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...