Friday 20 February 2015

A new Roleplaying Convention in England

So last year I started planning something that might change the way some of us play, or at least take us back to the days when we had the time to play.  Some Fifteen years back, before career demanded eighteen hours a day and you could plan weekends in advance without having to worry that you’ll get called in for something else at zero notice, I (and I suspect quite a few others) took weekends out once a month to catch up with our friends and play for the whole weekend.  When I put this idea together, I got a few groups and worked on the idea that it might still be something that people were interested in, now that jobs have mostly got to the point where you either know your shift, or you can plan in advance and have reasonably confidence that your work won’t mess you about.

Of the groups that we got, there was an overwhelmingly positive response, the chance to have a game that wasn’t under time pressure, that you could build the plot on and have players work through it at their own pace rather than having to throw hints and tips all the time to move the plot on, and of having time to plan the game, get the characters right, have everyone know each other before they got to the game, these things all worked very well.

Some will say cliquey...

I hate cliques, I hate it when people hog all the things that others want for no better reason than the fact that they can, I hate it when you go to a convention and you can’t get a game in because everyone else has mugged all the excellent games well in advance, I hate it when some people have “Special” knowledge that they hoard above everyone else, all those who knew the “truth” about SLA and held it on everyone else, all the people who knew that Mornington Crescent wasn’t actually a game and when you asked about it, the only thing that they’d say was “Ah, well, I can’t tell you that.”

I hate that...

That isn’t what this is about, this is about getting a group of people together that want to have fun, this is about the GM putting the game together in advance, it’s not the fastest clicker on the entry form when the games go live, and the players have to put in work too, it’s not going to be any good if you’re expecting to turn up and wait for the film, you’ve got to be ready to work at this to make it a good experience for all, we’re not looking for people who spend half the time checking their emails and the other half being semi involved.

We’re looking for players, not passers by.

I’ve got a couple of GM’s standing by already, Simon Burley’s offering a two day game, Paul Mitchener is going to be running a two day campaign, Neil Gow’s up for it (details to follow), I’ll be running two single day campaigns, and I’ve got space for between two and three more GM’s for each day.  Full details of the campaigns being offered will be up by the end of February and we’ll open the board for players at that time.


Well, it’s going to have some costs because we’re hiring out the Garrison up in Sheffield, it’s familiar to many and we know it’s a suitable venue for the event.  We’re not going to be using the lower levels, only the isolated areas up top, a thing that we found in the testing stage was that one of the things that most killed atmosphere was listening to the games all around you, so there’s only going to be six games running on each day, and those games will run as long as they have to, meaning that if you’re playing something and you want to keep at it till they close the place, you’re able to do so.  We don’t want to make money off this, but we do need to cover the costs, so we’re offering the day entry at £10, £15 for both days.  Anyone running a game gets in free for the weekend, which would normally be a problem if it was multiple games per day, because every GM runs once and plays several times and you end up making no money, but on one game a day, that GM is earning their pay, only fair to give them chance to enjoy the games as well.

If it ends up that we don’t get enough people, lesson learned and we don’t do it again next year, I don’t think we’ll have that problem though...

Keep an eye out here (, full game details by the end of the month, players register their interest for each game and we build the games up from there.

Any questions?

Saturday 14 February 2015

Love is....

I have a reasonable fondness for Nerf Guns, they're mostly harmless, the kids can't injure themselves if they shoot themselves in the face with it, and it's something the whole family can have fun with, ask any of my family about the Christmas Day Massacre of 2013...

So when you get home from a long day at work, and the Tiny Wife has procured for you a gun nearly the same size as her...

Friday 13 February 2015

Convention Report - Conception

Rare that I get to go to a convention and play things, but the quest to improve the conventions I organise is never ending, so I’m still trying to catch all the conventions I can and see what makes them good, so I can improve mine. 

Few weekends back was the first big convention of the year.


One of two different conventions held at the Hobourne Naish holiday camp on the south coast, Conception is the larger of the two (the other being IndieCon), and has wall to wall roleplaying from Wednesday to Sunday, with more slots being run over the course of the five days than any other convention in England.  I’ve been once before, but only for a single day and so I didn’t really get the feeling of the convention, as I had to travel back the day after I got there and didn’t get to play. 

I took steps to rectify that this time...

The original plan was to travel down on Thursday day time to get there for Thursday Evening, but circumstances conspired that I only managed to get down for Friday Morning, and that was to set the pace for what happened over the course of the weekend.  Knowing that things book up quickly and with no way to prebook games on line, I’d spoken to a friend who was running games on the Friday morning and asked him to put aside a space for me so I wouldn’t  be spending the first slot with nothing to do.


24 hours before the event, something occurred (not his fault) and the slot got taken, so I found myself up early and trying to find something to sign in to.  By this time, there were only reserve space on all the games and so I put myself on three different reserve lists and took the first one that had a slot available for me.

As it turns out, it was run by another friend of mine, Andy Kybett, who ran the very successful Wyntercon last year, and consisted of a bunch of us playing Skaven in the old world on a rules light basis rather than using the very rules heavy WFRP rules.  We’d all been given a detailed brief on what our characters thought of each other, what rivalries they had, and what their objectives were, and given that these were Skaven from a number of different clans, it’s pretty easy to see which way this was headed...

And true to form it did, three party members down and the rest fleeing for the skaven safe house by the end of the scenario, didn’t accomplish anything that we were supposed to (Beyond killing each other), and had a good time doing it.  Not the sort of game I normally go for, but good set of players and Andy knew when to stay out of the way and let us get on with it (most of the time), so enjoyable.

The way Conception works for signing up to games is to only put the next set of games up when the last set has started, thereby giving those who don’t have a game chance to sign up for something while everyone else is in their games.  The trouble with this is that everyone who’s been before (that’s most people) knows this, and so most games get sat down and then immediately take a break to run to the sign up sheets to make sure that they have a game for the same time tomorrow.  In principle this is fine, but from a new player perspective, it causes problems when you don’t know to run to the sign up sheets and get your name down.  Thus when we took a break from the Skaven game (about an hour in), I got out front to find the sheets were down to reserves on most of the games, and so put my name down on four different games in the hope that I’d get at least one.

I should point out that from a convention organiser point of view, there is no easy way to stop people from charging in first and stealing all the spaces on the popular games, it’s the nature of gamers to bogart all the goodies before anyone else gets to them, and I’ve yet to find a convention that has a good way around it (including the ones I run), but it is frustrating from a player perspective that you can find yourself without a game and I’ll redouble my efforts to find a better way at the conventions I run.

My second game was with Simon Bell, a man whose games always sell out at Expo, running Traveller, which I haven’t actually played for a good number of years.  I found out quickly why his games always sell out, a most animated referee with all the handouts in the world and all the answers to hand, he ran the game with the practised air of a man who’s done this a thousand times and never once had to worry that he wasn’t up to the task.  We weren’t the easiest set of players, at least two of us familiar with a whole variety of things that you can get up to in space, but for every thing that we came up with that wasn’t in the manual, he was ready with an answer and kept it all within the system without having to fudge things, something that I very much respect in GM’s. 

The Plot of the scenario was fairly simple, problem in jump space had caused us to drop out near a distress signal (already the Alien warning bells were ringing), and some of our components were damaged causing us to have to look in at rescuing the other ships, one of them on a nearby moon, one of them slowly dropping into the atmosphere of a Gas Giant.  The fact that one of the planets nearby was called Gorram didn’t help us with the seriousness of the situation, as immediately everything went Firefly and didn’t improve further when we discovered that one of the moons was called Pilok (so named after the last person that landed there we surmised), but we got to work, finding out that the ship on the planet had been crash landed there following a pirate attack, and was now under attack from the planets indigenous b’stards, got them up on the ship and the engineer after making a ton of excellent rolls managed to botch the one to move the components safely into the ship, requiring us to go down into a gas giant to retrieve the other ship, at which point the pirates turned up and we ended up having a scrap.

Thanks to a number of absolutely shiny criticals, the pirates were downed in record time and we went on to celebrate a mighty win.  However, excellent scenario all around, and even if we hadn’t had the win at the end, it would still have been an excellent game.  I’ll look for Simons games again when I come to a convention, haven’t had that much fun in some time.

In the evening, I was fourth reserve on three games and so skipped out to get a meal with friends, then back to the neighbouring chalet to play boardgames (with thanks to Ray Hodgson, Richard Evans and the rest of their lodge) till the early morning.  The game we played was Firefly, and while I can see the point of the game, I have to say I wasn’t impressed by it, took us three hours to get nearly to the end of it and we agreed at around 0300 that Ray had the win because to play through the next two turns to see the win would have taken another twenty minutes that all of us couldn’t be bothered with...

The following morning I’d managed to bag a space in Richard Evans Spycraft game, there were a few individual players and a group of three who all seemed to have played as a group before.  Simple scenario again, we were returning from a successful mission in Greece at the time of the various uprisings when we received a distress signal from one of our teams in the area and despite not being equipped for it, we went to investigate the situation and found that the team in question had been driven off the edge of the high greek roads by an unknown assailant and something vaguely approximating the greek police had turned up to “Help”.

The brilliant thing about this was that both sides were undercover and playing the classic game of “I’m not me, Who are you...?” with the other, which made for some excellent set pieces while we played irate british tourists and they played scarily efficient greek police (Which of course was the first tip off, no police are that efficient), so a stand off that took us more than two hours of real time to resolve (and was actually ten minutes of game time) was followed by a hunting of the intelligence that had gone missing and then a flight to safety where we could be safely debriefed.

What I liked most about this game was that most of the players were at least halfway familiar with the spycraft world and the Mission: Impossible nature of the games that are mostly played with it, so everyone was on top form when it came to coming up with plans and playing to the strengths of the game, and Richard was equal to the job, despite us being a bunch of loud yahoo’s at times.  He already had the various scenarios in hand and knew what the score was when giving us leeway to play with and reining us in when we were going too far off the map.

Very enjoyable, and the table discussed different ways for Spycraft to be played, different systems were fairly heavily featured, with most of us agreeing that FATE could be used well to come up with new ideas and to allow easier use of a broader range of skills that would be very useful for most competent agents, rather than having to rely on the far narrower range of skills in the D20 millieu.

In the afternoon, I’d got a place in one of Matthew Dawkins games, Werewolf the Apocalypse in the New Orleans setting, taking the part of a small sept of biker garou (the Wolves of Anarchy...) who were thrown straight into the mix as another larger pack intruded on their territory at the start of the game and got us off to a flying start which didn’t slow down at all.  Six of us in that game, One of whom (Julian) had never played Werewolf before, but found himself somewhat taken by the game and the idea of being one of the big furry good guys (to the point at which when engaging in combat the first time, was up out of the chair doing various contortions to describe what his wolf was up to), and we followed the trail, finding out that the Umbra was being devastated by some unknown force, leaving the area stripped bare of everything (much like the nothing in the Neverending Story), and the flat ground that was left had a strong taint of the weaver to it.  We found one of the rival pack being turned into something....twisted....and called upon a mighty spirit to cleanse the land of all the taint, knowing that it would request a price at some later point (to be determined at another game), before informing the other packs of what had happened and closing the game there.

Good game, helped by some of us being lifelong Werewolf players and some of us being very enthusiastic newbies, but held together by an excellent GM with a good acting range and a well researched story. 

Saturday evening I’d promised to run a session of my game for some of the playtesting team and Paul and Fil of All Rolled Up, so went over to theirs for a curry and then a short game while talking about all the plans for the year coming up, Excellent evening again, and then back to the lodge before heading next door for more games till the early hours, this time playing Ancient Terrible Things and Eminent Domain, which is a pleasant deckbuilding game that plays like a cross between Race for the Galaxy and Dominion.

I’d received some news that evening that compelled me to leave early and head back to Leeds to get to the Hospital in time for visiting hours, so I missed Sunday, but all was well otherwise.

Conclusions on the convention:

I’m in the reasonably rare position of knowing how much work actually goes into organising a convention and how difficult it is to get things to run properly and make them look seamless, so I was happy to see that everyone knew what to do with the sign up sheets and signing up for games (except for the newbies, but I’ll come to that in a minute), the muster before each game is a roll call for all the players that have signed up for that game and if the game has people who haven’t turned up, the reserves get the option, which works well and the organisers are on hand at every muster to make sure that everyone gets at least something to play.

On the subject of newbies and games, Conception has been running for fifteen years, and a good number of the people who go to the convention have been going for most if not all of those years, so most of those who go along have an understanding of how things work and what you have to do to get a game in.  For those of us new to the convention, there is the problem that unless you know what you’re doing and get in there early to make sure there’s a space in a game for you, you could end up playing in a game that’s available rather than the game that you wanted to play in, but that’s no different to almost any other convention I’ve ever been to.  Even when I was in games that I hadn’t planned to be in, the GM’s were consistently good (although I do confess to aiming at games where I knew of the GM in question), and there weren’t any problems with table spaces.  The games played in the main halls and side rooms were a little noisy, but again nothing different to other conventions, it’s always trying to find the balance between getting the number of games in that you need to make sure everyone has something to play and giving everyone the quiet space in which they can play.

The trade hall consisted of around a dozen traders and a bring and buy stall, nothing along the lines of the bigger conventions, but the trade isn’t the focus of this convention, the games are, the trade is there for those who want to buy something while they’re there, which (to be honest) we all do...

Overall, it’s the first time I’ve been to Conception, and I liked it a lot, so much so that I’ll be back next year, because when I get to go to a convention, I like to make sure I have a good time, and I have no doubt that I’ll have a good time at this one again. 

For those who’ve never heard of it, it’s a five day convention, and the accommodation goes fast, so much so that most people don’t get any chance at the lodges because those who’ve been attending for years get a higher priority (and reasonably so) than those who are just starting out to the event.  That said, there are plenty of other places where you can stay that are within easy walking distance to the holiday park and the housing problem is nowhere near what you’d find at conventions like Gencon.  If you’re looking for a good RPG convention in the first part of the year, I can very much recommend this one.

Word of advice though, if you’re going to go, get there on the Wednesday and get your games booked because everyone else will be doing just that, don’t go down for one day, you can’t really appreciate what it has to offer in so short a time, and if you’re going next year, let me know...

And I’ll see you there...

Thursday 12 February 2015

Cthulhu Wars Game Review

So, of things I was expecting to get this morning, Cthulhu Wars, was not amongst them...

However, cheerfully it arrived and so instead of doing things about writing at writers group this evening, we sat down to figure out how to end the world...

The first step in any look at this game has to be the box, board, and counters, all of which are spectacular in their appearance, the box is heavy duty card, well inlaid with all the backers names (haven’t found mine yet, but the search goes on), and full colour artwork on everything.  

The main pieces are packaged in a heavy plastic protective sheet that’s nearly the depth of the box itself and will keep the main pieces protected from harm easily.  The smaller pieces don’t have a separate tray to put them in and while they got everything in the box to get it to me, how you manage to get everything back in the box is as yet a mystery to me.

Still, the game...
The War begins...

Simple premise, each player takes the role of the cult of one of the great old ones, and the idea of the game is to go around the board creating gates, summoning monsters, and fighting each other for the earth.  There are four factions in the basic set, being Shub Niggurath, Hastur, Nyarlatothep, and Cthulhu, each of which has a playing style very particular to them, advantages and disadvantages particular to them, and spells and special abilities unique to them.  There aren’t any shared abilities in the game, everything is keyed to a particular group, and it makes playing the different factions a challenge every time.

Nyarlatothep moves fast...

As an example, the Cthulhu faction (Green) hits hard, and unlike every other faction, respawning Cthulhu when it finally goes down takes comparatively little power, so it’s in your interest to get out there and start smashing things, particularly as your spells and abilities are linked to doing that sort of damage.  Nyarlatothep, however, relies on speed and relocation of it’s forces to get the win, holding sway over how forces retreat and being able to move it’s own forces in to help in the fight.

The Rumble in R'lyeh
Initial setup starts all players equal, with a gate and single cultists, and the game moves into the power generation stage, where players get power for all the cultists and controlled gates they have, together with any captured cultists that they had from last turn.  Cultists can be captured by monsters or great old ones, and are returned every turn to the person who had them in return for the capturer gaining more power.  As it turns out, that part of the game proved pivotal in the first game we played, as Nyarlatothep went out and took two cultists from Shub Niggurath, reducing Shub Nigguraths power by 2 and increasing it’s own by 2 the following turn.  This provided a small shift, but enough to move the balance of power and limit Shub Niggurath’s power the following turn.

Once power has been generated, there’s a Doom Phase, where all the players score doom points for all the gates and great old ones they control.  In this phase, they can also enact rituals of annihilation which further increase their points and make it more difficult for other players to do the same.

Once the doom phase is over, the players move to the main phase, in which moving, attacking, summoning, and spell casting is done.  The players each take a single action and pay for it using their power reserves, going around the table in turn till everyone has no power left, then the game begins again.

Simple premise, and the game ends either when someone passes 30 doom points or when someone does the final ritual of annihilation, at which point the person who has all their spellbooks and the most doom points wins.  It’s possible for someone to get to 30 doom points without all six spellbooks in place, in which case the person with the highest doom point total and all their spellbooks wins.
Cthulhu makes a decisive win with Shub Niggurath wondering what went wrong...
Combat is a simple affair, you total the combat values of all sides involved in the fight and roll that many D6, a six is a kill, a four or five is a pain, and one to three doesn’t count.  For each kill you score in a fight, the opponent removes one of their models in the fight (no matter the size, cultists and great old ones both take one kill to remove), for each pain token you get after the kills have been resolved, you have to retreat one of your units to an adjacent tile. In larger fights, this can change the look of the board dramatically as a multi monster mash can leave the tile completely empty and the board saturated with fleeing monsters.  It’s a nice, easy going system that works well.

Start to finish (and that includes going through the rules and drooling over the miniatures) took us three hours, didn’t seem like that long and we were playing faster by the second towards the end.  I suspect a second game will take significantly less time, but I’d want to see how the other factions were played, liked Nyarlatothep, but I’d be interested in the others as well.

Overall, good game, it’s late, and it’s long overdue, but cheerfully it’s been worth the wait.  The RRP on it is now $199, which is a lot of money for a game, and I honestly don’t know that I’d pay for it at that price, because that’s just the basic set, which is gorgeous, but I’m not sure any game’s worth that amount of money.

Price notwithstanding, the game board and pieces are superb, it’s clearly gone through a lot of rules testing, and even though it’s a year late from when it was going to be delivered, and there have been some frustrations from many along the way, it’s here now, and it’s been well worth the wait. 

I think people may be trying to tell me something...

Went to see Sue and John yesterday, they presented me with a sawn off batman as broad as he is tall and said, "We saw this and thought of you..."

Birthday Card from my little sister a few years ago...

Who also bought me the batbook the year after...

I should point out that I don't dress up as a bat and go beat up people in the evening, and my car, while shiny, doesn't leap buildings...

Of things I expected to get this morning, this was not amongst them, full review coming shortly

Friday 6 February 2015