Hello dear readers,
Long-time no speak. How are you doing? Having just spent an exhilarating Saturday in West London, I thought I’d tell you all about it.
So what’s a Dragonmeet? Anything it wants to, who’s gonna argue with a fricking DRAGON?!
Ahem. As well as being a terrible joke, Dragonmeet is the UK’s largest RPG-focused convention. Taking place annually around 1st December in West London, it’s a good place to buy things, meet friends, catch a live “Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff” and, of course, play games.
Was lots of gaming, more than ever this year, as evidenced by fact there were 4 RPG rooms, as well as a dedicated Pathfinder room, Demo room and usual open gaming space. It’s always a tiny bit chaotic, certainly less well structured than the (much larger) UK Games Expo, but in a way that better reflects the UK RPGing community – cobbling things together that kinda work since the 1970s! Want to play an RPG? Write your name on a piece of paper on a board. Morning bookings went up at 8.30am for 9.30 start, with Afternoon and Evening bookings going up later. I thought this meant they’d put Afternoon sheets up during the Morning games, thereby giving more people a chance to play. Not a bit of it. They waited til Morning games had finished, and then put them up, which meant at 13.45 there was a huge mob gathered around the boards, blocking people from entering the main floor entirely. It’s often been said that there’s no perfect system, but there are definitely some that are less perfect than others.
Having said, one thing that worked really well was the staggered start. By having doors open at 8.30, morning games start 9.30 and trade hall open 10.00 it meant that there was never the same massive queue that we’ve become used to at the start of the day. The rain probably helped, but credit where it’s due, getting in was slick and easy.
I’m not entirely sure, but my guess is there were fewer generic games sellers in the trade hall and more arty-crafty and indie stands. Cubicle 7, Pelgrane, Chaosium and Modiphius had dedicated stands, Leisure Games had a big slot, Mindjammer Press had one right by the entrance, and after that it was mainly bits and pieces. I wonder if clashing with Pax Unplugged in US had anything to do with this?
I bought a couple of key rings for the kids, a bleeding unicorn candle for the Missus, and nothing for myself. I asked the Twitterati to recommend a soft-cover or small format RPG that I could sneak home, but in the end I ran out of time. In any case, I think being allowed to attend at all, as well as a pricey stay in the smallest hotel room I’ve ever seen, was probably as much as I could ask for at a time of year when money is always a little tighter.
I was also pleased to see that some people really went out of their way to try and SELL ME STUFF! Admittedly, none of them were RPG publishers, but it’s progress. I like to hear people who are passionate about their stuff and it certainly makes me more likely to buy.
D&D4e Sci-fi hack
The most exciting thing about Dragonmeet, of course, was my 4e sci-fi hack making its public gaming demo. Indeed, this was actually the first time I’ve GMd away from the friendly audience of a home group. I am a naturally
arrogant confident person, but I certain felt the faint tremor of performance nerves as my 3pm time-slot approached.
Getting to a game by trusting people would find their own way actually worked fine, much better than last year’s “shouty man with no microphone calling games out one-by-one”. Only slight downside was the fact that they changed my room without telling me. Dragonmeet organisers emailed a note to GMs 48 hours before to say where we’d be playing and giving us a chance to proof read the sign-up sheets. Surprisingly efficient!
Come 2.40pm, I spent 5 minutes talking to different people to see if I could go up early to set up. Eventually, I got a yes, and discovered I was literally the last to set up, everyone else had just done it without asking – that’ll teach me, typical Lawful Stupid. Still, I had 15 mins to settle my nerves, get all the maps, minis, tokens, character sheets etc. out. Got organised, then went down to collect my GM sign-up sheet as required… and then discovered that my room had in fact been changed. Luckily I had some very helpful players, who assisted me carrying everything across to the new room. But not the start I wanted.
Game itself went very well. I’d dialled up the aliens’ combat abilities, and it certainly made things more interesting. Overall, though, it went almost exactly the same as my previous playtest.
Adding information on how each PC felt about the other characters worked well to encourage some light role-playing. Having specific objectives for each character worked particularly well, giving each player something to focus on but without unduly interfering with the overall scenario.
One issue I have is the middle encounter, to which both groups so far have responded identically. The intent of the encounter is to present overwhelming force and encourage a fighting retreat. But no-one likes to retreat, and I guess there is a D&D mindset in particular that says “Every encounter is balanced, so every encounter must be beatable”. Literally the only way I could get them to run was to stop marking down kills, and just say for every one they knocked out, another filled the gap. Which was a bit clunky and railroady, but it was this or TPK or run out of time.
As it was, I had to squeeze the 1 RP encounter and the boss battle into the final 50 minutes, which was tight. As with previous, there’s an entire area that wasn’t explored, and its just as well because there wouldn’t be time, but it’s a shame, because the unexplored section offered something just a little different. Need to think about this – one option is to remove the middle encounter entirely. Need to give this a bit more thought…
We finished at 6.55pm and were the last group in the room, but felt it went well. Three of the players wanted to keep their character sheets, which I hope is a good sign, and everyone seemed engaged for the full 4 hours. In my mind, at least, I’m absolutely convinced that 4e works brilliantly for this sort of game. I’d go further – I think it works better for this than it does for fantasy. Now as a campaign, it would be trickier. For a one-off, the fact that what appears to be a gun is in fact a class-based power isn’t an issue. In a campaign, when people want to start picking up cool equipment and trying different weapons out, it doesn’t work so well. But then, it’s the same effect-based paradigm that Hero System offers, it’s just a disbelief you need to suspend to make the mechanics work.
Side note: 4e characters are enormously resilient. These 6th level characters had around 50hp, but also with just 5 minutes rest they could each heal around 90+ damage. So I guess one needs to be figuring damage on the basis that you’re inflicting c. 40 damage per PC per combat just to be a threat. My aliens weren’t quite doing this, so more work to be done (indeed, more damage was probably inflicted by exploding aliens acid blood than anything else!)
What looked cool
I flicked through WFRP4 on the Cubicle 7 stand. It looked pretty enough, but I’ve got enough huge RPG rulebooks for now. Apart from this, I really didn’t see anything especially new on show. It’s a real shame neither WotC nor Paizo really support Dragonmeet. Pathfinder Society does at least run games there, but nothing from D&D Adventurers League, which is a shame. It’s not my bag, but it says something about the UK if we can’t even get the largest RPG in the world to show their face.
My New Project
I’ve proved 4e works as a brilliant sci-fi game, so I need a new project. So I’m going to rewrite a chapter of an RPG in 50% of less word count. That’s all. RPGs are just too damned wordy, it’s time to do something about it…