Reviews of RPGs, accessories, and gaming experiences at conventions.
It’s been a few weeks since Q-CON 2015, at Queen’s University Belfast. I’d hoped to get this written down while it was still fresh in my mind, but circumstances conspired against me!
It’s only a short flight to Belfast , but I got the ridiculously early (cheap!) 7am flight. After the nightmare of queuing for ages for the security checks at Edinburgh airport, and running the length of the terminal, I was seriously regretting taking the early flight. I loaded my case with games stuff and sent that through to the baggage compartment first (the new baggage check-in process works great at the airport).
I caught up with an old friend on the plane – Benn, who also works on various Modiphius products (including the Mutant Chronicles, DUST Adventures, and Conan). We got the shuttle bus into Belfast. It’s pretty good – £11.50 return, and there’s plenty of space. The bus station isn’t far from where I stayed last year, at the Ibis Hotel. It also has a shopping precinct nearby where you can get coffee or toiletries.
As I’d pre-registered, I only had to wait a while before collecting my badge/convention pass. We were at the head of the queue, but there was still a fair bit of confusion – two queues formed: one was for pre-registered attendees, the other wasn’t. Didn’t matter too much to me as I was at the front!
I got a lift to the Elms, the nearby student village where I was staying for the duration of Q-CON. It’s about 10 minutes walk from the convention. The room was clean and functional – en-suite bathroom and shower (which was awful – cold and cramped), and a communal kitchen area. I’m not sure if I’d stay there again though. The doors were constantly banging closed – not just the front door but guest room doors, especially annoying late at night. If you wanted breakfast you need to book in advance, and it cost £7. I didn’t bother – there was a supermarket (Centra) that sold hot food like sausages-in-a-bun on the way. Plus there’s Maggie May’s and Doorsteps nearby.
I wasn’t feeling too hot on Friday, so pretty much chilled out in the room in the evening. I didn’t get much sleep due to the constant slamming of doors. Despite Saturday being fairly damp, I remained dry and set out to run my games. Benn got himself into my Mutant Chronicles game, so that made for an interesting experience! I didn’t make too many mistakes – I’ve run Straffar Gatan 39 many times now, but the pressure is on when one of the writer-developers is playing!
Mutant: Year 0 went very well. It’s a nice easy game for people to pick up. Initially I thought there’d be no one wanting to play, but it filled up with a group of 6! Lots of fun with the mutants taming a Bitterbeast and raiding the ‘esco shelves. I’d hoped to run the Infinity RPG as swell (the game is very popular in Belfast), in the evening slot. Sadly my voice had largely started to give up on me – instead I wound up at the Pub Quiz, run by local Edinburgh gaming guru Marc Farrimond (poor chap had been sick all week).
Sunday was almost as busy, with me running Achtung! Cthulhu first thing. I’d hoped to run the second part of the Mutant Chronicles adventure, the Fall of Von Holle, but didn’t have any players but one (it was kind of an afterthought!). I also got the chance to catch up with the two Blackstaff Press authors I met last year Kenneth Gregory, who wrote The Polaris Whisper and Laurence Donaghy, writer of the Folk’d series [amazon template=image&asin=085640912X] [amazon template=image&asin=0856409189].
Regarding the convention itself, I enjoyed myself more last year I think. Last year was very much more lively for me, but it was my first proper gaming con. Sadly there seemed to be fewer games running this year, and there weren’t as many traders selling gaming stuff. The focus appears to be shifting more to the cosplay aspect of the convention, and the traders hall reflected this. I think there’s fewer gamers than cos-players at Q-CON, but it did seem a bit more quiet than last year.
The CCG and wargames have largely over-spilled into a separate hall, just like the RPGs. Half of the RPG area was taken up by Pathfinder Society games, as there’s quite a following for it. Not something I’ve much time for sadly. I would have liked to have seen some of the games being demo’d too (e.g. Firestorm Armada), but was unlucky – they’d either finished or had left for the day.
For cheap accommodation the Elms was pretty good value, especially compared to the Ibis the year before, but I think that next time I’ll go for hotel accommodation again. It was noisy and a bit too basic at the Elms, particularly late at night. Other than a few minor irritations, I largely enjoyed myself at Q-CON 2015, and made a bunch of new friends. Also, can someone tell me the name for that weird “statues” game the cos-players do?
I got back from the UK Games Expo last Monday. It’s quite an experience if you’ve never been and something every gamer should try. I’ll try and break down my experiences by day.
Thursday did not start well, but not the fault of theExpo. I repacked my case again, so the books wouldn’t roll around in transit – I bought a suitcase particularly for that reason, but the damn thing was heavy with the rucksack as well. I decided to take the train, as it might give me some time to finish writing and reading up on the adventures (and I hate spending time in airports!). I managed to spill Ribena down myself which did nothing to help my mood when the departures board in the station packed in. Fortunately it was fixed in short order. Next up, the train carriages electrics were acting up and the air conditioning had packed in. Not only that but I couldn’t find my reserved seat (I actually spent the entire journey in the wrong seat it turns out), as all the numbers were rubbed off and the electronics legends were off. Not an auspicious start.
Still arrived on time at the cavernous NEC where everything was eerily quiet and echoing at 5pm. So I set off for the Hilton. At least where I thought it was, as my phone couldn’t get a GPS fix. I wandered from one end of the NEC car park – which is pretty much 3/4 mile before realising I was heading the wrong way. So I’m standing in the middle of the car park, when I spot this tiny path through the woods. Considering the land is flat, all I could see were trees – I head unpleasant recollections of looking for the Hotel Baden in Tokoyo, when Expedia failed to mention the hotel address correctly, that the name had changed, and that the building had been remodelled…
So I thought, “Sod it!” and headed up the path, and Lo! There was the hotel entrance hidden behind the woods. What I didn’t realise was the lengthy trudge to get to reception on the other side. By now I was hot tired and sweaty. So finally went to check in, only to find that – possibly due to lack of sleep I’d not booked Sunday night too. One credit card charge later, I headed up the lift to my room on the top floor. I headed down to the bar, had a near-apoplectic fit at the cost and waited to hear from the Modiphius folks who were setting up in the Trade Hall. Also caught up with a few former Edinburgh gamers from ORC Edinburgh.
Helping the Modiphius Team setup was one of those “Shall we dance?” – with boxes – like some weird Olympic event as we shuffled the various books of Achtung! Cthulhu, Mutant: Year 0, and Cogs Cakes and Candlesticks into place on the tables and shelves in tight confines. We then declared our works good and as is the tradition of such endeavours, buggered off to the pub. We took our pints to the Open Gaming area and started playing the Conan RPG – ruddy good fun. Marc Longworthy,you did a great job keeping Chris, Nathan, Michal, and I on track as we did a Prison Break, Conan-style, in The Red Pit. We were pretty much dead on our feet in the wee small hours and headed off to sleep. A long day, but a good day.
I got up at a sensible hour and discovered the joys of the Hilton’s lack of network when I unpacked the netbook and found the wifi card was totally banjaxed, and dead weight but at least the books were on it if needed. No Cat-5 link connection, either. A series of short four-letter words were then repeated as a mantra.
I spent most of the day helping on the Modiphius stand. Or maybe hindering? I don’t think anyone knows as we were all so busy, occasionally getting in other’s way. I ran a demo game of Mutant: Year 0 from a few players and one chap bought the entire range of it on the spot. We had plenty of games going – Marc and Nathan did Mutant Chronicles 3e and Conan, as well as us all trying to flog the books to the punters. Looked of folk collecting their Kickstarter rewards across the Expo. Including AVP. Lucky gits. I think the others planned to do board games – the Thunderbirds mock-up was popular, and pretty much in constant demand – later that evening. I turned in early after we got booted out by the Stewards. I had the rest of the Cliché scenario to, um, write.
It was a big day on Saturday. Three 4-hour gaming sessions with 1-hour breaks in between.This was a marathon day. I dropped into the stand briefly and mooched around a bit between games (I skippred breakfast after realising my first game would probably be starting before I got food (there was that mantra again). A full house of 6 players loved Achtung! Cthulhu (A Prayer for St. Nazaire – “Thanks Bill, that was cracking!”) – and later bought the books. The Mutant Chronicles combined Straffar Gattan 39 and also the Fall of Von Holle. The Players said they were definitely looking forward to the game and were exhausted by the end of it. Sadly, I missed the Modiphius Expo “team photo” earlier as I was dropping off the A!C books and had a clean shirt to put on, but my back is in one of the photos :).
I’d had to book a place in the restaurant, but had some food before the last game of the night, which was challenge. But a good challenge of GM skills. Enter the youngest RPG player in the convention: 7-year Chloe. She was a bit excitable (she was there with her Mum and Uncle), but had the table in stitches with:
Dwarves love gold? Isn’t that unsanitary? – Chloe (Age 7)
Obviously, I’d had to make my Action Movie plot more child-friendly, but she’s the only one managing to get a swear word into the conversation. There was a bit of a double-take on my part! The plot was rollicking ride involving Police Scotland’s Dwarvish Consultant, a plot by the Dark Elf King Oberon, and a Draconic Captain. And Ork Boyz building a pimp-mobile Battlewagon to the tune of the A-Team. I was on fire, and so was a building by the time the players had finished with the scenario.
At midnight I crashed – literally – into bed. I’d beat my personal best. Three 4-hour sessions done. Looking back, it’s probably for me to run these session back-to-back, as it leaves me with very little time to do anything. Plus the prep time needed.
Sunday was really a day where you got the feeling everyone was panic buying (that bloody cash machine again!). I went back on the Modiphius stall where chaos taking a bit of a party with the others. This time running Achtung! Cthulhu Trellborg Monstrosities for two players, which lead to one of them buying the game, so that was a win. By mid-afternoon things were winding down and people were packing up – the trade hall was empty by 6pm! Sadly, everyone had gone when I got out of running Mutant: Year 0 later (which was lot of fun), and definitely a game I like running. I barely had a chance to say goodbye to anyone. However, there was a bit of a surprise later – I certainly don’t think it had anything to do with me (see below). The hotel radically changed too – all the character kind of felt bled out of the place, and it felt much more like an airport hotel. I think, if there was train on the Sunday I’d probably take it back to Edinburgh.
Surviving the UK Games Expo
There’s fair lot the Games Expo and it’s a lot to take in. There’s a lot of highs and lows I think, so let’s start with…
- The Hilton is EXPENSIVE. Really expensive. £5.50 for a pint, £28 for a steak. If you want internet access you have to pay £14.99 a day, although there was some coverage in the lobby. Ouch. No Cat-5 connection like the Hilton in Vancouver, either. Next time, I’ll shop around for a better deal I think (as was recommended to me)!
- Waiting ten minutes for the bar staff to notice we were waiting to get served (sarcasm worked).
- The crowds may make some people anxious. It can be a bit hard to deal with the press of the crowd.
- There’s a sort of crowd Brownian motion in the Trade Hall didn’t give folk a chance to stop and browse. However as the Expo is heading to NEC next year, I suspect this will no longer be an issue.
- There’s one cash machine in the hotel and it ran out constantly (and charged £1.50 a visit!).
- My biggest regret is that I didn’t get much of chance to see the Expo, and this was my own fault in the making, but its something I’ll bear in mind for the future. Not just at the Games Expo either.
- Getting a chance to play some awesome games with some awesome people. Next time, I plan to do some more open gaming.
- Well organised. Aside from a couple of minor things (see below) it pretty much went without a hitch to my perspective. Although a couple of GMs failed to turn up, apparently – given that the players paid for the game, it’s a little ignorant on those GMs part. The RPG organiser had made it quite clear to contact him if there were problems running a game days before.
- Seeing some great costumes. Loved those Jawas!
- Big tables that you could all comfortably sit around for RPGs with a respectable noise level. Luxury!
- Being able to demo games for folk who then went to buy the game 🙂
- Spending time on the stand with the Modiphius Team. You’re a great bunch. Hope to see you at Dragonmeet!
- There were food trucks outside, so you didn’t have to eat in the Hilton – they’re moderately less expensive and there’s Subway in the NEC.
- The air in the halls dries out quickly, so stay hydrated. If you’re working in there, probably a good idea to take lip balm!
- Keep stuff in your room – you don’t need to take boardgames to the Expo – and it’s good to keep things light (rulebooks etc. can be left behind!). Taking an extra case definitely made it easier to transport.
- Give yourself some time to take it in and don’t commit yourself to running too many games as GM!
- Sunday evening is largely dead there – everyone’s gone by 6pm. If you can, head home that night.
- Try and find a cheaper hotel than the Hilton, or find a better deal online. The Hilton does sell out fast, though.
- 3G. If you’re got it, use it – don’t rely on the Hilton wifi network.
- Take a tablet or iPad and keep any rulebooks on PDF. It’s light and more portable, plus you can capture the insanity.
- Get to the breakfast queue for 7am.
And to end it all there was this.
Modiphius Entertainment’s Mutant: Year Zero (by Friya Ligan) won UK Games Expo 2015 Best Role Play Game Award. I missed this as I was in another part of the building – running it. 🙂 I’m not taking credit for it winning though – seriouskythere was a lot of interest in it at the Expo, and the book is great.
As RPGs go, I’ve really enjoyed running this. For Q-CON, I’m going to try and make things a bit more details, possibly extending the plot line into the Eden story arc. I love the cards and dice do make things quick and easy. Plus the book’s art really works well. The headcase in Lair of the Saurians may be interesting, too. I’ve not read it yet, but it looks fun to run!
To end things on a light note, I was amused to find that one of the RPG games rooms – Suningdale – had been left off the map of the Expo. As I was running a game in it, I scouted around a bit and found it named Sunnydale. That wasn’t the only typo. Special mention should be made of the ceiling-high banner in the Monarch room. Or Monrach as it was spelt in huge letters. Ouch. I was reminded of the now classic Stonehenge scene in Spinal Tap…
Mecha vs. Kaiju has a fairly simple idea at its core – the player characters are pilots of giant robots (mecha) against gigantic Kaiju (Strange Beasts) – giant monsters (think Godzilla, Rodan, etc.). These mecha defend the islands of Japan against these Kaiju. The RPG uses the core FATE system as its rulebase. I understand there was a previously published True20 version of Mecha vs. Kaiju, but for review purposes I’ll focus on the FATE one though. You’ll need either the FATE core book, or FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE) to play the game.
The author is definitely a huge fan of Japanese anime, and this shows through in the writing. The style is clear and concise and the whole concept has been polished. The first version came out in 2008, way before the Pacific Rim movie or the Evangelion reboot. I watched Pacific Rim before running this and it’s definitely worth doing to get “fired up” creatively for this, or Robotech or Evangelion! He’s obviously done his research and his love of the subject matter is evident throughout the Mecha vs. Kaiju rulebook. Although I’m not a huge fan of the older Godzilla movies, I did feel the enthusiasm he has start to rub off on me as I read through the book.
So what do you get? The Mecha vs Kaiju book is pretty extensive (just short of 180 pages), so I’ll break it down into chapters, and summarise my thoughts at the end.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Not much to see here, but an interesting list of films for inspiration!
Chapter 2: Character Creation
This has a number of anime archetypes such as Dasaiko (“creepy girl/boy”) and Raiburu (“rebel/rival”). There’s enough here for you to come up with a basic character at least. However as one of my players pointed out no one really cares about the dice in your biology skill when your piloting a 100-ton mecha. The human aspect tends to boil down to how good a pilot you are or how accurate. As Mecha vs. Kaiju uses FATE, an example of character creation would have been great to have.
As an aside, FATE is very difficult to pick up if you’ve never played it before – or GM’d it in my case. The concepts of aspects, compels, stunts etc., is hugely overwhelming if you’ve never played FATE. Mecha vs. Kaiju could definitely have done with a bit more “hand-holding” in that chapter! Maybe an obligatory “what are roleplaying games?” chapter would be useful.
A number of new skills and stunts are introduced – one is “Mecha weaponry” which covers melee and ranged combat whilst piloting a mecha. I would have preferred two distinct skills for that.
Chapter 3: Mecha Assault Force
Largely a history and what I would call a “fluff” section, it’s designed to give players a bit of background of the Mecha Assault Force’s history. It’s rather good.
Chapter 4: Mecha-related Rules
Mecha vs. Kaiju allows you to design your own mecha, using the FATE rules. There’s a lot of flexibility here and there’s some great ideas. Some of the stunts are right out of Saturday morning cartoons and anime! A very well written and well thought-out chapter. The only criticism I have is that there’s only two mecha listed – again it’d be nice to see some more “off the peg” mecha than the two listed.
Chapter 5: Gamemaster’s Section
Like Chapter 4: Mecha Assault Force above, this section deals with some sample kaiju, and their design using FATE. There’s a lot of ideas here and again you can see the author/designer’s love of the genre. The descriptions of the kaiju are largely a dialogue between a group of NPCs which really make for great reading!
Chapter 6: Secret History of Japan
Under no circumstances should players read this section. This is what is really going on in Japan and around the world. I’ll not go into it here, but there’s some seriously good plotlines here.
Chapter 7: Campaign Scenarios
Sadly, this section has a lot of really annoying errors or inconsistencies. Not to mention plot holes. Some are basic spelling errors. For example, there’s a “Battle at the docs”. It’s not always clear on the sections you need to read to the players, either. I’m not sure I understood those scene aspects – how are they used? Some clarification required.
There’s also some pretty big assumptions made – for example at the gravel pit, and the ninja pitch up. The players are unarmed. Against ninjas. That’s not going to go well.
They only have a few hours training before the roc-u kaiju turns up? What about the montage? Even with the milestone in training there’s a good chance they haven’t enough mecha-related skills so the whole battle with the Roc-u can prove frustrating.
Summary: Mecha vs. Kaiju
Mecha vs. Kaiju has some great ideas. The design of the Mecha and Kaiju are solid. The meta-plotline is very creative.
My only major criticism is, like Cthulhutech, you essentially have multiple games. One is a mecha-based slug-fest against the Kaiju, the other facet a secret war being fought by normal humans in the shadows. It’s all too easy to focus on one facet while marginalizing the other during a game – and frustrating for players too.
The production values are fine – the artwork, very evocative. Some images look stretched (e.g. page 59) though, and the spelling/formatting errors are jarring. The Kaiju on the cover should be stat’d up!
I’d have liked to have seen more suggestions for the GM to encourage new players to create aspects, engage players, etc. It takes the fact that you’re already RPG players as read. That aside, FATE is a tricky concept if you’re used to D&D 4e!
In conclusion: this is a great game if you’ve an established group that’s already familiar with FATE. There’s some great ideas. If you’re not, it might feel like you’re all ice-skating uphill – but that’s not Mecha vs. Kaiju’s fault, that’s FATE!
The Corporia RPG has a very interesting premise: the Knights of the Round Table are reincarnated in the near-future. The setting: an apparent utopia known simply as The City (which can be set anywhere), run by mega-corporations. One of these is Valyant, where the CEO is the reincarnation of Sir Lancelot du Lac. An energy known as the Flux permeates the City and it is this Flux that empowers magic and awakens the various magical denizens (sometime called Cryptids). Valyant and other private security firms protect the city from the dangers of the Flux’s energy, an occult police force known as the Knightwatch.
Much of the Corporia rulebook relates to The City itself, laid out like corporate training/welcome manual, in-flight magazine, or even city guide. It’s left deliberately vague so that you can place the City wherever you want, although there is a certain bent toward a corporate America. The character sheet (of which form fillable PDFs exist) is written like an Human Resources form. Throughout The City section are ads or magazine covers that really add to the flavour I think: “Mutants are welcome in Club Nightmare!”
I’m divided on the artwork to a certain extent. There are very few paintings or similar. The majority are photographs of people in dramatic poses – such as men in suits fighting with a swords, folk wielding guns and other weaponry etc. Valyant definitely put me in mind a lot of Wolfram & Hart in the TV show, Angel (except on the other side of the fence!). Some of the photos don’t work as they don’t really relate to the subject at hand but the character Archetype portraits look great. It wouldn’t have hurt to break up the text in Corporia with some black and white art.
The system is nice and basic: roll 2d6, take the highest, add the Core Value (e.g. Strength) and Skill value. If the total is higher than the Target Number (TN) it’s a success. That’s it. A simple system. It does make combat particularly deadly though if you’re not wearing armour (be it plate mail or suit weave!). Armour is also pretty complicated, having three stats – one for Melee, one for Hi-Velocity (bullets), and another for Energy (X-caliburs!) – it does seem a bit overly difficult. I do love the fact that the melee skill is called “Getting Medieval”. PCs can utilise the Flux too by spending Flux Points. These can be used to improve rolls or activate a power of some sort (in the case of Sorcerors and other magicians, for example).
There are 13 Character Archetypes (and more available for download) in Corporia. A good mix of various types you can use to create PCs (and there are sample characters to use, like we did). As I said before, the concept art works well here, along with a quote by each Archetype. As a fan of D6 Star Wars, I have no problem with this. If you want a quick game, use one of these. There’s quite a bit of flavour to these characters, and there’s are the usual Assets and Backgrounds (wealth etc.) that won’t be unfamiliar to anyone who’s played Shadowrun or World of Darkness.
There’s a few starting adventures although I’d have like to have seen a single introductory adventure with a bit more substance. There’s a small beastiary. The monsters, or Cryptids, are pretty much the ones we’ve come to expect (vampires, werewolves, succubi, etc). The adventures are a bit of let-down though. “The Lady in the Lake” adventure makes no sense – it just confused me. HOW are the PCs expected to find the killer? There is a meta-plot (like World of Darkness) based in Arthurian legend but I’ll not touch on it here, as it’s more fun for players to figure it out on their own! I do like Corporia’s GRAIL adventure concept: Goal, Recon, Assault, Infiltration, Liquidation. That’s a nice idea. It breaks things down into easily-managed concepts. Also really fits in with the whole Athurian legend concept.
Now, in regards to the presentation of Corporia itself. I have a few criticisms. I have the digital edition (which I got free for review – just to make that clear!), which is technically great. Its bookmarked, cross-linked and even gives you helpful hints for its use. I would definitely want it in book format though. There’s no POD option and I’m fairly certain my local games shop wouldn’t get it in. The layout could be better, spacing out the paragraphs a bit more, perhaps using two columns. It feels like a Word document converted to PDF. Two different body text fonts and lots of stuff in small case that don’t really add to anything. Also the GM is called the Director. It’s a minor thing, I know, but please can we just call a GM “GM” in RPGs? There’s a section entitled Game Mastery already… The players will call them GM anyway.
The game of Corporia we played was a short one, using the sample characters. One player had never played an RPG before, but found it quite easy to pick up once he’d read the character sheet. As GM, it was pretty straightforward to run (we played the QUESTbusters scenario) although I spent a lot of time winging it. The armour in combat was a bit tricky to figure out, perhaps a simpler system could have been used other than “7 /10/4” notation.
I think you could call this game genre Knightpunk. In summary, Corporia is a solid little game that could definitely use a little reformatting. It also needs a creative GM who’s happy to fill in the blanks. The price tag is pretty good value for what you’re getting. It’s far less rules heavy than Shadowrun, and less dark and meta-plot than World of Darkness. It’s the kind of game I wouldn’t run regularly but definitely would for a few sessions. It’s easy to pick up, has a solid core game mechanic, and the Arthurian premise of “Knights in shining Armani” is great. Note that there are also quick-start rules for Corporia here if you want a taster.
Finally, thanks to my players: Jill, Malcolm, and Dave.
In keeping with previous conventions I’ve attended (Dragonmeet and Q-CON) I thought its only fair to review Conpulsion in the same way. “Conpulsion is Scotland’s oldest, largest gaming convention” as it is billed, run by GEAS, the Edinburgh University RPG society. Ironically, I’ve lived in Edinburgh for over 40 years and this is the first time I’ve been.
It’s held in Teviot House, one of the Edinburgh University Student Unions, a 19th-century building that’s something of a maze inside. Card gamers were housed in the Potter Row building opposite. While the convention was on it was business as usual for rest of the building – so it didn’t really feel like a special event. Not sure if it was the same at Q-CON, but I don’t think the building was reserved for Conpulsion attendees. This did lead to some odd looks from people (more on that below!).
It actually started on Friday evening, but I decided to turn up on Saturday (I still had some stuff to prep), and continued on the Sunday. I ran my first game in the 10am-1pm slot. Each three-hour slot has a two-hour interval, which I think is a bit of a mistake. It’d be better to have one-hour breaks between four-hour slots, or reduce the time between slots.
First, the high points.
For most of the Saturday and Sunday, I was in the Loft Bar for much of the time. This is a room that is pretty hard to find if you’ve never been to Teviot House before, and up several flights of stairs. You’ve got to go past the toilet and cleaning cupboard down a grey corridor – and it’s not easy to find as a result. It’s also the rooftop beer garden area – given the weather (sunny!) there was a lot of foot traffic back and forth through the room between the bar and garden, mostly by non-gamers. For me this isn’t a problem (I’m used to running games in public) but for some GMs and players it might be. The “Redshirts” (Conpulsion stewards), brought drinks and a snack around to each GM and I was very grateful for that, especially in the middle of the morning or afternoon.
I had a brief chat with Simon Burley, creator of The Code of the Spacelanes. He was running demos of the game in the Loft bar. It was popular and I’ve heard good things about it from those who played it.
Owing to some kind of cock-up with the sign-in sheets (see below), I only had three players for Mutant: Year 0. They all enjoyed themselves immensely, as did I. I was in the conservatory area of the Loft Bar for this, and I had plenty of space to run the game sharing the room with another GM. Especially memorable for Lenny the Enforcer biting a huge chunk out of the Trash hawk and using it as a soft landing, after it grabbed him and flew off.
I went for a wander and had lunch and a pint, catching up with some friends, and headed over to the Peartree where the beer garden was a good place to talk and chill after the morning’s gaming (and complications!).
With the Mutant Chronicles playtest of “The Purging of the Crucible” up next, I headed to the “New” Amphion area, a large open area. I had a chat with the makers of “Frankenstein’s bodies” nearby. That’s a game I need to get my hands on. It looks great. Then I had to hunt for a table to play on. Fortunately, there was one free, but I would have thought a table would have been reserved for my use – as a demo game especially. The game ran pretty well, although I didn’t get a chance to finish it. I’d made a few cock-ups during the game (and in the prep), but enjoyed running it. As a first time game, it went well.
The evening game was the Mutant Chronicles Beta scenario “Straffar Gatan 39”. Again, I only had three players (in the Loft Bar again), but Saturday night is one of the quieter times as there are usually events like the Pub Quiz on (like most conventions). I spent a fun time running the game and pulled out all the stops in the fright/terror stakes. It was certainly memorable for me – and I hope it was for the players. We also had a GM and player looking for each other – they were supposed to be in the Loft Bar too, but for some reason got moved. Cue “Yackety Sacks” music as they were chasing each other around the con.
The downstairs Library pub was full, and only non-gamers were there. The sports bar next door had nothing on draft either. So I headed home at 11pm, utterly knackered.
Sunday morning saw me at Conpulsion nice and early, in order to run Marc Farrimond’s Cliché RPG. Largely improvised, I’m not sure how cinematic it felt but certainly the players seemed to enjoy it. I had the entire Balcony room to myself for this. Afterwards I wasted an hour or so outside before my Achtung! Cthulhu game later. I had a pint on the roof garden, and sat in the sun before returning to start “A Prayer for St. Nazaire”. For me this was the highlight of the convention – we all enjoyed ourselves immensely, and I got applause at the end of it! Always nice to be appreciated! Savage Worlds worked better than I hoped, but I think I’ll stick with Call of Cthulhu for Three Kings.
By the time I finished Achtung! Cthulhu, I was about ready to drop. I was coming down with something, unfortunately. Rather than stick around I headed home (I didn’t feel up to the closing ceremony or pub quiz).
All in all, aside from Conpulsion being chaotic, I enjoyed running the games and meeting new players.
Now. The low points.
Conpulsion 2015 didn’t feel like a convention. It felt like a bunch of GMs had been asked to run one-off games. It also felt clique-y and I felt like an outsider the whole time I was there (unlike Q-CON and Dragonmeet). In a few cases, I did not feel welcome at all, and felt some people were regarding me with hostility (I don’t know why). One person actually sneered at me and the game I was running (the Mutant Chronicles Playtest one). Also, there’s hardly anyone there that isn’t GEAS – a handful of traders, a small bring-and-buy, and a few guests. I love meeting new people and playing games with them, and those that participated in my games were a friendly bunch so there’s obviously a small handful of people that need a boot up the arse. As there’s non-gamers there too, it can make gamers a bit self-conscious too.
Most of the other Edinburgh gamers go to see friends but I’ve heard there’s a fairly low opinion of Conpulsion among them. I decided that I’d go into this con and give Conpulsion the benefit of the doubt. There’s an in-joke among Edinburgh’s gaming community that Conpulsion is always disorganised. It shouldn’t be.
First, of all there was no signs (fixed on Sunday, thankfully!) – I had no idea where I was going, and I wasn’t the only one. The Loft bar is especially difficult to find. This shouldn’t be happening – some games got moved later apparently, but I don’t know why.
Not sure why the sign-up sheets weren’t in the main foyer or better located. I noticed on Sunday that as GM, I was supposed to be standing around waiting for players in the debating hall. This kind of felt like me standing there with a sign around my neck begging for players. So no, I didn’t. I don’t know what happened on Saturday morning but I’m given to understand that the folk who’d pre-registered for games were missed off the sign-up sheets. Seriously, Conpulsion has been running for years.
The programmes and t-shirts should have been at the main entrance, not upstairs in the debating hall. Plus, the GM’s name wasn’t included in the programme.
Why weren’t tables reserved for the games? It makes really good sense to do this – for the MC playtest I was lucky, but it could have been a problem (and embarrassing!).
Admittedly, I didn’t get to the Pub Quiz or the panels, but the impression I got from those that did was that outsiders weren’t exactly welcome there (that’s how they felt). That’s something that needs to be addressed I think.
There’s also the legendary slowness of the Conpulsion website. The games were hard to find or see. A single page listing would have worked. Times for the slots would also have helped (and they were added later).
Mention was made of voting in the “Griffies”, and “Banquo” awards, but I’ve no idea what they are. Are they important? Certainly I didn’t bother voting – but voting forms could have been in the programme.
I don’t know if anyone took photos at the convention but I’ve only seen a couple. It’d be nice to be tagged in a few if so.
The place is largely empty sometimes – certainly that’s how it felt to me, certainly there weren’t that many people there compared to Q-CON or Dragonmeet. At times it felt deserted. To me, Conpulsion staggers on like a drunken pirate. It’s a shadow of its former self apparently, and I’d have to agree.
I think there’s a lot of assumptions made – that people know the layout, know the times, GMs will turn up, how the sign-up works, etc.
Q-CON had cosplay competitions, RPG player competitions, best GM award etc. If Conpulsion did, I probably missed them, but I don’t know if they actually did exist. GEAS missed the chance (and the point!) to put on something that could really fire up the Edinburgh Gaming community. It felt half-arsed. I know that it organising a convention can be hard work, but I hope the Conpulsion committee actually learns something from their mistakes this year. Yes, I know it is run by volunteers, but perhaps next year think about Edinburgh’s gaming community outside GEAS.
Ultimately, I’m not sure if I’ll go next year. So Conpulsion’s report card reads “Could do so much better”.