Conventions are great. A chance to play games with like-minded people, and to spend time with too much drink, too much food, and not enough sleep. Back in the day, “Con Reports” used to be a thing – forums would fill up with people’s reports of the games they’d played, the fun they’d had, what they had for lunch and how much it cost (the lunch, not the convention – I kid you not). You don’t see them much anymore, but after going to Revelation – the sixth annual(ish) Powered by the Apocalypse convention in Sheffield, I thought I’d write down some thoughts.
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Revelation is a weekend event where all the games are Powered by the Apocalypse (PBTA), Forged in the Dark (FITD), or related derivations. After some pushing the organisers, I got confirmation that e.g. Spire, Heart, Belonging Outside Belonging and similar games would work fine – basically, if it’s been informed by the sort of gameplay that PBTA engenders, it’s good to go. Which means, you get a tight range of games, and a group of players that dig shared narrative. Running PBTA at Revelation is less of a risk than at some other cons – less of a risk that the players will plan or turtle, or not want to just play to find out. Of course, after making a fuss about what games were allowed, I ran two ‘classic’ PBTA systems.
This year was about 25-30 punters, five slots, and a mixture of single-session and multiple-slot games. I’m not usually a fan of multi-slot con games as it reduces the choice for everyone, but I can grudgingly agree that at Revelation it makes sense so you can see PBTA/FITD games over a longer period. And I can’t talk, since I’ve run double-slotters a few times at them. Like all the Garrison cons, it’s all about the games – there are no seminars or other events, so the norm is to play in every slot – I like this, play is the centre of the hobby and the most important thing we do. We should be going to conventions to play, and conventions should be putting play at the centre of everything.
I ran a double-slot two-table cross-universe game of Masks with my co-MC Neil, and a single-slot game of Hearts of Wulin. I also played City of Mist in a single-slot game. I’ve split my thoughts into con practicalities (no lunch prices, sorry) and games thoughts, so here goes:
- Cons are great, and venue matters. The Garrison hotel is almost the perfect place for an RPG convention, such that a few minor changes were noticed – no standing lights in the cells, for instance, and some confusion over the Saturday finish times. That said, I still love running in the cells, and I’m sure at other venues I’ll notice how much better the acoustics are in your own little nook (even if what you gain in audio is sometimes sacrificed in visual in the dim lighting).
- Sharing a room at a con is great. I’ve become a bit of a solo con-goer in recent years, but I shared a room, which made a much more convivial (although perhaps more boozy and less sleep-filled) weekend. I might have convinced myself back towards it. It was also handy for Masks prep as we could sketch out plans over breakfast.
- See comment re lighting above – the print on some PBTA playbook sheets is tiny! Print them out A3 in future for a convention, or make your own simplified ones. Similarly, I should have folded my Masks sheets before distributing – if you don’t the booklet for moves starts with the Adult Moves, which you aren’t going to be using.
- PBTA is varied and diverse! Even disregarding FITD and the other splits, I played three very different games over the course of the weekend in terms of structure of play and player experience, what’s expected of players, etc. City of Mist is, as far as I can tell, pretty close to a trad game – with just enough flexibility in the tags for different approaches and player-driven spontaneity. Hearts of Wulin is entirely at-the-table; my prep was only a backdrop to the melodrama that unfolded. Masks sat somewhere in the middle, but some of that was the necessary structure for us to run parallel games across universes.
- Multi-table games work, and are a lot of fun. They do rely on the two GMs being comfortable with about the same amount of prep work though, and luckily we were (both of us have also run ‘vanilla’ Masks quite a bit too). We had two parallel universes being combined (the All Star Society and the All Star League) and the teenage heroes (All Star Juniors/Juniorz) having to save the day. At the midpoint – the end of the first session, a failed merge of the universes meant two players swapped tables – and there was more player exchanging to come. The villains of one universe were the hero mentors of the other – it all sounds complicated until you realise we just ripped off Crisis on Infinite Earths. All great fun, and good to push the boat out for a showcase game.
- Fewer players isn’t always best. Because of a drop-out I had 3 players for Hearts of Wulin, and I think it would have been cleaner with 4 – certainly, the Entanglements were head-scratchy as everyone had to be linked to everyone else. Everyone filling them out at the table was harder than I thought, too – I’m tweaking my prep to run it again at Virtual Grogmeet, and I’ll pre-populate some of them with NPCs to help.
So, there are my Revelation thoughts. Why did con reports fade away? If you’ve got any ideas, let me know below – and if you’d like to hear more about any of the games let me know in the comments.