Here’s all the warning I got:
“Hey, I’m going to a big role-play weekend event, do you want to come, ’cause the guys who’s organising it needs names as soon as possible!”
I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the incredibly vague gist. Further information included three possible venues, and the idea that you could pay a pound to charity to have a dice re-rolled to impact the game. Sounded fun, if maddeningly lacking in detail or organisation but what the hell, I coughed up some money for a shared hotel room with a complete stranger one of three possible cities none of which I’d ever been to with a man I’d met through the GeekOut Shrewsbury Meets (next event is the 26th by the way, thanks for asking).
So here’s what I now know. The Nationals are a competition between university teams, a massive variety of card games, wargames, boardgames, and tabletop roleplaying games played for charity, and for a passable excuse to drink and get together with a bunch of gamer geeks. Points are ascribed to winners in competitive play, GMs pick favourite players from their tables, and the winning team hosts the following year a-la Eurovision. This year’s host was the University of Bradford, the team I was adjoined to – The Hussars – actually represented no university at all, and they’re not the only ones by the sounds of it.*
So let me tell you about my weekend…
I arrive, still oblivious, got registered, wandered around the traders tables for prospective frivolous purchases for the weekend (make one to get me started, expect some isometric maps in the future) and headed to the bar to meet some new people.
The Hussars are lovely, very welcoming, especially if you underestimate their age apparently. I introduced myself over a few games of Hive, brought along by Jon (Vini, seriously how many nicknames can one man have?), before attending the first event of the weekend, The Dark Room, which I missed at UKGE last year.
John Robertson hosts the comedic stage show and worlds first live-action-text-based-video-game, during which he bombards and berates competitors for trying. He beguiles you with the promise of £1000 for escaping the Dark Room, but all I wanted was the pineapple! Victims included a series of people called Darren, one of whom was forced to go and buy a drink for his girlfriend thanks to the jeering crowd, said drink underwent an epic journey of theft, disappearance, and ultimately being downed by our host. I cannot rate the Dark Room highly enough, and look forward to not missing it this June at UKGE.
Eventually I made my way back to the hotel, knowing only that I had to be at opening ceremonies at 9 to find out what on earth I was supposed to be doing.
Opening ceremonies after a quick breakfast, and I finally get some idea of what’s going on. The charities were Special Effect and Yorkshire Cancer Research, re-rolls were available for donations, as were raffle prizes including some pretty expensive stuff, high priced Warhammer bundles, a copy of Scythe, and a set of emerald dice worth £300.
I was in a Call of Cthulhu group, second time I’d ever played and with a really friendly group. Our GM, John, plunged us into the lives of new recruits to a Fringe/Men in Black style government agency in charge of eldritch investigations and crises based in London. An attack on one of our facilities, an amateurish investigation, a trip to Sheffield, and a summoned Shoggoth later, we ultimately decided that we did a good job, got plenty of evidence, and we were going home, via a decent chinese takeaway.
Onwards to the pub quiz, hosted by John Robertson. I take some solace in knowing that I have now endured what I put others through once every other month at GeekOut. We did not win, but we got a fairly respectable score all told.
My second game of the weekend came with a pleasant surprise, my character sheet…
Myself and the Mystery Gang were investigating a flooded amusement park in New Orleans (it’s in New Orleans, that’s why it’s flooded, mystery solved, right?), and along with Shaggy (Weston) I discovered clue after clue while Velma (Sam) did nothing but muck about trying on disguises and eating things, and Fred (Paul) and Daphne (who ended up shared between us) went off for some “alone time”. Ultimately it was I, S. Doo who solved the mystery, unmasked the fishmen, and for my hard work and effort I was cruelly betrayed, mown down by the Mystery Machine, with none other than Fred at the wheel. Ahh, my faithful Norville, a better servant- no! A better friend I could not have asked for.
I also had a lot more opportunity to look around and shop before the closing ceremonies in which prizes were distributed, points were allocated and the winners were the Vague Vets of Manchester… who were unable to host… the victory instead passed through second place, the Hussars who couldn’t host either, to third place Edinburgh… who don’t have adequate facilities. So I guess if I’m that keen to attend, I’ll have to travel to Glasgow who took up the mantle. And I want to go, I very much want to go. I won some dice, earned second place in my game thanks to a high-pitched scream in game one and some deep in-character moments playing a cartoon great dane, and partially I think down to some pretty poorly thought out scoring methods, but how does one score a role-play?
Let me say to the rest of my group that I could not have done any of it without your help, you were excellent to bounce off, and I hope sincerely to see you again at events in future, be it the Nationals or somewhere else (I’m a regular at Kitacon, Amecon, and I show up around the country on a regular basis) but otherwise, Hussars, gamers, geeks, I shall wish you well.
*A correction from Hussars members, because they actually represent Stirling University, and there are only a few independent competitors. And yet here I am, from Shrewsbury roped into the team. Screw it, no complaints.