I’ve covered gaming conventions before, but pure roleplaying conventions are a slightly different matter; such events are nothing but playing one-shot RPGs for a few hours (3-4 is usual, but it can go either way) with a break every so often. I’d never been to one before, but I decided to go along to this one just so I can say I’ve done it.
This event, the first of its kind in my city (or so I believe), was held at Geek Retreat Birmingham, a nerd store franchise located where Forbidden Planet Birmingham used to be before moving to a comparatively roomier location a few streets away from its original site. The irony of one nerd store franchise taking over from another cannot be ignored lightly, although Geek Retreat is focused more on being a gaming cafe and arcade where you can play board games or TCG tournaments, provided you buy something to eat or drink every so often. Of course, they still sell Funko Pops, because nerds are into cold, dead eyes now for some reason.
Walking back through the doors after so long was an odd experience. The store layout had changed, of course, but I could still see the rows of anime DVDs and video game-themed breath mints in my mind’s eye… Well, no matter – you can’t go home again. In any case, I was pointed upstairs, where I was soon greeted by a familiar face: Andy Hopwood, of Hopwood Games fame and a prominent figure in Birmingham’s board gaming scene. He wass one of the volunteers, taking admission fees (£3 a head), handing out name labels and running the raffle – a smorgasbord of RPG books, Lovecraft Mythos anthologies and even a couple of Andy’s games. All profits went to Birmingham Children’s Hospital, so I bought five tickets out of guilt.
Starting at 10am on a Saturday might have seemed a bit early to some – one of my friends (and the GM of my current campaign) was pretty much dead on his feet, bless him – but it had to start somewhere. Signing up to games was a little unusual – everyone was given a numbered ticket, and if the number rolled on co-organiser James Mullen’s d10 (but rolled by fellow co-organiser Matthew Pook) was the last digit on your ticket, then you could sign up to whatever game caught your eye. Sounds a bit fiddly, but it does stop the usual mad dash that invariably happens at conventions. There was a good selection of games on offer, but I plumped for The Great Martian Tripod Race, which used the Code of Steam & Steel rules and was run by the game’s creator, Simon Burley himself.
S&S’s rules are simple to the point of elegance – your three – yes, three! – skills that you define yourself (as long as they’re relevant to the setting) are determined by you assigning each one 1-3, then 4-6. You then multiply each skill by the two numbers you’ve chosen, which gives you the total for each stat e.g. 3 x 6 = 18 in Swordsmanship, 2 x 4 = 8 in Fluent Martian and 1 x 5 = 5 in Inventor. Those are then added up, which determines your levels in Fortitude (HP), Ingenuity (Intelligence, and Sanity if you hit 0) and Form (technically Charisma, but it’s more how well thought-of you are in society; you lose this through actions of an ungentlemanly or unladylike manner). Multiplying numbers in roleplaying is a brilliant idea, and I’m astonished I’ve only just heard about it.
Now, this is where I come a little unstuck… you see, recounting a roleplaying session can be great fun, but it could also spoil the various surprises in the adventure for anyone who might play it at a convention sometime in the future. Therefore, all I shall say is that our party caused two diplomatic incidents over us stealing spare parts, my PC got married to a minx of a civil servant for reasons I will not go into, and the unquestionable star of the show was Rodney of Mars (played by my good friend Chris), an 8’0 Martian who assumed he was human and had no self-control, despite the fact that he was meant to be my bodyguard. For example, he “deafeated” the greatest duellist one two planets by pantsing her mid-duel, losing 2 Form. Said duellist was also in her 80’s, and on her sixth husband.
Yes, it was that sort of game.
We break for refreshment (we already had lunch brought to us halfway through the game by the friendly and helpful staff – I had an above-average baked potato) and for the raffle. I get one of Geek Retreat’s super shakes (Skittles & Maltesers – the member of staff serving me compliments me on my good taste) and win two prizes. All in all, I’m not complaining. We take the opportunity to look at the games for this afternoon – I’m torn between a game run by Chris (aka Rodney of Mars), and a light-hearted game about surviving crash-landing on Monster Island. I want to play in Chris’ game (he only pplayed this morning because few players signed up to his morning game) but goofy nonsense is my bread and butter.
No time for internal conflict, though, because it’s time for the raffle. I manage to get two prizes (Mijnlieff and a £10 gift certficae for Pelgrane Press), though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting more. Still, mustn’t be greedy. The raffle over in very good time (the organisers later admitted on facebook that they hate con raffles as a rule, as they go on forever and slow everything down) and it’s sign-up time again. It’s the reverse order of this morning’s preliminaries; cue everyone rooting around in their pockets and wallets for the ticket they received. Fortunately for me, the latter game is rescinded due to their being more than enough games for people to play, and I sign up to Chris’ game with a clear conscience.
Turns out I’m playing with not only one would-be GM who quit in order to play (Mr. Burley again – apparently, he and Chris tend to fill in for each other’s games at cons) but a second one; a sprightly lady with a clear Scottish burr whose name label says “Dr. Bob”. A reference to Muppet Show classic Veterinarian’s Hospital? Possibly…
Now, remember when I talked about how difficult it is to discuss a con game without giving away the plot? Well, spare a thought for poor Christopher Dean: he couldn’t even explain the basic plot of his game on his sign-up sheet, because the adventure (an exclusive backer reward for one of the many people who crowdfunded his Kickstarter campaign, which said backer then insisted he run at cons) has such an amazing plot twist that… look, if you’re at a con in the UK and Chris is running I Love The Corps, then for goodness sake sign up for it. It’ll make a change from the 295 Pathfinder games everyone else is running. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, some of my best friends run and play Pathfinder…
Anyway, credit must be given to the good people at Geek Retreat for hosting the event. Their food is hearty, but not stodgy or cut-price in quality. The staff are there because they care, and the surroundings appeal to nerds of all stripes, with everything from arcade and pinball machines, to a reading corner where you can thumb through back issues of various comic books. They’re doing something a little different to stores like Forbidden Planet and Nostalgia & Comics, and good on them for taking a chance.