Of Dragonmeet

Introduction/Blathering

So this blog is a week late… such has been the madness of my working life at the moment. Planned to have two days off after Dragonmeet and then get onto tasks such as blogging about it… and then print proofs came UNEXPECTEDLY EARLY.

After several chaotic days spent frantically editing a tonne of images and getting a friend to aid with PDF editing so I could get an improved set of book files uploaded ASAP in the vain attempt to try and see if I can get finished books before the end of the year, I then found myself ready to blog. (Books are looking good, just some overinking of some of the darker images and cases of some missing image details to deal with.)

And then I remembered I needed to prepare the house for gamers today, due to a game I have agreed to run for a friend and some of his friends who are intrigued by I Love the Corps and the next RPG I am developing (which I will likely start officially blogging about sooooooon). And then came the realisation I needed to start sorting presents.

And so thus, I now sit here on a Saturday morning, finally ready to sit and blog about my final convention of the year.

A Little About Dragonmeet And I

So for those who don’t know, Dragonmeet is a one-day gaming convention in London. Unlike the small number of other one day conventions that I have been too that were really more of a games day, this very much felt like a full-on convention. Still relatively small scale, I guess, but pretty thriving.

I first wanted to come about maybe two years ago to run I Love the Corps, when I was first getting into promotional GMing. A friend of mine was partly involved with game organisation at the time, and I wanted me to GM, but *didn’t* want to run I Love the Corps. He had never played the game and knew nothing about it, but was confident that the con was not the place for my game, and was trying to send me to things that were indie-focused. I think in the end, I wasn’t able to go anyway, but was a bit miffed about the idea of not being welcome.

Last year, I was set on going to Dragonmeet anyway… and then a big family birthday was on the same day, and a friend wanted to visit… alas I could only combine two of these things. This time, I had Kickstarted the game, and my friend had seen the unexpected furore around the game, and this time very much wanted me to come, but I could not. This year, the friend in question has played the game, loves it, then got me to come to London for a promo game a few months ago. I don’t think he was actually doing any organising this year, but I sorted myself out. No big event clashes this year. Phew.

Dragonmeet, Timing and I Do Not Get On, Apparently

So, on the year I can finally get to Dragonmeet, Fate decides to pull a fast one, when overhead cables come down over Watford Junction the night before… ****ing every single train trying to get into Euston. My first train is cancelled, and the second train is 40 minutes late. I got up at 4.30 am. Didn’t get to Dragonmeet till 9.50. Alas, they had chosen the rather early RPG slot opening as 9pm.

I had spoken to people who just lived in London who were hours late. This transport issue was affecting everything. I was kinda shocked that Dragonmeet were making no allowances for this. I was travelling with fellow Birmingham-based game designer, Simon Burley, and he was trying to post on social media to notify people of our lateness, but it seemed to have no effect. There seemed to be no central point of contact.

So we stride in at 9.50 to the front desks for our GM badges. We explain why we are late. The guy behind the desk can’t even find our sign-up sheets so we had no idea if we had any expectant players. But we head into the RPG Room. There are two empty tables! Bingo! Simon and I are just thinking of conquering them, and if nothing else, seeing what stragglers we can acquire. If nothing else, there should be a lot of people wandering in looking for things to do, right?

At this moment, one of the organisers wanders in. He completely ignores me. Like, completely. He knows Simon (at these cons, everyone knows Simon) and pays me utterly no mind. Dragonmeet are earning many minus points at this juncture. He tells us we have missed our slot, and doesn’t even seem to give us any alternatives, apologises and smiles (to Simon) and then hastily buggers off. My next game isn’t till 3, and I had come as a very small fish in a big sea to promote my game. This was a massive hit for me.

Things I Found Out Later On

Bumped into one of the players of that London promo game I’d ran back in October. One of the other players had eagerly returned to play. Not only that, but there was apparently a whole group of people very eager to have a go. It’s the train delay’s fault, I lost those people, right? Not entirely.

Apparently, when I didn’t show, the players decided to play another game. Meaning they were in that game when I walked in. They signed up, so there must have been a sign-up sheet.  If this had been where it should have been behind the front desk where it should have been and given to me, I could have if nothing else, called out to see if my players were in the room. They already had a game going by then, most likely, but I could have, if nothing else, explained the situation, and not looked utterly unprofessional.

Further minus points, Dragonmeet.

What To Do, What To Do

So, Simon and I had a lot more hours to kill than we had planned for. So we went into the Games on Demand room. It had a big banner advertising one hour game, on the hour. Looked good! On the tables were sheets detailing a tonne of mostly indy or story games, and there were several I had heard of and wanted to try. Must have been, I dunno, about 20 games on there, and I had a list of choices in my head. On the hour, on time, they gather a considerable crowd of people. At that point, three GMs emerge. Three. They had a lot of tables, a lot of people, and three GMs. “Uh-oh”, I think. They announce the available games. One GM offers Cthulu Dark: I was interested to try this because it so happened I had run a Q&A on it on the RPG.net chatroom as a favour to my friend Dan, who runs it. GM 2 offers two games: one of them a weird sounding resurrection-based fantasy game, and the other… Lovecraftesque. I can immediately see a flaw here. I have no problem with Cthulu Mythos games… but when you have only got three GMs, one guy not offering anything but Lovecraft, and Guy Number giving two choices, one Lovecraft. Very bad idea. Especially when you give an enticing list of games to try and don’t offer any of them. Guy number 3 steps forward… and basically doesn’t offer anything and just offers to run something else if people want it. (Can’t remember what he ran, but was not either on the list or remotely indy.)

Not too surprisingly, most of the crowd just disappeared. Who can blame ’em? They were catering for a very tiny amount of interests.

Fortunately, Cthulu Dark was ace. I was a bit worried at first, because it was a pre-written adventure, and there was a LOT of reading out a whole tonne of info at the start that my brain did not mostly retain. But once we got into the actual RP, it was really fun to play. Started with Simon and I and a third player, and Simon used his usual people-roping skills to get us a fourth player, who happened to dive into it. The GMing was very dramatic and engaging: he was a talented guy. I was already interested in the system mechanically having asked many questions about it, and enjoyed it in practice as much as I thought I would. Rather than a sanity system, it has an Insight mechanic. It’s not necessarily about gauging how insane you are, but gauging about how much about the true nature of the world you have discovered, which I love. You can’t even really fail at anything (the focus is investigation) and you don’t want to succeed too much, or you’ll discover horrible truths! (which also means you kind of do want to learn too much, out of character). Works beautifully for the ‘purist’ style it is challenging. I think I rolled one die in two and a half hours. Amazing.

So yeah, went way beyond the one hour game slot. But we were enjoying it, and it killed more time, so that was fine. The room also quickly filled up around us whilst we were playing. I guess many more GMs were late? Still, Dragonmeet had begun to redeem itself… but it still hammered out my disappointment with the RPG room.

Things I Found Out Later On

Simon went back to the Games on Demand room later to run a one hour intro session for one of his games. I didn’t think of such things, because I assumed they had set team etc and had never been to Dragonmeet before, and really there is little info given on how it works. If I had known I could have done that, I would have offered a game as soon as I walked in. Less of a minus against Dragonmeet here and more of a kick to me to be a bit more confident in these situations, I suppose.

Continuing to Kill Time

So by the time Cthulu Dark was finished, the players and I had had post-game lunch and chatter, I had about two hours to kill before my second (and final) game began before needing to head back to Birmingham. Stuck together with one of the players for a while, and went to the trade hall. I approached a stall with some questions about my Next Project, but didn’t really get anything decent there (but I tried). I encountered the guy who told me about the eager group that had missed me in the morning, so asked that he pass on my reasonable apologies if he saw them. The trade floor seemed pretty decent, but I had not come for the purpose of buying things. it did seem decently laid out. Everywhere was bustling and it looked decent on everything but the RPG Room so far (which is becoming pretty typical of my experience of many larger conventions).

I decided to pop back to the front desk to ask about anything I needed to know for my game slot later in preparation terms… and the nice lady at the desk knew utterly nothing about how the RPG Room worked. Which was becoming pretty common. You were starting to do better, Dragonmeet…

I then went to the Playtest area and saw several familiar faces I know from other conventions. Unfortunately they were pretty much engaged in their games and I had no chance to say hi. This was the main thing… it was very busy, which was great, but hard to find a table to slap myself down on when I was on my own. This isn’t a criticism; it’s good thing there were lots of people around.

Fortunately, I found a guy sat alone on an empty table and sat myself down in front of him. What he was promoting was immediately not really of great interest to me since it was a choose your own adventure style book (great!) but one that used a phone app in sync with it…. cool idea, but I use the ‘smartness’ of my smart phone very little. But, I figured one of my housemates would enjoy it, and the promoter was very friendly and I know what it’s like to be the ‘little guy’ and get ignored at these things, so I tried out the sample pages of the book/game they had to try. He asked me about my day and I did what I usually do, waxing lyrical about I Love the Corps. And then the lovely lady who made the book/app appeared and we chatted for some time about both of our products and experiences, and that was a lovely experience.

When I got up, I was immediately collared (in a nice way) but a guy at an empty table. He was promoting a pretty cool, currently Kickstarting game called Star Colonies. It was a deck-building spaceship construction/exploration game. Another case of ‘not really my thing, but my housemates’ll love it, let’s try it’ deal. An enjoyable little half a game was had. I then said I needed to truck off as it was about half an hour before my game, so I could get prepped and ready. He asked me what it was, I threw him my card… and from the name alone, he was interested, and asked if he and another guy with him could play. I said I had no idea if the game would be signed up already, and he was welcome to see if he could get in. I then went to approach the Front Desk…

The Front Desk: My Arch-Nemesis

So, I asked what the process was for RPGs sign-ups, and if I was allowed to go and set up on a table and get prepared. The person at the desk didn’t know. (SHOCK.) They did, however, get me another person… who was convinced the room that was the RPG Room was not the RPG Room. He tried to convince me the next room along was the RPG Room… even after informing him that was the Games on Demand room, because I had been in there for hours, he did not seem convinced…

He did however tell me there would be a muster outside the rooms before the games begin to send players to their tables, so that was helpful. However, I like to be prepared. Having to prep my game with my players there… sends me into a bit of a stress. Like to be ready when they arrive. So I wandered by the RPG Room. I saw Darren, regular GM, who I encountered at the last Spaghetti ConJunction. “He will know how it works”, though I! He was already set up for his game, so I asked if I was allowed to, and he said yes…

At 3, players start wandering in. The RPG organiser approaches me… as if we had never met before, because he of course entirely blanked me in the morning. He did however, redeem himself, cos even though he said he might need to move me, he would try avoiding it, since he could see I was already set up. He did indeed bring me five players and a full sign-up sheet. (There were six players, but one did not show.) It was only about ten minutes late, this seemed to be because people were being gathered in groups and then led to their tables. I guess it ensures people get to the right table, so no massive beef there. I got started.

The Game

Of my five players, one was a backer of the Kickstarter, and someone I don’t know, so this was an utter first for me. He was very much the excitable fan. He was eagerly waiting the books, so hadn’t looked at the PDFs, so other than what he had learned from reading my Kickstarter info and posts, it was likely largely very new. It certainly helped to get the other players excited to play, having an enthused backer at the table, and he also knew his stuff when it came to the genre and playing a military character. Three of the other players also seemed very eager and dove right in. My only worry was the other player, who, when I said ‘does anyone have problems with excessive gore and body horror’ said no to both. One player thought he was being sarcastic… cos it was mentioned in the game write-up. But he said he could deal with some gore… ‘just not too much.’ Considering what I had planned (robotic arachnids that burrow into your spine, pump you full of nanites and turn your bodies into living factories) and that at least some of the players had come clearly wanting excessive gore, I knew it was going to be a problem keeping everyone happy.

I had just gotten all the players out of stasis pods and into armour when an interested man wandered by. I still had a spare character sheet, so all I said was ‘we’re playing a military sci-fi gory survival horror’ and he sat down immediately. (He said later that it was the ‘mark of a good GM.’) He really got into the game, as did a majority of the group… to his credit, the guy who didn’t like gore was doing his best to join in and role-played well, but it was actually kind of vital to the plot (in discovering the not so human nature of their enemies) that it was hard to hold back on. Collision is also designed to be my utterly disgusting scenario… the morning one I was prevented from running was the ‘anybody can play’ one.

All in all, the game held together well. Everyone played to their roles exceptionally, and the Aliens feel I was going for, worked out. Surprisingly, no-one physically hurt, as the player group worked together incredibly well, but there was a massive heap of psychological damage… to players as much as characters. So I did my job. Proving you don’t need to inflict a scratch to do a decent horror game. A player brought me a drink during the game, and then another apologised for not buying me one, and she (and I assume, her partner) got me a cider after the game. There was some post-game ranting at the table (the guy who didn’t like gore, went, not too surprisingly, very quickly, but you can’t win ’em all), and the guy who popped in at random seemed particularly eager. My backer was exceptionally pleased and said he would eagerly back my next projects and was asking about expansions. He was also exceptionally understanding with regard to book delays. I then had a decent chat with the two remaining players at the bar, consuming the much needed cider very quickly before dashing off.

The day started very badly, but ended very well.

Despite some negative experiences with RPG organisation, it was no worse than Gen-Con in that regard (and with a two hour gap between games, I’d say has one-up there) so I shall not hold it against them. Clearly there is interest for I Love the Corps, so I shall be (hopefully) back next year.

Commander Chris, signing off.

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