Review: Continuum 2012 Roleplaying Games Convention
OK, so I am back from Continuum, which was a marvellous experience. In fact the best weekend I have had a in a long time! For those who don’t know Continuum is a UK games convention held bi-annually in Leicester, where people play roleplaying, board, miniatures and freeform LARP games.
This was not my first visit to the convention — I have been before but only as a day delegate, and my time was strictly curtailed by trains and buses. This time I was able to stay two nights, and the accommodation was by University halls standards excellent, with Hugh, Lloyd and myself having three rooms off a shared kitchen/sitting room with loads of space. In fact Leicester Uni students are very lucky — the rooms are nicer than a lot of hotel rooms I have stayed in, and the price very reasonable as conferences go. (We paid £94 total for two nights, including a substantial breakfast). The only issues with the rooms were the heat, which was both unexpected and outside human control, that many people complained about (my room was very cool and shady, guess I got lucky there) and the fact that one has to be out by 9.30am, but on signing in and being issued keys by the University Accommodation people no one told us that, so most people expected a slightly later time to have to be out by. Fortunately I found out on the Saturday night by asking the night warden, but this led to many people running around in the morning trying to pack urgently as cleaners waited to move in and do the rooms. Not Continuum’s fault, but a failure with the uni conference facilities to team to make the timings clear. Free car parking was available, but latecomers might have had to park across the road in another (free) uni car park — but overall the facilities were excellent, and the campus well suited to a gaming convention. Leicester is fairly central, with good communication links, and the Oadby site is only three miles from the city centre. I did not see much on public transport links but I’m assuming it is well served by buses etc. Anyone able to comment on this?
So of course as I work in the industry this was mixing business with pleasure, and I was delighted to network and meet many publishers and have a couple of really interesting meetings. However none of that is at all of interest to anyone but myself, so instead I’ll describe the convention as I encountered it. We drove up arriving on Friday Night as my freeform The Pelorian Song Contest was scheduled for a ten pm start, late to avoid a clash with the Gloranthan Storytelling session. Registering for rooms went smoothly, and I was able to get a quick look at the main gaming hall, where I immediately saw a wonderful miniatures game set in The Rubble (Pavis, a Gloranthan setting) and the Mad Knight trade stall selling beautiful Gloranthan miniatures. Hugh and Biz played a Trolls versus Broo skirmish game on the Saturday, and I wish I had time to participate…
Singing In the Hero Wars…
First event for me was The Pelorian Song Contest. This was a freeform (think a sort of dressing up Murder mystery game. Each player has a set of goals and objectives and a few sheets of paper telling them about their character, what they know and any special items they possess. They set about trying to win by satisfying that characters objectives by scheming, plotting, talking to others, trading and sometimes “fighting” using a simple non-contact mechanic – in our case paper/scissors/stones).
I had written this game and was the referee, and it is set in Greg Stafford’s fictional world of Glorantha — if you don’t know the setting skip to the next paragraph now). The players were contestants and judges in a song contest representing the various peoples of the Lunar Empire, though dark magical machinations underlay this seemingly innocuous event. The players were a delight, the costuming excellent, and the singing surprisingly first rate (though I stress players did not have to sing — all the singers were volunteers!)
Michael’s witty song about his (character) wife made me laugh and was rather touching, and Rei sings beautifully, and Fiona’s song was very poignant — players chose their own songs and lyrics — and the stirring martial “Men of Furthest” was fantastic, as was the amazing Alkothian entry. The funniest song had to be the Pelorian Rhapsody sung by Alex, complete with axe solo! I missed some of the singing because I was off in other rooms where an uprising was planned, a moonboat was built and burned, and intrigues and assassinations conducted. One of the characters was dead by the end with a knife in his back; one fled out of a window; the Teelo Norri eloped with a Talastari barbarian, and in the process saved the world; two more were reconciled and their marriage vows renewed, and finally Malk won the First Pelorian Song Contest with his amazing Hungry Sable version of Ghostriders in the Sky, which was VERY Lunar. (Of course voting was on national and political lines, and nothing to do with vocal talent!) One Night In Massos makes a hard man humble; and very tired! So who won — well most people, though the Assiday clan managed to subjugate the Temple of the Reaching Moon four years early,and Dragon Pass fell under the Glowline. Lloyd’s character may or may not have managed to pull off something spectacular – we left the game with him escaping, pursued by Malk intent on justice and saving the Empire, and despatching three Darjiini assassins on the way!
Anyway really enjoyed the game, and had fun. Thanks to all the players.
Manorcon & Musing
After the Song Contest it was midnight and we retired to the bar, where people partied long after it closed, where I met El ( I try to avoid using peoples names if it will make them identifiable) dressed as a French maid with an egg whisk and a wet stick of celery. yes she had just left Best of the Wurst, the ‘Allo ‘Allo freeform! Hugh wandered off to talk to Tony M and Hanbury, I chatted with Rei and Clare, and then Lloyd told us all about his thoughts on freeforming, at length, because he was very very drunk, in a nice way, and we all had a good time! Rei was very sweet as always, and her warmth and enthusiasm did much to help keep us all going all weekend, not to mention buying me lunch for running Pelorian Song Contest. Much appreciated Rei, I still owe you lunch back!
I got to bed about 4.30am, only to be up at 8 for breakfast and a busy second day. Saturday was a lovely day, and I enjoyed breakfast and was planning to play in Daniel’s OGRE demo and competition. I was however led astray by Alex, and after spotting a friend from Cheltenham, a fellow gamer, who was attending Manorcon XXX across the road, set off to explore the other convention. It seemed just bizarre that they had about 200 gamers playing boardgames about 100 yards away, at the same university, on the same weekend, but a different campus. I talked to their organising folks, had a good time looking ta boardgames, including Ticket to Ride India which I had not seen before, and GMT games follow up to Here I Stand, a great looking wargame called The Virgin Queen. I stayed a brief while, had a look round: it seems a crying shame the two cons committees could not come to some joint ticket agreement so we could all mingle somehow!
I returned back to meet up with Biz and old school friend, great to catch up after many years, and as he lives in Leicester we chatted about all kinds of things. One thing that struck me was just how pinkish-grey both conventions were. There were plenty of women gamers, a wider range of ages, but given the ethnic diversity of Leicester I had thought we might meet more non-pink gamers, from the Black and Asian communities. Neither of us thought gamers are generally racist in anyway — but it was notable that ethnic minorities were reflected far more in the university staff than in the players and con attendees. We had a people from all over the world, but I just hoped Leicester might be more diverse — but Biz and I finally conceded that cultural factors might still prevent a take up of gaming among non-pink (or as most forms have it “white” ) communities. This is something that hopefully will be addressed, but at the m0ment Football has more racial diversity than gaming as far as I could see, and I think that is a blasted shame. I’m aware this may be a touchy topic; but gaming crosses class, religious, sexuality and regional divides, so I can’t see why we can not become more inclusive generally in the future. Of course con attendees are a self selecting audience, so this is not a con organisers issue, but something larger about the historical development of the hobby perhaps?
It was on Saturday afternoon that I got to play Flimsey Turrets, a truly wonderful game modelled clearly on Fawlty Towers. Clare made a wonderful axe murderer, and the props and location were first rate. I’m used to talky games, and this one was at times a very ‘physical’ larp – up and down the stairs we went, round a building that seemed just perfect for the game. I played Cecil Flimsey, and by the end I was unutterably exhausted, indeed close to breakdown, but I have not laughed so much on a long time. Graham”s Stanley Bodgettt the Builder will haunt me for years! I had immense fun, even if I completely lost the plot, in both senses. Great game, worthy of many more runs. I was Celil Flimsey, manager of the hotel and a man with problems, and as the game started I was awakened to find an axe murder was slaying hotel guests (and my Spanish waiter, Miguel, who came from Barcelona…) While no John Cleese I can do barely suppressed hysteria, and I ran around in an increasingly frantic state, making things worse and shouting a lot, stalking down corridors and hysterically trying to cover up the failings of my hotel… It was this game that led to me appearing afterwards in my specially bought pyjamas and pink fluffy slippers in the main gaming hall, as I had come straight down from the game! I got to know Ryan a top bloke and Chris Killey who is another fantastic role-player in this game, and yet by the end I was ready for absolute collapse. I have no idea how John Cleese managed to film even 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers without a complete nervous collapse – it is incredibly exhausting to play the role, even as badly as I did. Maybe I was doing it wrong, but you are shattered to a degree it is hard to explain after a couple of hours, in a way almost nothing else has ever tired me out. If you don’t believe me, spend the next two hours at home or work trying to be Basil Fawlty, and see what happens…
When I got back Lloyd had being playing Ziggurats and Zeppelins, and I hung around a few minutes before vanishing off to get some much needed rest, and work out how to quickly build a Klingon costume with almost no resources. A trip to ASDA with the lovely Hanbury and Rei in Hugh’s car, and I was all set…
Last Night On The Titanic
The problem with freeforms is that I can not really reveal too much of the plot, lest I spoil the game when run again. Last Night on the Titanic was not what I expected, but an interesting experimental game. I’m not sure I can say anything more, because surprise is a key feature of it. Suffice to say the top floor crowd seemed to have a great time, though it was not what we thought we were signing up for, and Alex made me howl with suppressed laughter as my son who received some truly awful parental advice from me. Jeff Richard was particularly entertaining, and the captain was awesome, though I did not catch his real name. The pointy eared lass drove me to distraction (in a nice way), and we had immense silly fun running around the bridge. Then things got very weird…
A very ambitious game, it maybe needed another couple of GM’s, and an even bigger playing space (though the garden seemed to be working well and I’m not sure why it was abandoned at some point, unless because it was waterlogged and turning in ot a quagmire — quite appropriate for the Titanic though?), as the play areas became very crowded at times, but it was a dramatic and exciting plot. The raison d’etre behind events was not to my taste – despite my being familiar with the milieu in question, we were all working within character knowledge, so some signposts as to the nature of the circumstances that led to the problem would be useful in future games: I’m very familiar with the background mythos, but had no clue till the debrief what was causing it all. As such the use of the background should be more explicit somehow, and I think the wonderfully played The Traveller character caused many of us to think in terms of the setting we were dropped in, rather than the real “cause”. Not that the ultimate cause mattered in anyway – magic or a vortex or something would have sufficed as an explanation, as all that was outside the players capacity to interact with or learn about.
We had however three clear goals/issues to deal with as a group, though perhaps some of the referee team were slightly under briefed, as one should have been resolved when Jeff blew the thingummy, but the threat just seemed to move further away. I guess he could have kept blowing it! In a sense it was a puzzle game, but the number of players led to some interesting interaction, but also obscured the ultimate goals, so a sense of frustration reigned at times in some areas. A fun game that had the capacity to be wonderful, but needs a little work, I enjoyed it and the upstairs crew made it hilarious at times, as did Graham’s wonderful Steward. Sorry about my dodgy costuming! This one deserves to be polished and run again. Well done to Chris Killey for a great night,a nd I’m sorry he had to deal with some players who criticised aspects during the game. I’d always leave it a week or at least sleep on it before criticising the effort a referee makes, as I know how much work goes in to writing a game all too well
During the day I briefly caught Jeff who showed me some new Gloranthan art for upcoming moon design books, and some maps and finally I looked briefly at the proofs of the Guide to Glorantha. I say briefly because he was off for lunch, and I’m too polite to take advantage and insist on spending a moment longer in Continuum Central than needed, as I had only popped in to help carry a suitcase and pick up Wyrm’s Footnotes 15, published a mere 30 years after the last issue in 1982. I would have spent more time there but I have a conscience, which prevented me talking to any of the VIP Guests much, though I did bore Robin Laws briefly about parapsychology at the end of Sunday while my friends wanted us to go and I was so asleep I could hardly stand up, and was amazed he still remembered me after all the years since we last met. Anyway I’ll be reviewing Wyrm’s Footnotes 15 later, so I’ll move on.
Saturday night was great fun, with Colin playing guitar, Tressey talking religion to Hugh, and Mark and Lloyd getting in to some long discussion of Ars Magica. I was mildly astounded to find mark had bought my books, till I remembered I was at an rpg convention so this was not entirely unlikely I crashed out about 4am, only to get up at 8am as we had to be out of our room by 9.30am as we were returning home Sunday night. After the day of gaming I had, I needed a lot more sleep, but a good breakfast and great chat with Steve and Paula D and Phil Masters helped wake me up a bit! I encountered Pete Nash with a wooden sword who really knows his medieval combat from re-enactment discussing the RQ6 combat system, and ended up being fascinated and watching the workshop when I needed sleep, and while I missed the Gloranthan Q & A – one of the things I went to the convention for – the freeform I played instead was really amazing…`
Night Train is a minor masterpiece, a lovely game. At first I thought I might die of heat with us all crowded in the small space representing the train, but time flew by and it was amazing fun. I was able to use some real world knowledge to good effect in character interactions, because my character would know it, and it was a delight. The underlying causes are obscure till half way through the game, but that is partly the point, and the second half got even better, as we realised what we were up against. Beautiful costuming, and Michael magnificent as the soldier, and whoever played the J.P, the prim lady in the hat, the Security Officer, the Geek and Candace equally excellent, in fact I would talk about so many players and characters but I am bad with names when people are in costume (I have poor facial recognition and identify people by clothing and gestures, and get hopelessly muddled by who is who in a freeform, as I just recall people by characters even if I know them well!) and like Last Night this game relies on surprise. Still if there is another run, and i am sure there will be many more, do sign up for this one, it is a real gem and a Peaky classic which Charlie and the others are still polishing but which already shines brightly. If you are interested in Freeform games btw there is a wonderful mailing list you can join.
By Sunday afternoon I was close to collapse. As I had never met the Art of War chaps before (and still have not met Mark, we never bumped in to each other) and they had too many volunteers to GM in the end I stood down so they would be able to run the game as a cohesive group. From what I have seen the game looked wonderful, some of the costumes were breathtaking. Instead I talked to biz and many other folks, and then Charlie and Alan Paul who ran the excellent boardgames library persuade me to play Last Testament, a great game, though by the last turn I could barely keep my eyes open I was so tired. The heat was not helping, and my feet stank despite changing my socks three times during the day: not having the room available now really seemed a mistake, and maybe I should have booked Sunday night. F. had drunk the bar dry of tequila by this time, and I met up with Hugh, who had being playing a Pendragon battle game based on Badon, and had a lot of fun by the sound of things. He also came third in the OGRE tournament, and to my amazement even Lloyd tried it and enjoyed it – Lloyd does not do boardgames, and especially wargames! Mind you we all tried things we would not normally try I guess? It was Mikko’s birthday, a lovely bloke, so we stopped to sign his card, make out farewells, and left about 8pm with gaming still in full swing, though many other people left about the same time as us I believe, having to get back for work on Monday.
So really it just remains to thank Darran and Russell Sims, Colin Driver, Chris Jones and everyone else who put on such a fantastic event. I’m running my own much smaller con next month, Grand Tribunal, an Ars Magica based con with freeforms and much rpg fun, and hope to see a few familiar faces, but it will never be on anything like the scale of professionalism of Continuum 2012. I had a fantastic weekend, and can’t wait till 2014, though I guess I will have to for Continuum 2014!
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