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Dragonmeet 2016

This year's Dragonmeet had a new home at the Novotel London West, near the Hammersmith tube station. This was a lot more convenient that the slightly more remote Earl's Court location, although the optimal path to the venue through the bus station was not initially apparent to me.

I felt the hotel layout was better than previous iterations of the convention, with a very big trade hall that could also house some free-play and playtest tables.

Gaming seemed more formal this time, mostly due to a lack of indie games on demand. The sessions were four hours long and started strictly on the stoke of their  kick off time. If you were late or didn't want to spend four hours in a game then you were out of luck. The traders also commented on the resulting "waves" of punters appearing as their games ended and then disappearing for hours which left the trade hall feel quite barren.

There were a lot of interesting traders and I went overboard on buying stuff, so there's a separate loot article.

Socially there were loads of people in attendance and I could easily have spent hours just chatting and catching up with people. In the end I jumped into a two-hour demo of Modiphius's Conan which I backed on Kickstarter and have ignored since. I was glad to get the opportunity to give it a go, however ultimately it's not something I think I'm going to massively be into. I don't know why I back these things when it's so overwhelmingly hope in the face of experience. There's more to be said about the problems of the game system but it deserves it's own article.

One thing I found interesting was the ability to have brief conversations with the some of the publishing company creators, both people I spoke to were world builders or line developers who were completely separate from the system designers in their game lines. In some cases, even being hazy on the rules for their own game line. Coming from an indie sensibility this was a massive difference of expectations and a reset on how to talk to people because for me the rules and the game fiction go hand in hand. Having a division of labour this profound explains so many of the problems in conventional roleplaying products.

I also learned that the benchmark for system design in Pathfinder. You are either have more or less rules than Pathfinder, and if you have less you have a "simple" system. I imagine if you are more complex you probably have a "richer" game system.

It's true that there were a lot of games that essentially ran variants of "roll under a target number on a d20" in both the indie games and the mainstream. It's pretty much as solid as Powered by the Apocalypse.

I also had a chance to have a long conversation with Mattias Johnsson the designer of Symbaroum and one the striking things he said was that partly his game lines are produced to be read as coffee table fiction by lapsed gamers. I kind of knew this was a market before but it was interesting to hear him explicitly describing this audience as a target to be catered for.

However it is interesting to think of the compromises that have to be made, one thing I asked him was whether he would allow game groups to select game background elements as you might in a playset and he responded that it was important to have a single canonical storyline. Part of the appeal of the scenarios is to have a story with a slow reveal about the background's secrets. This means that people can participate in the fandom around the game without playing the game themselves.

I personally felt this was already boring in the first White Wolf era of canonical backgrounds and campaign paths. It's mandatory railroading to keep together the most financially viable audience. Commercially sensible but uninteresting.

I only caught one of the seminars, the Pelegrane Press one, it was mostly one for the aficionados of the game lines but it did throw out another interesting industry concern: "tertiary product". Tertiary product is content that requires another product in addition to the core books, so in response to a question on whether there would be a scenario for Bookhounds of London setting the answer came back that something that required Trail of Cthulhu and the setting book would inherently have a smaller audience than anything else you could produce for the line.

Avoiding the perils of such things is the joy of the amateur.

Overall I thought it was definitely an improved event; bigger, busier but not more crowded. I wide range of interesting things available. The big thing to improve for me would be the casual and pick-up gaming.

Subpages (1): Dragonmeet 2016 loot