The Owlbear and Wizard's Staff 3

I missed the 2019 Owlbear and Wizard's Staff convention due to only finding out about it the day before the event - particularly annoying as it was in Leamington Spa, an entirely commutable distance from my house. Not wanting to miss out on the following event, and knowing the organiser was keen to have more female GMs next time, I got myself on Twitter to ensure I'd be all set for 2020. Which actually worked out OK in the end.

The event began with the Mitchester Arms getting temporarily taken over for the Owlbar. I'm thoroughly in favour of out-of-game socialising at online RPGs, so would have enthusiastically taken part - had I not been playing the final session of a Call of Cthulhu one-shot. Ahh well. Next time.

Game 1

Things kicked off on Saturday at the thoroughly unreasonable hour of 10am for The Late Shift, a fantasy police procedural set in the city of Sigil using the Dungeon World rules. While it's a bit of an odd time to be playing police (and the GM did note that he wrote the adventure before everything kicked off in America) this felt a lot more Discworld City Watch in tone. RPGs let us play out all our wildest fantasies, and right now my wildest fantasies include going to the pub with friends and having police who actually care about the law.

Planescape: Torment was one of my first introductions to CRPGs and this was the first time I've actually played a tabletop game set in Sigil. It's remarkable how much I remember from a game I played in 2003. The bizarre setting was perfect for the game, with the potential for all kinds of strange things going on for our guardspeople to deal with. Crimes ranged from an exceptionally unpleasant kidnapping to transporting dangeous magical items without a permit.

The Dungeon World system worked really well in Sigil. We had normal D&D style archetypes like an elf ranger, but also more out there things like a salamander immolater, and having played Planescape: Torment, a wizard based heavily around setting things on fire made a lot of sense to me. I played the elf ranger, with my pet lynx, Constable Floof, and I really liked how the rules meant he was useful without slowing down combat by being an extra piece on the board. For a one-shot game I thought it was an excellent choice for playing high fantasy without the crunch of D&D or Pathfinder.

Game 2

In the afternoon I played The Cthulhu Hack, with Paul Baldowski as the GM. The scenario, Forgotten Duty, was enormously fun, with my only complaint being that we couldn't fit it all into the session and had to rush things at the end. (This was including overrunning by an hour, after which we absolutely had to stop because a lot of us had other games to get to.) An intriguing investigation, and one I'm thinking of picking up to run myself - I think it would work as well as a Delta Green scenario as it did for The Cthulhu Hack.

One change to the normal Cthulhu Hack rules was that instead of the various talents my character had last time I played, there were a list of specials at the top of the sheet that we could pick from twice per game. This change was because of players in Paul's previous games entirely failing to use their talents. Mechanically this worked well, but for me I found I lost some of the feel of what my character could do. System-wise I felt like I was somewhere between The Cthulhu Hack and Cthulhu Dark, and losing the strong points of both of them.

It was a clear demonstration of the difference a GM can make to a game. Despite using the same system, this game felt very different to the game I played at Virtually Expo. That game felt 'Call of Cthulhu, but streamlined' while this one felt 'OSR, but Cthulhu'. Both of which are fine, but as someone who's a lot more into Call of Cthulhu than OSR games, I preferred the former.

I enjoyed it enough that I'm feeling motivated to finish reading The Cthulhu Hack and try running it myself.

Game 3

Another outing for my Liminal game, Mother Said I Never Should. My decision not to name the paranormal investigation business the PCs work for continues to pay off. This time it was Spooktacular Solutions who set off in search of a missing teenager.

Rather than talk about this game yet again, I'll just share my top tip for running online convention games: you should always have a plan, and a backup plan, for your AV platform, neither of which should be Roll20. This time I planned to run the whole thing on Discord as usual, but one player's audio wasn't working well (weird robotic sounds) so I switched over to Google Meet.

I'm looking into Jitsi as my replacement backup for once Google Meet gets the one hour limit on free accounts. The only issue I've had with gaming in Jitsi is that I often stretch out the window to be really wide or tall so I can have everyone's video visible while still getting a decent view of a VTT. Zoom, Meet and Discord all change the tiled display to a row or stack when I do that, but Jitsi keeps trying to make a rectangular tile, which is less than helpful when it turns everyone tiny.

I'd love to see a VTT where the AV actually works, but nobody seems to have got there yet.


Sunday morning brought us a panel discussion with people from Pelgrane Press and Modiphius. Once again I really appreciate a panel that isn't all white men. It's so easy to feel like an outsider in a hobby where so few of the participants look like me, and representation like this really matters to me. There was a lively discussion over Zoom, plus the audience chat was hilarious.


I did wonder if GMing in the evening slot after playing two games was a bad idea, as I was likely to be tired by then. As it turns out, running that game energised me. Worth remembering that for future conventions.

What a brilliant event. I only hope we can do it in person next year.

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