Monday, 7 January 2013

StuCon II is over!

With the Xmas/New Year period nearly at an end, we convened for StuCon II or WinterCon for our gaming group (as we very occasionally get a SummerCon in too). The first weekend in January actually suits quite well as it falls between the frenetic social whirl of Christmas/New Year and the beginning of the long slog through the dark nights and drear days of January and February (at least if you're in northern Europe is does).

This weekend we had seven of us free for gaming, for nearly all the weekend, which was fabulous, and with no interruptions. We decided to focus on a series of one-shot RPG sessions which each ran to about 4-4.5 hours.

Hot War

First up was Malcolm Craig's Hot War. Readers of this blog will know we've played Cold City before, by the same designer, and the group has received it fairly well. I loved the Cold City setting, but the game system does take a bit of a mental leap on the part of both players and GM to limit the number of contests in the game, and it is not a game for those who like maps and moving miniatures around. Tactical combat can be summarised in one roll of the dice pool - the emphasis is on concentrating on your character's relationships and traits, and on how they develop over time.

I used a convention scenario called God Light, which came with some very nice pre-gens, so we didn't need to waste time setting up new characters (although this does not take long with this system). The characters had lots of good back story to draw upon. The game featured an expedition out of post-Apocalyptic London for a small team from the Special Situations Group. You can read more about the SSG and the general setting of Hot War here.

The game played through satisfactorily - it has been a while since I have been behind a GM's screen, but I found it fun, and was able to manage a team of five players quite well, even when one of them (a Romanian scientist) was detached from the main group towards the end of the scenario (indeed, at once stage there were three groups of PCs operating independently in a nuclear bunker under Salisbury Plain). The game system did not bog down in technicalities, making it well-suited for convention play. I guess one of the issues with this scenario was how it was going to be resolved - although each PC had his/her own hidden agendas to complete, it was not clear how this was going to happen, making it difficult for me to gauge where we were with the plot line. There is no "the characters need to do this to win" section in God Light, making it that bit harder to work out how things are going to pan out - the PCs are more in the driving seat here.

As it turned out, I though God Light ended quite well, with two PCs slain (one completing both his objectives in the process), one mad, one unconscious with serious head injuries, and the other two intact and on their way back to London in an armoured vehicle. Unfortunately Ben was away from the table picking up Ric for 30 minutes, which meant he was unable to look after his PC's objectives or take part in any planning sessions that occurred during this time. It made it less likely for him to be in a position to complete his own objectives in the closing stages, but there was not much that could be done about it. I found that managing several NPCs also in the same location, each with their own parameters, to be one of the hardest parts of the scenario, and was grateful to be able to pass one off to Ric when he arrived.


Next up was Deadlands Reloaded, which Ben ran. Our posse was tracking a bandit leader, whom we ambushed in a bordello out in the middle of nowhere. We now had six players, which was great fun. We had to skirt around what a bordello actually was for our youngest player, but I suspect he read between the lines anyway. Two of our party started the encounter a little far away from the bordello, leaving us to gallop in from about 200 yards away, and thus play little role in the fight. I've had this before in RPGs, where you underestimate how fast a combat will play out, and by the time you arrive, it is all over bar the scalping!

DR uses the Savage Worlds engine, so it is able to manage bigger fights more easily. The big set piece for this session was an attack on the town where we were holding the bandit ahead of his trial. Some 30 bandits plus their leader's brother attacked the town and were ambushed by six PCs plus support from assorted townsfolk. Savage Worlds is an inherently tactical game, but it managed to run through this fairly complex encounter in short order, which is a tribute to the way the system is streamlined (and why it is still one of my faves).

I was playing a Novice huckster from New Orleans, mainly because I've never played one in Deadlands before. I found him somewhat limited in terms of what he could actually do. With three Powers available and 10 Power Points, his primary value was inflicting hexes on the bandit's leader in the big battle, slowing him down and forcing him to burn his bennies, although it was our mad scientist who finally fried him. I think hucksters are somewhat underpowered at Novice level when compared to some other arcane background PCs, but it didn't undermine my enjoyment of the game.

The GM had used the real villain in this game previously in a WFRP game, which I had not taken part in, but some other players had. They jumped on the first clue to its presence as soon as it presented itself and managed to ambush it and dispose of it in very short order, once located! All in all, great fun, and I thought Greg in particular enjoyed lobbing dynamite sticks around and generally creating chaos during the big shoot-out.

We stopped for some pizza and a chin wag before playing some Red November, which is one of the few board games I own that can manage more than six players (I think Touch of Evil can do this too). Red November plays more slowly with seven players, even when compensating for this with the time track, but is still good fun. I foolishly forgot the rule about moving the oxygen track whenever a fire event is drawn, but otherwise I thought it went well. The sub still sank when our reactor over-heated! Nobody made much use of the grog, which was interesting. I suspect this too was an effect of having more players available to tackle the various problems on the sub.

Call of Cthulhu

Last up, on Sunday morning, Kelvin ran Call of Cthulhu, using a one-short that bore more than a passing resemblance to Reservoir Dogs. CoC is always good for cons, as players can go mad and die with impunity. I'm not really going to go into a great deal of detail on this scenario, as it would spoil the surprise for you if you ever have the good fortune to play it, as it is commercially available.

In essence, the players are all gangsters en route from a heist, who have to rendezvous in a warehouse. Sound familiar? Each player had his own briefing to consider, and each had his own code name - e.g. Mr Silver, Mr Beige, Mr Red. It is a very evocative scenario, and of course there are Mythos elements there. It is an ideal setting for convention play, as players familiar with the film will be able to play up to the stereotypes of the criminals. Not only was Kelvin escorting players out of the room for secret one-on-one briefings, but even players were popping out to talk to each other without the GM!

The scenario, for anyone who is interested, is here. It is well worth running if you are a Cthulhu GM looking for a very good one-shot, ideally single session. I would recommend using floor plans and counters/miniatures for this game, because I found it immensely useful as a player to see where I was in relation to the other players, particularly when it came to skulduggery! Like Hot War above, there were plentiful helpings of paranoia and intrigue, which I personally love, but which don't work as well for longer running campaigns. The scenario is also interestingly penned by Paul Fricker, who I understand is working on the next edition of the CoC core rules.

So that was it for StuCon. It was great to see Greg and Ric, who both only very occasionally make it to the gaming table these days, as they dwell up in the Far North (well, north of Watford anyway). And it was also great to have so much pure, unadulterated gaming fun with good friends and not have to worry about any interruptions (other than to have to wander to the fridge for booze and pizza!) Cheers all!


  1. It was a great weekend of gaming with a well-chosen set of games. I loved playing the mad scientist in Hot War and I found the setting very evocative; I think it might support campaign play better than its sister game.

    For what it's worth, I thought Ben was recycling a different adventure in Deadlands, and it was Manoj who was on the ball, but that fits with Rule One of our gaming group.

    I was very pleased with how Dockside Dogs went. I didn't have to do much as everyone seemed to grasp the idea early on and there was some great roleplaying. Poor old Mr Black!

  2. And there was no way I'd have been able to play anything else after 2.30pm on Sunday! I was shattered...