Dragonmeet Retrospective 4: The Wrap Up

This is my fourth and final retrospective on attending Dragonmeet as a trader for the first time. If you’ve missed the earlier posts you can find part one here, part two here and part three here. In this post I want to try and provide a summary of how it went. Really though I’m here to ask the question of would I do it again?

The answer to that is a strong, but not definite, yes. Running the stall was an experience that I greatly enjoyed and based on the small but noticeable sales bump I’ve experienced over the following couple of weeks it has boosted my profile. It definitely boosted my ego and energy levels significantly, something that is always helpful during these dark months.

You might be wondering why my answer to the question isn’t 100% yes. There are a number of reasons.

The first is money. I didn’t make a profit from this event, though I wasn’t too far from it. This year I could afford that and I think the cost was worth it. I’ve no idea what sort of situation I’ll be in when trader registration opens in 2023 and if inflation continues as it has done the past few months then the costs may simply be too high for me.

The second reason is location, and relates back to the first. There is a strong possibility that the event will move to the Excel next year. It’s a bigger venue and provides the space needed the convention to grow but change also means prices may rise. It’s also just that little bit more awkward to get to compared to Hammersmith.

The final factor is novelty. I had six products on offer and most of them had never been sold at a convention before (and those that had weren’t necessarily prominent items). I can’t bank on those games selling well again next year which means I need new products. Realistically I probably need 2-3 new products. Minimum. That’s not an unrealistic goal for the year given my past output and there’s always a second option – sharing the stall space. This is something I’ve discussed with a couple of people and would allow for a wider selection of games. Alongside the various one off setup costs I had this year sharing the stall would significantly reduce my costs and make it easier to break even.

The downside is, of course, that more games doesn’t automatically mean more sales. By sharing the stall I could end up losing money simply by dividing the same amount of income across more people. It’s something I’ll need to consider carefully before coming to any decision and thankfully it’s one that I’m ok with leaving to future me to deal with.

In terms of what would I do different the list is surprisingly short. The main one is more obvious this is who I am / contact details which will be especially important if I share a stand. Second is less stock as I could have taken half of what I did and gone home with a nearly empty, rather than half empty, case. Finally, adding a vertical stand or two would have made better use of the space and have brought more items up to eye level.

All in all though I think that for my first time it went really well. Part of that was planning and part of it was observation. In the months running up to the convention I was checking the hashtags for major events to get a feel for how others presented their stalls. Combined with my own experience as a visitor to conventions I had a clear idea of how I wanted the stall to look. I also looked into what others had written about running stalls. The Technical Grimoire blog has a great series of posts looking at how they have redesigned their stall over multiple conventions which was really useful in identifying the areas I wanted to focus my attention on. I was a little surprised by how few of these posts there are, which is partially why I’ve written this little series.

So what’s next? Honestly, I don’t know. Dragonmeet is rather unique in the UK in terms of the audience it attracts and I will hopefully apply to be a trader there again next year. As for other conventions it would be nice to attend one in the summer but I’m not sure what the best fit would be for me right now. I would ideally like something focused on RPGs and with a good trade hall to make it worth attending. The exception would be anything local where I could just travel to it on the day. Now that I have built up some stock and without the cost of accomodation attending a smaller event as a trader becomes much more appealing and offers the opportunity to get my games in front of a different audience.

I hope that these posts have been useful to those of you that have read through them. They’ve been very off the cuff and a way to just record my thoughts about the convention. It’s been good to get back to regular blog posts, even if I have rambled on a little.

Dragonmeet Retrospective Part 3: The Day

This is a multi-part retrospective and you can find the full series via these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

I’ve already spent many words talking about my stand and how much money I made but what about the important question, what was the convention itself like?

Fucking amazing. Exhausting, but amazing.

I’m not going to give an hour-by-hour run down here but want to focus on a few things. First up, it felt busy almost all day but never overwhelmingly so. This is one of the things I’ve always loved about Dragonmeet, the space always feels appropriate for the number of visitors. As I noted in my Tabletop Gaming Live convention report there’s a fine line at which an event feels alive and vibrant. Tabletop Gaming Live never quite got over that line while Expo, despite the massive amount of space, typically goes too far past it into crowded and unwelcoming. Dragonmeet gets it right so it will be interesting to see what happens if, as rumours suggest, it moves to the Excel next year.

It was busy enough that, with two exceptions, there was a constant flow of people wandering the trade hall and while many of those people stopped at the stand it was never overwhelming. Those two exceptions were around 2:30-3:30pm and after 5pm. I think the first was due to a mixture of people attending afternoon games and having already done loops of the halls by then. This was the longest period in the day where I went without a sale, ~70 minutes in all. The second quiet period can be easily explained by it being the final hour of trading and people heading off. Despite it being quiet I still made 4 sales as those that were still around were generally there for last-minute shopping.

If you want to take a look at how sales broke down across the day then tada!

Cumulative sales income over time
Sales income per hour

So what’s the takeaway from these? Primarily, that excel makes some ugly graphs and I couldn’t be bothered to create nice ones in R. I mean, look at the x-axis on the first one where I just could not get it to just list things on a 1 hour time scale.

More seriously the takehome is that while I had a fairly regular sales pattern throughout the day (with the exception of that 70 minute gap) over half of my sales (and total income) were during the first 3 hours of the 8 hour trading window. Are the differences statistically significant? Who knows, I can’t be bothered to check. But it tally’s with my perception of the morning being busier and then tailing off as the afternoon progressed.

Those numbers are all useful but really I want to talk about the experience. As I’ve said, it was amazing and exhausting. First up, a big thank you to everyone that came by specifically and said hello. Lots of faces I knew and far more that I didn’t but have interacted with on Twitter or discord. I even had people whose only prior interaction was playing in my games previously make a point of stopping by. As a designer with limited online reach, these interactions make it worth it. Knowing that people have been playing and enjoying my games was a massive ego boost that kept me going throughout the day.

I also had a stream of people who had heard about Numb3r Stations and were there to pick up a print copy. The game was by far my best seller of the day (27 copies) which I think can be attributed to a trio of factors. One, it’s a brand new game so even people who had supported earlier projects didn’t own it in print. Two, it was cheap at £5 (as it’s an alpha) which puts it into the impulse buy category. Three, Albi and I had both been promoting it fairly heavily online. Taken together it highlights the importance of having a new product available at the booth, even if it’s just a small one and of talking about it in the run-up to the convention. This year I’d focused on promoting Numb3r Stations and just the fact that I’d be attending as a trader, next time I’ll do more to highlight individual products and build some interest in them.

One thing I hadn’t expected (but should have) was how polarising Signal to Noise would be. Many people, on hearing the premise, declared that the game was too emotional or touched on things they weren’t quite ready to think about after the last few years. As an outlet the game really was my “lockdown baby” and I poured a lot of my own emotions into it concerning isolation, distance and losing contact with people. It was cathartic but it seems some people just aren’t far enough from those early days of the pandemic to want to revisit that yet.

Of course, it goes both ways. Dragonmeet attracts many gamers who do want to explore those sorts of feelings and it sold well throughout the day (plus has done well on the IPR booth at Big Bad Con and PaxU). I really hope that the people who bought it enjoy it and want to continue exploring the Dyson Eclipse with me.

I’ve said that the convention was exhausting and it was. I made the decision that I was going to avoid sitting down as much as possible and energised by the event took that a little too literally. From 10am to 6pm I didn’t sit down at all, something I’m not used to in my day job. Surprisingly, my legs weren’t too bad the next day. 

Why did I make this ridiculous decision? Because, in my opinion, a stand with a trader who is sitting isn’t as engaging. I wanted to be in a position where I was actively encouraging people to check out my games rather than relying on passive traffic approaching me. That meant being at eye level, handing out flyers and talking to people as they passed by. I appreciate not everyone can physically manage that but it’s a decision that I believe helped bring more trade to the stall.

Running the stall by myself proved to be easier than I had expected. It meant things like my approach and sales pitch were consistent throughout the day and as all but one of the games were mine I know them inside out and can talk about all of them in depth. That said, there were definitely a number of times when having two people would have been useful, primarily when someone approached the stall while I was already talking to someone. I’m hoping that next year I’ll be able to share my stand with someone else so we can split the work a little. A second person will mean a wider range of games on offer, which should draw more people in but will also mean needing to rethink the layout of the stall. Another bonus is that it will allow me to get away from the stand for a little and actually experience the halls.

Not being able to take a walk around the halls is perhaps my biggest regret of attending as a trader. I bought only a couple of items (the One Ring starter set and core book, Coiled Spaece) plus did some zine trades (Lichcraft and Stories to Astonish the World) but that was it. Sure, it saved me a lot of money but getting to talk to people is one of the things I love about Dragonmeet. Now that I’m attending as a trader it becomes even more important as it’s an opportunity to network and try to build connections for the future.

I did get a chance to catch up with a number of friends on both the Friday and Saturday nights which I greatly enjoyed and is another reason I make a point of attending Dragonmeet over other conventions. Gaming is, at the heart of it, about friends and having previously lived in the South East there are many people that I now only see if we cross paths at the event. That, in and of itself, makes the travel and hotel costs worth it.

Dragonmeet Retrospective Part 1: The Money

This is a multi-part retrospective and you can find the full series via these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

This weekend (3rd of December, 2022) I made my yearly trip down to Dragonmeet. It is by far my favourite convention but this year was different. Why? Because it was my first as a trader. I’m planning to write a series of posts about the experience as I think it’s important to have this information freely available. For post number one I want to talk about money, so here’s the raw numbers.

Sales

Project Cassandra (£12) – 5
Numb3r Stations (£5) – 17
Espionnage bundle (Project Cassandra, Numb3r Stations, £15) – 10
Signal to Noise (£12) – 10
Rock Hoppers (£10) – 7
Kandhara Contraband (£5) – 8
Dyson bundle (Signal to Noise, Rock Hoppers, Kandhara Contraband, £25) – 5
Stealing the Throne (£12) – 14
Home Amongst the Stars (£0) – Many!

Total sales before any fees: £818
Banked after card processing fees: £805

Costs

Stand £150
Accomodation £274
Travel £100
Printing £262
Stealing the Throne stock £126
Acrylic stands £20
Envelopes £24
Banner £40
Card reader £23
Table cloth £6

Total costs: £1025

Profit: -£220

So attending the convention as a trader cost me money and there may be a couple of costs I’ve forgotten to add to that list. The biggest single factor was accommodation – two nights in central London is expensive, especially over a December weekend. I could, if I wanted, make arguments about why certain costs don’t really count. For example, I’d have spent that money on accommodation and travel if I’d gone as a visitor while the printing and envelopes included enough stock that I probably won’t need to order reprints until at least next summer.

Was it worth it though? That’s a topic for future posts but the short answer is yes. Some of those costs such as the banner were one offs that I wouldn’t have to pay for again while I already have thoughts on how to reduce other expenditure. The big reason it was worth it though is the exposure. So many people have now looked at or bought my games that, over time, it will start to add up and boost future sales. But as I said, that’s for a future post.

Prepping for Dragonmeet

Test setup of a convention stall fill of RPG zines. To the left is a toll roller banner and the stand is in front of a bookcase

With Dragonmeet rapidly approaching it seemed wise to put together a test of my stand setup earlier this week to see if there was anything missing or obvious issues with it. I’ve been fretting over how to arrange my stand since making the decision to exhibit at the convention but honestly, I’m really happy with how it looks.

The biggest surprise while putting everything together was that I’ve got a decent range of products to promote. Unlike some creators I’m not the most prolific so to get to ordering my print run and finally feeling like yeah, this is a good selection, was really heartening. While I’d obviously love to sell out and make loads of money my aim for the weekend is to showcase what I do and build some awareness.

It’s honestly a weird position to be in as I’ve moved squarely from the hobby to keep me engaged with gaming to taking the business side of things seriously. Am I ever going to do this full time? Almost certainly not. Would I like to be recognised as a designer and build a modest audience? Yes, and this is a big step forward in doing that.

So what will be on the stall?

Well I’ll have 2 distinct themes of games – sci-fi and spies. The sci-fi releases include Signal to Noise, Rock Hoppers and The Kandhara Contraband. Supporting those I’ll also have the excellent Stealing the Throne by Nick Bate, who unfortunately can’t make it this year.

On the espionage half I’ll obviously have Project Cassandra which will be backed up by Numb3r Stations, my recent collaboration with Albi.

To top it off, a freebie in the form of Home Amongst the Stars as an A6 leaflet. Suffice to say getting through the next week of work is going to be a challenge when I’ve got the convention to loon forward to.

Con Report: Tabletop Gaming Live 2022

The last couple of years have, understandably, been hard on the convention scene. While many shifted to an online format that continued to bring people together for seminars and virtual games the trader hall proved nearly impossible to replicate. People tried but ultimately a discord channel will never be able to replace browsing a row of stalls.

With face-to-face events returning here in the UK last weekend I attended Tabletop Gaming Live for the first time. Organised by Tabletop Gaming Magazine it had moved from its previous home in the Alexandra Palace in London to the Victoria Warehouse in Manchester.

So how was it?

Well to answer that question I need to go over a rather long list of caveats, which should immediately give you an idea of where this might be going.

Caveat 1: A dead monarch. The event took place only days before the burial of the Queen, which will have definitely affected attendance.

Caveat 2: Train strikes. I went on Saturday but until the death of the Queen that wouldn’t have been possible as there were meant to be train strikes that day. While I lived close enough that I could rearrange my plans for many it wouldn’t have been an option at short notice.

Caveat 3: New venue. This was the first year that the event had taken place in Manchester and it always takes a while to settle in. I suspect many Londoners will have chosen against attending because it was no longer local and Londoners are loathe to travel outside the M25. I know that’s a massive generalisation but I worked in London long enough to know that it’s also true.

Caveat 4: Pandemic recovery. It’s still ongoing and will have put some people off, especially if they would have had to use public transport to attend.

Caveat 5: Me. I attended the event on my own and what I’ve noticed over the years is that as a lone attendee it’s harder to get attention from demo teams. I get it – most board games need at least two people to do a proper demo but even a quick rundown of the game is appreciated.

So, back to that question of how was it. Honestly? A little underwhelming.

Now before I dive into why I want to focus on the positives. First, the traders – there was a really good selection, spanning small indies to a few (but far from all) of the larger players in the board gaming world. With the size of the event, indie traders were able to shine and get the attention they deserve, rather than being hidden away at the back like can happen at Expo. There were also a pleasant number of stalls selling RPGs, some for the first time and others more established, though again with the focus on indie publishers rather than the big names that can dominate the attention at Expo or Dragonmeet.

In terms of purchases, I was trying to keep to a fairly strict budget. On the RPG front, I picked up Bucket of Bolts from Sealed Library, Regicide from Loot the Room and Kaiju Caltrops from Button Kin Games. Expect to hear more about those in the newsletter. I supplemented those games with a Sci-Fi character concept deck from Artemis Games (which will be very useful for the development of the Dyson Eclipse setting) and a single board game, Trails (part of the Parks series of games). For a smallish event that’s not a bad haul and I could have easily spent more (I did register my interest in a few upcoming Kickstarters after demoing the games).

With all that said why did I call the convention underwhelming? First off it was a lot quieter than I expected, which wasn’t helped by security performing pointless bag checks on the way in. I queued for 45 minutes only for them to check the main compartment, ask me to open my dice bag but then ignore all of the side pockets on my bag. Not a great start. There was a flow of people but the convention never felt busy or alive in the way that you really want, see the photo below which was about as busy as it got. 

It’s a tricky balance for any convention and partially this may be down to my own expectations – the event is organised by Tabletop Gaming Magazine and the promotion for it gives the impression that it will be a big event. Not Expo-sized but definitely a major convention for the UK. It felt like they were aiming too high, too soon rather than growing the event over time which may partially explain the shift out of London this year after reportedly disappointing number pre-covid.

Tied to this was the price – £16 for a day ticket, which is only £2 less than Expo (which is an order of magnitude bigger) charge for a day ticket.

Finally, there was just a lack of things to do. With it being quiet I managed to demo the games I was interested in relatively quickly and then… well that was that. I went round the entirety of the trade hall five or six times and had a good chat with a number of traders. There were only a couple of seminars and no tournaments or clear organised drop-in game spaces unless I somehow missed them. Tables had been set aside for open gaming which is always a plus but as I mentioned in the caveats I was attending alone and those spaces are more suited to groups wanting to play the games they’ve just bought. It made me realise how much I appreciate Games on Demand, where you show up at a set time and there is someone that will try to find you a game to play. I’ve only really done it for RPGs but there’s no reason it couldn’t be run for board games as well.

In the end, while I’d planned on a full day I left earlier than I’d intended and headed for home, glad I’d only bought a one-day ticket. Would I go again next year? I’m not sure. If I could go, play a 2-4 hour RPG and then browse the trade hall I definitely would but I don’t know if the current venue has the space for loads of RPG tables (or organised play board games). Without it, I think I would need a group to go with, one where we could meet up at a set time and settle in to play what we’d bought. It’s a shame as I think having this sort of event outside of London is important for the convention scene and Manchester is a great city to hold it in. I also think the convention has a lot of potential, it just needs to find its feet and be given time to grow.

I’ll wait and see what the future holds but come next year it will be an “if I feel like it” rather than a “must attend” event.

Review: Flare Audio Calmer earbuds

Looking back it’s quite easy to see how poorly I have dealt with auditory processing throughout my life, whether it be my tendancy to hyperfocus on particular sources or general dislike of crowds. At one extreme there are times where if I’m focused on the audio from a TV I won’t process the words of someone else in the room. My brain will hear the noise but it just registers as background, not a voice or words I need to listen to.

Experiences like that mean I sometimes joke that I’m hard of listening as opposed to being hard of hearing.

At the other end of the extreme though comes overstimulation, times where my brain tries to process every voice in a crowd and is unable to push any into the background. It’s an exhausting, overwhelming and anxiety inducing experience that I can only really mitigate by getting out of the situation. It’s also entirely out of my control, sometimes a crowd of hundreds is fine while other times a dozen people in a relatively small space is too much.

What’s that got to do with gaming though?

Well most of the time RPGs involve people and conversations and with the return of in person conventions larger crowds, all speaking at once. After a particularly bad (but not gaming related) experience last year I decided to try out Flare Audio Calmer earbuds to see if they could help. Partially this was because of my plan to attend Dragonmeet and I wanted to have the additional option if needed. As it turned out I wore them the full day, only taking them out once I got to the confines of my hotel room.

What are they?

Flare Audio are one of a number of companies that offer soft silicone ear buds designed to filter out a portion of the audio landscape. The company claims that they remove distortion in the 2-8kHz range (middle to high frequencies) that can trigger the fight or flight response while leaving the wearer able to hear most sounds.

What are they like to wear?

Surprisingly comfortable, though they do require some getting used to. The silicone is soft and the buds easy to fit – if you are ok with standard in-ear earbuds then you should be fine with them. They’re available in three sizes, standard, mini and kids plus a range of colours while a pro version offers a more fine tuned filtering (though at twice the price). It took me a few days to get used to wearing them for more than a couple of hours but after that I got into the habit of just putting them in whenever I was out and about (though it’s worth noting on occasion I do find they get a little uncomfortable).

Do they work?

That’s the important question, to which the answer is yes, but. There’s always a but. They definitely take the edge off of noises, especially high frequency ones such as machinery or the screeching of train brakes (yay, commuting!). They also succeed in taking the edge off of voices, especially from background conversations. However, this is where that but comes in.

By filtering out some vocal frequencies there have been occasions where I’ve found them that little harder to follow. Not by much, but just a little, to the point that they may sound a little flat. It’s a trade off I’m generally willing to accept as voices tend to be the major source of troublesome noise for me the earbuds would be pointless if they didn’t filter them out.

So are they worth it?

For me, yes. If you struggle with auditory over stimulation then I would recommend giving them a try. There are a number of companies selling similar products and the basic models (such as the Flare Audio Calmer I use) only cost £20. That’s low enough that they’re worth just giving a try if you think they might help, just be aware that the effect might be subtler than you first expect. As they fit into the ear canal it’s also possible to stack them with over the ear headphones. This can not only help smooth out the audio range of whatever you’re listening to but also means they can be combined with active noise cancellation to enhance the effect.

Con report: Dragonmeet 2019

After attending a number of excellent events earlier this year I knew that my final convention of the year had to be something special. That really meant I had only one option, Dragonmeet this past Saturday (November 30th) in London. As I’m no longer based in the South East I went with the there and back again stupidly long day option, taking a 06:45 train down from Liverpool and then rushing off to catch a 18:07 train home again. Was the 16 hour round trip worth it? Absolutely.

The Convention

The last time I was at Dragonmeet (2015 I think) it had just relocated to its current venue, the Novotel West hotel near Hammersmith. In that time it has grown substantially, with the trade hall now spread over two floors and they have finally (!) replaced the game sign-up process with online booking that limits the sign-up scrum that the convention had become infamous for.

I spent the morning in the trade hall, saying hello to people and browsing the stalls and even conducting an impromptu interview for the Rolistes podcast. After working on the Crystal Heart kickstarter I also finally got the chance to say hello in person to Eran and Aviv from Up to Four Players and I can’t wait to see how that world progresses over the next year. I handed out business cards with free download links to a few people, so hopefully that will help with getting my work seen by a wider audience. (This is something that I find excruciatingly difficult so sorry to anybody that thought I was avoiding a conversation!)

Overall I was really impressed by the range of products on offer and thanks to expanding onto the second floor it never felt too busy (unlike the chaos of Expo). Dragonmeet is built around RPGs and it was good to see that while it has grown there were still dozens of independents mixed in with established small studios and some of the larger publishers such as Modiphius, Cubicle 7 and Pelgrane Press.

I’ve posted a separate loot post but suffice to say I had no problem in spending more than I’d initially planned to and was happily over budget by half eleven. There were a few further products I did consider picking up – Carbon 2185, which looks really nice but from my perspective is a difficult ask given my apprehension towards 5E derivatives. There was also Broken Shield 2.0, a brand new iteration of an interesting dark future-noir setting. Unfortunately I’d bought the original game many years ago and got burned by the clunky, old-school system so was reluctant to jump straight in. I have, however, downloaded the quick-start so will give that a good look through.

Indie Games on the Hour

After playing in Games on Demand at UK Games Expo back in June I volunteered my services to run games in two slots at indie Games on the Hour (iGOTH), organised (primarily) by Josh Fox from Black Armada. I offered two games – Project Cassandra and Demon Hunters, which are probably the only systems I know well enough to comfortably run in under two hours for strangers.

During my first slot I had three players for Project Cassandra and we played the Ich bin ein Berliner scenario that is included in the minimal playtest packet (which will be receiving an update soon). The players seemed to really enjoy themselves and dived in to the game, with one player liberally spending premonitions to the point that they had run out with half an hour still remaining.

From a playtest perspective this session was extremely valuable. On the positive front it demonstrated that with a proper use of difficulties the switch back to using premonitions to re-roll dice that didn’t already add a success wasn’t game breaking. The players still failed an appropriate number of times and didn’t rely on the same small set of skills. It also reinforced my belief that the game is best with three players – that provides both a wide range of skills while ensuring that they are sufficient gaps to allow for challenges to arise naturally.

The session also picked up on two trends that I’ve spotted previously and that I’d now say form a pattern of potential issues. Those centre around powers and pacing. On the powers front they are generally underused and players tend to save them for big scenes. Not an issue but definitely something to take note of, especially during one shots. The pacing is a bigger issue – after reaching Berlin the first thing the players did was head to the site of the coming assassination attempt. Which is a perfectly logical approach but somewhat breaks the tension. I’ve got some ideas on how to go forward and will incorporate them into the next playtest.

By the time of the second slot the interest in iGOTH had seemingly exploded and all of a sudden we were swamped with players. Thankfully an additional GM was able to step up, ensuring that almost everybody got a game (I think a few late comers may have been unable to). At first count I had 11 people express an interest in Demon Hunters! While I’d have loved to accommodate them all that’s just not feasible and in the end I ran for a table of 6, which included two younger players (aged 10 and 7) and their dad plus 3 other adults who all stepped up to help make it a silly, family friendly game. To say it was chaotic would be an understatement and I found myself making numerous on the fly additions to the Missionary Opposition scenario, including a magically reanimated, vampire rabbit (inspired by a memorable scene from Dorkness Rising). I played fast and loose with the rules, knowing it was necessary to keep the kids interested and I hope that didn’t impact too much on the rest of the table. In the end the day was saved, pets were rescued and Albrecht even got to walk away with a big stick. I’m considering the possibility of simplifying the system as a way to offer it in a dedicated child friendly way without losing the flavour but that’s something for future me to think about.

Closing thoughts

It’s been a few years since I last attended Dragonmeet so it was great to see that in that time it has continued to grow but without sacrificing the welcoming feel it has always had. This isn’t a giant impersonal event like Expo – it still feels like a friendly, small convention despite being perhaps the biggest UK event focused primarily on RPGs. I don’t know the final numbers and didn’t explore the spaces dedicated to organised play or pre-booked games, I would guess in the 2-3000 over the course of the day, but it shows that the hobby is vibrant and alive. It was great to see an improved gender balance and increased visibility of queer creators but there are definitely still gains to be made, especially in drawing in non-white gamers but I also think that is (unfortunately) reflective of the UK RPG scene as a whole.

I’ve already answered the question of whether the excessively long day was worth it, which is a resounding yes. Dragonmeet remains a friendly convention that I will try and attend again next year. As I progress into this little adventure that is publishing I can see it becoming increasingly important for me as an opportunity to catch up with other indie developers. Even if that wasn’t the case the combination of gaming opportunities and chance to interact directly with traders in a relaxed space would make it worth it. In an ideal world I’d be able to make a full day of it rather than rushing off in the early evening but those sort of logistics are an issue for future me, right now I have loot to enjoy.

#RPGaDay2019 19th August: ‘Scary’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 19: Scary

I’ve never found it particularly scary to run convention games, which I largely attribute to the extensive presentation training I received while studying for my PhD. I can though, understand why people get nervous when running a game for a group of strangers. There are so many components to balance and keep track of while you’re also worrying about how to ensure everybody has an amazing time. If you do get nervous here are three tips that I’ve learned through experience:

  • Prepare properly – You can spend hours prepping the wrong material. For a convention game focus on the essentials – the basic rules and the framework of the adventure. If you know those then that gives you a core foundation. If your adventure is set on a pirate ship then core rules would include drowning. Set in the middle of a desert? You can probably skip that.
  • Have handouts ready – Always have the player character sheets ready beforehand and include rules summaries for the players and for yourself. If you can include a unique summary for each character that highlights their special abilities and role within the group.
  • Have a strong opening – Avoid the meet where the Queen/Wizard/Mr Johnson tries to convince you to accept the job and dive right in with “You’ve accepted the Queens summons to slay the beast and are on the edge of the village it razed two days ago…” It provides a clear signpost of what characters need to do, avoids the boring negotiations and states for the players that this is a job their characters would buy into. A convention game isn’t a campaign, the setup allows for you to make statements about the characters motivations and drives that the players can latch onto.

#RPGaDay2019 16th August: ‘Dream’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 16: Dream

I got to make a dream convention trip back in 2015 when I flew out to attend Stratigicon’s Gateway convention in LA. The HappyJacks community has played a massive part in keeping me involved in RPGs during points where I could have easily abandoned the hobby. It was great to finally meet up with various people that I had been interacting with for years online and I honestly had the best time possible. GenCon may boast of being the best 4 days in gaming but I think the attendees of Stratigicon probably have them beaten, the event is big enough to have variety and no shortage of options without loosing the feel of being part of a community. I’d love to go back someday but flying halfway round the world for a long weekend is unlikely to be a viable option again any time soon.

Con Report: BurritoCon 3

This weekend I had the pleasure of not only attending a new convention (to me) but getting to run the first public playtest of Project: Cassandra since reworking the system.

Held at Fanboy 3 in Manchester’s city centre the con is a small event, just over 20 attendees with 4 morning games and a further 4 in the afternoon. For the morning slot my first choice of A Code of Steam and Steel (run by creator Simon Burley, @squadronuk on twitter) sadly had too much interest so I moved to the my alternative choice of Marvel FASERIP game (run by (@ConvergenceUK1). It is a legendary system but not one I’d played before. I won’t spoil the scenario but our group of Captain America, Captain Britain, Daredevil, Spiderman and Union Jack succeeded in saving the day.

The FASERIP system is interesting but definitely a product of its time with the need to cross reference the dice roll against a chart. It works well though and flowed pretty effortlessly, thanks in part to the fact that the GM clearly knew it inside and out, I am fairly certain he could run it entirely in his head if he wanted. We unfortunately ran quite considerably past the end of the 3 hour slot, in part due to a series of bad rolls during the opening combat leading to our superheroes failing struggling to fight off mere rats. A little frustrating given I then had to rush to eat lunch before the next slot.

I’ve now played three different Marvel systems and while I’ve generally enjoyed them am coming to the conclusion that comic book style superhero games aren’t for me. They tend to jump from one action scene to another too much for my liking. It’s entirely consistent with the genre so the issue is definitely with me as opposed to the games but I find it interesting just how long it has taken for me to reach this point of understanding.

For the afternoon shot I was fortunate to be able to playtest the new and improved Project: Cassandra. I had four players who took on the roles of Tanaka, Whitford, Sarsin and Brown as they attempted to save JFK from assassination. I am really happy to say that the game not only went well but provided me with plenty of data for where to focus fine tuning. The characters worked, with their diverse skill sets forcing them to come together as a team and the changes to the skill system meant that they actually failed actions at what felt like the right frequency. They also managed to bypass the entire opening challenge (being chased through the countryside by East German patrols) after an impressive use of a Knowledge provided them with a glider for a stealth insertion. That’s exactly the sort of thing that Knowledges exist for and it was encouraging to see it work in play.

New and improved Project: Cassandra character sheets

In terms of fine tuning and changes there are certainly still tweaks that need to be made. Right now my thoughts are:

  • A set of four shared central skills, for example everybody should have observation under the mental skill set.
  • Clearer guidelines for harm, both taking and causing it. The combat we had was quick, as intended, but was over a little too quickly to build tension.
  • Ensure that the opening questions include at least one location the PCs need to reach before the President to give them a signpost for where to go.
  • One of the players actually suggested making premonitions work the way they used to (only reroll dice without successes). I do prefer this option but need to do a deep dive into the probabilities in order to make it work.
  • Guidelines for tailoring the scenarios to one-shots vs mini-campaigns.

That obviously looks like a lot of negatives but doesn’t really touch on all the things that worked and how happy I was with being able to play through a full scenario in just three hours. With a few other projects moving to completion recently Project: Cassandra is back in focus and I’m looking forward to start pulling it together again. First stop, a basic playtest packet that I can release and use in the future.

As a small and relatively local event I can say that I really enjoyed BurritoCon, everybody I spoke to was friendly, it was amazingly well organised by Neil of Old Scouser Roleplaying (@oldscouserRPing) and the games on offer were diverse with no overlapping systems. Of the eight systems played over the course of the day three were being run by their creators, a rather impressive ratio. Fanboy 3 is also a great venue, with plenty of space and one of the largest board game collections I’ve seen for sale outside of the Games Expo. Perhaps the only downside of the event was most people needing to disperse home relatively quickly afterwards, but that’s not too surprising when people have travelled on the day to be there.

There’s talk of a repeat in October and I can confidently say I’ll try and attend it given how much I enjoyed this visit.