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The Void RPG

Adventure Fragments – December 2014

Adventure fragments is my name for either short scenarios that never go beyond a session, ones I’ve used at Conventions, or never really got around to describing fully. The name comes the “fragments” of unfinished work left behind when HP Lovecraft passed away. It’s also a nod to the “Fragments of FearCall of Cthulhu campaign. I plan to occasionally write some up completely (like I have done for WFRP’s Legacy of Praag) and Heart of Chaos), so keep an eye out for these in the future.

When I’m running a game, I don’t really need much to run. Most of my sessions tend to start out as Adventure Fragments. An idea, some basic stats, and NPCs is usually all I need. Obviously I’ve still planned it to a certain extent but I do prefer to “Wing it”. See http://www.themandragora.com/winging-it/for how I often do this. There may not be enough for some GMs to do much with but that’s why I call them Adventure Fragments!

Hunters Moon (ORC Edinburgh)

Originally an Ebranch game.

The players are investigating suspected “mindsmog” (the psychic taint on Lumley’s Wamphyri), but it is actually a devolved vampire of the Francezi family. See Brian Lumley’s  Necroscope: the Lost Years for the details of this Wamphyri/Mafia family. As the investigators get drawn in, it becomes obvious that there’s something other than a vampire lurking beneath the ground in the ancient sewers and catacombs of Rome. A shoggoth underground would be a terrifying thing. It was a blob of vampiric protoplasm in the Ebranch game, all mouths and feeding tendrils, but could easily be a shoggoth. I could imagine it seeping up through the street’s drains, surrounding the PCs.

The solution? Fire, and plenty of it.

Crom-Cruach (ORC Edinburgh)

Originally run as part of my Cthulhutech Through the Looking Glass setting, and published on the ORC wiki.

See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crom_Cruach. The Great Old One Crom-Cruach is believed to be related to Shudde M’ell. However, it is unclear whether it is a Cthonian of huge size, or a unique entity.

Few Mythos tomes refer to Crom-Cruach, with the exception of an obscure passage in Prinn’s De Vermiis Mysteris. It is mentioned there as “From beneath it devours”.

Worship of the Great Old One was largely restricted to a few Druidic sects in the region of Fife outside Ireland, where various sacrificial barrows were marked with a spiral symbol. Victims were left tethered to sacrificial altars for Crom-Cruach to devour through various feeding tendrils, giving it the name “The Thousand Maws”.

The Great Old One actually resides far beneath the Longannet area of Fife, where it is tended by a tiny human cult. Since the Night of the Worm, it is believed that the Great Old One is dead – however, Section 13 Telepaths have picked faint emanations from something beneath the Longannet fields…

The Night of the Worm

This was actually split into two games – the first were Investigator PCs finding Crom-Cruach . The returning ” Deep Patrol” took place as part of a mecha game.

The Night of the Worm saw the destruction of the Rosyth naval base by the Great Old One Crom-Cruach. It has been theorized by Section 13 since that David Nichols orchestrated the rise of the Great Old One in an attempt to weaken NEG military forces in the Forth valley. The subject of some debate among the intelligence community, many feel that the proximity of the Night of the Worm to the Inchcolm Insurgence was no chance occurrence.

For several weeks, attempts had been made by Nichols and Crom-Cruach’s tiny cult to wake the Old One, using sacrifices from the rural communities where disappearances would not be remarked upon. Rosyth and nearby communities also reported increasing numbers of people manifesting psychiatric disorders. Seismic tremors were also reported, and even the weather was affected.

An investigative team from Section 13s HQ at The Basement was dispatched and their investigation confirmed that the Great Old One was waking and active beneath Longannet. Narrowly escaping the feeding tendrils of Crom-Cruach, they escaped back to the base, closely pursued by the ravenous Great Old One. Once Crom-Cruach rose the place became a scene of utter horror as the Great Old One feasted, the ground erupting with tentacled maws plucking victims at random in an awful hunger. In a bid to save nearby towns and the Edinburgh Arcologies, the Command staff ordered a returning Deep Patrol of Mecha and Engels to turn their weaponry upon the ammunition bunkers. The resulting detonation is believed to have destroyed Crom-Cruach but it is rumoured that he has only been injured.

All six of the Hamshall Engels allocated to Rosyth survived, but the base suffered almost 80% losses and only a handful of Mecha were salvageable. The garrison was then ordered to evacuate to Musselburgh. To date, the Night of the Worm is the biggest single loss of life since the Arcanotech Wars.

Beneath this Placid Surface (Q-CON 2014)

Now vampiric blobs in this one, just the classic Deep Ones! I used this for a game of The Void RPG at Q-CON. The PC Wardens are sent to the terraformed ocean moon of Tethys to investigate the death of an Earth Senator’s son.

The PCs aren’t exactly made to feel welcome as Wardens (with good reason as it turns out). The Senator’s son was disliked and it becomes obvious that his injuries were not caused by a diving accident. As the Wardens investigate it becomes obvious that there’s something not quite right in the submarine habitat. The victim had been killed elsewhere, and the body dumped. Metallic deposits found on the victim suggest he was swimming in “uncharted territory”, according to the locals.

As the group investigate they notice the population is far less than the Earth records would indicate. Parts of the habitat stand empty, and stay sealed off apparently. Power consumption is also less than a facility of this needs. Cue some scary darkened tunnel crawling through the abandoned sections as the Wardens suspect something hiding there…

The real truth of the matter is that the missing members of the population aren’t actually missing at all. They’re Deep Ones and hybrids who came from Earth. They’re not using the space or power as they’re not inside the habitat at all. They’re in the uncharted territory, constructing their own city in the depths around the tomb of a Cthulhu Spawn, who is very close to waking. And the Wardens are right next door.

At this point I’d recommend the following movies to get some idea of how to run this fragment: Leviathan, the Abyss, and Deep Star Six. You can imagine what happens when the Spawn wakes up. if you can find it, you could combine it with the Grace Under Pressure adventure for Call of Cthulhu. You may need to Google for it, or check out ebay. It’d be a lot of fun with two GMs running at the same time.

Synchronicity II (ORC Edinburgh)

Many miles away something crawls to the surface
Of a dark Scottish lake.

-The Police

This adventure was inspired by the film Deep Rising and a visit to the island of Rum. For those interested, Cthulhu Brittanica: Shadows over Scotland details this island. Again chasing mindsmog, the PCs find themselves on the remote Scottish island of Tallavallish. The only village in the island is abandoned, with strange holes in the ground everywhere. The scryers are unable to locate the source of the mindsmog, but it appears to be everywhere. A ground mist has wrapped around the island too, so the PCs were pretty nervous. Wamphyri can generate mist and use it to send psychic probes. Being Call of Cthulhu players too, the group also wondered about ghouls dwelling in the tunnels. A loch in the centre of the island was supposed to be inhabited by a monster too, although the players thought it was an urban myth.

Ironically, the latter was true. In WW2, a Nazi aircraft containing a vampire lieutenant crashed in the loch. Feeding upon the local wildlife, the vampire had devolved into a huge mass (similar to the shoggoth-like blob in Hunters Moon, only bigger!). Having fed and grown fat it was literally the island itself. It could also sense movement, so cue some fun Tremors-style moments as the PCs tried to escape using various plans, when the island “woke up”. You could also use some other burrowing horror in other games – such as Purple worms or Landsharks from D&D 🙂

I later used much of this idea again when I ran the Night of the Worm adventure for Cthulhutech (see Crom-Cruach above).

And finally….

I’m heading to London for Dragonmeet this weekend, where I’m hoping to run a few demos of Achtung! Cthulhu for Modiphius. Perhaps I’ll see some of you there!

The Void RPG: Running the Game

The Void RPG from Wildfire is one of those games that appears to have snuck past the radar of most RPG groups. It’s a pity, because the mechanics are very easy (and basic) to pick up and the game is one of those that lends itself well to someone looking to spook the hell out of their players. If you’ve not run a horror game before, it can be tricky to get right – practice is the key. Technically, these could be used for just about any horror RPG, but I’m going to focus on The Void RPG.

Tone

OK, the Void is a game of survival horror. It’s not the kind of game that fosters heroism. Yes, your PCs may all work together towards an end but it’s their JOB. They signed up to do this. They’re not bemoaning the tragedy of their existence. They go in, get the job done and get out. Not everyone will make it. The best way to treat the Wardens is as a Men-in-Black group meets SWAT team. If you’ve watched the TV show Primeval, then that’s what you’re aiming for a mix of soldiers and experts – obviously with it being a darker and grittier version that’s not suitable for prime-time viewing:) . Alternatively, if the group has no investigator or researcher, make them more like the Colonial Marines in Aliens. Loads of heavy-duty equipment and fire-power that ultimately proves of little value!

It worth remembering that there’s a pervading sense of isolation that a GM needs to create. Help is days – if not weeks – away. That’s provided the signal gets out. On the smaller colonies and space stations, everything is held together by spit and baling wire. The air smells of oil, grease and sweat. There’s a tin-like smell to the air that the oxygen re-scrubbers don’t remove. Everyone wears the same suits for days at a time, often stained by coffee or grease. There’s little water on most worlds so showers and baths are rare – everyone looks grubby, and their hair is lank and greasy. Parts of the colony are constantly being repaired, and jury-rigged or cannibalised parts are common.The lighting is harsh and bright inside most structures, and most are prefabricated. The furnishings are often white or bare metal, although the white may have been scored, marked, or pitted over time. Lighting works on most of the colony, but some flicker constantly, or are shut down as part of  a night/day cycle. Heating/aircon is kept to a minimum on the poorer colonies – Warden’s will either find it uncomfortably chilly or very warm.

On worlds far from the Sun, the people look pale, their skin pasty. Closer to the Sun, people are tanned and weathered-looking – their skin aged prematurely from exposure to the sun. Unless they have hydroponics or a regular supply run, fresh food and produce is hugely expensive. Most food is some for freeze-dried paste/powder. Alcohol is brewed in illicit stills that the local Law Enforcement cannot find or close down, they’re understaffed and under-equipped in every way. Many may also be on the take from local criminals as they smuggle in illegal drugs, booze, pornography, and worse. There’s unlikely to be any animals, although there may be holographic/virtual pets – food and air are at a premium, so any pets are likely to the property of the super-rich.

The bigger colonies/cities are all about a certain amount of decadence – food, drugs, music, sex – and are crowded. The heat generated by the masses of humanity creates a humid atmosphere. There’s constant noise from the crowds, the bars and clubs, and of course atmosphere processors constant whine as they labour under the strain. Sleep is difficult in these places with little or no silence. The bedroom colonies are largely empty. Every corridor looks the same. Every apartment looks the same aside from some individual touches. Everyone keeps to themselves, the corridors silent for much of the time. Children are home-schooled or attend some daily school, where it’s often the only chance for parents to meet other people other than at mealtimes. There’s likely a “behind closed doors” mentality: marital affairs, vices, violence, cults, swinger parties all take place or are whispered about by neighbours. Many residents are away for weeks at a time – it’s only when someone notices the smell that the local authorities become aware of a death in apartment 25c, for example. Law enforcement does what it can, but on the busier worlds there’s just so much going on.

And finally, it always should be clear to the Players that they’re pretty much on their own. Nuke the site from orbit isn’t an option – the installation has a substantial dollar value attached to it! Remember the Wardens are trying to patch over the cracks and cover up the awakening Mythos races as the Cththonian Star approaches. If you’re expecting your players to use heavy firepower to surmount every obstacle then its ceased to be a game of survival horror. The Wardens may have the guns, but they’re often way out of their depth – what appears to be a simple investigation can quickly escalate (see The Void RPG’s Stygian Cycle series for how this works)!

Staging Games

Alright, if you (or your players) have played Call of Cthulhu you’ll probably well aware of how these thing turns out. PCs lead into the adventure with a mysterious occurrence/disappearance. Players head to a new (often unfamiliar) location. They interview local NPCs. Those with research skills head to the local library and newspaper to look up local legends. There’s a big showdown, either with a cult or some Big Bad that manages to incapacitate some of the group. If it’s the end of the campaign, nearly all the PCs die and those left are insane.

That’s how the Void should work, right? Wrong. In-oh-some-many-ways. If your players have played Call of Cthulhu, they’ll pull the same thing. Their researcher will put high stats to their library use and crypto-zoolology skills, soldiers will be able to withstand horrors better, investigators will be streetwise, etc. That’s 1920’s America for you. However, humanity has gone to the stars. English may be the universal language (or Chinese depending on your campaign), but there’s still a lot of local colour. Keyboards and text may be in a foreign language – the locals may speak a bizarre patois of English and a local dialect (Cockney in space!). There’s also the fact that unless the Wardens have a decent cover story then they either need to get local law enforcement on their side, they’ll not be able to discover much beyond a basic clearance. Not to mention jurisdiction, if they do pull the Warden card. The best way to run the Void is with the slow reveal, and “layers of the onion”, building to scenes of intense action. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, in the old article of “Writing a Script” the best way is to think of a plot (and sub-plots) following a M-shape (build-up, climatic scene, quiet, disaster/twist, build-up, etc). If you’re starting in the middle of the action (“in media res“) follow a W-shape. These represent build-ups to major action sequences and give the players a chance to take their breath. Note that this isn’t always the best option! So here’s a few themes, that when combined together, will really give some zing!

Brooding evil

There’s something not quite right where the adventure is set. The colonists all make a strange symbol when the plateau is mentioned. No one uses transport tube 15 after 9pm EST (Earth Standard Time). There’s a rich mineral vein in the mountains but no one’s ever filed a claim. Ten years of the colony’s history is encrypted in the memory banks. All the locals must have been inbreeding because they’re really ugly and they all have those big googly eyes. What happened to the previous sheriff? Why are 524 colonists listed when there’s only 200 resident? It’s little details like these that can unsettle your players. Some may be mere local superstition or unrelated, but it’s always a good idea to give the PCs the impression that there’s something going on underneath the surface (sometimes literally!).

Imminent Peril

I’ve talked about imminent peril before. It’s a great tool for getting those groups who over-think everything. Get them moving from encounter to encounter in such a way that they don’t have a chance to stop, rest, and/or mess about. The best movie example of this is Aliens, where the marines exit Ops through the ducts. There’s encounter after encounter with the Xenomorphs. Even though some of the Marines are injured, some of them make it out because they keep going, or are kept going by their team-mates. It’s this kind of unrelenting pace that will capture your players’ imaginations. It can also lead to moments where those players who haven’t been paying attention suddenly realise that they’re on their own, and the airlock is cycling open… Also some great last stands. Hopefully you players won’t get too attached to their PCs: The Void RPG can be quite lethal. It’s one of survival horror, remember!

“What the hell’s going on?”

One of my favourite moments in any game. One of the players will ask this question (possibly phrased in slightly more colourful language). In character or not, it’s best to pause and let the players brainstorm. For a while, at least. It’s a good chance for them to consider whether or how to use Tension Points (see below). And also for the GM to use them to make things very interesting – remember the PCs use them to get a buff, which the GM can then flip around on them: “Okay. I’ve hacked into the system. Oh hell, they’ve tracked us! They know where we are!”. Just remember to grin when you take the Tension Point from them. Then hit ’em with the next disaster/encounter! There’s nothing like complications to make things interesting. Always try and build in a few red herrings to your sessions: they may possibly be of use in later games; or it’ll give you a chance to blow up something when the players aren’t there.

Clichés

Your players will likely run the gamut of all the survival horror/sci-fi clichés. The “Don’t split the party!” cliché  is lot of fun for The Void GM – just because a PC is on their doesn’t mean they should be picked off. Perhaps the rest of the group notice that there’s two signals coming from the air duct as one of the PCs try to fix a fault. Or if the party is split into two, the ones in the control room get a full view of what the others are running away from! Also, open doors and the dark are bad. Your players know this: so when the PCs decide to start closing all the doors, one will jam obviously. This’ll need a PC to go and cycle the power to the airlock manually. So, of course, half the group will pitch up with their weapons trained on the dark area behind the door. At that point the floor gives way, or there’s a soft thump as something(s) big lands behind the PCs. You don’t have to have a clichéd moment – sometime you can build up the tension just by getting them to do the necessary task over several rounds – especially if they’re on their own.

Lighting & Colour

Lighting – both in-game and where you’re playing can have a significant influence. If you’re playing in a brightly lit room, you may want to consider dimming the lights -within reason. Make sure your players can see what they are doing and that they can read their character sheets, perhaps with spots or local light sources! In-game, lighting can be used to convey mood and also horror in itself. The stark white of the medical bay is strewn with ribbons of red flesh and blood splashed across the walls in an oddly significant pattern. The strobe of emergency lighting flickering between red and black; as something gets closer and closer, barely glimpsed in stop-motion. The torch rolling across the cargo bay, where the shadows could hide anything. It’s also worth listening to your players in such instances, and playing upon their fears to a certain extent.

Tension Points

Oh, I love these. If anything is going to give you a good game it’s these. Players stymied for ideas? Tension point. “We’re all gonna die!” Tension point. And the best thing about them is the group have to agree on it. If you’ve a munchkin player in the group who’s basically built the kind of PC that only exists for their benefit, then you can give them a really, really bad day. Especially if they are Rules Lawyers. You need to be careful not to penalise players for their good ideas though. Just remember when they think everything is going great, that’s the time to spring the Tension Point. Don’t be vindictive about it though, just work it into the storyline – it works especially well with imminent peril (countdowns, reactor leaks, bombs, etc.). Look upon it as the chance to give an enhanced experience to your players, rather than hamstringing their idea.

Play aids

Play aids are a must. By these, I’m not just talking about floor plans or maps. For some reason, you’ll not find many maps in much of The Void’s material. It’s immensely frustrating. It’s the first thing players will ask for during a game so make sure you’ve got something to show your players when they ask. The chances are you’ll have to do it yourself. There’s probably a few on-line resources out there you can use, but I’ve not found any of use so far (let me know in the comments if there is such a thing!). Floorplans or maps of ships are the same. I’m hoping that the Ships of The Void supplement, when it comes out, has something. Even basic line-graphics readouts would work. One thing I did do was create some Tension point counters which can be handed out to players for use during the game. They have movie quotes upon them which should make your players smile at least.

Cinematic Play

The Void RPG lends itself to a restrained or understated method of cinematic play (see here if you’re wondering what I’m talking about). Your PCs are essentially dealing with the unknown, and you shouldn’t use cut-scenes unless they spend a Tension point. It can be exceptionally useful for the Clichés moments I talked about earlier. While the PCs are watching something else, the second motion detector signal arrives or there’s a power loss… Again you need to keep things restrained and remember to keep the pace of the game going. For this reason make sure that your players are comfortable with this style of play. As I’ve stated elsewhere, if your group is comfortable with cinematic style, go for it.

Music/Audio

There’s actually a Spotify playlist that Wildfire set up for the express reason of adding ambient music to The Void RPG. I’ve a small Bluetooth wireless speaker that I placed in the room when I ran the game. It worked really well. Ambient sounds work best, but film soundtracks such as the Aliens one are also good. Games like the Half-Life: Black Mesa soundtrack are also good.  Someone else has already gone to the effort of creating a soundtrack designed to manipulate the listener’s emotional states. If your group are hitting the city or another colony, go for pounding dark Techno or Industrial tunes. It’s best to pick and choose though. The wrong music blaring through a speaker can be a distraction if it is suddenly terribly upbeat. Also, turn the volume down really low – just enough for your players to hear, but so that its on the edge of hearing. Alternatively, don’t even tell them that there’s music playing. 🙂 Just remember that music can be a distraction for the GM too. Don’t focus too much upon getting it right at the costs of the game. If you’re faffing about with music play-lists and your players are getting bored, remember that you are a GM not a DJ!

Inspirational Media/Films

OK, there’s a lot of films you may want to watch to get some ideas about how to keep the pace going and to make sure that none of the players are bored . There’s some computer games you can play to get some staging/pacing ideas (these days they’re often plotted like movies). If you’re feeling really adventurous, have them playing on mute in the background, perhaps cutting some of them together into a montage. Here’s a few suggestions (some are listed in The Void RPG rulebook) you may want to check out (there’s probably more – feel free to suggest them in the comments below).

Films: Alien Quadrilogy, The Thing (John Carpenter’s one, and prequel), Event Horizon, Escape from New York, Deep Rising, Leviathan, Outland, Pandorum, Ghosts of Mars, Total Recall (original), Deepstar 6, The Descent, Split Second, The Abyss.

Computer Games: Doom 3, Dead Space, Resident Evil, Silent Hill.

Summary

Hopefully this has given the reader a few ideas as how to stage their games. Everybody’s style is different, but this may have been of use. Just remember that it is a case of preparation and practice.

Void RPG Downloads

The Void RPG Tension Point Cards
The Void RPG Tension Point Cards
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The Void: Map of the Town of Presidia
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The Void RPG

The Void RPG

More about The Void RPG

2159 AD. It is a good time to be alive. The nations of Earth still exist, but they have become more civilized, and humanity has expanded into the rest of our solar system. But, alas, it is not to be our time. Something approaches, a thing on an orbit from far away. Seemingly a mysterious shard of dark matter, this object is known in obscure prophecy as the Chthonian Star. It is awakening things long thought lost or dead, things that have slumbered awaiting its return. The Unified World Council sends out special teams of sanctioned Wardens, whose job it is to ascertain the new threats to human life, to learn everything they can about them, and fight them wherever they are found.

The Void is an original Lovecraftian hard sci-fi horror setting.

Q-CON 2014 – Reviewing my first (proper) Gaming Con

Q-CON 2014 was the first convention that I’ve properly attended. I’ve been to both a Stargate SG-1 convention in Vancouver, and the Edinburgh SESWC Claymore annual event, but Q-CON was the first proper gaming convention I’d spent more than a few hours in. Over the years, a number of us Edinburgh residents have been heading over there as part of “Cthulhu Team”, running (and playing) both LARP [Live Action RolePlaying] and tabletop RPGs. I’ve been meaning to go for a few years bit always had work or didn’t feel up to it.

As you can see here, I was running three games in one day and intended to blog on a daily basis about how I got on there. It didn’t quite work that way. Time and fatigue did for that! I’ve also tried to make suggestions that’ll work for any gaming con, not just Q-CON. I should point out that I’m largely soft-spoken and my hearing isn’t great: sensorineural deafness means I can’t tune out background noise (and, no, hearing aids or surgery won’t help). I’m not always good in social situations as a result. Still, enough of the excuses – let’s talk about the convention and getting there! Also, please bear in mind these are my personal experiences. I wrote my thoughts each day, so this may be a bit disjointed but bear with me…

Q-CON 2014, Z-1 Days (Thursday)

I flew out on Thursday, the day before Q-CON opened, and it did not begin well with a 4:30am start! I’d packed everything the night before. I chose not to take any toiletries due to the pesky airline security restrictions (one bag? Really?). The bag was pretty heavy once I’d put my Achtung! Cthulhu source-book, Call of Cthulhu rulebook and adventure notes into it. I’d initially planned to bring them on my Samsung Note 10.1 tablet, but the blasted thing had corrupted the micro SD card. It’s the second time it’s happened and is apparently a known error… Either way, I could have run without either book, but it would have been handy to have it in a digital version. So, the rucksack was heavier as a result. Purists may claim that having to refer the rulebook is the sign of a bad GM. I call it “Belt and Braces” (see later!).

Tip: If you can, use a tablet/netbook and SD card to store game rulebook/adventure/supplement PDFs and notes  (legal ones of course) in a SD card. Also place them in online storage like Dropbox/OneDrive as well. Remember that you may not have access to wifi, so sync before you go!

As I live in Edinburgh, just off Leith Walk. It’s Edinburgh’s longest street apparently. I live halfway down it and it certainly feels that way sometimes. So I’m awake at 4:30 am, the day before Q-CON. The weather was pretty close, so it was  restless night. “Air conditioning” in my flat means opening the window. Bastard seagulls. Usually, there are loads of buses going up and down Leith Walk even at ~4:30am. Two pass me before I get to the stop, and there’s no sign of any other buses the length of Leith Walk. Damn. So I walk up the street, cutting through the train station, by the end of which I’m sweating like a pig. Nice.

Edinburgh has something of a reputation transport-wise. The trams would take 40 minutes, the airport shuttle, 30. The Lothian bus airport shuttle leaves every 10 minutes from outside Waverley Station, and because I have a Lothian Buses Ridacard for getting to work, it costs me nothing to take the shuttle (£4 single/£7 return for everyone else). It’s already there when I arrive, and gives a great view across Edinburgh in the sun. We were a couple of minutes late due to an ongoing debate between a passenger and the driver over the fact that “£4 was a lot of money”. Urgh. By now I’m getting a bit anxious. I’ve left a fair bit of time to get through both town and security at Edinburgh Airport (which was a crowded nightmare as usual).

Even so, I was getting a bit nervous – especially when I remember that the Royal Highland Show would be on at some point, beside the airport. However I made it with 20 minutes to spare (gate closing at 6:30am) and met a couple of other members of “Cthulhu Team”. So, the flight headed out on time at 7am. I flew with Easyjet, who run a regular service out to Belfast International. It takes approximately 30-40minutes – or you could take the ferry. From the airport it’s a journey by bus. Ulsterbus service 300 arrives every half-hour (£7 single, £10:50 return) and is comfortable. Taxis will cost you a fortune.

Belfast is a city that is not unknown to me over the years. I have a fairly good sense of direction. Usually. Turns out I was out by 90 degrees this time (see later). So the others and I set off to the Q-CON venue. As it is Queen’s University Belfast Dragonslayers who run the con, they get the use of the Student Union for Q-CON. It’s about a 20-minute walk from the bus station at the Europa arcade.

Tip: Give yourself plenty of time to find your way around Belfast. The Mountains of Mourn are a good landmark! If you use the Ulster Bus service 300, there’s Boots at the main entrance to the shopping arcade/bus station that has toiletry stuff, often in miniature.

Gods, it was hot already – especially with a heavy rucksack on my back. When we got to QUBSU, much of the Q-CON set-up was already well under way before we arrived. We decided to have some brunch at Maggie May’s, directly across from the Union on Malone road. They do a proper Ulster Fry and their milk shakes are popular too. They’re also cheaper than hotel breakfast (I ate again there later).

The QUBSU is huge, with several floors plus a basement. We headed upstairs to the 2nd floor snack bar. Designated a Traders area, it was well under construction but I offered to muck in and help laying out chairs and tables (so helped in a minor way). Q-CON stewards handed out water and the like, so I was very grateful for that! I also got introduced to a whole number of people whose names I regrettably promptly forgot, including the Q-CON organisers and Prodos Games team later. The local SU shops also get in on the act with extra space being used for not only food and drink sales, but books and electrical goods.

Tip: if you’re a cos-player looking to get changed or someone who isn’t overly fond of using public toilets, the ones on the second floor are the best – they are used by staff. The students toilets in the Speakeasy bar and on the ground floor put me in mind of my student days. Yeuch.

Founder member of Cthulhu Team and I, Marc Farrimond, headed into town. I couldn’t check in until later at the Hotel Ibis City Centre. We were on a mission to find the local Forbidden Planet store, and Siri was feeling temperamental. We did find it – and it is a lot better than its chain counterpart in Edinburgh, including a large amount of board games and miniatures/CCG/RPGS. After we had lunch in the Mermaid’s Inn (locked away down a pend [alley]!). Afterwards I was able to check in, before heading back to the Q-CON venue. It’s a long walk, but at least I wasn’t weighed down with a rucksack!

The Hotel Ibis (City Centre) is a fairly basic hotel that caters to – largely – business customers I would think. In my few days there, certainly there were no kids running around. Wifi is free, but breakfast is £7.99 which is pricey (as are the drinks from the bar!). The room was a basic en suite, a TV with dead remote, and a crack in the wall – what you’d expect from a 3* budget hotel really (wasn’t cheap, though!). However it was clean, and shower was a welcome respite from the heat.

I headed back to the Union, and played a few games of pool . Then remembered why I don’t it very often – my pool-playing”skills” vary from “Jammy git!”, to “Sorry about your pint!”. I met the rest of Cthulhu Team later, but was pretty much wiped with the heat and food I’d already eaten, and by 9pm was ready to turn in. As it was a close night, I switched on the room’s air con. I pretty much went out like a light.

Q-CON – Day 1 (Friday)

Woke up early, and I decided not to eat breakfast at the hotel and headed out to Q-CON, as I was pre-registered.As is often the case on my travels I wandered around the area picking up landmarks, and knowing where to go if I needed something specific. After having something to eat in Maggie May‘s, I headed over to see the others. In the Trader’s Hall a huge robot constructed of balloons (amazing one-man effort) loomed over the proceedings as traders frantically tried to get set-up before the official 2pm opening. As I’d preregistered for Q-CON I could get in from 12pm apparently. And herein lies one of my few criticisms – Q-CON’s registration/queuing system. If you pre-register you’re supposed to be “fast tracked” into the convention. Don’t assume you’ll be able to walk straight in – it might have been easier if we could have picked up our lanyard earlier. Maybe it was the wrong impression I got, but “fast tracking” felt a little redundant when you have to queue for 30 minutes outside. In the past there were convention bags at Q-CON and this year, the Q-CON lanyard was introduced – sheets of card and a badge on a cord that whacked me in the eye twice before I removed the cards.

There were a huge amount of cos-players on site from the outset. To the unaware, these are the folk who get dressed up in costumes  – cos(tume) players. Some from TV/movies, but mainly from anime and computer games. Some were elaborate, some simple but there were a lot I didn’t recognise. Aside from Akira, Legend of the Overfriend (Steve!), the Evangelion reboot and The Guyver series, my anime knowledge is sketchy to non-existent. They were doing some sort of mime-play combat outside that I didn’t strictly understand, but it certainly made the outside of Q-CON a visual spectacle. If felt like Sunday at Harajuku Station in Tokyo all over again… I headed upstairs (once I got in) and visited the Traders area. I had a brief chat with Kenneth Gregory and Laurence Donaghy, “local writers from local publishers,” Blackstaff Press. Both were easy to talk to, and happily signed copies of the books I bought, which didn’t take much convincing of me on their part. Expect a review of these at some point 🙂

Tip: if you buy boardgames or extra books it might be cheaper to post them back using Parcelforce. Two standard RPG books cost £12.98, rather than getting an extra luggage allowance. There’s two post offices only a short distance away from Q-CON in either direction. Remember that they aren’t open on Sundays! Alternatively take an empty suitcase and pay for the allowance :), perhaps sharing the cost.

After catching up with the rest of Cthulhu Team , we all headed to Nandos for lunch. Not a bad meal, and bottomless drinks were definitely needed. It was “hotter than Vulcan’s jock-strap” outside. I am also now a member of Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D – some of the folks from Cthulhu Team were playing a Cliché RPG later and were dressing for the part, and had a number of ID lanyards. They were also stopping various Superhero cos-players and asking to see their registration :). I’m not going to go into any detail on the various film-showings, stand-up comedy, hypnotism, cosplay masquerades, CCG tournaments, LARPs, console competitions, boardgames or wargames – they were all there at Q-CON, though! And yes, it got warm – but most folk there showered or at least had some sense of personal hygiene. Compared to certain other conventions, the stench wasn’t too bad – most folk there looked like they showered. There were a few that reeked but that was rare, fortunately!

Tip: Make sure you shower regularly. Poor personal hygiene is no excuse at 9am (or ever in this modern age). Hand sanitizer is also a must, especially if you’re meeting and greeting (like a GM). Or generally doing anything with shared props like boardgames.

I headed back to the hotel to drop off some stuff, then headed back to the convention. I was suffering a bit from overload so needed a bit of time to chill (literally). Also, I was looking forward to checking out the South Dining Hall where the RPGs were being staged. The South Dining Hall had been set-up pretty well – plenty of room for GM and up to six players. There were a large number of Pathfinder Society (PFS) games on and quite a few competition ones (pay-to-play in this case). There was a bit of a cock-up with the queuing – which saw one queue diverge into two, with the sign-ups for other (non-PFS and competition) games splitting into a divergent one. Urgh. Plus people should remember that there are folks behind waiting: S.U.A.P.O! (Sign Up And Piss Off!).

I signed up to play Marc’s Cliché RPG, a science fiction game in this case. Cliché: “The Roleplaying game of making movies” is the creation of Marc Farrimond (who is generally all round gamer good egg here in Edinburgh and Q-CON!). It’s a dice-less RPG that proved an exercise in collaborative story-telling. I’ve run it once before, when it was a game of horror roleplaying – it’s since been altered to work outside this though. I’d originally planned for the character I played to be based upon Riddick, from the movie of the same game. As is always the case there’s at least one player who tries to derail things and/or focus attention purely on him. I wasn’t that player. I did come out of my shell a bit more. In fact, my PC never met the other PCs at all. I made my player the villain of the piece. An Artist, if you will; who combined the sadistic mind of Batman‘s Joker, organisation of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D‘s Clairvoyant, and the pull of Half-Life‘s G-Man. The “Eyes are the windows of the soul” speech I gave genuinely creeped everyone out (but I can’t remember what I said now. Afterwards Marc has said:

“It took a psychopath to keep the game sane.” – Marc Farrimond

I enjoyed myself immensely. Although the background noise could occasionally get a little loud: Da Boyz was enjoying demsleves! Big Rok 9, a mashup of wh40K Orks and Star Trek: Deep Space 9 was happening nearby. I’ll leave the RPG blurb here, mainly because it is just a great idea and why the hell not?

Waaaagh Trek: Big Rok 9
A 40k RPG scenario by Paul Taylor
Kaptin’z log, Today: Dem Tao boys is tryin ta come thoo da big space hole thingy, der spikey eldar palz is waitin to take da big rok off us. We’z not gonna let that happen, we’z gonna blow thems all ta tiny bitz. It’s waaaaaargh! time boyz!

There were around 10 games on that night so it wasn’t too bad and a good way for me to pick things up (a “recce” as it were).

Q-CON – Day 2 (Saturday)

I went for the hotel breakfast before heading over to Q-CON and my “Iron GM” marathon. I felt pretty nervous, and it was going to be a long day! I was the first GM there so opened the windows to make sure there was a cross-breeze and that the hall was ventilated at least. Far less issues with the queues this time! Q-CON staff were great, handing out water (and other drinks) plus snacks to the GMs running. It was a welcome treat – and necessity, later!

There were a number PFS games on as well as quite a few others. Achtung! Cthulhu: A Prayer for St.Nazaire (Game 1 –  morning) filled up in under 10 minutes. So I got started. It actually went pretty well and gave me the confidence to continue, despite finishing  a little earlier than planned. One of the PCs died and I had a lot of fun with the monster known as Die Toten from Achtung! Cthulhu. One thing was obvious though: I’d need to project my voice and concentrate. After 20 minutes the background noise tended to dull and we could crack on – but I’d need to keep concentrating!

Tip: make sure you know what you’re running. Read through your stuff the day before and if there’s anything missing or you’re unclear on – check it! That’s the “Belt and Braces” approach.

Game 2 (afternoon) was “If you go down to the woods today“, my Necroscope/Call of Cthulhu mash-up. It was one of those games where my players had no knowledge of the world. In this case, of Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series. However, we had a great time – and although there were only 5 players this time – it was FUN! I’m not certain if any of the players knew each other, but its safe to say they were working as a team toward the end. They set fire to an orphanage! Drove like maniacs! Screamed their way through Lyndhurst’s one-way system in a Fiat! Saved from a Wamphyri by a coach! Chased by a coach! Ah, good times. By now, I was starting to feel the strain of GM’ing so when it finished I was knackered.

At this point, I got my “second wind” to borrow a 4e McGuffin rules device. My last game to run at Q-CON, The Void RPG – “Beneath this placid surface“. This was not my best game. I had to “rein in” one of the players at one point, and should have done it earlier – of course, hindsight is 20/20. I was also a bit more nervous as I could have researched the adventure more, and two of Cthulhu Team were playing – so, peer pressure! However, aside from that and a momentary panic attack (where I couldn’t remember the name of the moon – Europa!). It was worth it when it came to the revelation that the people WEREN’T going missing hit the players. And that the entire habitat was contrived… But, yes: I could have run it better.

Tip: Strepsils are great for the GM who feels their voice going. Don’t over do them though!

So, not long after the games finished, I headed over to the Q-CON Pub Quiz. It was past 9pm and the quiz was in full swing. At a guess, I’d I got there just after the film round (D’OH!), and joined the rest of Cthulhu Team in the Speakeasy. Good grief, my geek knowledge has atrophied over the years. However, I was there for a truly epic moment. There was a film clip.

This is gonna get loud. – Chris McWatters, Q-CON Staff.

And yes, it was this one. Wow, IT WAS LOUD. Apparently, it drowned out the World Cup on the rooftop bar nearby. We were two floors down and indoors!

By 11:20pm I was knackered and slogged back to the hotel, playing Belfast “Frogger”. This is where drunk guys oscillate back and forth while  you try to move past. And insane women totter out into the road to hail taxis while clotheslining pedestrians. Ah, just like Edinburgh.

So I get back to the hotel to find it full of 30-year old women on the “ran-dan”. Wow- still can’t remember who used that phrase. In my mind at that time…

I wanna see how it ends – Spike. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

…I wished. Voice was totally knackered, brain was fried, so had a drink and headed to my room. BAM. Hello, Sunday!

Q-CON – Day 3 (Sunday)

Sunday was pretty much a dead loss after Saturday’s excesses! I slept in, then slunk over to QUBSU. I queued up, and then signed up for a game in the afternoon (cue S.U.A.P.O moment!). My PC got eaten by a Cave Fisher. Ach, I was tired and cranky anyway – it was the D&D module “Scourge of the Slave Lords“. It wasn’t really working for me anyway – definitely a better GM than player.

So, I mooched over to the Traders area and bought the Mutant Chronicles rules from the Prodos guys.

Tip: no one wants to run at Q-CON on Sunday morning. So if you’re planning anything intellectually challenging, forget it.

At this point I was happy to take a walk in Belfast Botanic Gardens nearby. It was a lovely day, and it was good to let go and clear my head after Saturday! I spent a couple of hours there, because I was feeling a bit restless.

Tip: If you’re feeling a bit burned out, the Botanic Gardens are a less that 100 feet away from the Union. Worth a visit to chill out.

So, it was time for the Closing Ceremony. Everyone queued to get in and we waited. Then got into the Mandela hall and waited some more :). Various music was played (sorry, not a fan of Muse!) then Nena‘s “99 Red Balloons” came on. A cosplayer dressed as Silent Hill’s Pyramid Head then became the centre of a spiral as everyone double conga’d around him – kid done a great costume though! Fantastic surreal moment. Cthulhu Team headed for a drink in the bar then went out for food. As I walked away from the building I knew I’d taken my first step into a much larger world.

Reflection – Q-CON 2014

Will I be going back to Q-CON 2015? Hell, yes. I had fun. I was made to feel welcome. I’m not always an easy person to relate to. Yet I felt I was part of a community rather than a commodity. Yes, I may have only been someone that ran and played RPGs. I’m not cosplayer (I towered over a lot of folk I think!). Nor card gamer. Or console gamer. Or wargamer. Who cares? We’re there to have fun! Ultimately, I enjoyed myself.Despite some minor logistics issues, I’ll be back early next year, hauling tables and chairs!

And remember this:

It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me – Batman, Batman Begins

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!

Q-Con 2014 Belfast – possibly my first RPG convention

Q-Con is definitely on the cards for me this year. I’ve not been to a proper gaming convention (aside from Claymore, a few years back). There’s no way I could afford to to go to GenCon in the states. Here’s the blurb from the official Q-Con website.

Q-Con is the annual Gaming & Anime Convention hosted by QUB Dragonslayers, the Queen’s University Belfast Gaming and Anime Society. Q-Con XX was our most successful year to date with a footfall of 7,000 over the weekend – this year we’re upping our game yet again! – See more at: http://www.q-con.org.uk

This year, a group of us Edinburgh folk are heading over for a weekend of gaming in Belfast. Q-Con is a popular convention and it looks like there’s quite a few of us making the trip. As well as participating in some games with any luck, I’m also planning to run some as well. Probably the following:

  • I’ve become a Silvershield for Modiphius, and possibly plan to run a Mutant Chronicles game (I backed the Kickstarter), and definitely a game of Achtung Cthulhu!
  • I’ll probably take a Call of Cthulhu scenario, possibly the New Forest one that is tried and tested now – the one with the Wamphyri!
  • And I’d be remiss if I didn’t take along The Void as well. There’s a chance I’d be running another game too, but it’s early days.

Someone remarked recently that I’m something of local gaming “Celebrity”. Personally, I’m no that fond of the term. It implies some sort of claim to fame, or notoriety. I’m just someone who gets things done. Most of the local gamers (mainly those who play RPGs) know who I am. I’m active on a number of fronts for ORC Edinburgh, but I’m starting to wonder if I should be more “outreach” especially at Q-Con or similar.

There’s some benefits to this. Notably, I get better known along with ORC and the Edinburgh Gaming scene. It might also mean a bit “networking” on a professional basis. perhaps getting to know more of the publishers and designers.  I have had my work published before and wouldn’t pass up the opportunity of further freelance work. I’ve got to admit I did pretty well last time finishing ages beyond the deadline. My work did need editing, but as Ed Greenwood once said to me “Everyone gets edited”. Sage advice (HA!) from Elminster himself.

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