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
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
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
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...