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TimCon XI

TimCon always seems to start with a long, tired journey on the Piccadilly Line and this one all the worse for definitely being the last. As is traditional for London-based GMs, I was running a game in the first morning slot. Which is actually great as it gets all your worrying about the game out of the way nice and early.

Saturday

My game this year had a long gestation and I’d managed to fall out of love with it a bit in the interim between the pitch and the delivery. Fortunately a game of Microscope helped me flesh out the background of the game and inspired a slow week of index-card writing. A last minute hurried rewrite to try and stretch the game to seven players allowed me to simplify my already simplified version of Warhammer 3rd Edition even more but it was hard to really weave another two characters into the story as much as the five who had had a few month of thought as to what roles they should occupy in the game.

Microscope wasn’t the only influence as I had also been thinking a lot about using the game’s Banes and Chaos Stars to create tough dilemmas for players in the same way as Apocalypse World does with its failure compromises and GM Moves.

A seven player game is always going to be a struggle to give everyone an equal highlight but I was happy with the game worked out. The background is an expedition of opportunists seizing the opportunity to reclaim a lost dwarven hold. A big influence was the dwarves of the Hobbit and the idea that what if someone else incidentally killed Smaug while achieving some far mightier goal.

The lost hold was laid out as a series of Locations written on index-cards and laid out according to what the expedition members were searching for. This approach really seemed to work out as there was a sense of shape for the hold that unfolded and I could control the pace of the game by deciding whether to put out a very critical location, create a new one or use a pre-canned but kind of generic location. The players also helped create new locations as they fortified and changed existing areas.

In the end the expedition was a failure as the members splintered into factions and succumbed to insanity, greed and the desire to delve just that little too deep and linger a little too long.

With the GM’ing out of the way I was free to enjoy the rest of the convention. The first game I played in was Love and Progress which was the great highlight of the weekend. The scenario is set around a textile town fraternity of weavers and spinners who are alarmed to hear reports of a stranger who is creating machines that do the work of seven or more of their brethren. At the same time these artisans all have aspirations to love, marriage and a more harmonious domestic lives so in addition to Luddite conspiracy there was also a strong romantic comedy element with crushed hearts and misunderstood feelings.

The thing that made the game was that the players really threw themselves into the dual aspects of the game and spent as much time dealing with their romantic problems as with the threat of mechanisation. In the end mob violence erupted and a hen-pecked husband resolved the problem of the march of ideas with a heavy skillet.

Despite the comedy I did feel quite affected by the portrayal of an ignored husband pushed to murder as his way of life seemed to evaporate around him, the betrayal of the murderer by the fraternity and just generally by the way a whole society can find itself of the brink of extinction as a result of the general ideal of “improvement”.

With the games over there was a general retirement to the pub for dinner and general chat about the other games and discuss what we had played. There was less general discussion about Warhammer and the merits of various editions than there had been. Maybe because the landscape is now pretty settled and people have found what they like and are pursuing it with little need to persuade others to the righteousness of their course.

Sunday

Sunday is often a tough day if you choose to make it a long night before. Fortunately freed up from having to lug books around I arrived on the stroke of ten o’clock to quickly be ushered into Lustria for Life. Now Lustria is pretty much one of my favourite settings and I am not sure it is actually possible to go wrong by putting Slann, Amazons, pygmies in a scenario set in the jungle.

The plot was a take on the real-world Roanoke with a Lustrian colony disappearing mysteriously. It turned out the plot hinged on my character’s brother who had discovered how to power an ancient flying device but had had to steal and cheat the other PCs to do it. In the end it turned out he had even manipulated my character into unwittingly bringing him the last component he needed. This twist was a bit of a masterpiece of plotting and completely turned the game upside down from a story point of view.

So after rescuing the colonists and fleeing my character returned to the waiting ship a sadder, wiser man and the remaining power-hungry characters fought a duel in the flying ship, inevitably causing it to crash.

Structurally I think this scenario had a few issues. The discovery of the abandoned colony felt like it should come in the middle of the adventure with the start being the outbreak of disease on the ship. There were a few distractions to the main plot (like a giant snail) that really didn’t seem to necessary to the main thrust of the missing colonists plot.

However at the end of the day Slann, Amazon and pygmies are magic scenario sprinkles making anything they touch magic.

The Sunday afternoon slot is always tough as it is fair to say that energy and imaginations tend to run low towards the close of the convention.

I was in Tim’s Araby Spring which was the game to be in if you love props and figures. It also was the game that came closest to capturing the original Warhammer RPG feel as it mixed army level combat with individual action by what were once described as your Major Heroes.

The game was a loose pastiche of modern current affairs with the players taking the roles of individuals based on the characters of the dictators that have recently been deposed in the Arab Spring. However on top of that was a kind of Gnostic take on the concept of divinity and the nature of the Warp. The metaphysics was equally important to the game as the comical aspects.

The players took the role of conservative powers attempting to crush a mystical uprising by crossing a desert to discover a hidden temple deep within where the new cult were planning to achieve their ascension and destroy the false gods.

Crossing the desert involved trying to keep your troops on board with the mission and alive while exploring locations and gaining the tools to defeat the cult (although this was only made clear during the second phase of the game). During this phase encounters consisted of false prophets, ancient ruins and mystical creatures appearing from the sands and dust of the desert.

The second phase consisted of the leaders of the various gathered factions infiltrating the lost temple and trying to strike down the leaders of the cult and reverse their magic ritual.

In the end the native leaders were mostly struck down by guardians of the temple and the foreign infidels waited to see if the remaining Arabyans would allow them to run home with their looted cultural artefacts.

In many ways this was quite a typical Tim game with a rich, detailed background, meticulously intersecting with the loose ends of the Warhammer setting and player characters that had strong, non-aligned agendas. The props were sumptuous and the stakes high.

It generally suffered from relying on an experience to emerge from the content of the game rather than imposing it through the structure of the scenario. The mix of native and foreign factions for example created a tension that didn’t feel intentional. It was also unclear as to whether the trip across the desert was a race to find the temple or an expeditionary effort to explore the wastes.

The conclusion in the temple also featured a false/genuine prophet, a genie, two chaos demons and Temple King undead. I could follow the plot as a player but lost track of how my character would or should react to each new threat as it emerged and joined in the conflict.

It felt like an appropriate ending to the conference, a game of massive scale and ambition that mixed low political humour with mystical metaphysics. Not everything worked but it was never just going to be about killing rats in a sewer for three hours.

Then there was a final rounds of drinks and the traditional deconstructing of the scenarios and chatting about how some of the games had created new ideas for scenarios. However there was a certain melancholy air this time as some favourite stories and games from previous years got aired and there was a general feeling of something very special and distinct ending.

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