games for every session (he’s done one of his comprehensive review of the Con). It was good to catch up with him briefly as it’s 12 months since I interviewed him for the GROGPOD. He had copies Role Play Relief that he has edited and published to support Comic Relief. It comes in two volumes: Beginners and Expert. I bought both as I simultaneously know nothing and everything about Role-Playing Games.
2. Character Class: This was a Savage World game that used the Mongoose supplement written by Loz Whittaker for Traveller. I rolled on the mutations tables provided in the supplement and translated them into Edges and Hinderances. The resulting crew of Strontium Dogs pre-gens are both interesting, varied and down-right weird.
3. Play’s the thing! I’ve been messing about with this adventure for a number of weeks now. I’ve even run it online for a play test prior to it appearing here. These characters don’t really come alive until they have a player imagining their reactions to situations. There were some really entertaining moments as the players came up with mad-cap plans: “All clear *squark!*”
4. Le’ go of the Lego: This was the game where I was experimenting with ‘stuff’ to enhance the game. I didn’t go as far as miniatures, but I did use my son’s Lego collection to build up a scene using the whole of the table. We had to improvise with empty bottles of HobGoblin beer standing in for buttes in a magnificent canyon. I’d forgotten my battle mat and tape measure so my phone was used to make the measurements. I’m not sure how much the lego added to the enjoyment of the players, but it created a talking point for people not actually playing
5. Pat Mills would be proud … At the start there were a couple of people playing who had never heard of Strontium Dog and didn’t really like westerns. I was concerned that this game wouldn’t be right for them. Thankfully, they seemed to come along for the ride as everyone else seemed happy to recreate the mad cap action scenes from the comic. There was a great moment when Brightman Rock chucked a plasma grenade in the range of another character who whacked it back with his Happy Stick; the bomb exploded on Brightman’s calcified head.
6. The little hunt! On reflection, I’ve realised that there’s a couple of issues with the scenario that need to be ironed out before the next session. There are a couple of important skills missing from the pre-gens, for one thing, “You’ll need to roll ‘shooting'”
“I don’t have it!”
Most significantly, because of the time restraints, it didn’t work out as a ‘hunt’ as I had planned. The opening set up ended up being so compelling that the action came to the location, rather than the players going looking for it.
Above all, it was entertaining, and I had fun playing it. Not sure I convinced everyone that “Westerns are not *that* bad.
Dirk the Dice
Thanks to Kris and Snowy for organising the event.
There’s still time to submit your photos of the supporting material that you’ve made for your games.
Handouts, minis, floor-plans, counters, character sheets, improvised props or anything you’ve produced to enhance a game. Send it before the end of the month and the best, selected by our friends Jo and Cris from bonhomiegames.uk will be sent a copy of HeroQuest Glorantha as a prize (kindly donated by them).
We’ll show a selection of the images on here in a scrapbook.
The competition is inspired by the preparation that I’ve been doing ready for Convergence.*
Last year was an incredible learning experience as I managed to get loads of time playing with different people in one-shots at conventions. For years and years I’ve played with a small circle of people who know what to expect from my games (and I know what to expect from them as players). Playing one-shots with people that you don’t know or only know as gamers presents a number of exciting challenges that ‘up your game’.
Famously, when it comes to prep, when I play with the Armchair Adventurers, it usually amounts to a few scrawled notes on post-its and, if they’re lucky, I’ll sketch a map in front of their very eyes using my trusty note-board and dry-wipe pen. Chutzpah, ‘barrelling on’ and a sense of humour manages to pull me through the * deepens voice * Theatre of the Mind.
I ran @dailydwarf ‘s rather brilliant Judge Dredd scenario A Better Living Through Chemistry on a couple of occasions last year. Thanks to the artistic efforts of Roger Coe, it came with floor-plan maps that really enhanced the experience.
Playing in other people’s games have really given me clues on how to manage and track elements of the game in interesting ways. At GROGMEET I played Price of Freedom which was more like a tactical war-game than I was anticipating. The experience of play was helped by the visual bits-and-pieces used to support the descriptions. Not just floorpans and miniatures, but all of the equipment was presented on cards with the stats and a photograph: my Judd Nelson character looked cool with an Uzi open-bolt, blowback-operated submachine gun.
In a Dying Earth game, the illustrated cast of characters were displayed to the players as they were introduced which made sure everyone knew who the NPCs were and could refer to them (by pointing at them) without having to remember their names.
There’s advantages to having physical stuff at the table.
Gaz from the Smart Party said on Me We, “They instantly make your game better. Having character names on the table, maps with places on, Termination Warrants with the mission writ large… All provide more texture. Plus, lazy players are reminded of details they couldn’t be arsed writing down or memorising. Attentive players are rewarded with cool artefacts to mess about with.”
I really admire these trappings in other people’s games, but generally I find them hard work to create with minimal returns. For the Strontium Dog game, I’ve thrown myself into making Warrant Cards, equipment cards, character sheets and customised counters. It seems that having a generic game like Savage Worlds encourages the GM to create home-made stuff.
I’ll post some of the stuff I’ve made when we’ve played the game: If you show me yours, I’ll you mine.
* Convergence in Stockport 9th – 11th March – a great, small, friendly convention that first got me into running games for strangers. All of those strangers have become friends.