How can you not be tempted by a journey to play games in a castle on the Rhine? I was there for my third year and it was as great as ever.
The journey to Bacharach was as easy as ever, with only a slight delay at the airport on the Deutschland side while the bus turned up, but the sun was shining and a free beer on the journey over was most welcome. Everything about the con was ruthlessly organised as always, with the notable exception of games, for which there seems to be an almost masochistic desire to make it a scrum to sign up for things. I took to my usual method of avoiding troubles by taking lots of games to run. Apparently I now hold the record for most games played at a Tentacles, and as that was the last one…
The opening ceremony was short and snappy, with the simple instruction to make this convention, the last one, its best ever. Tick. Friday night can often turn into a socialising booze-fest, but this year I was determined to have gameage. I put up a Nordic Pendragon and got a couple of extra players, besides Kenners and Jules who I’d pre-signed for the game. It went well, with the other players joining in and doing some character stuff alongside the smiting of Christians who’d foolishly wandered into their Odinic lands. Curiously, as often seems to happen these days, the Berserker had real trouble in fights, whereas the Scop (bard) was kicking bottom all over Zealand.
Saturday started with the game sign up riot. I’d loaded up Saturday with my own games and so could hit the Sunday board hard while no one was looking. After signing us up for a Vietnam Cthulhu (and why not?), I headed off for a wander round the town and along the Rhine with Kenners and the Masonator. Some food and a few pleasant drinks later and it was back up the mahoosive “hill” to the castle to run my Squires in the Hole game. In the true multi-national style of the convention I had players from Great Britain, Iceland, Germany and Essex. It went well enough and fun was had. Not sure I’d do it again. If I do, I’ll have to big the up the Knights more and conceive of their over-the-top personalities in advance (with the aid of Personality Traits etc). I was concerned with this and the last game that weak armour on the characters in the brutal world of Pendragon might be an issue, but I think we got away with it.
For the evening slot I’d got a zombie apocalypse Pendragon ready to go and I think it worked very well indeed. Most people were down with staying knightly, despite some pressures from the outside not to be, and everyone got stuck in. I’m going to refine the game and run it again, probably at Furnace, this time putting more effort into the characters and pushing the personality traits more. I had one character who should have proved to be a source of concern for the other knights, but instead he turned out to be a concern for the players and of course, me. Apparently beer is expensive in Norway, although that’s no excuse for getting utterly wasted all day and turning up to a game stone drunk, as one Norwegian did. I eventually got to a final warning with him, then he left of his own accord. I reckon on reflection I should have been firmer earlier. It was impacting on everyone else’s fun and I should have just shut him down early. Having said that, the other players could have told him off too. Food for thought on that one, but I won’t be standing for it again… The game itself was tasty.
Sunday we played in the Vietnam game. It was okay, but regrettably suffered from some classic Cthulhu-at-a-con mistakes, such as a lack of pace and description, so we were all unclear on what was going on, endless repeats of the same skill roll until someone got a pass (and not solely the usual Spot Hidden, repeat until fade) and the old cryptic weird shenanigans until the monsters turned up to eat us. On the whole, I’ve had much worse games, but I’ve had better too.
To fill in the afternoon while we had time to spare, I jumped in with an ad-hoc scenario and the ongoing tales of Tight Purse Harvey. Upon printing character sheets I was challenged that this wasn’t a Chaosium game, quickly followed with “its okay, Pirates are cool”. Yet again the organisers showed their usefulness, giving me full access to a laptop and printer and guillotine for the paper too, all without complaint or faff. Tick VG. The game was über fast and furious, which everyone was into – its just a shame Jules was asleep in the room when we’d started and not out in the sunshine playing, as he can game it like a mofo. Fun was had, lots of people humiliated or gelded or killed. Sometimes all three. Savage still rocks, it needs to be played a couple of time to get the hang of how it all fits together and how players can help each other out etc., but the engine is still smooth bore enough to get people stuck into loads of action quickly and effectively.
The evening I ran a short session of straight up Pendragon for some of the usual suspects, reanimated Kult of Keepers and Smart Party members. It took a little while to get going and once we were in the action, we didn’t have much time before we had to stop for the auction. But the meat at the end was good. If I’d had another hour to play out what happened next, I think we could have got quite a lot more from it, but ultimately it was a perfectly fine session and no worse off for being played in the tower of German castle overlooking the Rhine.
One thing that came out of the Pendragon sessions was Rick (aka Indy Pete) proffering his opinion that the combat should be just one roll. I’ve been half tempted by this, but not yet taken the bait. I’d probably try something like a best out of three, rather than trust to the vagaries of 1d20, but I could see some value there. Of course, I’ve no real problem with the system as it stands, combat could do with more options or something else to make it more interesting, but stick in some Berserk attacks from NPCs if things are getting staid and it soon comes to an end one way or the other. Something else to think about though.
The closing ceremony was quite a teary thing in some quarters and somehow it didn’t really feel like the end. Again, it was kept as short as possible, with the thanks being whipped through quickly and sincerely as a reminder that this is, very much, a German convention. Apparently there was an 80’s disco on, something I find abhorrent and so I stayed outside with others to watch things being burned and receive Jägermeister hand grenades. It was a good time to have some beers and chew the fat.
Of course, by Monday morning I wasn’t for giving in and had gamely challenged Indi Pete / Rick to run a DitV for us, which he accepted with his normal aplomb. Despite his subversive use of hippy techniques, it was another good performance, with strong characters and scenes delivered with much gusto. I think the Smart Party’s Pirate Julio was still a little fuzzy on the system, even after the game, but he joined in with his Big Hat often. I feel I even out-hippied AK on several occasions in my push for scene narration and pace. It was an enjoyable game, although I’m still not struck on DitV, even if everyone keeps telling me I’d be good at it and should run it. Its got me wondering about Hot War though and if I should give that a bash for wont of something hippy to run.
The coach home was on time, even after the ever-efficient Fabian and team had left, and getting home was less arduous than some trips to Conception for example. A fantastic holiday-con that will be sorely missed. I hear two different groups are thinking of organising something, so I’ll watch with interest, but to be honest I think the Tentacles team did right to finish on a high. I’m less sure about turning up for a fan based follow up. Kind of like going to see a band after the lead singer’s died and the the bass guitar player is in rehab. But we’ll see. There’s even talk of a few friends organising a trip over for our own gaming fun.
Probably worth mentioning that apart from the above, there was lots on for the casual gamer if so inclined. A fantastic miniatures game by the ever-prolific Gregory Privat that light-up exploded bits and everything, a Horror film quiz, with clips from movies, a couple of movies shown later on, pub quiz, a variety of seminars, panels and other fripperies and oddities such as Live Troll Ball with inflatable weapons and water bombs and a group photo for posterity, the release of HQ2 (odour yet to be determined) and BRP Rome. Plenty of board games seemed to be played too and there were traders selling funky dice (Q-Workshop), Pegasus selling absolutely beautiful CoC products, that desperately need translating to English, and more traditional games and such.
Tentacles, remarkably, was as cheap as ever to Europeans, but regrettably for Englanders the exchange rate means I was spending half again as much on it this time as two years ago. Still, at €2,10 for a delicious and pure beer (from the dark Schwartz through Weiss and including Pils and Alt), it was still cheaper boozing than a bar in England. Food became expensive, but the convention overall was *extremely* competitively priced.
Still in my opinion the best convention ever. The only thing that really needs addressing is the game organisation. If slots were allocated in the same ruthlessly efficient fashion as the rest of the convention, it would be awesome. Regrettably, with such a packed schedule, its probably impossible to fit slots round everything else that’s going on, but you can’t have everything and I’d rather have some better defined slottage. Arguably, a broader choice of games too, but if you run off the official program with your games, you can get away with anything, and even stuff on the program can be more or less anything you want (Hawkmoon using Savage, Heroquest <insert any genre here>, AD&D has even been played). Some people aren’t happy with accommodation, and the bedroom situation could be improved. But you’re in a freaking 12th Century castle overlooking the Rhine. So suck it up.
Awesome convention, great time had, friends met and gamed with, new gamers found, 7 games played or run, pure, high quality hangover-free beer drunk etc.