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Dragonmeet 2009

Dragonmeet is the one convention I feel I have to attend. Firstly because it’s easy to get to but also because so much good conversation and interesting experiences have been had over the years.

I used to be part of the zine stall but recent folds in paper zines have meant that it is not really financially viable to do it anymore (you have to pay commercial rates on the table). Since leaving the table I have been enjoying the convention more as I am able to get into a few games instead of trying to persuade people to part with less than their sandwich for a zine.

One of the great opportunities you have at Dragonmeet is to actually play indie games with the people who have created them. Sometimes it has been enlightening, sometimes a bit disappointing but rarely something that wasn’t worth doing.

This year Gregor Hutton (Collective Endeavour and author of Best Friends and now, more famously, 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars)

Tribes of Carnage

Gregor Hutton was giving a demo game of one his 3:16 variants: Carnage amongst the Tribes. There are two versions of the game planned, AD316 based on Roman Legionaries and slightly more historically accurate and the Tribes game that is medium fantasy in a Conan the Barbarian style. The game is a refinement of the 3:16 system, the biggest change I noticed is that the between combat scenes have been completely reworked. You now have a set list of scene types you can play out between combat and each one has a mechanical effect (unless you are deliberately going for colour only, which would be unlikely) on the upcoming combat round.

The background of the game is that you play the elite warriors of a tribe whose totem god has tasked them with attacking another tribe. Warriors can gain the favour of their totem by killing more of the other tribe than their peers.

Combat is essentially the same as 3:16 and all the usual tricks and tactics seem to work in this version too. What really is very different is all the roleplaying flavour around the game. You get to build a tribe together and determine where the tribe lives, their totem and their cultural and magic keywords.

As warriors advance in favour the non-favoured members of the tribe get to decide what strictures and taboos apply to the rank their fellows have risen to so you get to evolve the tribe as well.

Rather than 3:16’s alienation amongst the stars there is now a rather more individual path for the game which has more player input.

Both games seem to be significant improvements on the original system while retaining all the good stuff about 3:16. Personally I am glad of the changes as I felt that 3:16 was an amusing change of pace but too slight to really call itself a roleplaying game.

Talks

One thing I normally like to attend are the talks and the seminars (if only to seethe at the ignorance and egotism you often find there). This year the pickings were sparse and the only one I really wanted to go to about Heroquest and the new Sartar book clashed with Greg’s session. People who did go told me it was very good which makes it even more of a shame.

There were the usual “state of the industry” and “how to publish your own game” type talks but personally I view them as being in the same category as watching paint dry as the same stuff gets said over and over again.

The talk schedule needs another revitalisation as it is starting to go stale again.

The New Flesh

There was a lot of interest in the WFRP 3rd Edition set that was open for browsing. However none were for sale and the RRP of £80 caused some sucking of teeth. The Doctor Who game was also available for browsing but I had a chance to play a demo at GenCon Reading earlier in the year and felt the game was flawed mechanically and failed to really capture the “essence” of the TV show.

The Sartar book for Heroquest flew off the shelves despite its £40 price tag. That price brackets it with other social spending like a console game so it seems a reasonable amount for a high end roleplaying book.

Other than that the few copies available of Diaspora also sold quickly and rightly so.

Dragonmeet in general

The convention was not as quiet as I thought it might be and in fact in terms of signing up for games was almost manic. The trading hall was subdued and numbers seemed typical for the event. Although there was a lot of talk of economic gloom and job losses it seemed that there was enough outside the shopping to attract people to the event in approximately the same numbers. A lot of people were talking bullishly about robust leisure spending but I would suspect that is because few people have really had their spending power constrained as yet (household debt for example is as great as ever). The trend remains for ever more expensive products.

The other general trend that struck me was that there is increasingly less to distinguish the “indie” or small press from the bigger publishers. Unless you are a Fantasy Flight then your products are all roughly congruent Mongoose, Pelgrane Press and Collective Endeavour all rubbed shoulders and, frankly had comparable products. Mongoose’s Flaming Cobra imprint (which carries things like the previously niche Corporation) blurs the lines even further. You are really just looking at a narrow continuum.

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