Furnace starts on a Saturday morning, but unofficially some delegates meet up on the Friday, with one or two organisers for a pint. I’ve done this once before out of the previous three Furnaces, and as some of the Smart Party were joining in this time, we thought we may as well make a proper weekend of it. Friday rush hour traffic being what it is, even finishing at half three with their lazy part-time-teacher hours Lemur and G2 couldn’t get to mine until after seven, but that still left us plenty of time to get up to Sheffield for a few social ones.
Finishing off Pendragon characters while waiting for them, I was somewhat non-plussed to get an abusive phone call from a succession of people at the venue demanding I immediately appear there (regrettably teleportation is only in Star Trek movies, not real life) and generally informing me how rubbish I was (not news, no one is a bigger critic of me than me). I panicked initially that I’d agreed to meet someone at a certain time or something, but came up blank. How bizarre. It was like that time someone had clearly got the wrong number off the back of a van with the “How is my driving?” sticker on and gave me ten minutes of abuse before I could get a word in. Then, having read Jez’s report on UK Roleplayers, I note that its just what happens when someone gives Mick Red a rum and then a phone, in that order.
Still, it seems though that a few people (including our own Baz King) thought that Friday was an official start or something – maybe a more comprehensive guide to the weekend needs writing up for the website, like the one they have for Conception? Regardless, we tipped up got checked in and to the bar for a very respectable half eight and said hello on the way in to a suspiciously quiet room… I was informed at the bar though that a game was going on (Munchaussen), so with discretion the better part of valour, the Smart Party (now reunited with Baz) sat down for Guinness and pub grub. The ever urbane Chairman Spearing was soon on hand and a very gracious host. A pleasant evening was spent with the encouraging of Guinness consumption, toasting the avoidance of thinking about real life and arguing about why your game is clearly rubbish and mine is far superior as any dolt can see. Attendees from New Zealand to Texas, via Germany proves that this con punches above its weight and it was good to catch up with a surprising array of people, including the dreaded Bedtime By 10pm southerners who clearly have different ideas about pub opening hours than everyone else.
The Smart Party had got all bases covered on the gaming front. Obviously I’d brought Savage as is traditional, Pendragon for old skool and Feng Shui for one of the original pseudo-hippy games, all with a zombie theme. Pete was proper hippy with a triple blast of Spirit of the Century and Baz was down with the kids trad, coming fully kitted with D&D 4e. G2 was going hardcore playing, but maybe we’ll tempt to run something next time.
Saturday morning and straight out of the trap we had Tight Purse Harvey and my perennial Savage Pirates game. This sort of thing is a good choice for conventions. Savage fades into the background if you want it to and there’s crunch there for people who prefer to get dirty gamist on its ass. Picking something like Pirates gives people a straight “in” to the game without worrying about strange names, customs or other worries in a new fantasy setting, its all dodgy accents and hamming it up from the get-go. Highlights included Neil “Duty and Honour” Gow picking up a dead French marine by his belt and ruined face and using poor Marcel as a battering ram to assault his former comrades. “Is there a rule for that Gaz?”* Much fun was had. Another moment of note was the characters talking themselves into prison, while throwing away their opportunity to buy their way out of trouble… although in fairness, the Captain didn’t think they had enough cash. Con organiser Elaine was still in denial about this until after the game whereupon I pointed out the big stack of doubloons on her character sheet she’d been ignoring.
Next I played in the Arch Hippy Indie Pete’s Dying Earth game, taking Lemur with me for banter support. It was a good session, with many fine lines and casual backstabbing aplenty, run with aplomb as expected. Regrettably, the game system itself was rather poor, with not enough “game” there for my tastes and the skill resolution being very simple and “final” far too often, and a big list of numbers on my sheet that didn’t come into it anywhere near enough. I’m not convinced by the setting either, which combined with a lacklustre engine means I am not lamenting the game being out of print. Good session nevertheless, with Indie Pete’s usual gusto helping things along and good contributions from all the players, usually helping to stitch themselves up along the way.
Saturday night was King Zombie, for Pendragon. Camelot in ruins, a Romero style apocalypse is sweeping the land. When I first ran this at Tentacles there was definitely a more serious tone, but this time around it came off more Shaun of the Dead than Dawn of the Dead for some reason. Interaction between the players was rife however, with the extremely Pious Christian at odds with the Pagan and his lustful ways, who in turn strived to constantly be the most glorious against a more valorous and swifter knight and so on. The bickering brotherhood somehow managed to make it through alive, one of them even claiming his Lord’s place. I think next time I run this I’ll include more background for the characters, as relying solely on the traits can throw up some erratic results… but then again, everyone seemed to enjoy it, so that’s the main thing.
After games most people retired to the bar, although as many delegates are very local some go home for the evening, and it was a smaller group than you might expect. Nevertheless, very convivial it was. The Smart Party ended up nestled with the Cryptkeeper and Bob the Diceman, and unfortunately (for her), Mrs Cryptkeeper. She did a very good job of smiling politely while everyone else talked about pretending to be goblins or whatever though, so all credit where its due. Many others were around for the odd bit of banter too, with the only shame being that the bar shut just before midnight without warning, but the staff did let us finish our drinks in a leisurely fashion without trying to usher anyone out. The Smart Party sat alone in the end as the lights were turned out and eventually were forced to head for the booze vending machine outside. What a great invention. “Open bottles slowly” was an unnecessary hint, given the speed and height the bottles were dropped.
Sunday we had a casualty – man down! Baz King had lost his voice in the previous evening’s D&D game (God’s way of telling people not to play 4e no doubt) and so eventually and reluctantly had to admit he wasn’t going to play or run anything that day. What a shame. On the plus side he managed to win something in the raffle, and so had something to read while taking the early train home. Bad news is, it was Mouse Guard. Bring on the War Goose.
We played Hot War in the morning with the ever-reliable and extremely decorous Scott Dorward. G2 was well pleased with getting in on the act due to Baz being tacit and Lemur got stuck in properly once he realised my character was his Dad and not his lover, which caused a little initial confusion. Dialogue between players was zinging and everyone got the hang of helping out on the side of the conflict that was interesting, rather than all the players sticking together versus the GM, or simply trying to stitch someone up. I like the negative traits idea and this time round I didn’t seem to get into the death spiral that I did on the previous con game, where my character was effectively crippled for the last hour. I may well use this as an engine for a Delta Green game I’ve got planned as there are some conflicting goals and agendas and this seems built for it. Good session, well played and ably refereed.
Lunch was provided in the form of sandwiches and chips, although in notable shorter supply then previous years. As we’d somehow accidentally ended up at the front of the queue though it didn’t impact my gang too heavily, and the organisers ensured a fresh supply was on the way when it became apparent that there was a shortage. Free coffee on both days is a nice touch and most welcome and it was definitely needed for the final slot. Before that however, there was a raffle and I managed to win something, as did many other people. When it was announced that moonshine was in the prize draw, as one man the room shouted “That’s Mick Red’s”. Sure enough, first ticket out of the box was his and the sight-reducing liquor claimed. A nice little bonus that bit and with a reward voucher for people running more than one game, the con proves it knows how to look after its delegates.
Finally for the con I was running Feng Shui. Bit of a blast from the past this one, and I wasn’t 100% confident of running it, but I think it came off okay. As some people had to leave (due to confusion over which day to take as holiday one feels) it’s a reduced numbers slot and everyone is flagging a little. So, I’d picked this game as something easy to get your head round. Its Hong Kong action and you’re using 2d6. Cool. It definitely feels like one of those games ahead of its time, yet a bit dated now. Some parts are hideously convoluted (some specific schticks) while most of the system is simplicity itself. If it was written now, it would be a really good hippy indie left field game – it would be nice to see it revisited and a new set of mechanics put in. The setting material and GM advice are as fresh today as when they were written. Everyone seemed to get into the spirit, especially characters with limited or no special powers – the beauty of this game definitely comes from players bringing the awesome, which they did. It was very funny watching Chairman Spearing throw himself out of a 30 story building while all the other players wondered what the hell he was doing. Immunity to Falling Damage is a great power, especially when you don’t tell anyone about it first. Top game, run at high-octane pace (even by my standards) meant even though it was standard FS construction, we wrapped up in 2½ hours rather than 4. I don’t think this was a bad thing though, as I was near burn out point and I’d rather finish with a high, at the end of a tight, fun game, than drag something out longer than it should for the sake of an arbitrary time slot. Hopefully the players agree.
Final goodbyes and then the remaining Smart Party went off to Pizza Hut for a bite to eat and debrief, we’d had pub food, McDonalnds, KFC and petrol station sandwiches, so it seemed important to complete the set of all the junk food Hillsborough had to offer. A fine convention yet again, I’ve bee to all four and this year was as good, if not better, than any of the others. The committee are on the whole receptive, vibrant and adaptable, friendly and genuinely interested in making sure the delegates have a good time. The delegates themselves are largely of a higher calibre than normal for geeky cons I would argue and same goes for the games both in selection, breadth and quality. It’s the only con I know where you have to turn away people wanting to run games, “stop, stop, we’ve got too many!”.
Overall I’m extremely pleased to have been in on the ground floor for this one, and able to help build it in my own little way by running games and encouraging others to come with me and do the same. I’m not sure where it would go from here, even if it *should* go somewhere else. I’m not convinced bigger would necessarily better – the array of games is awesome and everyone can get in one and seems happy with the selection. In a con that’s All About The Games™ its risky to change up. Also the venue is perfectly fit for purpose (well, as good as you’re going to get for the money) and I’m not sure somewhere bigger would have the charm, nearby facilities and set up. But maybe there is somewhere else it could be held and as long as all the other factors can stay in place and make it the same but bigger? As long as I’ve got my place secured for next year and can bring the Smart Party to run another brace of solid games, I’ll be happy.
Congratulations and thanks to the organisers for their generosity and best con yet (there, I said it). Kudos also to all the players for bringing the fun to the games, Scott and Indie Pete for reffing with style and grace, all the pseudo friends I got to catch up with or chat to properly for the first time (especially Mike “Moonshine” West for his Texan supplies). I’d be happy to hear any constructive feedback about games I ran, feel free to PM me, come visit the Smart Party blog (see sig) or whatever. Everyday’s a school day. My only regret is that I had some expertly crafted badges to hand out, generously provided by the Arch Hippy, but completely forgot about them, so I didn’t get chance to hand out the Evilgaz Approved rewards that were deserved in many quarters.
Furnace is dead. Long live Furnace.
* For those too curious for their own good, I went with Intimidation. It could just as easily have been an Improvised Weapon or straight-up Opposed Strength roll with the marine being rammed. To be fair this was the first serious challenge I’ve had in picking the right tool for the job in Savage.