Last weekend I was at 7 Hills, the TTRPG convention I co-run. It was, from my point of view anyway, excellent. Before the event both myself and Jag (my fellow organiser) had I think been musing over whether it was worthwhile continuing, and separately had decided that unless it was a “Hell, Yeah” we might need to lay the con down. It was emphatically a Hell Yeah from both of us, and we’ll be returning in 2024. In fact, we’re even looking at a Virtual Seven Hills in 2023 – all details on the website above.
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7 Hills is themed, with all games loosely (sometimes very loosely) linked to the theme, and this year’s was Change – which seemed to be suitably flexible to provide an inspiration push without holding GMs back. It’s also, like all conventions based in the Garrison Hotel, all about games – there isn’t anything to do apart from play games, and that’s by design. Each slot, everyone is playing – we have the odd trader (All Rolled Up were there this year, and we’re looking at some longer-term links with them too) but the main focus is, as it should be, play.
The first thing to reflect on is that running 2 games as well as organising the con is probably one too many. Or at least, I could have run 2 games using the same system – that would have made it more manageable. I went into the con with the least prep for my two games I’ve done for a while – and although they went well (more on that later) it wasn’t my best work. I’ll try to run both of them again, and post them on here, but they definitely need some fleshing out. So, here’s some things I learned from games run and played – a mixture of reflections and reviews
Urban Jungle is a Solid System
It’s an unusual setting, to be sure – anthropomorphic noir, where animals run around doing gangster stuff in a range of easily-recognisable American city parallels (I went for New Orleans-inspired Bellegarde for my game).The system does a clever trick of making non-combat characters effective, and the whole thing felt suitably dark and moody. As with everything, putting animals in makes it accessible – nobody worried about how to engage with noir or if their characters were doing the right thing in genre – hat tip to my player with the moody lion accountant!
I’ll be running this out at conventions in the future too, and if you want to see more of the system in action, check out Round About Midnight, a ready-made adventure for it from when I ran it before.
Soulbound is a Really Solid System
I’ve blogged before about Age of Sigmar: Soulbound, the high fantasy superhero opposite to WFRP, and I ran it again at Seven Hills with a self-penned adventure – and it really pops. A simple 3 fight structure, an investigation montage borrowed from 13th Age, and a straightforward plot made this a fun one-shot, and it’s certainly a game I’ll come back to again and again.
Ironsworn: Starforged Has More Potential Than I Thought
I’m a big fan of Shawn Tompkin’s Ironsworn, and although I backed Starforged, there seemed to be too much of it going on for me to wrap my head properly around it. It’s a solo-ish system that also allows for group collaborative or guided (with a GM) play, and its sandbox oracle creation stuff really sang in the game that we played. I need to get back to both Ironsworn and this game and give it a proper run out – there’s some balancing I need to get my head around about progress tracks, but I think I need to just suck it and see what happens. Either way, a nice game that fits into the “narratively crunchy” end just where I like it.
PBTA Games Need Tighter Sandboxing
I played Root (really excellent system, and, yes, more animals) – I really liked the gameplay, but some of the structure of the one-shot left me puzzled. In Root the default structure is that you come to a Clearing (the woodland settlements of the game) and encounter a number of multi-layered conflicts, which you can then interact with in a few different ways to resolve. Each Clearing has 3 or more conflicts, and multiple ways to interact with them. While this made for open, free-styling play, I’d have preferred a tighter sandbox for the one-shot. In our game, we went off in about three different directions, and met (or heard about) a wide array of NPCs that led to a bit of analysis paralysis from us.
This wasn’t a fault of the GM, who was great at bringing action and building to a climax (and when we forced it to kick off a bit, ran with the punches well) – but a tweak to the structure would have helped, maybe by reducing the number of NPCs or the complexities of the Clearing’s conflicts, or starting with more of an implied focus on one of the conflicts.
Ways to do this? Well, I’m a fan of Agon’s islands approach of “Do you do this, or this, or something else?” – and also the Apocalypse World one-shot starter of “You’re tied to a chair – who did this to you?”. Either way, starting with a bit more direct peril would have helped to get us on the same page from the start.
Pendragon Remains A Classic
I’ve yet to run Pendragon, somehow, at conventions, but have played more and more of it recently. It’s just a very easy game to get solid one-shot play out of – all the PCs have a means to adventure together and a clear mission, there’s lots of roleplaying juices to flow with your squires and the various other knights you find, and combat is brutal and swingy enough to have genuine peril in it. Our game ended in a near-TPK (with the survivors joining the evil fae spirits) and it was all genuine great fun. I need to get this to the table soon.
So, a successful convention – and if you’re up for Seven Hills 2024, or even Virtual Seven Hills, let me know and check out the website.