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.

2019 Progress: Halfway there?

As ever time marches on and all too soon the first six months of the year have passed. Given my hope of this year being the one where I move a host of projects forward I thought it would be worthwhile to do an update on my goals for 2019.

Have dones

  • Written and playtested Ghosts of Iron for the Crystal Heart RPG. I’m in the process of revising the text before I submit it. Should be released to Kickstarter backers later this year.
  • Completed the draft for Trick of the Light, my next Demon Hunters adventure starter inspired by the Slice of Life web series. Currently editing and moving it to layout so should hopefully be released soon (ideally before GenCon).
  • Drafted three missions for The Sprawl and handed them over to @HyveMynd for editing / layout. Aiming for a release later this year.

Ongoing

  • Attending conventions – I made a 1 day trip to UK Games Expo 2019 and will be attending BurritoCon 3 in Manchester later this month. I’m also aiming to attend DragonMeet later in the year, if I do I’ll be running games as part of Games on Demand.
  • Progress on Project Cassandra! I posted up the current characters and a rules summary (which is now itself out of date) and am in the process of putting together a playtest packet for BurritoCon. First public playtest since the disaster of Dragonmeet.
  • I have notes for the remaining two Slice of Life adventures and have decided that the Clean-up Crew scenario will be a Fiasco playset given how well the episode meshes with that system. These will be my next focus after Ghosts of Iron and Trick of the Light.
  • The D&D Immortals campaign continues and has passed the tipping point, with the characters ensnared by Destiny and heading towards some epic showdowns with the previous generation of Immortals.

Will I evers

  • Patreon. With the change in how Patreon were going to charge creators I decided to sign up for one with the thought of actually starting it later in the year. Right now I’m sitting on it for the simple reason that it won’t work until I manage to build some interest in what I produce and the first step in that is to actually produce some material. I haven’t released anything since last year and right now I don’t have a core focus for any Patreon project. I don’t know if there is enough interest in material focusing solely on Demon Hunters while most of my other projects have been standalone. Regardless of whether I ever do use it my first goal has to be building up a catalogue of material I can point to.
  • The Kingsport Tribune one-page Cthulhu idea looks like it is going nowhere, just didn’t come together though it did give me some practice with a newspaper style layout.
  • Rocket Demons of Antiquity is on the backburner for now. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a scenario that will require an ongoing campaign to delve into as opposed to my typical one-shot playtests. Plus I’ve got at least three other adventures inspired by previous campaigns where I already know the story-beats to write up first.
  • DMs Guild material – While I have notes for a few products I’ve yet to make any move or progress towards writing them up. Although I expect they would be far bigger sellers than anything I’ve produced to date I’m fortunate enough to be in the position where that isn’t a priority so I can focus on the material that most interests me.

UK Games Expo 2019 – Links roundup

Having attended this years UK Games Expo for only a single day (see my report on it here) I ‘ve been reading over convention reports from other people to obtain a wider appreciation of the event. As I imagine others might be in the same position I wanted to share some links for everybody to enjoy.

The below selection focuses almost exclusively on blog posts and is neither an exhaustive roundup nor endorsement of the listed blogs in general. If you have a post that you would like included just leave a message in the comments, if I get enough I’ll put together an additional post to highlight them.

Attendees

Another Day in Paradise by the TableTop Games Blog
Expos and Pirates and Castles, Oh My! by First Take Some Dice
Hope’s Last Stand – UK Games Expo Preview of Alien: The Roleplaying Game by AvP Galaxy
UK Games Expo 2019: Games…  Lots of games by Geek Pride
1D6 UK Games Expo ’19 Exposed by The Grognard Files with a followup photo scrapbook
UKGE 2019 Roundup by Big Red Barrel
The Game Shelf @ The UK Games Expo 2019 Day 1 and Day 2
A full series of posts from The Giant Brain individually covering Day 0, Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3
UK Games Expo 2019 by The Crooked Staff
UK Games Expo 2019 by What Luke Did Next…and What Lottie Loves
UK Games Expo 2019 report by In 2 The Review
UK Games Expo in Pictures by The Real Jobby
Event Report: UKGE 2019 by Story Makers Games

Stall holders / publishers

Thoughts from UK Games Expo 2019 by Owen Duffy, publisher of The Board Game Book.
Fun and Book Signing on the Author Stand at the UK Games Expo 2019 by SC Skillman
UK Games Expo Report by Scott Gaeta of Renegade Game Studios
UKGE Recap! by Goodman Games (New! Added post-publication on the 7th June)

Some top games lists

Our Games of UK Games Expo 2019 by Coaching for Geeks
Top 10 Games UK Games Expo 2019 by Creaking Shelves
Top 5 Games of the UK Games Expo 2019 by Geek Pride

And last but not least, a seminar recording

How to GM – Live From UK Games Expo 2019 by What would the smart party do?

UK Games Expo 2019 – Thoughts from a one day visit

After many years of not quite making it 2019 was the year that I finally attended UK Games Expo, the largest gaming convention here in the UK. Having made the decision at the last minute I attended for only the Saturday, with a focus on surveying the trade halls and demoing games.

The scale of that task was quickly apparent, my casual stroll to get my bearings and see what was on offer took over an hour and a half! Rather than ramble on I thought I’d do a quick hots and nots but first my haul:

A rather modest one given everything that was on offer. A physical copy of The Cthulhu Hack is something that I have been wanting to pick up since acquiring the PDFs while the dry erase character sheets are a perfect idea for quick games or the innevitable character death. Villagers was a game I’d never heard of before but was able to demo and I knew pretty quickly I wanted to pick it up. We’ve played a few games since I got it home and while it is a little complicated to explain it plays quickly is a lot of fun once you know what you are doing. Finally the Legend of the Five Rings 5th Edition Starter Set. As a big fan of the 4th Edition this new, wildly different take on the samurai staple has been on my radar ever since the beta test. While I’ve not had a chance to fully read over it my intial impressions are decidedly mixed, expect a full post soon once I’ve had a chance to do a thorough read through.

Hots

So many games. To say the expo is big is an understatement, it’s massive and it was great to see the games hobby in such a vibrant state. There was a healthy mix of big and small publishers, independents and even component manufacturers present. While RPGs comprised only a small portion of this all of the stalls were doing a healthy trade and I heard a few publishers say that they’d quickly sold out of some lines.

Catching up with people. Like much of the community I find that most of my gaming interactions these days are online rather than in person so Expo offered a rare chance to catch up with people and put some faces to the various people that I have met through twitter, podcasts and other communities. There were some that I didn’t get a chance to see, hopefully next year I’ll be around for longer and able to arrange for a post game pint somewhere.

Games On Demand. Having only decided to attend at the last minute and wanting to focus on the trade hall I made the decision to pop down to Games on Demand for a quick two hour game. I should have spent more time there, as in retrospect, I enjoy the actual gaming experience far more than I do looking at games. The GMs were great, running a complete game in a 2 hour time slot is not easy and each of them appeared to have multiple systems on offer! The ultimate credit though must go to the organiser Lloyd for putting it together and running one of the most organised spaces I’ve seen at a convention.

Food options. Expecting limited options and long queues I’d brought food with me but realistically I needn’t have worried as the NEC had numerous vendors and there was even a collection of food trucks setup outside the Hilton.

Nots

Lack of water fountains. With thousands of people crammed into what is essentially a giant warehouse it was always going to be hot, compounded by the fact that outside it was a hot day building towards thunderstorm weather. That combination made the atmosphere inside rather oppressive, with little airflow and more than once I found myself having to step outside to get some fresh air. While those factors are out of the control of Expo something that they could have done with was more water fountains. As I was carrying a water bottle I was keeping an eye out for them but only found one during the course of the day (I suspect there were more, but if there were they weren’t obvious). Given the conditions and number of visitors I was both surprised and disappointed by that.

Me. If I’m honest I wasn’t 100% in the right headspace for the Expo. I was tired and found myself a little overwhelmed by the crowds. That led to me not engaging with stalls as much as I wanted to (something I find difficult at the best of times) and avoiding a few particularly busy demo areas because I couldn’t really face waiting around in a crowded area until a space became available.