Tuesday 5 February 2019

Welcome to the New Year

It seems somewhat appropriate that I'm writing January's blog post about the beginning of the new year on what is the Chinese, and Tibetan, New Year.

January did it's usual of disappearing in a bit of a whirlwind. Besides getting a Cthulhu By Gaslight chapter off to Chaosium and submitting some Blue Rose editing to the lovely Joe Carriker, the first weekend of it was the launch party for the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set. Hosted at the lovely Meeple Perk, and with Newcastle FLGS stalwarts, Travelling Man, getting in copies for eager gamers to get their mitts on, the party saw myself and superb local Keeper, Sean, running six short demos for 23 people over the space of the afternoon. I had great fun and, from the feedback, so did everyone else, too. (The only complaint was from Travelling Man, who wished they'd ordered in more copies of the game to sell, so popular was it!)

And then there was the cake, made specially for us by Beat Boutique Bakery. This glorious tentacular monstrosity (the Call of Cakethulhu, or the Cake of Cthulhu?) was actually a really lovely chocolate cake, and it went down very well with all who dared eat it. (We did keep the Elder Sign intact until the very end, though, just in case).

And, three days after the launch party, we jetted off once more to the Pacific Northwest and the sublime delights of OrcaCon!

I was particularly busy this year, but thankfully not suffering from the hideous cold that meant I have very few memories of OrcaCon 2018, apart from a medicinal hot toddy in the hotel bar, a guest appearance as a philosophical night person in a Blue Rose game, and pancakes at the nearby Chace's Pancake Corral.

Things got off to a flying start on Friday afternoon with my first panel appearance (of five). This one, Being a Non-Mainstream Game Professional, was chaired by the marvellous Steve Kenson, who I had the privilege of working with on Blue Rose. I must admit, I did feel a bit odd, seeing as I am pretty mainstream these days, but I am still a freelancer and it's always a pleasure to wiffle on about such things and hopefully point newcomers in the right direction. (People often don't realise that, even though many of us work for "big" games companies, we're not full-time salaried members of staff in the traditional sense. They also don't tend to realise that most "big" games companies are often only half a dozen permanent members of staff, if that.)

After a bit of mooching about, saying "Hi!" to people and making sure I sated my infinity scarf needs with another visit to the wonderful Sew Cherie, I was back on panel duty for the one I was chairing: RPGs: Art, Education, or Entertainment. What followed was a very enlightening discussion with Gabriel de los Angeles and Kiva Maginn about the nature of games and how we like to compartmentalise things. Not knowing either of my panelists beforehand, I was a little nervous, but they were fantastic and I learned a lot from listening to them.

As a result of the panel, I only managed a brief cameo at this year's Blue Rose game, but it was lovely to pop in and see everyone, even if it was just a flying visit. I also messed up a lot of my timings in regards to meals and stuff on the Friday (I blame jet lag and over-excitement), which meant I was put on the watchlist by the convention folks to make sure I was looking after myself properly for the rest of the weekend. (This is one of the reasons I love OrcaCon - they know we're busy and likely to get distracted, and they're careful to make sure we're not running ourselves ragged as guests.)

Saturday was another busy one: two panels and a game, and I even squeezed in an interview with my old friends, the Geeks of Cascadia. The first panel was Better Realism for Better Worlds: We Did the Research For You. As those of you who know me know, I do love getting down into the research and looking beyond white Western history for inspiration. This was a very interesting panel, and Wes (our host), Katherine, and Tanya all had some wonderful historical tidbits to share with the audience, proving that you really don't have to default to Medieval France every single time.

I got to run After Dark in the afternoon, my current Call of Cthulhu convention scenario. I'd not run it outside Europe before, and you never know which cultural touchstones might not translate across the Big Puddle, but it all went very well, and the players managed to do some truly off the wall things that their European counterparts hadn't thought of!

Evening meant another panel, this time Something at Work in the Soul: Horror in Tabletop RPGs, chaired by the lovely Amanda Hamon. If I remember correctly, I first met Amanda on a panel at OrcaCon a few years ago, so it was great to be back on another one with her. As you might expect, this one ranged over favourite horror settings, how to create atmosphere and pretty much came to the conclusion that if you could, you really should run every horror game in the wine cellar of a castle in the middle of winter...

Sunday was the final day of the con, which is always sad as it's always so much fun. For me, there was still another game and panel to go. Cogs, Cakes and Swordsticks went down well with the players and Big Red (the d6 I always use for convention games) picked another victim for whom she would only roll 1s, so it was nice to be able to tell her other OrcaCon "friend" that he was not the only one to suffer her ire.

Big Red got her name at the first OrcaCon and is somewhat legendary there for her capriciousness. The gentleman in question was playing a ship's barber surgeon and never managed to roll anything other than a 1 the entire game, to the point he was crying with laughter every time he picked up the die and failed, and his crew mates were using him as a threat against their adversaries. In honour of their escapades, they got to name her, and she's been known as that ever since (and that poor, lovely, gentleman has been used numerous times as a cautionary teaching example).

The final panel I was on was Charlatanry and Chincanery: Gamemastering on the Fly, again with Amanda as out host. This one was practical tips and tricks for people who either were GMs or were thinking of becoming one. So, again, hopefully we provided some useful, helpful advice to the people in the audience.

And, as all good thing must, the convention came to an end on late Sunday afternoon. It's always such a welcoming, friendly, and engaging convention, with a host of games, activities, and interesting panels to keep you out of mischief for the course of the weekend. Hopefully, the organisers know how much we love and appreciate it, and the hard work they put in to make it so special. I've met so many wonderful people through it, and had so many great experiences there and it remains one of my most favourite events.

After a few days in Seattle to unwind, recharge, and catch up with friends, I was back home and working on the remaining bits of the Cthulhu by Gaslight update assigned to me. It's always fiddly revamping stuff, having to check everything to make sure it's correct, appropriate and useful. Things have changed so much in game design over the last 30 years, but you have to treat things sympathetically if you're going to retain that spark that made it a beloved product in the first place. Fingers crossed, eh?

And then, of course, there was getting back up to speed with the hieroglyphics. It's amazing how much you forget after a month's break!

And so, until next time. Happy New Year!

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