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Conpulsion 2013

I had the chance to mix visiting friends with attending the Edinburgh convention Conpulsion this year. I haven't been to the con before or the city so it was all new (although a lot of the Collective Endeavour team do come down to Dragonmeet frequently).

The con is based in the Teviot student union building which is a bit Hogwarts from the outside and a winding warren of confusion on the inside.

Turning up early at 9am was a big mistake as the morning was cold, the registration not yet setup and everything was cold. As I had pre-booked my ticket I was able to sneak inside ahead of the official doors open. Others had to line up outside.

The convention is big and there are separate tracks/rooms for boardgames, wargaming, roleplaying and larp. Pretty much any kind of face to face or tabletop gaming was on offer.

The food hall featured an art stall and two awesome-looking demos of Mobile Frame Zero.

Primarily I came to Conpulsion wanting to play games and my general rule in selecting games is to always try to get into games that are run by their creators. Armed with a programme and directions to the sign-up table I had a hit list of games I wanted to play.

What interested me in the rpg organisation was the importance of the sign-up sheets and making sure one of those precious six slots had your name on it.

I kind of wished there was some room for that sloppy, self-organising and spontaneous game making from Indiemeet where people could pitch freely and organise more games of popular ideas if necessary.

Some of the games had been pre-registered. Apparently as a pre-booker I had the ability to partake in this but missed out because you had to be following the convention's blog to realise what was happening and take part.

Pre-registering seems like a good idea as long as you are using it to measure demand and respond to it. At least one session I wanted to take part in was fully pre-registered and I was fortunate that some of the pre-registered failed to arrive, illustrating just some of problems with the system.

Matching gamers and games is hard. I get that but the system didn't really seem to generate much benefit for anyone.

The programme

The scheduling of the various sessions was messy with all the various games and sessions occurring on different schedules, hopefully this maximised your chance of doing something if you missed one of the deadlines but they also seemed synchronised so that if you missed the deadline for say a roleplaying session and joined a boardgame session you would then be late for the next roleplaying session.

In the end I decided to be rude and cut short my involvement in some of the games so I could go to the talk track for a while. I felt bad for the GM but you also have to be responsible for what you want as well.

Dragonmeet doesn't seem to suffer from the same problem so I assume it is because the game slots are generally shorter.

Charity auction

One completely bizarre piece of scheduling was the charity auction which took place before the final games slot on Saturday. Fortunately someone explained to me that the convention was basically going to shut down while gaming tat was auctioned off so I was able to go along and enjoy the atmosphere of the auction.

The auction overran and since all the organisers were in the hall they decided that the evening sessions would start later. When we did emerge to go to the evening game slots there were a number of annoyed gamers waiting at the appropriate tables, completely in the dark as to why the GMs had been missing for half-an-hour.

If one event sums up the chaotic, arbitrary nature of the schedule I think it was this. And the auction isn't even a tax-efficient way to donate to charity (as the accountants amongst us would be swift to point out)!

Playing games

I was able to fulfill my game aims by playing Eternal Contenders with Joe Prince and Black Seven with Stew Wilson. I also played DungeonWorld and 3:16 (but Gregor Hutton bizarrely was running a CoC game).

The games were satisfying but nothing really felt convention-honed.

Talks

The talk track looked good with a few bits about world building and the usual pieces on creating content for commercial publishers.

The talks that interested me though with the art ones, something that I hadn't seen before. I attended the one about concept art which was pretty interesting as a fan of the form rather than being an artist in my own right (the majority of the attendees seemed to be artistic).

The speakers were Paul Scott and Paul Bourne. There was a bit of a presentation fail with an attempt to show slides on a MacBook Pro screen to a room of people without the benefit of a projector. In the end passing around prints of the work seemed the most pragmatic solution.

It was interesting to hear how technology like 3d rendering and texture brushes can simplify the process of rapidly creating art in response to ideas and briefs. It was also interesting to talk about the role of suggestion rather than portrayal in concept art.

I thought it was a great idea and I would have been happy to hear more on the subject if there had been time. Definitely a good idea and worth investing more effort in making the presenting easier.

Breaking games

Another thing that was new to me at the con was the concept of charity re-rolls where players may pay to re-roll their check or buy in-game perks. This seemed like a fun way of charity fund-raising. However it also served as an interesting way of discovering flaws in games or which ones are well-designed.

In 3:16 for example being able to buy gear with real money really didn't break the game and added to the fun of a one shot. However the fact that the game was often made better by buying a re-roll means that there is something essentially broken about the price of failure in the game. After all it is really a game about tyranny and alienation rather than a game about trying to stay alive. If dying is important then the game should reward it in some way.

In DungeonWorld and Black Seven I really didn't want to buy any successes since failure was exciting in the case of B7 and engaging in the case of DungeonWorld.

People did buy additional card draws in Eternal Contenders but since there are a lot of mechanics that already work that way in the game it didn't really matter. However it did reveal that people would quite often keep on spending until enough cards were drawn to change the result. That indicated to me that the many draws the game requires are probably no different from simply flipping two cards and going with the highest value.

Final thoughts

Well I came to the convention, I got what I wanted and I had some unexpected discoveries so I'm pretty satisfied with my experience. However if I couldn't combine it with some other things I don't think the con would have lured me all the way north from London.

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