Monday, 20 June 2016

A Life of Games

It's been some time since my last post, again, so this is more of a catch up than anything else: there's some good stuff, some bad stuff and some very personal stuff, so skip this if you just want new game things (though there are some new game things mentioned haphazardly.)

So, all the way back at the end of March, when I last posted, I'd recently started a series of posts under the banner title of Rerolled (and there are still more of those to come: one is about one-third complete at the moment of writing and I have ideas for at least two more after that) and Concrete Cow was a pleasant memory... well, kind of pleasant. The day itself was as wonderful as ever, marred only by Neil Smith's announcement that, after 10 years, he was stepping down as organiser and handing over the reins of authority (the moment had been prepared for) but in myself, I was not happy. In the three months preceding this day, I'd lost my father to a sudden acceleration in his long-term illness and also the children's centre where I had worked for a dozen years had closed its doors for good, so two big tent-poles in my life were abruptly jerked away. I suspect other people noticed on the day my lack of energy or enthusiasm, which affected my morning & afternoon games, both play-tests of systems I'd loved creating but was finding it hard to remember why.

Which brings me onto the first good game thing: New Gods for an Old Town,the self-contained playset for Just Heroes, my super-heroic hack of Apocalypse World. I've had a chance to run this playset at two different conventions now, with 8 different players, and I'm quite happy with how it works: you don't get the full experience that you would in a true Just Heroes campaign, but you get a good feel for how the superpowers work, how the characters interact and how it creates an authentically comic-like experience from those things. It's persuaded me that the hack works, mechanically, but I still need at least one lengthy, multi-session play-test to really find all the kinks and bumps so I can smooth them out.
The playset comes with four ready-to-play characters who are built from the double-playbook style of the Just Heroes rules: each hero is composed of an Origin and a Style, with the former guiding the player though creating their origin story and the latter giving them a selection of powers they can use, either beginning with them in play or acquiring them as they advance.

Back at Concrete Cow, I recovered my mojo at the end of the day by standing up to 'GM' (I can only use the term loosely) an 8-player game of Newton, a very fast and loose, back-of-a-fag-packet game that we playstormed back at Indiecon 2012. The basic conceit, that various sci-fi B-movie monsters, aliens, mutants, androids and mad scientists have been co-opted by the British Government and now live in a purpose built, secret town, goes down very well, but weaving a story out of the chaos that ensues is hard: I think one player suggested that there should be no continuity between games, as Newton is obviously going to get destroyed at the climax of every game.

Speaking of Indiecon, that was the next setback that had to be endured: since first attending back in 2010 to shamelessly pimp my Game Chef entry Never to Die, this has been the gaming highlight of my year. Comprised of a very long weekend devoted to small press & home-brew RPGs, it's a place where you could get players for a game of just about anything at all: 300 dedicated gamers, looking to play morning, noon and night, would sign up to anything, even a blank sheet (yes, I did do that on a bet and all the players who signed up got a glass of the champagne I won.) After announcing a potential price rise in February, due to negotiations between the organising committee and the new management at the site where the con was held, this was followed by news in April that Indiecon would not be going ahead after all; combined with my ambivalent feelings about GMing at Concrete Cow, this left me with a long, blank future of no-gaming ahead of me.

Image result for severn valley railwayIf the three things that keep you going in life are family, friends and career, by mid-April all three of mine had received critical damage and I simply ran out of impetus: the world was going on and I didn't particularly care if it left me behind. With no reason to go out, I virtually stopped doing so, venturing as far as the local shops every other day for essentials; thankfully, I had my partner Philip's support, so I wasn't in dire financial straits, but I wasn't socialising with anyone other than him. I think  I had one good day out, when he took me on the Severn Valley Railway, a restored heritage steam service that runs the 16 miles between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth: it was a beautiful day that drew me back out of my slump for a week or so.

Generally though, things didn't get better and it was only the prior commitment I had made to run games at the UK Games Expo in June that I was holding onto: not in the sense that it was giving me the hope to carry on, but it was the last obligation I had to dismiss, after which I would be unencumbered by any commitments. My thoughts spiralled downwards, I sunk into despair, my temper shortened and overall I was looking forward to a time when I could somehow fade out of the world altogether.

Fortunately, come the start of June, the UK Games Expo turned out to be great: there were significant changes to the venue this year, as the hotel was given over almost entirely to RPGs, with the trade hall relocated over to the NEC a few minutes stumble away. A friend in need of a place to stop over made use of our guest bedroom the night before the convention began, so it was an excuse to practice socialising again and remembering how to talk to people: there were more friends at the Expo itself, plus lots of new people to meet as well and, overall, excluding the odd hiccup that could be laughed off, I ran three games I was very happy with, providing a metric ton or two or entertainment to the 13 players I had across the two days I attended. The rest of the weekend was given over to my partner, with whom I had a lovely unwinding day on Sunday before venturing out on one of the hottest, brightest days of the year to enjoy a quiet Monday afternoon in one of the many splendid heritage parks in the midlands.

Somewhat recharged, I began to contemplate writing games again, something that had turned into a Sisyphean task in the preceding two months: the Rerolled articles had been left on a bit of a cliff-hanger, so I relit the fires under those ideas and let them simmer. Also, I had promised myself that I would publish New Gods for an Old Town after its UKGE playtest, so I got on and did that. Things started to thaw and move in my mind again: perhaps not as freely and fantastically as they had in my productivity peaks, but steam was building and I could feel some solid ideas bubbling up, things I was keen to do and try out. Some more playing had to be done, so I rustled up a game on Google Hangouts: after a false start or two, I finally got my game on, on-line, with at least one more session in the pipeline.

Which brings me up the present day and the wheel that keeps on turning: following on from Indiecon, one of the other great UK conventions held at the same site, Conception, also announced that it would cease to run, not just for this year but for the foreseeable future. This is a great blow to the UK gaming scene, it was possibly the largest RPG-devoted convention in the whole of the British Isles and had attracted guests from Europe, America and maybe even further afield in its time. It was a highlight of the UK games calendar, people looked forward to it, prepared special games for it, turned their lodges into bar/restaurants at it! It was where I met gamers who have become, I hope, lifelong friends and I will apologise to them now for not sharing many of the thoughts on this blog with them sooner, but if coming out as queer is hard, then coming out as depressed is a hundred times harder.

So as not to end on a bleak note, my writing seems to be getting back on track and today I did something I haven't done for quite a while: this morning, I sat down to write a new short story-game and this afternoon I published it on Drivethru. Some of you will recognise Underfoot from it's earlier appearance on this blog as the first subject of Rerolled but this is a slightly meatier version with somewhat tweaked rules: as before though, you play a fae-creature or wizard's familiar trying to get by in a city that will crush you as soon as tolerate you. It's not a metaphor, but I can't stop you from seeing it that way if you want to.

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