Furnace Reflections on Furnace 2019

Reflections on Furnace 2019

Slot One

I ran D&D 5e as a fill-in game and then more I think about it, the angrier I am with myself about the outcome. The players did really well with what they were presented with, but what they were presented with simply wasn’t good enough. The scenario (ragtag survivors defend dwarven hold against goblin army) was, in essence, a reverse dungeon - where the monsters were trying to break in, rather than defend. Cute … and indeed, too cute. That would make a great scenario for my usual games, like Fate, where there is a lot more player-driven action. However, for D&D there is a certain expectation in the ruleset that the DM is a bit more generous with the plot. I wasn’t. It was a situation rather than an adventure.

My grasp of the learning curve of 5e also let me down. Everyone had played a little D&D but even with the veterans playing the more difficult characters (who, in the blue hell, had the idea of making one of the pre-gens a Druid Snirfneblin?) there are a lot of fiddly little bits that can be easily be missed, especially with higher (4th) level characters. Even the nuances of memorised spells vs spell slots vs cantrips aren’t obvious.

My decision to use the D&D Beyond character sheets was utter folly. Those things are ridiculous - the unnecessary detail for a one-off is too much, and the font is so small as to be almost unreadable at the best of times. Put them in the dimly lit cells of the dungeon, with a load of … ‘people of accelerated years and decelerated eyesight’ … and it was a farce.

I was not happy after this one. I made a ton of rookie errors and could have easily run the same scenario using a different system quicker and more easily for all involved.


Slot Three

Duty and Honour v2 playtest - sponsored by the near-constant ‘encouragement’ of Gaz. There is a phenomenon in professional wrestling where the audience chants ‘Fight forever!’ for a match that they are particularly enjoying. This was like the gaming equivalent. Another fill-in game, this one gave me the impetus to write up the new rules for D&H and give them a spin. A familiar enough scenario - the remnants of an ambush are given orders from their dying officer that must be delivered back to base - was lifted by Declan’s plucky, yet doomed, ensign, Gaz’s grizzled sergeant and Pete’s vicious sharpshooter private.

I was thrilled that the game delivered even more of the card flop thrills than the original version. The new rules make challenges more dangerous and damaging, with the players having to strike a real balance between boosting chances of success and soaking damage. The Skirmish rules are still, to me, the gem of the game. The new tweaks to the Mission system make it worth your while to complete one fully.

I think, maybe, I fell in love with my own game again that night.

It didn’t hurt that Gaz and I had an intense brainstorm about massed combat - the bane of the original game - and came up with the most obvious, yet beautiful solution.

Slot Five

Marvel Superheroes in the 1980s for comic nerds. And this game illustrated for me a couple of crucial things. The first is that your con games cannot be clever. I tried to be clever. I wanted to run a game that was specifically for comic nerds. I wanted a game that was bedded down in the history of the era, with that flavour and without having to explain everything. Nope. Nope. Nope. That’s just bad. It didn’t work. Christ, one of the players wasn’t even born in the 1980s (maybe not even the 1990s!) so a lot of the game was based on a lot of exposition and ‘lore snippets’ which was exactly what I didn’t expect. The second is that players will not self-select out of a game based on the blurb. I couldn’t have been more specific and yet still...

Actually there was a third point which mirrors the observations on D&D. Marvel Superheroes is essentially the OSR of superhero games. And it shows. The system is one dimensional and whilst there are probably some nuances hidden away in there, I didn’t see them. The very ‘hit, armour, hit points’ attrition of the entire affair was just dull and relied upon the players to narrate in their own effects etc. That’s an old school amount of heavy lifting to be dropped on a game and I think I did the most GM-narration I have done in ages.

Tip of the hat goes to Declan for finding and bringing a slew of Heroclix, to give the game a more coherent shared imaginary space. Thanks, mate

What have I learned?

  1. I’m finding the dungeon cells increasingly difficult to use for games. As a player, I find getting in and out of them almost impossible. And the bad lighting doesn’t work well with my failing eyesight. I actually enjoyed the Armoury and the Dungeon more this year.
  2. I really do not have the time and mental space anymore to whip up filler games like I used to and it might be to the benefit of everyone involved if I kerbed my enthusiasm!
  3. It is better to do one really good game than one good one and a couple of questionable ones.
  4. There are systems that I am really at home with - Fate, PbTA etc - and I really should just stick to them. The prep is easier, the games are smoother and I feel calmer about it all.

A couple of final points - not one part of this self-reflective critique is aimed at my players who were uniformly excellent. And I haven't mentioned the two great games I played in (Guy’s Star Trek and Glenn’s Star Trek adventures) on purpose. This is just me doing a bit of navel-gazing.
I started reading these reflections whilst waiting for my taxi back from Sainsbury. Now I’m home I had to finish reading them before unpacking my shopping.

THANK YOU! As someone I respect as a designer, referee, player and commentator on the hobby to publicly come out with such detailed self analysis and criticism is incredibly helpful both technically and personally.

“I fell in love with my own game again..” was particularly poignant for me.


Level 7 Blingmaster
Best place for running games at the Garrison is the Dungeon downstairs or the Upper Gaolhouse.
The Terrace is good if weather permits.

First Age

D&D h@ck3r and Hopepunk
Staff member
As an aside, I wish you'd mentioned the light. I had two LED lanterns with me in case we had a light failure in the cells and you'd have been welcome to one of them.
Excellent Dom, just another example of your inventive organiser thinking.

More broadly, I wonder if we need to consider these as a permanent fixture, or go for some brighter bulbs in the uplighters?
I still prefer the cells as a location, but agree wholeheartedly about the light. Combined with my need to wear reading glasses these days, it's not great. I was ok running a game, as I was referring to notes on my iPad, but there was definitely some squinting involved in Gaz's cell game.


The Guvnor
Staff member
You are very good at con games.
They tend to not be these sorts of games.
I think you were having a bit of a grognard moment.
We would play that kind of crunchy D&D builds at our local tables, even system averse moi, but 4th level Druid Snirfneblin was an ask with a group that wasn't tight with the current ruleset.
Ditto MSH, that wasn't system but the ask that only 80s Marvel comic experts played. That is also an ask outside of a comic con IMHO.

However.... from the chat in the car home, it sounds like both games actually went far better than you are remembering.

This is just a critical self learning moment, right?
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Is it BAD that a wee small voice in the back of my head is whispering that I should run a Marvel Mash-up in that slot NEXT year? (If i can dig out the old character stats from where they’re buried in my loft sometime in the next 12 months.) Being in Neil’s game made me miss the games we used to run at conventions.