Is It a Plane!? Kickstarter Approaching…

Psychic Cactus Games is proud to announce that the final stages of preparation are under way for the Is It a Plane!? Kickstarter, scheduled to begin on the 9TH MAY 2018!

IIAP main logo

Is It a Plane!? is the tabletop RPG that replaces dice with pens! You don’t just play a comic book character; create the comic book as you play!

This frenetic RPG uses pens, panels and crudely drawn stick people drawn in limited time for players to indicate to the Editor (Games Master) what to do.

When you only have 1 minute to draw how your character escapes a Missile Bombardment whilst trying to rescue the Panicked Civilians in harm’s way… it gets pretty intense.

IIaP Front Cover

May will be crammed with promo events for the game and the Kickstarter campaign, and one particularly important event at the start of June to finish.

  • 17th May, Online Q&A, hosted by Dan Davenport. This is scheduled for 7.30 Central Daylight Time (US), so will begin at half past midnight on the 18th for me in UK time.

  • 19th May, Is It a Plane!? Launch Party at Geek Retreat, Birmingham, UK. 10am- 7.30pm. Myself and two of my GM playtesters will have several different 3-4 hour games for people to come and play.

  • 1st– 3rd June, UK Games Expo, Birmingham UK. I am running a game of IIaP, but there will also be a Psychic Cactus Games stall, where either I or one of my GM playtesters can tell you more about Is It a Plane!? and give you a game-play demonstration

Strength of Ten

Feel free to take a look at our social media accounts for more information and continual updates.

A website for Psychic Cactus Games is on the way. Meanwhile, feel free to check out the site for our first published game, I Love the Corps.


AprilTTRPGMaker Part One

So there’s a handy meme going around on Twitter and Facebook called TTRPGMaker for game designers such as myself.

April TT RPG Maker

I managed to keep up with the first five days of posting. But then I want off for a convention for three days and was rather too busy for it. I then went on holiday for five days; the only real way for me to take a proper holiday from all my game design duties is to be offline. Then I had another two day con, and got home yesterday, and by the time lots of unpacking and house chores were done, my brain was not in a state for work.

But today, I am back to work. So, I have decided to my responses up till day 17, and then carry on from there daily. I will then recap all the remaining answers in another WordPress blog.

I am keeping answers short, since they are intended for Twitter posting.

The Answers

1. My name is Christopher Dean.

2. I live in the post-apocalyptic terrain of Birmingham, deep within the blasted wilds of the West Midlands, UK.

3. I started creating TTRPGS pretty much the moment I started GMing, at 16. I loved D&D, but wanted better action. So I briefly toyed with my own fantasy dungeon game. Didn’t get far, but set me on the path.

4. Taking a fictional medium and using rules to reflect its feel and style through RP. ILTC is about movie pacing and horror brutality. IIaP is about creating a comic book as you play.

5. Well, I have only published I Love the Corps, which was a passion project. But Is It a Plane!? is proving a hell of a lot easier to make, in being made for publishing, not all bloated.

6. The integral drawing mechanics for Is it a Plane!? allow less expressive players to let drawing and Editor interpreting do the job, free players from maths and allow simultaneous play.

7. My office is my bedroom. It’s supposed to be a reception room, so is spacious enough with a wide window that makes it a pleasant work space. My desk is covered in post-it notes.

8.  Up around 7.30, start work by 8, do about an hour and a half of work, shower, work till midday, hour lunch, sometimes another hour for housework and then work till about 7 in the eve.

9. System ideas can enter my mind just from just a single phrase, but my general aim is to think of a specific stylistic mode of fiction, and to find a way to present that mechanically.

10. Gaming is largely work for me at the mo, I don’t get to play often. I have a one-shot game I made just for fun called Point and Click: Mister Men Noir which is joyously silly.

11. I am Psychic Cactus Games. But I am nothing without friends who volunteer to help at cons, with testing and proofreading. I also work with great freelance artists.

12. I Love the Corps would have never been possible to fund on Kickstarter without years of running games for friends and friends of friends, and expanding to conventions.

13. My writing is quite tongue in cheek even when I am doing dark, which largely comes from love of fiction produced by the likes of Joss Whedon, Warren Ellis and Joss Whedon. I adore Stan Lee.

14. Main plan is to get IIaP funded and published this year and to move on to Game 3. My dream would be to be able to sustain myself on game design, as I am only just starting.

15. Public exposure to my games is important to their development. So much of what is comprised in my current games comes from building the games through play with others.

16. I am the solitary game designer currently. But as said for question 15, there are mechanics and resolutions I would not have without enthusiastic playtesters and proofreaders.

17. I think reviews are the best, as a way for others who don’t know me to get an honest opinion on my games. Alas, I am little lacking in those for ILTC; I hope that IIaP will reach more widely.

Is It a Plane!?- Let the Hype Begin


It’s time to talk more about the next product in development from Psychic Cactus Games, destined for the realm of Kickstarter in May, 2018…

IIAP main logo

IS IT A PLANE!?: the diceless comic-book role-playing game.



What are the first impressions of players?

  • The comic-book issue framing of the narrative is innovative and a great way to invite players to consider the overall story. The frantic nature of the drawing phase was great fun: especially once I’d gotten the hang of understanding the way you were likely to interpret the images! Is it a Plane!? features a truly innovative resolution mechanic that enables an immense range of character abilities. That you create a comic book issue in play is fantastic.” Sean Smith- designer of EXUVIAE and QUARREL & FABLE.

  • Whilst initially “Is It A Plane!?” may appear frivolous, it offers some truly surprising opportunities for very serious and compelling role play with real character and story investment. It is of course, a lot of comic super hero fun”- Brendan Foster.

  • Is It a Plane” is an absolute delight to play, the comic-styling naturally lending itself to player imagination and camaraderie, celebrating both in-game success and toasting the occasional oddities that occur when your beautifully formed artwork is misunderstood by the GM… Fortunately, there are ways to come back from that which are also splendidly in-tune with the… vibe which the system’s laced with..
    Coming to the game for the first time, playing with complete strangers and possessing limited artistic skills, I was still able to pick up and play the game with relative ease – the limit’s more creativity then artistic talent. If you have the former, then you’re probably going to have fun here!”- Matthew J. Tozer.

  • I like the free flowing nature of it, with everyone all playing at once. The use of different lengths of drawing time is good, adds a real sense of urgency when dealing with a situation. Personally I also like how there’s less need for stats” – Ruth Berry

  • I think that it’s a great way of being involved in a game if you don’t always feel like talking and explaining stuff in front of people. A fun way to play as a group as you don’t feel like you’re not as good as other players as with the time limit everyone draws in.”- Nadine Haskey.

  • The pace was good and was filled with action, I could see influences from the IltC (I Love the Corps) system.”- Tom Woodhall


Playtester GM feedback

When you boil the game down, it’s very straight forward to play and to GM. I believe if someone buying this game off a shelf were to sit down and learn the game, they could do so competently and be ready to play in a reasonable time”- Damien Jones.

“As a novice GM, and relatively inexperienced role-player, I can attest to the ease and simplicity of running and playing Is It A Plane!? If you can draw stick men and count to Ten, you’re already half way there!”- Joe Down.


Initial reactions from proofreaders

The game is staggering… I am caught up in the magnitude of it.

As a game designer myself… and a player of several others, I can see how once you get… in gear, as an Editor, it would flow nicely!!!”- Philip Apostolakopoulos.

“Its like Pictionary, but you can be Batman, so about 100x better.”- Nial Prince.

So what’s different to existing superhero RPGs out there?

  • There are no dice rolls. To create your dramatic actions, you need to DRAW them!

  • This isn’t a *just* a superhero game; you create a comic book as you play. Any kind of comic book genre you can imagine is up for grabs.

  • Draw your Protagonist’s actions with highly limited time and dive into the fast-paced, frenetic comic book feel.

  • The Editor (or Games Master) must then decide what happens based on how they interpret the player’s drawings.

  • All the players decide and perform their character’s actions simultaneously.

  • An RPG with absolutely zero maths in play for players.

  • Everything in the game, from a ticking Bomb to a Raging Fire or a devastating supervillain is a Situation heroes must defeat, represented by a number between 1 and 9. Editors don’t need to deal with exhaustive statistics.

  • Characters can be in different geographical locations, or even time periods, and players can still get to act simultaneously.

  • Players always have something to do: if your character is Out of Action, you get to interpret the drawings the other players have created, along with the Editor.

  • Game-play is faster with five players than it is with two!

(2) Make An Exit

How Does It Work?

  • Based on how frantic a moment is, the Games Master gives the players between 30 seconds and 3 minutes to create their comic book Panels and to tussle with Situations they have decided upon.

  • Once Panels are drawn, players lay out their panels, WITHOUT discussing them, and the Games Master has to work out what THEY think is going on.

  • Is your character Out of Action? Don’t worry; instead of drawing, you get to interpret the Panels instead…

  • The Situations Protagonists will face (from Supervillains and Mooks, to an Earthquake, a Burning Building or a Murder Mystery) are represented from numbers 1 (low threat) to 9 (high threat). Reduce a Situation to 0, and it is dealt with. Let it rise to 10… and the scene ends badly for our heroes!

  • Use your Panels to reduce and defeat Situations… as long as the GM works out what you are doing, and decides your actions are effective.

  • Defeat a Situation and you earn a Story Point to spend on Stunts and Twists. Stunts aid the drawing and interpretation stages of the game. Not enough time to draw? Use the KAPOW! stunt for more time! Twists add in story elements to help save the day. Is your Protagonist down… then bring in some help via BACK UP’S HERE!

  • Games split up into Scenes and Issues. An Issue only has 22 Pages… if you haven’t defeated the Situations in a Scene by the end of the Issue, things only get more complicated for our Protagonists next time, as they create a Cliffhanger!

  • The more Panels players use, the faster the issue goes, so be careful!

  • This game isn’t just for playing superheroes, you can use it to create any kind of comic book setting.


About the Kickstarter Project

  • The initial goal will be to raise money for colour covers and black and white interior art for a single book. The book will contain rules, character creation, character archetypes, information about building comic book worlds and stories, information about being the Editor and a ready to run adventure with 6 pregenerated characters to play it with.

  • The book is currently around 140 pages. This may increase as proofreading and editing is currently underway and additional content may be added through stretch goals, but shouldn’t be any greater than 160 pages.

  • DriveThruRPG will be used to provide backers with their books (codes will be provided so backer only need to pay for their own printing and shipping, so pledges will be discounted accordingly).

  • Due to the comic book panel drawing element of the game, I am currently thinking of using DriveThru’s card facility in order to create these.

  • The first stretch goal will be to get colour interior art for the book. This goal is lower than the total achieved for my first Kickstarter, I Love the Corps, so I feel fairly confident about achieving this.

  • Following stretch goals will be to add additional art elements to the book that create more of a comic book feel.

  • Expansions are planned as further possible stretch goals, containing a variety of different adventures and mini-settings in completely different comic book styles, genres and eras, to show the range of the game. There are already materials ready to be turned into two adventure books (each with three adventures) and a campaign setting book.

Strength of Ten

Coming to Kickstarter in May 2018.

If you wish to know more, you can reach me on-

Thank you for reading, citizens!

Christopher Dean

Psychic Cactus Games

(The ‘Is It a Plane!?’ logo was created by Jessie Watts.

The promotional image was created by Daniel Wood.)

First con of the year: Spaghetti Conjunction 2A

On Saturday, I went to the first convention of 2018 for me, Spaghetti ConJunction. Rather than a full fledged thing with trade floors and what have you, this is more of an RPG day. It was set up twice last year. It’s in Birmingham, my home and in (what I consider) walking distance, and it’s at Geek Retreat, where I run monthly promotional games, so it’s a not a thing I am going to miss.

Whereas the last one in October 2017 was very quiet, and Jan 2017 was pretty busy, this January’s was even busier. There were about 50 players! When I saw them, I was very hopeful of getting some new faces for Psychic Cactus Games.

So, when I came to Spaghetti Conjunction last year,  I came as an indie designer with an almost released game wanting to promote. It didn’t go quite as planned, since I only got one game out of the four I offered (though the one game I got to run was fantastic, allowed me to introduce two new players to the game, and I got to play in three different games of incredibly high calibre).
So on Saturday I turned up as an indie game designer with a recently released game (I Love the Corps and a game which I am preparing for Kickstarter development (Is It a Plane!?)… but, I wasn’t really coming expecting to get to do that.

I was coming with fun over promotion in mind… fortunately I got both!

AM Game- Is It a Plane!?
For those who do not know about it yet, it’s a comic book RPG where you draw (in a very limited, time sensitive manner) in place of dice rolls to dictate what your Protagonist’s actions are. The GM (having being given only limited verbal cues from roleplay before action began) then has to interpret what *they* think is going on in the story (as can players who either have an Out of Action character, or want to have their character bow out for story reasons), so they can have greater control over what happens next.

This was a big thing for me, since this is only the second time I have taken IIAP to a convention, after running a taster at ConPulsion last year. Much development has occurred since then, and whereas that was a 2 hour session, this was a 4 hour slot. However, the only pregen oneshot I had ready was the one I designed for 2 hours.

I kept with the main story, “The Christmas Crisis.” But where in the original run of the game, I started with describing a Christmas scene, and then the villain appeared on the monitor and telling the players there were bombs in their presents, ready to detonate if the heroes left the HQ, (so the villains could rampage on Christmas Day stealing what they wanted), this time, I played it differently. I let them draw panels for their Christmas prep, let them do a front cover which had a flaming tree (and cued them to take actions to put that detail in the game), and though the villain monologued, he just told them he had left them presents. This allowed for a lower build to the game, let the players investigate and then let them have more control over what was a more detailed story. Because of this, it was determined that the villains had already made their thefts, and the game when in a much more appropriate 2 issue arc direction, as we had the classic ‘find the villain’s HQ and have a showdown.”

I should also mention that the heroes, villains and settings were all based on concepts the 3 and 4 years olds I used to work with as a nursery worker came up with…

Game Highlights

* Accidentally detonated a series of bombs when the character with laser beams eyes decided to burn a hole into a present to take a look at what Christmas presents their arch-nemesis had left them…
* Added a story element where Father Christmas has been tied to a railway track… even though the trains weren’t running. (Christmas Day.)
* Showed that a superhero sentient lorry (Super Lorry) might own his own toy shop for merchandising purposes.
* Proved that said sentient lorry was energy efficient and battery powered in order to teach the children about caring for the environment
* Tracked the villains to their lair by the trail of glitter they left behind from stealing Christmas decorations.
* Dictated that the villain’s lair had a really obvious label on the side dictating that it was not a villainous lair.
* Decided that the local volcano I had set up to be the possible villainous lair location was not only that (the building being on the slope), but made it a very sad, living volcano, via the medium of drawing a sad face. Cue Mount Sadness, the volcano that erupts if it gets extremely upset.
* Turned Super Lorry falling from great heights into a continual theme, along with continually using panels to Make Things Worse (only to then save the day, in true super hero style).
* Bricks turning himself into an armoured suit around a villain, in order to weaponise his Super Fish-Breath.
* Keeping a character Out of Action for several Pages just to be… DRAMATIC!
* Replacing the ability to create weapons with the ability to create Christmas cheer after a dramatic revival, replacement (box) head and spur of the moment conversion to Christianity….
* Adding the element that the army of Rampaging Evil Toys had a “Good to Evil” switch… and which allowed me to keep turning it back to Evil till the players stopped me…
* The identity crisis of Bricks as he was forcibly turned invisible and believed he was being removed from existence… until another hero accidentally running up him (after turning into steps) caused him to realise his solidity, and then use the invisibility to his advantage.
* They taught a sad volcano the meaning of Christmas and brought it joy and presents (after setting the Evil Toy army permanently to Good.)
* They deliberately let the Master Villain get away.

PM- I Love the Corps “Collision”

In the afternoon I ran a mission I have been running at some cons for about 2 years now, Collision.

It’s a bit of a weird one. Sometimes it is massively exploratory with high psych damage and little combat. Sometimes very high combat, sometimes very low. Sometimes no-one dies, mostly a few people die. I have very much designed the game to be modular based on how the players want to play the game, as their abilities shape a scene, and they get a limited amount of totals. This was definitely the case here.

This version was high exploratory and psychological, where the action game once and right at the end (as the players were too busy building a story that left their characters as out of intel and completely unprepared as possible) and everyone died. Everyone.

Normally, the game proper opens with the marines in their dropship bay as another cruiser collides with it, tearing through the bay and wiping out most of the infantry before their eyes… but because they were wasting valuable time in-character, they were stuck in the hyper-lift when this happened…

This created a different story to usual runs. I was rather happy with it, though.

Game Highlights
* The power cut out, so the lift plunges… saved by Boomerang’s (the engineer’s) Grease Monkey total to find the emergency stop.
*Cue Caber (the medic) already Losing It in the first beat of the first scene, convinced that opening the lift would expose them to vacuum (as they knew that something had impacted the ship, but were out of comm range of the bridge without power, and utterly lacking intel). The lift shaft was fine.
* When the Friendly scout opens the airlock out of the lift shaft… to discover that area *is* exposed to vacuum. However, this was only because a player dramatic edited that way with a Glory Point, in order to force the story in the direction they wanted to go… which I made pretty clear was the hard way…
* The triumph of Caber as he finds he was right after all (kinda), saves the scout just in time, and snaps out of his moment of trauma.
* The long (and until the dramatic editing, unnecessary) climb up the lift shaft, as the continued idiocy of the electronics expert, Shiv, continues to drive the Sergeant towards madness… (trying to use the welding torch of an engineering kit in zero-g as a booster, rather just use his Freakin’ Ninja to climb up… I do let players try what they want to try… doesn’t mean they have a chance in hell of succeeding if it’s needlessly ridiculous)… inflicting psychological damage on other marines via repeated incompetence!
* Several examples of this continued until the offending marine blew off his own hand…
* Turns out that Shiv is a Dupe (android) and the Sarge, who hates him already, hates androids, and starts Losing It..
* Cue Caber getting in the way of the Sarge nearly taking an action that could turn off the Dupe permanently.
* The hand-exploding incident is all the idea of the sniper, Bayonet, asking for a ‘distraction’, as they have decided they would rather sneak ahead down the pitch black, utterly silent corridor, empty of personnel (all killed in the dropship bay), all by herself, whilst having no idea what has happened to the ship…. Of course she was ordered to the back, being a sniper…
* Due to the mayhem caused by Shiv, Bayonet and Ax (the scour) head off (which the scout was of course ordered to), the Sarge then being assuaged by the medic to calm down and head on whilst the medic holds onto the electronics guy, the squad gets very much dramatically split up, travelling half a mile long corridor, lit only by helmet lights, heading into a totally unknown situation (they were attempting to reach the power core to restore power, which was just in the next ship section.)
* Bayonet is taught the hard way that being the long range weapons expert and so far ahead of the others that they are out of sight is really bad when you’re at the airlock to the next section, watch it forced opens, and swarms of tiny robotic aliens swarm through the small gap.
* The realisation that the officers quarters doors are all locked since the officers are all dead, there’s no power and absolutely no cover from an alien so small that it is mostly hidden by darkness… resulting in a Glory Point for there to be a door that malfunctions and doesn’t close properly. Bayonet grabs the scout and hauls them inside…. of course, due to the Glory Point, the door doesn’t close, and the Hostiles are verrry small.
* Bayonet seal foams the door… against Hostiles that have since been seen drilling their way out of formerly human bodies. As they drill through the foam. Cue the first two horrible deaths of the game as the swarm floods into the room.
* The Sarge has been barrelling down the corridor, since Bayonet and Ax have been screaming down their comms, but other than yelling about ‘spiders’ has pretty much nothing to do on… and being a Friendly (no dice rolls) and Sentry Duty zero… runs right into the Hostile. Horrible flesh drilling death number 3.
* Meanwhile, Caber tries to hurl himself down the corridor in zero-g. Shiv is helping propel them both along, adding additional momentum… until he decides he wants to stop on top of Boomerang’s first planted turret… escaping the medic’s grip, as he continues down the corridor with nothing to stop him…
* Shiv continues to make things worse by doing things his character sucks at or actions that are ridiculously hard and have high penalties as he hooks up a power source he made designed to power a bomb he never built to power the turret, which wrecks it. As the engineer stares in abject horror.
* Shiv finally realises that his actions have effectively doomed everyone, and so starts malfunctioning (Losing It) and attempts to kill himself… and in theme, continually fails to do. Then he decides he is going to try and save everyone… opposing his trauma, this gives him a greater penalty, so he fails that to…
* Boomerang sets up his two turrets, as the three ‘dead’ marines walk into sight… covered in robotic spiders, converting their bodies into organic factories to create more converters. The turrets fire.. but confusing friend and foe as the same, they keep stopping and starting, firing, but not enough to damage enough of the dozens of creatures attached to each former marine.
* The Dupe floats into the turret range of fire by accident and is ripped to shreds.
* As the carpet of his enemies approach, the engineer detonates the contact mines on his back… classic.
* The one man, gigantic armour-clad bullet that is Caber sails over a crowd of converted people, spewing converters out of their mouths up at him, as he deflects them with his mag-shield, heroically sailing over them, sailing down a crawl tunnel, as his visor and chest plate grind against it, sparks flying everywhere as he screams.. and then gravity hits as he enters a ship section with functional artificial gravity…
* He was tough enough to possibly survive… but no. The medic’s player decided to Glory Point to simply dictate his manner of death… into a giant fan.


I had three players for “Is It a Plane!?” and four for ILTC. None of my IIAP players had played any of my games before, and only one of them did I know. Two of them left me their e-mails for further information about the game.

For ILTC, had two new players (one who I knew a little) and two regulars who play my games at GR. Both new players left their e-mails (I have offered to give discount codes for the PDFs/books for those who play at conventions.)

This is definitely a positive start to the year. I still have a long way to go before sales for ILTC become notable, but I just have to keep plugging and hope it will spread.

Of Dragonmeet


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 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.

I Love the Corps goes to Fan Expo Toronto

Greetings marines!

I am sending this communications package all the way from Canada! (It’s Labour Day, a public holiday, and  I am staying with friends, so catching up on a bit of business stuff whilst they are still asleep.)

So on Friday to Saturday, I was doing ILTC promo at Fan Expo (my second overseas con). Whereas GenCon is ALL about tabletop gaming, Fan Expo is more for all kinds of nerddom. There is a Gaming part of it, but it is mostly videogames. There was a board game room, and two (albeit, quite large) role play rooms. I will admit, I wasn’t feeling overwhelmingly confident about it beforehand: I only received confirmation of my games a week before flying (I am used to knowing this months in advance), it was a sign-up sheet based system like with small British gaming cons (and I was up against many established systems, and I know how that usually goes for the New Guy… usually with having to miss a game slot or two, and I had paid a lot of money to get there), my sign-up sheet was blank when I arrived and my games were not even listed as I Love the Corps in the brochure (instead they were listed by the scenario name, meaning the few who might have heard of it would not know to find me unless they came to the table).

FORTUNATELY, my expectations were smashed pretty quickly…

For this weekend, I was running my Pandora’s Box scenario… many, many times.


Game 1 (2-6)

So, I registered my worries that I had no players an hour before my game. Then, twenty minutes before… still no players. So, Kate, the organiser of the RPGs, got me to give her a game spiel, and she managed to get me two players very quickly.  I assured them I could run a good game even with two, and it could involve the entire squad, as Friendlies only have predetermined static ability totals and never roll dice.  They were intrigued by this, and deliberately picked the two ranking NCOs, Mag-Train and Laser. They not only RPed giving orders to the rest of the squad to make use of them, they even used ability totals to give them situational bonuses and increased their competence.

They were doing fantastically well, and I said so. And then ten minutes later, they got three of their four Friendlies killed in one single beat. Oops. Still, the game went down very well, despite a highly involved action scene (they player actions were really quick, but they had four Friendlies to coordinate, and I had a variety of Hostiles, so I was worried about the time it seemed to be taking). My worries were for nought, as the 4 hour game only took 3 hours, and I got to do the kind of action scene I have never done before, which felt more than a little X-Com. The two players were highly enthusiastic, and the guy said he’d send a friend who was coming on Saturday to play.

The early finish gave me a bit more time to chat with people before the next game, and I had quite a few people came over who seemed interested in the game after seeing me GM.

Game 2 (7-11)

The Game Room was RAMMED. I had a full group of six. I even had Kate come in to check that I could take six players (I always do, but their sign-up sheets only had 5 slots) and was aware of this way beforehand.

It was a pretty great game. It did took a little while for the some of the players to warm-up, but once they did, it was delightful chaos. They were very complimentary about the scenes and beats system.  I had another GM play who seemed to be really into it. Things were going terrifyingly enough that he spent a Glory Point to dramatically edit the action scene so they could escape… meaning he ended the scene compromised and dying, and I still had an hour to go. It was the first time I got to use a contingency plan forever in place and never used in about the eight times I have run this game… as Missile got replaced… by the ‘other’ Missile…

Cue a fabulous ending where the marines escape onto an unknown planet, two of them died horribly, one turned on the others, one runs away and THEN dies and the other ends the game alone and totally lost…


Game 3  (11-1)

I was a bit concerned initially about being able to do a decent, satisfying run of Pandora’s Box in two hours. But then, I did a 3 hour game with 2 players and I had 3 players for the 2 hour slot… I warned the group at the start that the story might not finish, and to consider it a demo, which they were fine with. And managed to finish the story neatly in two hours after all.

The game was mostly narrative scene, and the players focused on learning as much of the story as they can, and the action scenes were brief blips of awesome in-between the beats of the narrative scene. There was another satisfied group and the resident lady was particularly interested and wanting to GM it for her gaming group. WOO!

Gaming by Storm (2-6)

Originally, I had 5 hours until my next game. I was saying to one of the volunteers about how the day time seemed quieter, presumably due to most people going to the exhibitions in the day and gaming in the evening. And then he said ‘oh, that’s why we have Gaming by Storm’….

So here’s how Gaming by Storm works. Four 1 hour game slots. A room swarming with GMs and empty tables. On the hour, the door opens and geeks swarm in. Like a carnival hawker, you see who you can entice to your table. Then, you run a game. On the hour, the bell rings. The gamers in the room either swap tables, or they leave. And then the doors open and more nerds flood in. Rinse and repeat till the four hours are over (you can GM only some of the slots, but I decided to do the whole hog, for more outreach).

I decided to just run my normal four hour version of Pandora’s Box, split into four segments. I think the other games had it easier. I had to explain an entirely new setting, ruleset AND ongoing storyline, with only an hour to do this and run a decent demo, losing a few minutes for player gathering time. I apologised for zooming through the explanations, but a lot of people told me I did it well.

I had 3 three player groups and 1 two player group. Realising I wasn’t going to need all six marines, the ones that were Friendlies got slowly bumped off over the games, leaving three of the six standing by the time the last three sat down. It was a particularly destructive run.

I was thanked multiple times for jumping in last minute. Apparently, they would have been turning people away without me. It was definitely a GMing challenge, but it was fun, and showed me how versatile ILTC is.

I don’t think it was everyone’s cup of tea (hard to tell in an hour), but a lot of business cards went out, so  I consider that a success for the majority. One of the players even came back in the evening to play the full game…

Game 4 (7-11)

I had five players for this, including another GM, 3 people who had all been to GenCon (but hadn’t played the game then, but seemed to be really looking forward to it), the return player from earlier (who loved and chose the same character) and a guy actually in the military who (somewhat appropriately) took on the squad leader, Mag-Train Maddocks…

This game was just freakin’ epic. These guys did not mess around. They started an action scene whilst not in armour and took down three armoured enemies with their own weapons. The main action scene (when they had full Load-Outs) got a lot more brutal though, and even though they took down more of their enemy, there was a lot of injuries, and they ended Glory Pointing their way out, once they knew who they were up against…

It looked like an ending when all the players were going to survive. But then, the marine with the Merciful Defining Trait and Weakness decided it would be better for everyone to die…

In the final scene, we had one grunt Freaking Out, THREE Losing It (all of three who died, one from suicide and one killing the other), the Freaking Out marine murder the surviving Losing It marine for their own murder… and the Sergeant getting his arms blown off (neutralised and resistant, so surviving) to stop the suicide being mass euthanasia… a swift and brutal ending that ended with two survivors and an amazing line…

Suffice to say, it went well. Well enough that Kate had to split us up from our post-game enthusiastic ranting, cos she wanted to go home.


A stonking success.  I had 27 players. That’s four MORE than Gen-Con. 18 hours of GMing, same as Gen-Con. Gave out 26 business cards… that wasn’t to every player (gave out some to interested people I ended up talking to them), but it was most of them. At Gen Con, I had only 2 female players across six games. At Fan Expo, with my four main games, I had 1-2 female players a game and I had at least one during Gaming by Storm. The organisers must have been pleased with me, since they seemed surprised that I wasn’t coming back on Sunday (admittedly they hadn’t given me any game slots. But then, they’d given me the four slots volunteers usually get… if I can go again, I will see if I can push to get more, since I am promoting.) They were even trying to persuade me to come to their dedicated gaming con in March.

Despite my worry at the sign-up sheet system, it was much better organised than my usual experience of it, and they really put in the effort to get me players. There was also an hour gap in between games, like at the UK Games Expo, and unlike Gen-Con, and so I found it to be much better organised. Gen-Con was still ace and that is my priority to get back to, but this trip was at least as successful, if not more, and didn’t bring me any of the initial stress Gen-Con did. Hopefully I will be able to do both next year. Soon we will see how things go when the books release.

My next cons will be on the smaller side.. CONCRETE COW, in Milton Keynes, in September, Spaghetti ConJunction (Birmingham) in October and to finish, Dragonmeet (London) cin December.

Commander Chris, signing off.





I Love the Corps goes to GenCon 50!


Finally got internet back at home yesterday, and haven’t gotten other stuff out of the way, I can finally recap my first overseas promo trip!

This will cover the good and bad both of my ILTC experience and GenCon itself (bit of a ropey start, but it improves, massively). I was running a compressed version of my Cold Frontier campaign: 7 days (instead of 21) to survive, till the cruiser arrives: don’t let the razor ants eat you. 6 marines, 56 colonists: HOW MANY LIVE!?? (Spoiler: not many.)

Before GenCon

Got to my accommodation last Thursday at about 10pm, chatted to the landlady and crashed soon after. Alas, I didn’t sleep particularly well (had a very stressful lead-up to GenCon) and before I ended up at GenCon, ended up in a FedEx, getting some extra copies of my character packs. The big sell to get people to play ILTC was that all of my games would follow a connective story. If you got someone killed in one game, they wouldn’t be available the next day. This gave me a slight statistical problem; I had 27 different characters (6 marines, 21 colonists) and had a copy of each, but it was hard to know how many copies I would need if someone wanted to take their character sheet. In the end, I did four of each marine, which was enough (had a few spare) and one of each colonist, which I knew would be more than I needed… but I felt better to be over-prepared.

Despite being in a fluster, the FedEx was the first sign that it would be a good weekend. I had an awesome guy called Matt helping me with my copying (he was copying whilst I got all the plastic wallet sorted). Not only did he help me get ready on time, but was impressed that I had been working on my first RPG full time for two years, was telling the other gamers in the shop, and I ended up giving out about five business cards! Even saw a lady there who I met again briefly at the airport, and have since got an e-mail from who she was promoting (I assume anyway, awaiting further reply). Either way, CONTACTS!

Friday- at GenCon

Got more than a bit lost when I got there… it’s so big! Plus, I was exhausted, stressed and at my most dyspraxic. There was a definitive lack of signs to places and though there were brochures with maps, I didn’t find one when I walked in… so many people, so many different entrances to the Convention Centre. I did the sensible thing and asked volunteers where to go… and got misdirected. Twice. I ended up stood at the wrong stand (it was for entrants) for about ten minutes! (They assumed I was a player, took my ID without letting me explain, and thus I stood there till another guy was sent to me and I explained who I was, and was sent elsewhere. Correctly.) In a fluster, I ended up at GM HQ, and the very nice lady at the desk busted out a map and managed to correctly show me where to go, including giving me a decent shortcut. Got to my game ten minutes early. Phew! Not as early as I like to be, but better than nothing.

Game 1 (Friday 1-4)

It was definitely a slow burn game. The problem with essentially running a campaign across 7 games is you have to start somewhere. But, the players seemed to be very much getting into the intro and learning everything they could about Frost colony and it’s people, so I went with it. There was a lot of role play from some of the characters, but not much need for abilities, so the narrative scene trucked along a bit slowly. Also had two younger players. The teen seemed to be choosing to do nothing in an in-character fashion, whilst the younger kid (about 7) was just way too young to get what was going on. Eventually, the LT’s player embraced this and left the kid to his own devices- since he was playing the Lone Wolf, this actually worked pretty well. The game was definitely shaping up. Unfortunately, we got to 3.30 and the family (half the group) said they needed to finish at 3.45, when my game was due to finish at 4, and had it done so, would have likely ended perfectly. I wanted to give them action before they finished, but instead I had to rush it and set up the action scene for the next group (not my optimal choice).

I think it went well enough, but I think the nature of GenCon’s timetabling, something new to me, harmed it. I didn’t know you could just book a game that ends at 4 and start another one at 4. Some rooms are at least 20 minutes apart! Dumb system, left me feeling a bit annoyed. Also, after my copying nightmare, only one player took a sheet, so it left me feeling like it didn’t go well…

Before Game 2

So game 2 didn’t actually happen (should have been 5-8). This was a hard but necessary way for me to learn that prebookings mean far less than they do, say at the UK Games Expo. You expect to lose a player or two there… but 5 out of 6? Well, that sucked the remaining confidence out of me. Fortunately, a guy with a Generic ticket who really wanted to play wandered over, and though my one player had been waiting long enough and went off elsewhere, I made a friend, had a good rant, and played a fun card game. I then went for a bit of a wander to get the lay of the land and just work out where stuff was, mainly, so I could explore properly during my Saturday break. But I was tired, stressed and it was all a bit overwhelming, so grabbed some (very cheap, especially for con food!) fast food, and headed back about an hour before my next game slot to set up.

There was a group who had no GM turn up (!) so I ended up chatting to them. This was a good experience, as I learned that players overbooking and not turning up and GMs disappearing was a common thing, so I felt better and met some more friendly people. I also encountered some people who were interested in the game, and said they’d play the next slot if people didn’t turn up. Hope!

Game 2 (Friday 9-12)

Three of the six turned up on time. Seeing I looked sceptical (most likely) the guy who organised it assured me the other three were on their way. To further make me feel better he roughly said…

“Just to let you know how much I have been looking forward to this game, I cancelled going to a party with sexy ladies to come play this.” THE PRESSURE WAS ON!

I gave them the choice of if they wanted to start with an action scene or not, as it’s not how I’d usually do things with a one-shot (but the plot was pointed in that direction). But they were excited to try the game out, largely, and I think the unusual appeared. It was a bit of a slow start, mainly cos everyone was TIRED (always a con issue when teaching new rules), but momentum picked up, and when one marine leapt out of the jeep that had been fleeing bugs to butcher one of them… well everyone started leaping out one by one. Badass.

And then they got to the colony and we went from badass to pure psychological horror. The aerial scouts, the screamers, were coming, and they decided everyone needed to STAY QUIET. Which was the purpose of the following narrative scene. The tension was utterly palpable. I had players wincing, grimacing and gasping.

It was an utterly fantastic game, and gave me hope for the rest of the weekend. This was the first time I was asked to come back next year, including the promise of bringing me more players (and the guy bought 5 other people already).

I felt like me again. Hope was rekindled. I then met a Canadian player on my way out, who played in Game 1, and he gave me a lot of praise, and made me feel much better about how it went from my perspective.


Game 3 (10-1)

So, after Friday night, I still didn’t sleep great, but adrenaline kept me going, and my mood was much better. My mood accelerated further, as each player turned up yelling ‘I LOVE THE CORPS!’ or ‘OOHRAH!’ 4 out of 6; more than enough to have a good time.

“You are the right players for this game”, I said. I was not wrong.

Game 1 was an investigation with a horror/action build-up, game 2 an action intro with some psychological horror. Episode 3 was the all-out balls to the wall action episode, as the players took events OFF PLANET and ended up finishing the game with a brutal battle in a cargo hold fighting against decompression and were close to all getting sucked out into space. It was utterly epic. Not what they were expecting, but they loved it. “We thought we were going to fight bugs… but this was great.”

I have since been emailed by one of the players asking how he can buy it (soon, sooooon) and spoke to two of the others twice more over the weekend. They came back to the start of the next game to watch and laugh as I explained how the marines had left in a dropship and abandoned them to die (not entirely accurately, but it was how it appeared). We chatted again on Sunday, and it was clear how much they enjoyed it. They not only asked if I was coming back, but also suggested that Cold Frontier could be made into a campaign book. I don’t disagree…


I decided to explore again. But I needed some proper food. But I knew a restaurant would chew out exploration time… so I settled for a food van. If not proper food, then I would settle for a giant pulled pork hot dog… it was gorgeous. But, due to the walk to it and queuing time… I didn’t dent much of the exhibition hall before I needed to return to set up the next game…

Game 4 (4-7)

I only had two players. I didn’t worry. They were a husband and wife, and they clearly were massive Aliens (and Starship Troopers) fans, which is why they signed on. They didn’t seem too worried about having no other players either. Since the last game ended with the marines flying a shuttle out of an exploding ship with no pilot… in the next game, only one marine (who stayed behind) was available. Time to bust out the survivor packs!

Between them, the married couple played two different survivors each (after the death of the first), brought along two more for help, and only one survived. They found the crashed pieces of dropship, but no sign of the marines. As they got surrounded by bugs and fled back to Frost, they got picked off. Two survived, and another died. The game ended with Wagner, a massive explosion and a lot of dead bugs.

Game 5 (8-11)

This time, there were no playable marines. The players were instantly worried, and intrigued. This left the leaders as the (ex-marine) sheriff and deputy, with also the notable leading presence of all around smart guy and the Last but One Ice Miner, Demidov. The sheriff and deputy’s son was played as well, and the three (all male players) players did a beautiful job, whilst we also had ‘every man for himself’ classic coward (and secret telekinetic) to round up the group.

This game was a classic survival horror. Whilst Starship Troopers was (correctly) cited for the style of the last game, this one was compared to The Thing, and they weren’t wrong either. The players decided it was time to get everyone out of Frost.

They had a decent plan, but due to knowing next to zero about the razor ants… well nearly everyone died. Three player characters did survive the ending, but all the other colonists died horribly, and the survivors were more or less screwed in anything but the short term.

A fair few of the players stayed to enthusiastically discuss the game, and two of them even game back to enthuse some more.

Damn good ending to a damn good day.


Game 6, 10-1, The End

So three players turned up. Fine for what I had planned… there was a small matter of the surviving four marines to deal with. Unfortunately, two of the players weren’t my players and got the wrong table! Fortunately, the other GM/game designer (who only had one player, being one of the people mistakenly at my table) had already been talking to me about my game, and was genuinely interested. He came to play, so his player stuck around. He ended up saying: “Whoa, this is way more brutal than D&D!” And he meant that very positively.

Two marines were played, and an inedible Dupe colonist (one of four surviving colonists… of 56). We had the finest boss battles and plenty of narrative scene too, though I was worried about the size of action scene (I know combat is not everyone’s thing). However, they all clearly enjoyed it. I even got bought a (the last!) cider during the game by the other designer, Tom.

The guy who booked in was very happy indeed and seemed eager to buy it on release. The accidental player said “next year, I’m going to play in the first group, and screw the other players over.” So I guess he liked it.

Tom asked if I wanted to grab some drink… finishing with a massive blow-out meal and some drinks was my plan anyway! He said that he was surprised that I was not already a published designer already, because I came across as immensely professional. He also revealed that he doesn’t usually enjoy long combats, but thought I handled it beautifully, as there was a distinct story running through the action scene!


I had two vodkas and lemonades, a GIGANTIC plate of nachoes and a sizeable amount of chips (fries) and a reuben, a rammed, and possibly tastiest sandwich ever. And you know what? Tom paid for it all… which was not the plan. So yeah, guess I made a good impression!

I did manage to dash into the exhibition hall (in the last 15 minutes, hilariously) and made a last minute impulse buy… ROTTED CAPES (zombie survival horror meets super heroes)! I then had a weird moment of buying my first RPG since doing graphic design and the last stages of polishing the rules, and have really ripped it to shreds… but in a way, that’s good. If another Kickstarter launched project can be advertised on a stall spanning two aisles, despite a LOT of mistakes, it gives me more hope for what may happen when people get their mitts on my books.

I then took the book, sat in a brewery and had some TASTY US ciders, before getting too tired, and collapsing back at the accommodation, painfully early. And finally, I slept. Oh, how I slept. I have even slept well the entire week. So I must have done something right.


Despite losing a lot of expected players, the majority certainly enjoyed themselves, and a lot of people said they’d be happy to buy it (and I believed them).

More importantly though, was this. If I chat to random people at the Expo, unless it’s in a RP room, 50% might be role players. Of them, 50% will say ‘I only play fantasy.’ Not so in the US. Pretty much all the people I spoke to about the game seemed really interested in it both conceptually and mechanically. I even got some extra players through word of mouth, including some who sadly turned up when I had full players. But it gives me hope that this thing can spread quite easily in the US when I release. I even had three very interested people just from chatting to one person on the airport shuttle bus.  It wasn’t hard to make friends, contacts, meet designers of acquire potential future fans. So, more than worth it.

If I can afford it, I plan to be back next year.


UK Games Expo 2017: Overview

Expo blog number two! Whilst last year I ran a stall, and got in three demos on the last day. This year, I just went as a GM and booked in for all eight four-hour game slots (which seemed to be rather hardcore by most standards), and had enough pre-bookings to run each and every one.

This is about my experience at the Expo overall, both as a convention and promotion opportunity,  and what I learned from it. I’ll do another blog for specific in-game highlights, though I will mention games in a more general sense here from the promotional/GM angle. I’m going to start with the downsides and finish with the upsides. Nowadays, I prefer to always end with positives.


  • The Hilton, where all the RPGs were going on, was a little cut-off from the NEC halls where the main Expo was occurring.
  • I only had an hour in-between games (out of choice, bear in mind), and it was even tighter than I thought. An hour is not a lot of time to pack up a game, chill out, go to the loo, have food, check in the next game and then have the next game ready for the next group of players, I discovered. It doesn’t mean I won’t do it again though. I was just very flustered in-between games on Friday as a result. I had a much better chill-out/prep process on Saturday and Sunday, once I had gotten used to what it was like.
  • I knew I got food vouchers as a GM. My mistake was not researching this. The voucher was £5 off a meal from certain locations, which wasn’t enough for a full meal, as the NEC food is so expensive. (£5 for a very basic, if tasty, hot dog, for example.) I was on a very low budget, so had brought sandwiches and fruit with me to eat for one meal, thinking the voucher would do for the other. This meant I didn’t have a properly filling meal all weekend until I turned up at my parents late Sunday eve on the way home. Lesson learned, although I am not sure how I would have got better food anyway without a bigger spending budget. Though I did spend under the budget, so I really only have myself to blame on that front.
  • I got there nice and early on Friday, but there was a large queue for GM packs, as the electronic system was somewhat inundated. I am very patient, so this in itself was not a problem for me. However, it meant I got to my table later than planned. I was still twenty minutes early, but my player group were already there and waiting. This made me *feel* late even though I wasn’t, so got me in a bit of a fluster to start with (which is not a criticism of anyone, just how my brain works). I got into my swing as soon as the GMing began, but I was a bit all over the place in-between games as a result.
  • I did have three younger players across different games who I didn’t really think were that into the game. These games were appropriate for them, but I just felt like they would have been happier elsewhere. (And I have run it happily with kids and teens before, and some are even return players.) The adults were enjoying it, so I don’t think it was the scenario. (I could be wrong though. I sometimes translate quiet and shy incorrectly as ‘not enjoying’ which is not usually the case.) However, with the younger kids, the parents did fabulously in involving them and helping explains rules as necessary, so this is not that much of a downside.
  • I also did have a player who insisted on dicing for everything as a first choice (even basic stuff which passive totals are there for) and was getting other players to agree that dice rolls were ‘best’. Fair enough, if that’s what you think, but if you have sat down for a minimal and single die system, you have to accept how it works and make your criticisms when appropriate (in my opinion) at the end and at least try and go with the flow. The problem was that it wasn’t causing a problem for me, but simply limiting the success of this player’s character, and making the game less fun for the player (not having a dice roll for the *actually* risky stuff). They role played well and hilariously, there was just initial refusal to accept that dice systems can have a structure where you don’t dice roll for every action. However, they did seem to turn around and were eventually using passive totals for things, but they left very quickly, so I’m not convinced they’ll be ever playing again. Really, this is also an upside, because it’s handy to get used to this reaction, as it will always be the case with some people. You can’t please everyone, and I have to be ready for that.
  • Though I survived 32 hours of GMing in three days, it did lead to some extreme exhaustion which led to a slower start of my Saturday evening/night game (also got one players’s sheets confused, which didn’t help) in the pre-game rules/setting/character explanation bit, I had some spatial awareness issues in describing in ridiculous distances (I am quite, quite dyspraxic, exhaustion tends to make it more noticeable) and I did get somewhat tongue-tied at the start of my very last game. This was to be expected, however, and all the players seemed very accommodating in these instances.
  • The players of my second Saturday game seemed largely shattered, which is unavoidable but did affect play quite a bit. Fortunately, a player asked for a coffee break, which helped refresh everybody and the game had a decent finish.
  • There were far too many people playing in one room for most of the weekend. This meant the noise was immense; it was hard to hear the quieter players and really bust my throat, having to project a lot more than I already do (and I am not quiet). Then again, my throat gets bust once I GM more than 6 hours anyway, so I guess this is an accepted hazard and rather unavoidable with the amount of guests the Expo now has.


  • Despite the initial queuing as we waited for the electronic system to get up and running (which was not a great surprise), I found (at least what I saw of) the Expo to be very well organised. The volunteers were very friendly, helpful and communicative.
  • Though the food was expensive enough that £5 off wasn’t as great as it sounded, it was still a positive surprise for me to be given ANY food vouchers (as I was self-promoting) and that was highly welcome. Free food is still free food, however you look at it.
  • I was put in the same room all weekend, which meant I got to camp at a table all weekend, which was incredibly helpful.
  • The NEC is a handy location. Despite not getting a free hotel room like most GMs, I stayed at my parents, only ten minutes away on the bus. This was particularly handy as the X1 bus runs very late indeed, allowing me to GM till midnight without forking out for a taxi.
  • Between bus travel, getting some food supplies from my parents, getting cheap packs of water bottles for hydration and food vouchers, I kept way below my already low budget and only spent £15.
  • Four of my eight games were fully prebooked (with six players) before I arrived at the Expo. I then also had a four, five and three player game, more than enough to run with. Only two bookings didn’t turn up, and I also gained three extra players across the weekend.
  • I had 40 players in total; 36 were completely unknown to me, and 38 had never played the game. This is a phenomenal amount of outreach for me.
  • Out of the 40 players, I’d say maybe only about 5 players (from what I could tell) were not really into it in a noticeable manner (generally through just being very quiet and doing very little despite constant encouragement), which is a decent success rate.
  • I have had some nightmares before (when running games for new players), not necessarily with misunderstanding the rules, but more in the use of the sheets. I have not only separate columns for passive ability totals to be written on so players don’t have to work them out, but it also says in brackets how those scores are created (adding the score to either 3 or 1, dependant on the scene type, which is noted as well in separate columns). Now, this means the Score is added only to active abilities (dice rolls), as the Score is factored into a Passive already.  I only had two players who were noticeably and continually getting confused on how passive and actives worked (though there were perhaps a few more examples, but helpful players were just quietly pointing it out in the case of some of my younger players). I did have another player who said at the end of a game that she didn’t really get scenes and beats, but she still enjoyed it, and said it was likely due to how obviously tired she was. She also didn’t have a problem giving me the totals, it was more just a case of understanding the point of them, I think. Either way, this is likely the best success rate I have had for understanding the rules/sheets. People largely just needed one rules explanation and were satisfied.
  • I had a lot of players stop after the game to give praise and generally chat excitedly about it. Quite a few people in particular showed interest in the beats and scene system and really liked it. I also had some specific praise of Thresholds (such as Compromised) and Glory Points. I didn’t get a huge amount of rules feedback (not surprising, people only played the game for 4 hours and often had to rush off), but most players stuck by at least a little to show their enjoyment of the game, which is the most important thing.
  • A majority of people unknown to me took business cards, and a fair amount took character sheets too. Always a good sign of making a good impression.
  • I did have a two player Friday game (one player dropped out), but I was exhausted, it was a comedy horror, and the two players were friends of mine. It was also the comedy horror game, 28 Trains Later, so this allowed use to be incredibly silly. It’s the most sandbox game, so a LOT happened with just the two, so it was actually a really decent, relaxed way to finish the first game.
  • After the first game, one of the players said something approximating ‘you are the most enthusiastic GM I have ever had.’
  • A few players did say they’d be buying the player book. A lot of players had only just sat down and were telling other players about the books being ready to buy in October (hopefully), so it was clear that a few had done their research before sitting to play. Others were simply intrigued by the game write-up, or had come to play/test out a new system, so this was all good for me. I did also have three of my backers come to play, and a few who had been encouraged to play by backers.
  • At the end of my Saturday game (despite the slow start), three of the players (who came in a group) and asked for a sequel (and I think 2 of the other 3 who were still there were not opposed to that). I then mentioned this to the players in the morning, who also seem intrigued by the idea; considering how differently the games ended, I am now thinking of doing just that, and having several alternate sequels.
  • At the end of my first game, the player who organised the slot took his character sheet and said ‘We’ll see you at Gen-Con.’
  • I didn’t leave the room I was GMing in very much at all, but, in-between games, quite a few of the GMs and other players in the room came over to talk to me and the atmosphere was generally very welcoming. If they hadn’t heard of the game, it seemed they were interested in ILTC after me giving a spiel. However, most of the people I spoke to either remembered me from last year or had seen the game on the RP game bookings lists and were intrigued. It seemed that there were a lot more people who wanted to play but were not able to book in for a slot where they were free. I have quite a few takers in particular for more 28 Trains Later next year.
  • Spoke to a lovely fellow GM who hadn’t heard of the game, but because I was so well booked with players all weekend, said he was surprised to know that I wasn’t already a published game designer.
  • Though I didn’t really see the rest of the Expo, I did manage to escape to the trade hall for about half an hour on the Saturday. This gave me a chance to go and see James Hayball, my cover artist, and Paul ‘Wiggy’ Williams (of Triple Ace Games, and backer) for the first time. They were both lovely gents and it was great chatting to them, and hearing them both tell me how they had been talking about the game and I before I came to find them myself.
  • James was also there as an Expo guest, doing seminars as well as being on a stall all weekend: that moment when you realise that the guy doing your covers, the first thing someone will see of the game when the books are out, is a bigger industry name than you realised. That was very cool indeed.
  • Despite a slightly slower start on the Saturday game to the others, I actually got to the end point far quicker than other games and basically riffed the game for another hour (so clearly made up for my earlier flibble).
  • Otherwise, each of the games had a decent and similar pacing, and all ended about ten to fifteen minutes before the slot was due to end, so it was less of a rush for everyone. I didn’t have to rush any of the games to achieve this either; I feel they all ended at the ‘right’ juncture.
  • Pandora’s Box was my psychological thriller scenario and the most twisty. I am glad to say that nobody in any of the groups saw the twist coming, from what I was told (whereas some players had an inkling, in playtests). These were very high drama games with some impressive and brutal combat in them, as intended. And all ended COMPLETELY differently.
  • 28 Trains Later was intended as a comedy horror, and fortunately, each player group really dove into that. We pretty much covered every trope across the weekend and there was equal amounts of laughter and disgust. And there was a lot of love for the ‘Thomas the Tank Engine meets 28 Trains Later’ setting I created especially for it.
  • Navigation was not so much about horror, it was a flight based space mystery. Again, this worked really well, as I had two children and a teenager, and the adults playing had a really good time dissecting certain parts of the plot and very much getting into the aerospace flight and combat strategies.

Most importantly, every game was a blast, and though doing multiple runs of each scenario, they all went in different yet appropriate directions that made each distinct and memorable. A majority of people seemed to have great fun, and that is more important than anything else. I also made a few new friends and acquaintances outside of the games and did manage to chill out and socialise in between the role-play.

Already looking forward to next year.


ILTC 2016-2017: The Experience So Far

So, last night I got back from my second time bringing I Love the Corps to the UK Games Expo. It was overwhelmingly positive and leaves me with great hope for both I Love the Corps’s future and my own.

Before I talk about this year’s Expo directly (in another blog), I wanted to reflect on how much has changed for the positive in the last year, to show how far I, and I Love the Corps, have come in so little time and how that clearly had a big effect on my 2017 Expo experience. But, before the positive, I think its interesting to think of all the negatives I saw last year (that have almost entirely turned around into positives, bear in mind).

Reflecting on the Last Year; The Seemingly Negative Side (on the promotional front)

Last year I ran a stall at the UK Game Expo. The intention was to canvas, create awareness of the game, and run some demos if I could. It was very hard to get RPers that actually had the time to play the demos, as you can’t just do it in five minutes like some card and board games (and there are lots of official RPG slots people have booked in to play.) It was great to reach a lot of people though, and to see how easy it was to find people that were interested by the game’s concept. Many seemed interested, but because there was nothing to buy, it was difficult to gauge the success of the venture, though I did get at least 2 backer pledges for the Kickstarter that were clearly from people who had played the game at the Expo in one case, and an old Nationals player who I spoke to in the other. Still, I was unsure if the money I had paid for the stall had been worth spending at the time. I didn’t exactly get much in the way of e-mails, Facebook likes or anything to really tell me I had expanded the fanbase.

My other 2016 cons didn’t exactly go in the most positive direction either (again, strictly in the promotional sense), though I made the best of them. Had 2 decent ConPulsion games, but I was supposed to have 4. This left me with a lot of time with little to do, feeling quite alone. Strategy was largely a bust; though I did at least get some great ILTC players and some stall interest, the money didn’t seem to be worth it. (At the time.)

This year was a difficult start too, convention-wise which didn’t indicate to me that I was going to have an easy time when it came to selling the game, as though the large amount of backers was fantastic, that money pays for the game itself, not for my continued existence. My first con was the small Spaghetti ConJunction in Birmingham, where I was able to run one of two games. it had four players, two of which who could play any time and knew me well. One of the new players goes to the same club as me too, so there wasn’t really much in outreach there. (Though the game itself was EXCELLENT and all four players had a blast. )

However, ever since then, my expectations and assumptions have been constantly blown, and 2016 also had an unreasonable amount of positive too.

2016-17: the Positive Stuff

ConPulsion: okay, I only had two games, but of those games, I got three return players this year, and some friends of some of those players. I also was NOT lonely this year. Made some friends and contacts last year who all came to find me and chat with me this year and other friends of mine came. I was never bored. Still had a small game booking problem (3 out of 4 bookings got through this time)… but found that if I did a last minute sign up sheet, I would have had players. (I did this last year and got nobody, so didn’t bother this year, signed up to play a game instead, and then found out I’d have had at least three players in that slot who would’ve played ILTC. Ah well!)

Also, if I hadn’t have gone to ConPulsion last year, I would never have met Scott Neil, the first of my artists, who showed me the ropes of art direction, as well as providing some brilliant pieces. I never would have become friends with several industry professionals and bloggers and would have never attended a seminar that gave me utterly vital advice for both my Kickstarter and production.

Strategy: Yes, the con itself floundered quite horribly. But, I got to introduce an entire group to RP and had some other great players who may end up supporting me later. It continued to show me that the game has a decent market. Also, I would never have met a nice lady called Kat, who got me to contact James Hayball. Without her, I would not have a big industry name for art doing my covers. Hindsight, eh? I also met some ace GMs, including my fellow game designer Simon Burley (we had encountered each other before, but the this was the first proper time we actually had a chat, though he did unknowingly give me some decent advice at the aforementioned ConPulsion seminar). Simon has become something of a mentor in many ways, being an old hand at convention GMing and game design, and has given me company at cons since, as well as setting me up at Geek Retreat where I now run monthly games.

The Expos: Yes, the 2016 Expo didn’t immediately give me obvious payoff immediately… until this year, when EVERY con since SpaghettiCon I have had at least a few people come up to me to talk to me, saying they recognised me from the Expo last year. Also, before this years’ Expo, quite a lot of people I saw at ConPulsion and the Nationals said they recognised me cos of all my Expo bookings. Then, when I got to the Expo itself… most people I spoke to who weren’t in a game and I didn’t otherwise know either recognised me from a previous con or had noticed me on the Expo game listings. And most of those people wanted to play my games, but hadn’t the time. There were a lot of requests from both my players and others I spoke to, not only for games next year, but reruns and sequels of this years’s stories.

Kickstarter: And let’s not forget the biggest positive of 2016. Some of my friends saw firsthand on the opening weekend how utterly stunned I was, overwhelmed by the support shown. With that, I have been able to make the books that have consumed much of my life. I can live a dream.

And yet, that support alone will not allow me to continue to do this once I Love the Corps is released. For that, I need the sufficient sales in October. I need the support to spread a lot further. I worry about this constantly. But after this weekend, and reflecting on the last year, those fears are nearly wiped out.

A hell of a lot more people are aware and interested in I Love the Corps than I thought. And in August I have Gen-Con. 7 games, and only two tickets left… and I am practically unknown there. It was a risk to go… not anymore. After the 2017 Expo, I know Gen-Con will be a blast. Despite the people that know me in the UK, 36 of my 40 Expo players were completely new to me and the game, and the feedback was phenomenally positive.

I’m coming, America. Prepare to Enlist.