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Q-CON 2014, Z-2 days – Prep, travel, and screwing up

Q-CON is the Belfast Gaming and Anime Convention held at Queen’s University. As some people may know this is my first gaming convention – yes, I know Edinburgh has Conpulsion/Claymore/Comic Mart, but I wanted to try something different first. Besides everyone here in Edinburgh knows me 😉 from ORC Edinburgh. I’ll not be able to afford Gen Con for a few years anyway. So consider this the first of my several blogs leading up to, and through, Q-CON.

So Q-CON is in two days. I fly out tomorrow. That’s going to give me a day/day-and-half in a city I know fairly well – bearing in mind that this is my first convention where I’m running a game (more in this later). So I’ve decided to blog about the experience in its entirety: not just Q-CON, but the lead up to it.

I, in my somewhat excited pre-con rush, volunteered to run three games (Achtung! Cthulhu, Call of Cthulhu and The Void). I’ve since found out that they are all scheduled for the Saturday. One after the other of 3-hour stints. Crap. By the time The Void is running I’ll be looking for some kind of revenge I suspect. On the plus side, the games are written and ready to go. Running three games isn’t that difficult for me, but it will depend on the environment – running in a large open plan room is very different to the back room of  a pub.

Travel-wise, I’m flying out with Easyjet tomorrow from Edinburgh airport at 7am(ish) and it’s a relatively short 20-minute flight. I’ve decided to buy toiletries when I’ve over there (yes, gamers do wash!), as one of the first things I learned packing is that rulebooks take up a bit of space. I’ve a Pro-Force rucksack that has a lot of volume yet fits within the whole 50 x 40 x 20. Easyjet, being budget, offer online check-in with the option of £3 to pick your own seat: sod that, for a 20-minute journey. The bus into Belfast will set me back £10.50 Return (ouch), and the hotel I’m staying at isn’t far away at least.

Which brings me to another screw-up I made. The local residences for Q-CON are far cheaper than the local hotels, but I’d already booked with Expedia (who don’t let you get a refund once paid). You think I’d have learned after the Tokyo hotel booking too (where Expedia hadn’t updated its entry). In that case the hotel frontage had been remodelled, the name changed, and address on Expedia was incorrect. So in future I won’t be using Expedia. I’m a mile and a half away so that’s not so bad, but I’ve a worrying feeling that breakfast and wifi are gonna cost. Next time, I “stay on campus” – hmm, a game of Cliché: Animal House might be in the offering when that happens (which might also be on the cards at Q-CON).

Looking at what I’ve got to carry and the weekend ahead, I’m glad I’m not someone doing cosplay at Q-CON. It’s gonna be warm to say the least, and hopefully the place will be ventilated… Although I’ve only a passing familiarity with anime and manga in general it is going to be interesting to be part of that experience. So if you’re Belfast at Q-CON this weekend, and see some guy pointing at Cthulhoid-looking cosplayers/books/walls and giggling insanely after Saturday, say hi. They’re either going to be one of my players – or me!

Cthulhutech – running CT campaigns

Cthulhutech can be quite a daunting game to run, especially if you’re new to running an RPG. The sheer volume of background material can be quite off-putting for a novice GM, or even some more experienced GMs. At the end of the day, it should be a collaborative effort between you and your players.

Before I begin,a disclaimer: Cthulhutech is a pretty dark and disturbing game, and the setting has a number of themes that many may find disturbing. It takes a certain level of maturity to run or play in certain adventures as a player or GM, so reader discretion is advised.

Know your players – choose a facet

The sheer variety of options available to player and GMs means that you (as GM) and your players should try and find some common ground. If your players prefer tearing across the landscape in huge robots and raining down hell, then an investigative game with para-psychics and Tagers probably won’t work for them. Mecha and Engel pilots will also find much of their skill set useless in a investigative game. What I’m saying is: choose a particular style of game, and don’t try and mix them up too much in a long-term game. You can do it, but it can be a bit of a stretch – it’s best to try and avoid more than two or more of Cthulhutech’s game “facets” below (see also Running a test game below):

  • Tager – Tager games work best when the entire PC (Player Character) group are Tagers. Those without symbionts are at a huge disadvantage, especially when facing creatures like Dhohanoids. Tagers are hugely powerful, and normal mortals (Mundanes) can’t really compete with them in combat – even less so than Dhohanoid attackers. This works best when GMs treat the games as a sort of unseen war between Chrysalis Corp and the Eldritch Society (similar to the Guyver TV series), known in CT as the Shadow War.
  • Private Eye/Government Agency (Mundanes) – mortal characters assigned to intelligence agencies or law enforcement agencies like the FSB, OIS, or GIA. Para-psychics or sorcerors can easily fit into these games – Tagers will tend to overbalance any encounter – and they are the easiest to run for those familiar with Call of Cthulhu and similar games. For military types, mecha or Engels are unlikely to be a part of many of the games in this facet – however, soldiers can be found everywhere in Cthulhutech so they can easily be seconded, on leave (medical or otherwise), or just involved some how using their background. GMs can also find it easier to reveal various aspects of the game such as Para-psychics and sorcerors gradually using this facet, as well as revealing some of the game background and Cthulhutech metaplot.
  • Military/Mecha/Engels (MME) are some of the easiest games for a GM to run, requiring fairly simple objectives. The PCs are given their orders and are expected to carry them out, often with the necessary equipment provided. In the case where PCs are simple soldiers, expect to deal with a certain amount of PC deaths: most MME games will likely revolve around battles, and combat in Cthulhutech is pretty deadly! The NEG faces a number of Integrity-scale monsters who shrug off machine gun fire: the Rapine Storm’s Beast allies, Esoteric Order of Dagon (EoD) power armour and mecha, not to mention the Migou war machine. This doesn’t require a huge amount of work by a GM on a setting, but it does require the PCs to work as a team. However, it’s best to keep MME games using PC using powered armour and Engels/Mecha separate from those playing “grunts” – the average NEG soldier has poor survivability in games where Mecha and Engels are used.
  • The Weird Stuff – this is one for those players that really love a challenge: there are rules in many of the books for playing some of the other beings: Ghouls, Dhohanoids, and Migou. This requires a lot of co-operation between the GM and players but it makes for a very unique, rewarding game – and pretty much restricts the players to a certain type of game.

Sell it to your players

If your players have played Battletech, the Mecha concept will likely appeal to them, as will Tager games if they are big fans of Anime. If they’ve played Call of Cthulhu, it’s likely that they would also like the chance to “get even” as it were! It’s also worth showing prospective players some of the artwork as it really evokes the game, or directing them toward the Cthulhutech website and the quick-start rules.

Running a test game

When I first ran Cthulhutech I ran a mini-campaign called When the Ocean Wept, allowing me to try out three facets: Mundanes, Tagers, and Mecha. A test game or short series of adventures is the best way to introduce players to Cthulhutech and the Strange Aeon, especially the Framewerk system and Cthulhutech setting. If you have a group of regular players, even better (especially if they’ve also played Call of Cthulhu).

Build PC backgrounds

Building a Cthulhutech PC is pretty detailed (see NPC Lists below), with a large number of Assets and Drawbacks used to add to the PC build. A number of these like Outsider Taint or Hunted, can also create a fantastic opportunity for a GM to create encounters and even adventures based upon these backgrounds, as well as helping a player flesh out their PC background. I’d also encourage players to create their PCs, rather than pick the stock PCs “off the peg” in the books, although you can use these for a quick setup.

NPC lists

Beasts and NPCs in CT are very detailed stats-wise – that can make it very difficult to keep track of during combat, especially with Vitality/Integrity scores. I try and keep lists of stats for NPCs and also break down the Health stats into their multiples to make it easier. Cthulhutech has a large number of sample NPCs – I now try and keep a list of them  (or where to find them) so I know where to get details of gang members, para-psychics, soldiers, etc. It’s also worth creating a stock list of your own NPCs, which you can then use as needed e.g. “Blank” Mecha Pilots, Human Cultists etc..

Build in parts of the game

If your players aren’t aware of, or have access to, a large part of the Cthulhutech background, you can introduce it gradually. After all, much of CTs background isn’t really the sort of thing that a person on the street in the Strange Aeon would know: much of what they see on the news is sanitized and carefully vetted before release to the press. Don’t expect to learn all the rules at once: as GM you may not need to know the rules on Mecha combat if you’re running a Tager game for example. Take your time introducing it to your players.

Prune the fluff

There’s a lot of background to Cthulhutech, possibly too much. Don’t expect you or your players to know it all. Alter the Cthulhutech meta-plot if it doesn’t fit your plans – Scotland has fallen to the Migou in CT canon, but in my Through the Looking Glass games, Scotland is still in NEG hands. Sometimes it helps to reveal small parts of the meta-plot or background e.g.  para-psychics and sorcerors are not commonplace: but if a player wants to bring a PC of that kind into the group that can springboard into other events such as awareness of the Arcane Underground.

Drama points

I dislike the Framewerk Drama Points intently and have found it slows things done immeasurably. Unlike the core rules, I allow players to have one Drama Point, and they can spend it in a similar fashion to Fate Points in Warhammer FRP e.g. if your PC falls off a cliff, you spend a point and your PC’s fall is broken by a tree before they hit the ground; your PC is caught in a an explosion, but manage to hide behind a door, etc. If you do wish to use them as given, I’d suggest that the players can only modify their own rolls.

Books you might need

And finally, I’ve summarised the Cthulhutech range of books and recommended what you need for each facet of game.

Cthulhutech also has a very nice [amazon asin=1934857416&text=GM Screen] that also has some of the game’s fantastic artwork in handouts showing the various mecha, tagers, and beasts from the series. Along with these handouts are some of the more useful charts from the books.

Cthulhutech Core RulesThe Cthulhutech core book is obviously what you’ll need as a player or GM and contains much of the background and rules you need to play Mundanes, Mecha or Tagers. The quickstart rules on the Cthulhutech website may be of use to players  as well. There are a number of adventures and story hooks included as well.

  • Availability: as a PDF and also from [amazon asin=0984583602&text=Amazon].
  • Recommended for: all players and GMs – if you’re a GM, I’d thoroughly recommend getting a hard copy.

Vade Mecum (Cthulhutech)

Vade Mecum is the companion to the core book and contains lots more information on Mecha, Engels, beasts and Parapsychic abilities, as well as those old Lovecraftian nasties, Ghouls as PC characters. I suspect that Vade Mecum contains the overspill of ideas from the core rulebook. It also includes a couple of adventures for different CT facets.

  • Availability: as a PDF and also from [amazon asin=098458367X&text=Amazon].
  • Recommended for: all players and GMs.

Dark Passions (Cthulhutech)Dark Passions is a relatively slim volume compared to the other books in the Cthulhutech range, and details some of the Cults in the Strange Aeon, along with details for running games involving cults and Cultist PCs. The hard copy version is quite expensive for the page count (although the material is useful), so I’d go for the PDF version.

  • Availability: as a PDF and also from [amazon asin=1934857300&text=Amazon].
  • Recommended for: GMs looking to run games focusing upon cults.

Damnation View (Cthulhutech)
Damnation View details the major events of 2085 and also allows GMs to find out a little bit more of the metaplot. In game terms it’s a pretty bleak year for the NEG, although there are triumphs. Damnation View has a range of scenarios for different facets and probably contains enough material and plot hooks for a year of games.

  • Availability: as a PDF and also from [amazon asin=1934857327&text=Amazon].
  • Recommended for: GMs wanting to run a variety of adventures using the CT metaplot, or use the core background.

Mortal Remains (Cthulhutech)
Mortal Remains is one of the weakest books in the line and largely contains background fluff and information. It also contains an extensive section on the Migou (Fungi from Yuggoth), and how to use them as PCs. I’m not sure why this is so weak, but I don’t think the Migou’s intentions come across clearly – they should be utterly inscrutable and alien in my mind.

  • Availability: as a PDF and also from [amazon asin=1934857556&text=Amazon].
  • Recommended for: GMs wanting a bit more background on the Nazzadi and Migou.

Cthulhutech Ancient EnemiesAncient Enemies is one of those books that was eagerly awaited and doesn’t disappoint. It’s a hefty hardback book detailing Tagers and Dhohanoids, and also features rules for creating Dhohanoid PCs as well as some truly awesome Tagers via Metamorphosis. There’s extensive background on Chrysalis Corporation and the Eldritch Society. It’s worth buying for the artwork alone!

  • Availability: as a PDF and also from [amazon asin=0984583610&text=Amazon].
  • Recommended for: Players and GMs. Essential for those who want to run Tagers and games featuring Dhohanoids, as well games involving the Eldritch Society and Chrysalis Corporation.

Cthulhutech Unveiled Threats

Unveiled Threats is the pretty much a listing of arms and equipment. It’s a pretty comprehensive list of firearms, armour, gadgets and arcane artefacts. There’s some pretty nasty ideas as well that have a significant “Yeuch!” factor.

  • Availability: as a PDF and also from [amazon asin=0984583637&text=Amazon].
  • Recommended for: Players (and GMs) who like having lots of cool equipment and other toys.

Conclusion

Cthulhutech is a very detailed setting and the metaplot makes it particularly dense content-wise. Hopefully this article helps clarify what you need to do to get a decent CT game up and running!