Monday, 24 November 2014

Longcon - A new way of doing games at conventions - Convention Report

This weekend I found myself running a couple of very long sessions to see if the theory on playing games with people when timescales weren’t an issue and the group could be allowed to take things at their own pace rather than being rushed along to make the scenario within a shorter timescale makes any difference to the general dynamic of play itself.  The original plan was to have several GM’s running several different scenarios to get a range of opinions from both GM’s and players, but given the short notice at which we ended up arranging things, we ended up with only two games running. 

The normal problem with convention games is that both GM’s and players are limited with time and have to do the game with both random players and no prior knowledge of the GM in question.  It’s been something I’ve debated at length on a number of forums.  The format currently used by most conventions is three to four hour slots, a little overlap between slots to let people recharge briefly between games, and between three and six slots in a day depending on the type of convention and whether it supports games in the evening.  My thought was that for more experienced players, they already have an idea on the sort of game that they want to play and they’ve probably had a few people that they’ve played games with that they wouldn’t mind playing with again.  For a lot of these players, the idea behind a convention where they have to go play shorter games with random people doesn’t appeal anywhere near as much as the promise of a longer game with people they know to be players who match their own style.

So it was on Friday night that I travelled down to Stoke to run the first game, a purpose designed scenario based on the Cthulhu Rising setting and using 6th edition Cthulhu rules.  

The players (pictured here) from left to right, were Harriet, Martin, Louis, Josh, Martin, and Mary Ann, they play D&D together on a reasonably regular basis and have a good time doing it, but once a year, they want to take a break from the swords and sorcery and have a go on a game where they know the GM works hard on the scenario, but they don’t play with him often enough that they’ve figured out all the tricks he has.

 The scenario was a straightforward investigation into a mining station located on Titan that went dark without warning. The players were taking the part of a corporate liaison to the System Police who had been seconded to work on one of the system patrols as it went around the solar system.  The players had fifteen days of game time while their ship was on the way to the station, they managed to establish that the mining station had gone dark two days before they reported it as a concern, and that in the week running up to the station going dark, they’d found massive caches of precious metals that would significantly increase the profit share of all those working down there, leading to the station requesting all additional personnel to come down and help mine the resources.  Transmissions from Titan two had ceased when the characters were still even days out, and there were no other transmissions coming out of it.
Yes, we were playing in low light at the time of the photo...
When they got there, they managed to board the ship and found that everything was deactivated, no life pods launched and no sign of the crew, no visible damage to the ship. They made contact with Titan one to find that the administrator of the colony was waiting for their call, having thought they’d been left there when Titan Two went dark.  This didn’t go down well with any of the party (particularly as at least two of the players are known paranoids when it comes to games, as this GM well knows...), so they stayed in the vicinity of the bridge trying to find out what was going on.  Something in the computer systems on the station took control of the Lander in which they had got to the station and caused it to detach, leaving the players with the unsavoury options of either trying to use one of the life pods to go down to the planet below, or taking a spacewalk back to the main ship.  In the end, they decided to abandon the station and head back to their ship.

Well, most of them did anyway...

Two of them decided to try and take some of the precious ores that were mined below from the cargo hold, at which point they found out what was really going on in the station, and while those two were doing that, the others were making their way back to the ship.  At the point at which the two who had snuck off made their return to the ship, the rest of the party made the decision that they may have been compromised and merrily blew them away.
Guess who got shot, Guess who did the shooting...
So effectively, they came, they went to the bridge, they find out things had gone wrong and they left...

This took six hours to do...


Because along the way, they talked, they checked things, they went over everything twice, they made sure they’d gone up and down every possible option that they could, and when they figured they were out of their depth, they left.  Along the way, they made jokes, they argued amongst themselves, they did what all good groups do, they played and for all the mortal danger their characters were in, they never let that get in the way of having fun...

And at one in the morning, I made the two hour trip back to Barnsley across the Snake Pass, a journey more dangerous than any of the one’s I’d just described, particularly with an a**hole truck driver who clearly didn’t know the road very well and thought that the best way to get through a fog loaded pass was to stay within three feet of me at all times...

But still, on to the Sunday, and the second group of the experiment – From left to right, Sue, Jude, Phil, Mark, Jade, Graham, and John, ranging in experience from a few years to more than three decades.  

Most of them didn’t know what the scenario was going to be, with only Phil being a newcomer to the group.  We thought to try out the new Mindjammer, and had spent the evening previous making the characters to fit to the scenario (which as you’ll see from the accompanying review, took the best part of three hours to do), and then early on Sunday morning, following breakfast (images enclosed so there’s no suggestion that we weren’t eating Gamer approved food), we got started on play around 10:00.
The Bacon required a separate pan and the bread was too big to fit on camera...
The scenario was a simple one, someone had got in touch with the paladin type of the group to say that they were the avatar for a commonality warship in low orbit of the planet that had been recently separated from its ship and couldn’t re-establish contact. Given that the setting for the scenario was a very closely packed and somewhat lawless block of flats similar to Kowloon Walled City (complete with maps from the same), the only way around the problem was to get the Avatar to the central uplink of the city block, but the avatar had been seen in other areas and the technology of the avatar could fetch a high price to those who were in a position to offer it to others. The players were slightly divided on the subject of what to do with the avatar, some thinking that it would be better to trade it in for enough money to get out of the slums, others only intent on helping a soul in trouble.
This is my cunning disguise...
The way to the uplink tower was blocked by a number of gangs, and travelling with a piece of cutting edge nanotechnology that has the curiosity of a small child causes its own brand of problems, particularly when it finds something else to look at and doesn’t want to be persuaded otherwise. They had less than a mile between them and the uplink and found along the way that the gangs that made up the ruling part of the city block were all working for the same masters, but that the wars that were orchestrated between them all were there as a way to keep the population down, they also found that the Avatar they were trying to get to the uplink wasn’t actually the Avatar of the ship but a copy that had been programmed to try and stop the original Avatar, leading to a crisis of conscience between the party over which of the Avatars to help. 
No players were eaten in the playing of this game...
In all, the scenario required that the characters travel less than a mile and make the equivalent of a phone call, but they too took more than six hours to get the job done.

The reasons were similar, along the way, they were busy discussing the various options, they liked that there wasn’t a straight line between the two points and at no point were the whole group in agreement on what needed to be done (or more importantly, what the end result they wanted for their individual characters needed to be), some made mistakes and the group laughed with them, rather than at them, and above all, everyone was having fun.  The atmosphere in the scenario changed when they realised that the Avatar that they’d been supporting wasn’t the one that was supposed to be running the warship, and then they had to make the choice as to what to do.  There were moments of heated discussion, moments of downright argument and at least two points where I thought PVP was going to occur, but they got through it all and we rounded it off with them all wondering what to do next.

In all, two games with people who knew what to expect from the other players around the table, and trusted that the GM knew them well enough to know when to step in and when to keep out of it. No time constraints on the games, so no pressure on the GM to step things up when the players were getting themselves tied in knots with what was going on.  No concern that the characters would need to be available for the week following, meaning that the players in question were quite willing to give up their character if it was dramatically appropriate to the storyline and letting everyone play a lot closer to the ideal that they wanted to, rather than having to be cautious in case a beloved character met an untimely death.

All in all, a great success, the only negatives that I’ve found from this were that the whole idea of the convention was a spur of the moment thing, so even though we had sufficient space to run several games in the house, we only ended up running one each time, and that between all the other convention related duties I’ve got, I didn’t have time enough to put together all the big props and details that I like to have when I’m running games.

Beyond that, not a displeased person amongst the players, and for me as GM, most satisfying that I had a bunch of players wanting to come back next year for another go.

I’ve got a few people who are helping me put something together and there’ll be an announcement early in the New Year as to where and when the next Long Con will be.  For those new to gaming in general, you may want to go to a few regular conventions first, get some idea of the players out there and the GM’s that run the sort of game you’re into.  It’s not to say that you can’t come along, but this was a very different experience from normal convention gaming for all concerned. In both cases, if felt like one of the weekend games that we all used to have time for all those years ago, before work and family reduced our schedules to “Busy” and “Busier”, and at the end of both games, we all realised how much we’d missed having those games in our lives.

 So, Experiment over, and the question that I’d posed at the beginning was “Is there a need for conventions like this?”  The answer?

It’s going to be England sometime in the middle of next year, but if you’re interested, let us know and we’ll keep you updated...


  1. How did you feel at the end of it? Mentally and physically?

    1. Brilliant, physically done in (but that was more the finish early on saturday morning, then the late finish saturday night and reasonably early morning on sunday than anything else), but mentally uplifted, it's good to be around people having so much fun :)

  2. *yomp*
    The only problem was I wanted to play more