Two weeks ago all kinds of exciting things happened. Most importantly, I made it to the UK, travelling outside the Netherlands for the first time since the pandemic started. I got to see my family, and I got to meet face to face with my Tuesday night gaming group for *the first time ever*.
The venue for this auspicious event was the Furnace gaming convention, held at the Garrisson hotel in Sheffield. This is one of a number of ‘garricons’ held at the venue, so if you like the sound of this one, you probably won’t have to wait a year to attend something similar.
And the venue is lovely. Originally a nineteenth century barracks it has been converted into a big pub-hotel, with fine food, a decent selection of beers and an attached fancy restaurant. More importantly, the upstairs rooms are just what you want for a games convention, with half a dozen converted cells lining one side of a large communal area. The cells make cozy spaces for a GM and four or five players, and while they’re open on one side the thick walls make the noise level manageable.
Covid precautions were sensible, with attendees asked to have a recent, official test result on hand as well as proof of vaccination for admission. Annoyingly my day 2 PCR test that I’d taken the day before hadn’t delivered a result when I arrived, so I had to do a quick test at the venue – plenty of kits were onhand. The missing result eventually turned up 30 minutes after the con started.
What did I play?
I got four games in across the day and a half I was at Furnace. Here’s what I played…
Fenrir’s Pups, GM’d by Declan Feeney using the Demigod system
The Demigods system is the result of a kickstarter that funded quite some time ago. I’m told that the game is very late, but that backers have been provided with plenty of material as they wait, including playable rules and scenarios. The project is alive, and happening, it’s just not done yet. The basic premise is that you’re modern day demigods, hanging out in the world and trying to balance your divine and mortal lives. If you’ve read the Percy Jackson books, they seem like the closest jumping off point for this one.
As systems go, demigods is a PBTA system, and the mechanics didn’t stray too far from that basis. We did character generation as part of the session, whipping up our characters and establishing links between us. We were all scions of the norse pantheon, and we were fresher students, who had just picked up the keys to a new house when Loki’s daughter popped by with a housewarming gift – two puppies.
And from there all kinds of madness kicked off. There were zombies, there was a secret society, there was a sinister band, some ancient grudges and a giant magical artefact. Plus a landlady, who was at least as much of a concern as any of the other things. The system was satisfyingly flexible, and did what you’d expect a PBTA game to do.
King for a day, GM’d by EvilGaz using Vampire Dark Ages (V5)
I used to play a lot of vampire, mostly LARP. But I reckon it might be twenty years since my last game, so I was looking forward to a chance to see what was going on in the World of Darkness these days, and, to play a face to face game with Gaz, who’s part of my Tuesday night gaming group.
If, like me, you haven’t played Vampire for a while the big news is the arrival of hunger dice. Hunger runs from 0-5. When you roll dice you replace a number of dice in your regular pool with hunger dice, depending on your hunger level. It’s the results on the hunger dice that determine whether your actions are cool and controlled, or if the beast gets loose. This is much much better than the old blood pool mechanic, and in the hands of a capable GM makes hunger an ever present concern.
The scenario pitched our little coterie (Ventrue, Nosferatu, Gangrel, Lasombra) into a fight for survival, with the first night revealing threats to our land on several fronts all aggravated by a demand that we present ourselves at the next fief over early the next day. From this inauspicious beginning Gaz showed how well designed pre-gens and the classic small fight, social conflict, big fight, structure can produce an entertaining, unpredictable and dynamic game.
I thought I was mostly past playing vampire, this session reminded me what was so good about it. Plus, the Dark Ages remains the superior Vampire Setting.
Operation Rasputin, GM’d by Remi Fayomi using Alien
Alien has been sat on my shelf for over a year now, unplayed, so this was a good example of using a con to take a system out for a run. Before saying too much about the game though, I must compliment Remi on the fantastic quantity and quality of table bling he brought to the game. Perspex point of sale displays to hold your characters? Check. Massive pile of branded dice? Check. Touchscreen for the map? Check. I’ll definitely be getting some of those perspex displays for face to face gaming.
Playing Alien confirmed a lot of my assumptions about the game. Everyone knows the movies – so you don’t need much setup. The Mutant Year Zero engine is it’s usual, discrete, functional self. Everyone is waiting for the xenomorph to show up.
The major mechanic added to MY0 for Alien is stress dice. As your stress goes up you get to add stress dice to your dice pool. Which increases your chances of success. But if one of them comes up as a one, you panic, rolling a dice and adding your stress level. On a 1-6 you’re fine, on a 7-9 you’re hampered, and on a 10+ you’re obliged to take a particular action, freezing, fleeing, screaming or going berserk. It certainly adds a degree of jeopardy to any situation, when you’re all stressed out, and the sight of something unexpected could send you, or one of your comrades off the edge.
There are plenty of ways for panic to spread, with lots of the things you do when you panic (like screaming) forcing those nearby to make their own panic tests. The potential for a panic cascade rippling through a party is very real, and I did feel that there’s a chance that the players end up losing a lot of their agency just as things get interesting.
We also got to experience just how deadly the Xenomorphs are. When encountered the GM rolls each round to see which of their horrible attacks they carry out. They might hiss cinematically, or loom threateningly, or play with their prey like a two meter tall cat or they might unleash an attack that instantly turns a PC into a corpse. RAW, this is a game where encountering a xenomorph almost guarantees a PC death or two. And of course, once one goes, the remainder are easier prey.
Alien does feel a lot like it’s a game for oneshots, and more specifically, the ‘investigate a deserted structure, find a xenomorph, try not to die’ one-shot.
What did I run?
Inferno, of course. I took the quickstart scenario out for a spin. This time out I got to test two new things.
- How does it work if none of the players are familiar with the setting?
- How does it work without Jemima Gosh?
No-one picking the swashbuckling Jemima Gosh was a surprise to me, I think of her as the coolest of the four pregens. Still, that left Viscount Pusey, Sophie Durand and Dr Rook to take on the aerial menace, and they did just fine by themselves. None of the players had familiarity with the Card of Fate system, but after the first group challenge everyone had got to grips with it.
The players romped through to a 3-0 victory in the group mission. Along the way they made more progress than previous groups have done on their personal objectives, possibly because I sharpened up some of the cues that point to these in the scenario – or perhaps they were just more goal oriented players. Next time I run this I might up the difficulty of the opening scene, just to push the scenario off down one of its other paths.
Elsewhere at Furnace Neil Gow was putting the revised Card of Fate system through its paces in his long awaited ‘Duty and Horror’ scenario. Highlighted here was a mechanic for simulating fear by taking cards out of a players deck. It basically worked, and we got some useful feedback from the mathematically inclined players to sharpen it up a bit.
And that was it, a great convention featuring four great games. I’ll do my best to be back next year, when maybe, just maybe, this pandemic will be receding into the rear view mirror.