This weekend, Chris (catharsisjelly) and I were at the UK Games Expo. We had two incredible but very different experiences, while Chris went around doing what one should at a board games convention – playing board games with people in the industry, playtesting, and finding new games to add to his library – I was apparently preoccupied with wandering around and chatting to people and attending the events. Weird, right? It’s like going to an anime convention having hardly watched any anime…
I love my geeky events, and I think now I’ve seen both sides of the equation, from those that are very simply temporary shopping centres for those of a geeky inclination, all the way up to those that are wall to wall entertainment by the fans and for the fans. UKGE definitely strikes a balance of both, a great place to experience and buy those things you could only ever see on the internet before, as well as keeping up a decent timetable of discussions, Q&As, and performances from big names of the industry. Despite them becoming my main focus I never got to see it all, but here’s the short version:
Q&A With John Kovalic
You may not be familiar with the name, but if you’ve played a few board games then you almost certainly know the work of cartoon artist John Kovalic. Whether you’re a fan of his Dork Tower comic strip which lovingly pokes fun at roleplayers and gamers of all stripes, or you’ve played enough Munchkin to recognise the signature art style from a mile away then you already know exactly who I’m talking about.
The Q&A was great, and John’s a lovely guy but it must be said that the hour was made all the more entertaining by his business manager Alex and his other friends in the audience helping him build on his anecdotes and shamelessly heckling him while he’s trying to work. He’s been as much a part of Munchkin as Steve Jackson himself, but his stories stretch back to the early days of gaming, having grabbed up early copies of Chainmail and D&D, getting in on the ground floor of a lot of big projects. We learned a lot about his life in Britain and America, his path into art and gaming via astrophysics.
Thanks John, it was really awesome to meet you, had I not been desperately hungry I’d have asked for an autograph.
The MMORPG Show
Back in the Hilton amongst the RPG and gaming rooms was a stage set aside for entertaining, there was a cost for entry to see any of the scheduled events, but at £4 a time it helps prevent them from overfilling the rooms, and of course it all goes to ensuring every event gets better.
The MMORPG show was a D&D style RPG held on stage with a party of volunteers from the audience, an entirely improvised quest, and a huge home made dice. Paul Flannery is awesome as the DM and I can only hope to catch another show of his because they are inherently different every time. And huge kudos to his team of brave adventurers: The Great Elmondo, a wereteapot of useless moths and surprisingly calming brew; Tiger, the dorsal fin with a penchant for shredding things with his teeth; and Shrug, a unicorn/bat hybrid who descends upon foes with her wicked dance craze.
Also in the entertainment hall, Knightmare Live, The Dark Room, and Adeline, Shadows of Esteren in Concert.
All weekend the viking reenactors were out all weekend, not a small feat given the weather changing rapidly from brutal heat to infuriating spurts of rain. They occupied a camp down by the lake, staging fights and plucking volunteers from the crowd to join in. A lot of these guys take their hobby with deadly seriousness, and I may or may not still have bruises to prove it; there may have been a time when I was considering joining the Vike myself, but time and location never aligned.
Still it was nice to see some familiar faces, including my friend Mike (cofounder of the soon to vanish Quotes from the Tabletop) who got beaten to the ground by an army of heathen youths and was also kind enough to take my stuff away to spare me carrying it all on the train. Thanks Mike, and Julian whose car was actually the- we’re getting off track, onward!
Terrifying Cthulhu Adventures
A panel on running horror adventurers from leading publishers and authors in Chaosium’s ranks, publishers and writers of the Call of Cthulhu RP systems, Mike Mason, Lynne Hardy and Paul Fricker. Very informative in terms of a general horror feel, I particularly liked Paul’s point about showing the aftermath of a monster’s passage to really build some fear. Some nice tips on re-skinning monsters to keep players uncertain, and great advice for people wanting to submit their own adventures on to Chaosium or any other RP company.
I don’t know if any of the assembled panel really addressed the notion of cosmic horror, but it’s a concept that’s pretty huge, and doesn’t come with much by way of a “win” scenario for players.
Writing Adventures Like a Pro
Actually a great follow up to the Cthulhu Adventure panel, industry veteran Darren Pearce gave us a rundown on how to write publishable adventures to professional quality. From a single prompt he took each of us through building an adventure step by step with some great advice in between. Granted the adventure building stuff was nothing new for me, and probably wasn’t much use to most of the audience because apparently we were skipping steps in Darren’s process, getting way ahead of the game and the ideas my fellow attendees were coming up with were really good! One guy had to leave early, but I really wanted to know how his adventure was going to end.
But I’ve got some more advice on getting into the industry, some templates to work from, and more importantly a piece of advice I have sorely needed, how to finish a campaign sensibly. I am terrible at limiting myself, and level 1 players should not be caught in a war between dragons and elder gods, but here we are.
There was a hell of a lot to very briefly summarise, and there’s still so much to discuss, so Thursday I will be doing a broader view on UKGE itself. Huge thanks to everyone mentioned, many of you I will be contacting… as soon as I get the bag with all of the cards I gathered back. Curse those pillaging vikings!