Monday, 12 February 2018

Spaghetti and Ice-Cream

The title above isn't the name of my newest short game (though it is evocative; a no-prize to whoever comes up with the best suggestion!) but a reference to my Saturday, most of which I spent at Spaghetti ConJunction, the one-day RPG convention my name has somehow ended up attached to, along with the far-more actively involved Pookie and Simon Burley, who do most of the work (and must therefore take most of the blame.)

This isn't just going to be a con report: it's also me trying to honestly confront my own current relationship to the hobby, so if that kind of introspection isn't for you, then may I recommend this blog post about the day instead? It's a good read!

Let's begin at the beginning: just about a year and a half ago, on the day of Concrete Cow '16b, Simon and Pookie came up to me and told me about the great idea they'd had on the train down from Birmingham to Milton Keynes: why not have a one-day role-playing convention in Birmingham? Being the three designers/editors/reviewers of RPGs we knew in Birmingham, and having enjoyed Concrete Cow for many years, it was one of those "Why didn't we do this sooner?" moments.

To cut a long story short (and a lot of unreturned phone calls to venues we could have used), the first

Upstairs at the Geek Retreat
(please wear the safety goggles provided)
Spaghetti Conjunction was held at the recently opened Geek Retreat gaming cafe in central Birmingham on February 11th 2017. It was a satisfactory success, with minimal teething troubles and very little needing to be tweaked for the repeat performance we quickly planned to take place on October 21st of the same year.

So now, an important aside: as some of you know, my partner passed away suddenly on September 11th 2017 after a short illness. This was after years of health problems, but nothing we thought of as life-threatening. It still hurts to remember those last few days at his side and I can only console myself that I made that time as peaceful and happy for him as I could.

In the wake of this, I moved from Birmingham to stay with family in Milton Keynes for a time, until I could find my feet once more, but also to give me time to deal with my emotions. It's amazing how much undirected anger you can feel when the person you love is taken from you by forces beyond your control, so I'll take this space to thank my family for putting up with my irritability and mood swings for the past few months.

Pay no attention to Simon's subliminal advertising...
After much thought about it, I did attend the second Spaghetti ConJunction, but solely in an administrative capacity, taking money at the desk, giving out tickets, answering questions and making announcements. Much as I love games, whether running or playing them, I didn't trust my own emotional state enough to take on the role of someone else or take part in a story that could suddenly go in an unwelcome direction.

All of that finally brings us to Spaghetti ConJunction 2a, the one that has just taken place: I almost didn't attend this at all, with the possibility of  a short sea-side break dangling in front of me, but plans changed and I found myself free that weekend, so I changed my mind again! Therefore, it was still Pookie and Simon who did the real work of organising this convention, I just kind of stood at the back going "Yeah."

What a convention it was though! A great turnout that seemed to form some sort of paradox as it queued up the stairs to get in: for every one person Simon sold a ticket to, two more people joined the line! I don't know how this conundrum was solved, but it may have involved an infinite number of games.

I only ran two games out of that potential infinity though, both of which were new pitches that I hadn't tried before and both of which were composed of about 50% players I hadn't sat down at a table with before. In the morning, I ran The Real Housewives of Atlantis, using PrimeTime Adventures to create a sassy, heightened reality TV series: one of the stars was the very appropriately named 'Bubbles', which was the trigger for some Flintstones-esque puns about "Things going swimmingly", "Making a splash," and "Being at the front of the next wave."

Some tosh, but everyone agrees to smile for the camera
We made a buzzsheet at the start of the game, which is just a short list of words and phrases we thought of in relation to the subject & theme: among such obvious contributions as 'tridents, seahorses and crystals', someone added 'Impending doom', which guided a lot of the tone of the game that followed... but it turned out it was only impending doom, not doom itself, so Atlantis survived, but will no doubt be doomed again in a different way in every other episode. This also suggested a sequel series for the next season: The Real Housewives of Pompei!


During the afternoon break, I had one of the excellent cookies & chocolate ice-cream sundaes available at the venue, a real throat saver after all the talking in the morning. I had managed to keep the silly voices to a minimum, as almost all the action was in the hands of the PCs and the NPCs were more active in the background, doing things like turning on experimental bubble machines or being dated by at least three of the main cast. Suitably fortified by ice-cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and crumbled Oreos & Malteesers, I readied myself for the afternoon session...

The first part of the afternoon is the charity raffle, which given the incredible generosity of sponsors like )deep breath) Grim & Perilous, Modiphius Entertainment, Monkey Blood Design, Pelgrane Press, Psychic Cactus, Sentinel Hill Press, Sixtystone Press, and Stygian Fox Publishing... (and breathe)... had the potential for taking a big chunk out of the schedule, but this is not so in the capable hands of Simon Burley! In what seemed like mere moments, a dozen or so happy gamers stood with their phat lewt in their hands, not quite sure how it had got there!

My afternoon game was an intensely paranoid scenario concerning a private enterprise, three woman exploration team being sent to an alien planet to assess it for exploitation opportunities, but There's Somebody At the Door... and I can say no more about it than that, because I will certainly be using this scenario again to see what a different group of players do with it. A slightly stripped down version of the Hot War rules served this game perfectly and this time there were no NPCs for me to portray at all; well, not live ones, anyway...

Pookie, shortly before the sheer weight of prizes collapses in on itself,
creating a miniature black hole; don't worry, we have 5 years...
Simon, Pookie and I have already begun talking about Spaghetti ConJunction 2b (or not 2b) but long before then, Concrete Cow '18a looms on the horizon on March 17th. I think I will probably be there: I am a long way from being over my grieving period though, so if you do see me sitting somewhere quietly reading, it may because I need the break from people for a moment. That said... wow, I really enjoyed my games at Spaghetti ConJunction! I was somewhat afraid that I'd lost my touch and the games would fall flat, but other than a few ideas for scenes and plot points I could use next time, both games went swimmingly and most of all, I had fun. Now I need more gaming... Hangouts anyone? Discord? Very long conference calls? Tic Tac Toe by post...? Bunnies & Burrows via public graffitti...? [Fades out]

All Photos courtesy of Pookie