ConCord 2020 - Bristol - Feb 29th/Mar 1st

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Simonpaulburley

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ConCord - Bristol - 29th Feb/1st Mar 2020

I am lucky enough to have people who visit my table to play games more than once.

In fact there seem to a some who come to conventions looking to play one of my games already on their convention list. “We must remember to play in one of Simon’s games”.

What must be 5-6 years ago - possibly more - some of them told me it was their intention to set up their own convention in Bristol. Of course I threw my hat in the ring to referee some games at that first event.

That convention was ConQuord. I know I’ve written about the event somewhere before - possibly in my printed convention diaries. That first time was in a Bistro, on a Sunday and suffered from poor attendance. Getting to and from Bristol on public transport on Sunday proved to b a non-trivial task. But I remember some elements of the day with great affection.

The following year they expanded to two days into a comedy club above a bar. Again they had poor attendance despite having some great TTRPG referees and variety of demonstration game types on offer (eg Wargames) which didn’t get much trade. I was always occupied by dint of the TTRPG referees coming together to offer games to each other and was lucky enough to run one play one each day.

However, it was a bit sad seeing such effort going into an event and it not getting the support it deserved.

The next few ConQuords, I was always busy with convention clashes. I always told people I’d like to support it but, to be honest and to my shame, I didn’t really miss attending.

This year, however, I had no excuse. No clashes and the event was two days in a decent looking hotel with lots of events on offer. So there was no escaping and I had to put my money where my mouth is. Birmingham to Bristol is an easy journey (if it’s not Sunday morning!) so I was able to save money by booking a room just for the Saturday night.

I offered to run 5 games in the 5 published slots. (3 on Saturday, 2 on Sunday). These were publicised on the web-site in advance for prebooking and prepurchase of game tickets alongside convention entry tickets. I THINK a 5th Ed game sold out before the event but most games only sold one ticket, if that.

So I travelled down early Saturday morning. The hotel was a short (<£10) taxi ride from the station. The web-site recommended a couple of buses which I would have tried if I’d had more time.

The Taxi dropped me off at the hotel reception which led to some confusion as I actually got into the convention via the back door. I have to say I was impressed. The hotel was built in 1760 and was well maintained. (Better than the 1910 hotel I’d stayed in the previous week but double the price.) When I found it the convention entrance looked extremely professional with banners, printed programmes and, even, a ConCord convention special laser-cut fantasy football stadium you could buy if you wanted. Less professional was the hand-written flip chart which showed all the available TTRPGs and remaining spaces. Strangely it listed systems but not game details. Eg. My first game was listed as “The Code of the Spacelanes” rather than “Blakes Seven”.

Behind the entrance was a trade hall. Small with eclectic stalls. Lots of demo games in the middle. Drop in board games (professional library) to the side. Two TTRPG side rooms (small one, two tables, near the bar - larger one, three tables, in the bowels of the hotel). Also a very good little seminar room with stage and PA.

Morning games were due to start at 9:30 and AM and, despite my worries, before 10am I had a full table for my Blakes Seven game. Punters buy game tickets at the door and you collect them as Referee and as volunteer comes to collect them.

(There was a full and helpful group of green-shirted volunteers always on hand.)

There was the usual mix of B7 experts and newbies. We even had a fan of the Tarrant era! Vila, Avon, Jenna, Dayna and Tarrant. Great fun but these guys proved expert at side-stepping conflicts and resolving issues by cunning. They also exited by the “back door” which has always been written into the scenario but never found by any previous group.

The official lunch break was 1:30-2:00 but I knew this was tight and wrapped my game up at 1:00

I then blagged an early check in to my room. Very large, 70s decor and facilities.

Went to the bar for lunch. Lager £4.20 a pint. Most lunches £11 ish. But nice. Orders backed up so I ordered a sandwich - £6 but crammed with stuff - not because it would be any quicker but because it could take it into my gaming room if time ran out.

If cost is an issue, Burger King and sainsbury are nearby.

Lots of people in the bar to chat to. I finished my lunch in good time and went to the front desk to check on my game. Only 2 signups. I went to my room to drop some books on the table and a man there checking it out.

I asked if he was looking for my game. He was. I told him there were only two players signed up. He said:

“That’s my boys.”

I asked if he was playing. He said the wasn’t and would be back in a couple of hours!

One thing Referees resent is being used as a crèche. Also there’s child protection issues. I wouldn’t leave my two preteen sons with me.

I don’t mind running games for young people, as long as their parents are present and - preferably - playing. Also this father HAD brought his sons somewhere they wanted to be to participate in a beneficial experience.

I reported the issue to the organisers. The solution was to send me a young lady (20’s) - known to the organisers but not an official volunteer - to play at the table. She was wonderful. Actively participating but also encouraging the two boys. Basically a chaperone. Good solution.

Instead of the full White Dwarf dungeon I ran The Delian Tomb (completely from memory!) and, when they liked that, a further one hour demo of my own design.

We wrapped up after 2 hours and the boys rang their dad and disappeared. I thanked my chaperone and took a rest in my room. Walking past the seminar room I saw Jollyboat setting up. I knew they’d agreed to appear but had assumed they’d be playing the evening slot whilst I was refereeing. It turned out they were playing in the extended break between afternoon and evening games.

(9:30-1:20, 2:00-6:00, 8:00-midnight. ConCord seems wed to the old 4 hour slots which are so difficult to fit into a single day.)

I sneaked in and said “hello” to the guys, gratified they remembered me.

A drink, a bit of reading for my evening game (which has far more moving parts than is usual for my games) and then it was in to see the show. Free. But still the seminar room wasn’t rammed.

This didn’t disturb Jollyboat though who came out and did the same
sort of set they do at U.K. Games
Expo. They just want to be happy singing silly songs and they want you to be happy too. I WAS happy and bought my first (I suspect not my last) Jollyboat T-shirt.

I again chose to eat in the bar. The good looking and sub £10 pizzas were off so I had to have the £10+ fish and chips. As nice and hot and crisp as you’d expect.

My evening horror game only had a couple of signups - I’d thought - but with game swaps and cancellations I ended up with 5 players - at least two highly experienced referees I respected and one player new to TTRPGS. He’d played his first D&D game that afternoon.

I am extremely proud of the concept behind this scenario and won’t spoil it here. I may publish it - it’s that good.

The new player turned out to a TTRPG savante, deliberately playing an absolute buffoon and having the whole table in stitches. One of two experienced referees turned out to have studied Christian History listing Paradise Lost as one of his favourite texts. This trumped my own knowledge (which is firmly based on the films “Constantine” and “The Devil Rides Out”). He successfully and gloriously flipped the script, driving the game to an unexpected but satisfyingly nihilistic conclusion. With every other player happily eating the scenery throughout this was a great way to spend the night.

Breakfast didn’t start until 8:00am and I was there bright and early. This was in the original 1760 courtyard which had been roofed over conservatory style, with thronelike cast iron chairs. The breakfast was a typical hotel buffet breakfast - pretty standard but far from the best I’ve had.

After breakfast I had to pack and check out -meaning I had to carry all my gear with me until the end of the - before going to set up my game. I had no players. Again I think if sign up sheet had said “Judge Dredd” rather than “The Code of the Spacelanes” I might have attracted some people.

The table next to me had one player. So I cancelled my game and joined that one. I had to buy a player’s ticket. We corralled an extra player and so had a 3 player game. Anime style Mech pilots in a wonderful bespoke setting.

This was a playbook style game and I played the engineer (call sign: Write-Off). For me there were a few too many items on the character sheet to keep track of, but these all act as player prompts, keeping the game on trope. There are also systems in play in character creation to build relationships between characters, and ones between games to build the overarching campaign story. Really useful for those unable or unwilling to Roleplay these elements themselves.

We ended up with a single, extended, highly tactical encounter played “theatre of the mind” which felt exactly like the pilot episode of a Netflix-commissioned series about Mecha pilots - and which I enjoyed exactly as much.

We finished early thinking the lunch break was 1:30-2:00 like Saturday. However, it transpired that the
Sunday afternoon slot started an hour later(3:00-7:00) so we had plenty of time.

I again chose to eat in the hotel. This meant ordering a 2 course Sunday lunch. A (newly made at this convention) friend had made his luck roll and accidentally ordered a banned hamburger and chips via a new member of staff. My meal was good but a bit more substantial than I’d needed.

I chose not to attend the raffle but went to my afternoon game. This was a Steampunk scenario using my own Code of Steam and Steel rules. Several months ago I found that I needed new scenarios for the Steampunk conventions I visited and had asked for title suggestions which I could turn into one hour demonstration games. Some of these have proved so popular that I’ve expanded them into full Convention games.

This was the first time I was expanding “Murder on the Occidental Express” like this.

Though things had been quiet in the morning all four of the TTRPGs offered in the afternoon were sold out, including mine. I had five players - a solo D&D player and two married couples - three of whom had never roleplayed before. You’d never have guessed. A ship’s engineer, stage hypnotist, acrobat, Yankee Lawman and Doctor specialising in rare diseases were duly made.

Things started slowly. When I expand a scenario I always add an introductory encounter which takes place before the one hour scenario storyline kicks in. The scene I added - with Goodtime Bertie trying to stowaway to the Americas, proved a trifle bland and will require some tweaking before I run this adventure again.

But once we got into the meat of the adventure - the Murder, the mad dash up and down the 5 great liners making up the “train”, the shootouts, the completely unexpected Botanists’ Convention etc etc it was rollicking good fun. Alas a bit of analysis paralysis meant they were too slow to stop the express being sunk, but at least all the rich passengers survived.

And then I caught my train home.

In summary, I was struck by the similarities between ConCord and Dudley Bug Ball the week before. A bold and brave attempt to run a complete analogue gaming con - along the lines of Expo, AireCon, Dragonmeet and TableTop Scotland. (I didn’t see any CCGs.) Ambitious, well organised and successful but built for a far larger audience than attended - which gives the unfair impression of it being quiet and unsuccessful. It could easily accommodate and cater for 3 times the current attendance - probably more. It has all bases covered.

The venue was good - possibly too good as it was a bit pricey for many gamers. If the event grows I’d recommend the organisers negotiate with the venue’s catering manager to offer some gamer friendly fare as do many other events have done (even Expo).

My only other note would be to have full TTRPG details clearly visible at the front desk rather than just the systems.

But, for some reason, ConCord just made me HAPPY. The completely gratuitous injection of Jollyboat helped, of course. But I think I’m old enough to enjoy eating in a nice hotel. And the company was exceptional. Gamers are always wonderful, of course, but this was a great blend of people.

My costs:

Travel: £24
Accommodation: £84 (1 night inc breakfast)
Taxis £15
Food/drink: c£60
Game ticket: £4

Total: £187

Price per game: £37.40
Price per hour: £9.16

Against this you have to factor in the free Jollyboat spot.

A player would have to pay £20 entry for the weekend and £4 ticket for each TTRPG but there are loads of free activities - seminars, wargames, board games - so you wouldn’t have to RolePlay in every slot. You could also shave costs by staying in alternative accommodation, eating outside the hotel and drinking less lager than me.

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Brass Jester

Acolyte
Staff member
#2
"
One thing Referees resent is being used as a crèche. Also there’s child protection issues. I wouldn’t leave my two preteen sons with me.

I don’t mind running games for young people, as long as their parents are present and - preferably - playing. Also this father HAD brought his sons somewhere they wanted to be to participate in a beneficial experience. "

I totally agree and can't understand some people's attitudes towards their own children. Some years ago, I was running demo games of Necromunda at Games Expo and some guy turned up with his young daughter and announced she wanted to play. I asked how old she was and she said six!. I told him that he would have to stay with her and he got really angry; seriously he was really right in my face. I made the child protection argument, trying to reason with him and he just said that if anything happened to her then it would be my fault!
This was part of the reason why I chose not to do demo games like that anymore; he was the worst, but he wasn't the only one.
 
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