Conpulsion 2015 – Review

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”.

Published by Bill Heron

Wannabe game designer and would-be author. I've been playing RPGs for over 25 years and have recently started creating my own RPG called Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom. I also run a number of RPGs: Cthulhutech, Call of Cthulhu, WFRP, and D&D. I'm active in the Edinburgh RPG community at and regularly play RPGs.

4 replies on “Conpulsion 2015 – Review”

  1. That report card entry is precisely what I’ve thought for years.

    It almost seems to exist “just because” rather than to be awesome which it is absolutely capable of being.

    The venue not being exclusive is unavoidable apparently but need not be a problem if the event was properly marshalled and signposted.

  2. I feel your pain. Conpulsion had two golden years with Phil and Gregor running it but has slid back into all its old failings. I have given up supporting it through Union of Genius because it’s just too painful. That said, running a con properly takes a lot of prep and dealing with EUSA is a nightmare so I have some sympathy with them.

  3. There’s quite a groundswell of a “me too” coming from other non-GEAS gamers, so I’m not alone in these perceptions. If I’m there next year, maybe ORC should pitch up en masse…

  4. The review was pretty dead on. Being a first timer to any of this i felt a bit on the outside, even as a blueshirt! GEAS IMHO are not the friendliest bunch and seem to have a rather aloof attitude to new faces. got sneered at the friday night in the balcony room a few times. very uncomfortable.

    the games, however, were great, very much enjoyed the ‘Purging of the Crucible’ and Simon Burley’s ‘Spacelanes’ game, planet of darkness was a total hoot. would readily play those again and tried to pressure Simon to sell me one of his copies of ‘Spacelanes’ on the spot. met some new folks and had a really good time.

    Hopefully they will pull it together a bit better next year and have more in the Bring and Buy as i was ready to spend with nothing to spend it on!

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