Grogmeet - 9th November 2019 - Fan Boy 3, Manchester

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Grogmeet, 9th November 2019 - Fan Boy 3, Manchester

TLDR: Offshoot of the charming Grognard Files podcast. Clear USP. Games from "back in the day" for players who were there to see them. Heaven for Grognards.

There is an extremely quirky and charming UK based podcast where the host "Dirk the Dice" talks "bobbins" about games from "back in the day" - the early days of the hobby from the 1970's and 80's. It is an absolute delight and, through its consistency and success - they've even interviewed Ken St Andre! - has developed somewhat of a cult audience. With its success it's diversified into a classically-styled fanzine, an online convention and a face to face convention.

Full disclosure - I never seem to have the time to listen to it. I'm aware of it because Dirk interviewed me about the early days of Golden Heroes. I'm not part of a fan group or the patreon for the podcast. So when the second Grogmeet was organised, I didn't look into it or consider attending as I thought it was for fans and patreon supporters of The Grognard Files. But Dirk invited me personally to run Golden
Heroes and it would have been churlish to refuse.

As is becoming common these days, the convention was managed mainly through Social Media, especially Twitter. So attendees were individually micromanaged prior to the event with games being advertised in advance and booked into via the
WarHorn app.

The con was initially billed as a one-day event but, as the date drew nearer and people began chatting on Twitter, it seemed grow. A game of "Mothership" was offered on "Grogmeet Eve" - the day before - which somehow seemed to grow into a mini event of its own. I don't know all the details but some people posted about playing two games on the Friday before the main event and there was some drinking. This passed me by. Probably a good thing as I work on Friday and would have been too tired had I come up.

A live recording of the podcast in front of an audience was also arranged for the Sunday. So there was scope for a full weekend event. Especially if you enjoy socialising, drinking and are a fan of the podcast.

But for me, it remained a one day event.

Though I was invited to Referee Golden Heroes, the event suffers from the UK curse of having far far too many brilliant referees offering games. So I was asked to Referee in a slot and play in the other slot. Games booked up via WarHorn incredibly quickly as people rushed to play the ones they wanted. Whether a classic game and scenario from back in the day that they'd never played but always wanted to, or just relive old times with a system they'd always loved. I wasn't that bothered and left choosing to the last minute and promptly forgot what I'd picked.

Twitter based cons are as much about the anticipation as the event. The run-up the the event was a flurry of excited tweets. Dirk posting about the Grog-merchandise he'd commissioned, people for whom this seems to be their only or first con posting about their game prep etc. TBH seeing everybody posting their game bling made me feel a bit ashamed about my own fairly basic prep. Just taking the old stuff out of the wardrobe and dusting it off.

Birmingham to Manchester is a short hop, so I decided to travel up in the morning and back the same day, making it a simple two slot game day for me. Because I was running a trad SHRPG, I was travelling with maps and figures. Grrr. I prefer modern times. "Theatre of the Mind" - less to carry.

As so often happens I bumped into Pookie, my fellow convention organiser of Spaghetti ConJunction, and we spent the journey chatting about the next SCJ and putting the TTRPG world to rights generally.

Grogmeet takes place in Fan Boy 3. This is a superb gaming venue and is rapidly becoming one of the key UK TTRPG convention hotspots. It may be the best game day venue in country. Certainly if any TTRPG event is arranged there, I'll consider coming. (Unless - BurritoCon - it's on the same date as one of my own events....) I thoroughly recommend it as a venue if you see an event advertised there or want to run one of your own.

We arrived shortly before the doors opened. A small group of fans were there early and Dirk arrived and began handing out minty balls to suck on to keep out the cold. He also was distributing "merchandise" to those who'd preordered it. Grognard Files mugs, t shirts, dice trays, dice etc. Sometimes taking payment for them. He was like a mixture between DelBoy and a Drug Dealer. Shows how much people want to part of the Grognard Files community.

When the door opened, I snagged a table and began setting up. The event was supremely well organised. Lists of the games and players were put out on a central table and every table had a preprinted sheet which showed what games were on that table in the morning and afternoon sessions. In a masterstroke, the same sheet was also printed as a X-card, so every game automatically had one. It wasn't optional. Even though the event was for old school gamers. And there was no dissent.

I was handed a Referee's pack, a sealed parcel as thanks for running a game. I haven't opened it yet.

Having snagged the table I nipped downstairs to the lower floor to visit the gents. There I realised my mistake. The upstairs floor is the shop and has nice coloured round tables to play on. Downstairs is a bit less salubrious but with the larger rectangular wooden tables. I hadn't realised how big Grogmeet was. They'd booked out the whole two floors of the shop. I could have had a bigger table in the quieter room downstairs!

Doors opened at 9:30 and games were due to start at 10:00, but I had two players at my table ready to go by 9:40. I'd opted to have players create their characters at the table. Many reasons for this but the main was was that character generation was such key feature of Golden Heroes that I didn't feel I was fully showcasing the game if I used pregens.

And I was right. Despite the relative complexity of the system, the combination of people who had experience of the game alongside newbies who were just skilled players meant we soon had five excellent Heroes, all of whom deserved their own their own comic.

- Overlord, the walking tank
- R4 an artificial lifeform with the ability to affect electricity and temperature.
- Tepe Nahuatl, Aztec god of earthquakes
- BlackThorne, a sorceror
- Amphibeing - a hyper-evolved frog

They decided to start as a team (not my preference) - The Brum 5. It later turned out they'd only teamed up for Tax Purposes, not to actually fight crime together.

The scenario I ran was "The Long Minute" - which I'd previously run at The Owl Bear and Wizard's Staff convention. (And many other conventions over the years.) I can't give away the story because of the mystery at its heart. (Something to do with Time.) Suffice to say if found it a bit of a rush at OB&WS and tried conflating the first two scenes into one this time around. This made it all a bit too confused. Much as I love this scenario, it might be time to retire it unless I get a longer slot at a convention and - possibly - have the characters created BEFORE the event.

The first slot at Grogmeet runs from 10:00am to 1:30pm. By 12:00 noon everything was on track. Then something really did happen with time. The "Roleplaying bit" flew by and suddenly it was 1:00pm and I had to rush the final scene and encourage the players to find a way to finagle it. Luckily Blackthorne did something clever with his illusions and convinced the villain his plot had been thwarted (when it hadn't, yet) causing him to depart swearing to come back to get his revenge.

It had been a great time with some excellent players. One of them hadn't played for decades and this was his first convention and first game back on the scene. Another hadn't been born when GH was first published and had only heard about it online. He acted as virtually an assistant referee, prompting the other players before I could many times. I could have happily run another two hours with this group.

Though Grogmeet seemed to have booked all the gaming tables, the shop was extremely busy, with lots of customers in store browsing the immense selection of games and accessories.

Fan Boy 3 sells drinks, snacks and some basic sandwiches. Oddly you get these from one corner of the shop but then proceed to the till in the other corner to pay, a system that relies upon the honesty of the customers. And, in the only flaw in the whole set up, the shop seems to have a single coffee machine that, slowly, dispenses one cup at a time. They definitely need to invest in something faster. You could stay in the shop and buy some sandwiches. But most people nip out for an hour at lunchtime to browse for something to eat.

There isn't a big chain nearby but there are lots of more bijoux places to eat. I saw a sign pointing down a side street and discovered high end shabby chique venue selling posh kebabs. Full of hipster mums. I had a really nice Lamb Shwarma (and paid for it). The antithesis of gamer food but I'm old enough to have earnt it.

I returned to find out that I'd signed into the classic "death dungeon" The Tomb of Horrors. The Referee was the young guy who'd acted as my A-Ref in the GH game in the morning. He was running the game using rules of his own design - built on an Advanced Fighting Fantasy base with various ideas from elsewhere. Strangely at least two of the other players had been in my GH game in the morning.

We had a selection of pregens (on cute 3 p-fold A5 character sheets). I ended up with the guy with etiquette, a good weapon, tired horse and crown. Clearly a deposed Prince. We also had a woodsman, a sapper, a rhinoman and a couple of others who's exact skills I've forgotten (sorry).

Anyone who knows the dungeon knows it's a classic slog vs. deadly traps. Also, though the game system was Superlight and has great potential for pick up Swords and Sorcery games, I felt it wasn't a great match for this particular module. I should have hated this session.

But I loved it. Firstly the Referee wasn't merely good, he was gifted. His going round the table doing the intros at the beginning was clearly a step up from the norm. I later found out that he was knowingly applying techniques used in support groups where people find it difficult opening up eg. AA meetings. Secondly the other players had the mixture of experience, charm and gregariousness that seems to typify Grognard cult members. We played sensibly and cautiously all the way through but at the end my character was stripped naked by a trap - losing all of the party's meagre loot in the process - and then died by stepping in a Sphere of Annihilation. I would have happily played another couple of hours with this group.

Throughout the venue there were about a dozen games being run in each of the day's two slots and - as far as I can tell - they all seem to have been of superior fare. By having a clear USP - "games from back in the day" - this convention has a consistency many lack.

Many went to have a few social drinks and stayed in Manchester overnight. Tomorrow there's a live recording of The Grognard Files which they can take part in. If you're a fully paid up member of the Grognard cult, there's a whole weekend of fun to be had here. Me? I chose to catch a train home having had a great day playing games with some wonderful people. It's the first time in ages I've wished both the games I've played had been longer.

Listening to podcasts isn't something I do. But The Grognard Files is the best of those I have tried. I'll say it again, having a clear USP helps. As does the wit and charm of its presenter and the fact that it's structured more like a proper radio show than a Podcast. I never post links but here's one for you try:

And because this convention draws from the audience of such a focussed show it gives the whole thing a coherency others lack. Throw in the (almost) perfect venue and I can't recommend Grogmeet highly enough.

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