AlbaCon 2020

#1
As far as I know, AlbaCon (definitely not Al Bacon) is another new arrival on the convention scene, headed up by the same person as Tabletop Scotland. As a southerner, Perth is a long way to go for a convention, but my internet connection is right here...


Game 1


First, a complaint, unrelated to the game itself: Roll20 AV does not work. Presumably there are groups out there who do manage to use it, and it sure would be convenient to have the AV and the VTT all running in the same place. But it's not going to happen. Save yourself the trouble and go straight to Discord/Hangouts/Jitsi. But back to the game.

I love Alien, and have run my scenario The Toxic Jewel a few times now, but this time I was signed up as a player. The scenario was excellent, hitting all the right story notes as we started out confident that we knew what the threat was and how we were going to go about neutralising it, only to discover things weren't quite as they seemed. On a scale of Alien to Aliens, it was at the Aliens end of the scale - good scary action fun.

One thing I loved was the GM's creative use of props. As well as being fully branded in Weyland Yutani clothing, he also had action figures, and his 'the last thing you see' vignettes of an upside-down xenomorph slowly lowered down from the top of his screen were a delight. I'd not thought of using props this way, and in these strange times of exclusively online gaming it's great to see creativity in the use of video.

Alien remains one of my favourite systems, and I need to get on and write my next scenario.

Game 2


Conventions are a great opportunity to try out new games. I'd never heard of Broken Shield before, and it's hard to describe exactly what it is, as it has elements of cyberpunk and superheroes while at the same time not being either of those things. I was intrigued enough to sign up. I was a little worried I wasn't going to get to play, as for a long time nobody else did, but as the date approached, one of the convention organisers signed up, and my husband decided he'd like to join me at a convention for a change, so we set out with a party of three.

Rather than a VTT, the GM was making use of Discord's screenshare facility to share a digital whiteboard with all the maps and handouts which worked very nicely. Important bits of text were copied into the Discord chat (where we also did the dice rolls).

So a new team of a detective, a priest and a psychic arrived for their first day working together, only to suddenly get dragged into a much bigger murder investigation where nothing was as it seemed. As we followed the trail of the killer, uncovering secrets as we went, I could have done with a whiteboard of my own, preferably with red string to join things together. As it was I settled for making notes. And I absolutely loved it. A really fun adventure, and a system with a fair bit of crunch but not so much that it slowed down play.

The GM was also the game's creator, and all the players got a free PDF copy of the game. I'm looking forward to reading it, but since he's also written a novel in this setting, I might be taking a look at that first. It's a future London that's very different to the ones I'm used to, and I'm really excited to see more.

Game 3


Another outing for Liminal: Mother Said I Never Should. A couple of players had to cancel, but a quick advert on the Good Friends of Jackson Elias discord brought in two people who'd previously played my Alien game. With two of the other players having been in the Alien game that morning, for once at a convention I was playing with a group that was almost entirely people I knew.

While Discord is generally a solid choice for AV, it does have its moments, and we had some initial hiccups. Fortunately I've used Discord enough to know that when someone can't hear and/or be heard, there's a good chance this is because Discord has changed its audio input/output. I normally run it with the output on my speakers, but now and then it will decide to change the output to use the headphones on my audio interface, which makes it seem like I'm not getting any sound. Directing people to the user settings screen usually gets things sorted out.

Game 4


After not nearly enough sleep, I was up again to play City of Mist.

I've already picked this game up in PDF (there was a sale) but this was my first time playing it. I've been looking for a superhero RPG that's a bit more Birds of Prey than Justice League, and this was recommended. It certainly captures the aesthetic. We played the starter set adventure, Shark Tank, and the maps and imagery gave me the feel of a dark rainy city suffering under the weight of deprivation and organised crime.

The premise is that you play a human character that has a link to a mythological entity, which is where you get your superpowers. My character, a detective moonlighting as a private eye, reminded me a lot of Renee Montoya, except she also had a link to an ancient Mesopotanian mythological wild man, enticing her to break control and turn to the wild (and allowing her to lash out with thorny plant-like tentacles).

It's the strangest implementation of PBTA that I've encountered, feeling more like I was playing Fate a lot of the time. Picking the appropriate powers to apply to an action was fun, and since there's a lot of them and they're all worth 1 point it gets rid of the Fate tendency to try to use your best skill for everything. I tended to go with the thorny tentacles in the fights, as it felt appropriate for her to be lashing out aggressively as the bad guys wound her up, but shooting them in a controlled cop-like fashion would have felt appropriate in other circumstances and been just as valid mechanically.

They've done a brilliant job with the starter set, and the roll20 implementation is superb. Making a roll is a matter of selecting the powers you're going to use and then clicking the appropriate move, with a space to add positive and negative modifiers. Damage involving inflicting conditions with varying levels of severity, which then apply negatives if you have them, or positives if your target has them, and there are places on the sheet to fill those in.

The end result is a visually attractive game, easy to pick up, and easier to explain than either Fate or PBTA. Our GM mentioned that she was pretty new to running anything other than D&D, but she had a good handle on things and got us up to speed so fast I was wondering if I'd missed something.

This game was everything I hoped for, and now I'm going to have to actually finish reading the PDF, and maybe even try running it myself.

Reflections


This was a big con that felt like a small con. I'm not sure exactly how many games were running, as there were a lot of D&D Adventurer's league games happening and I don't entirely understand how those work, but even not counting those there were 13 games happening in each of the Saturday afternoon and evening slots.


The level of organisation was exceptional. Booking games through the website was a breeze, and it seems cancelling must have been reasonably simple too, as both the people who had to drop out of mine managed to free up the spaces so more people could book. The Discord setup was excellent, and a convenient way to contact my players without having to invite them to my own server.

Unlike most of the online conventions I've attended, this one actually had a price - £5 per game. I wondered if that put people off taking a chance on less familiar games, although given that the event was run as a charity fundraiser for kids with cancer, I didn't have any problem paying.


While my preference is for smaller cons, I felt just as comfortable with this one and I really hope it's going to be a regular event.

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