Conception 2014 (AKA Contagion 2014)

5 February, 2014

Keeping with tradition, after going to one of the major conventions, here’s the review of the event from my perspective.

Conception is a four-day RPG convention held on the South Coast of England. It’s one the longest, and largest attended events of its kind over here. I’ve been going for the last four years now, and this is my second year that I’ve mostly run games at the event.

As will become clear from the write up – done on the day, each day, then posted up on social media, etc. – there was a fair amount of Con-Plague this year… Much more than previous years. I’ve just about recovered now, by the time of posting, but still feeling a bit rough.

The things we do for our art 😉

[Conception – Days 0 & 1]

It’s that time of year to head to the South Coast and enjoy four days of gaming! Conception is here. One of my favourite events of the year, and thus time for the convention review.

Yesterday (Wednesday – Day 0) is technically the first day of the convention, with Slot 1 running in the evening. Having spent much of the morning packing and then much of the afternoon driving down to the South Coast (lots of standing water on the M1 and plenty of rain adding to it does not make for a very nice drive!), I didn’t play in the evening. I was too tired (falling asleep on the sofa in the apartment whilst waiting for dinner to cook was probably a sign I wouldn’t have made it through a game either) and had too much work to do anyway. Instead, I spent time in the bar catching up with friends I only ever get to see at the conventions, discussing an array of game-related issues. Later, I retired to the apartment to get some work done for an impending deadline. I finished writing at about 2am, and finally got chance to have some decent length of sleep downstairs.

We’re in the apartments around the corner from the main building again this year after I liked using them so much last year. However, they were distinctly colder this year – being able to see your breath inside wasn’t a good sign… After eventually getting the heating working though, all is good 🙂 Steaming a haggis for dinner also helps to warm the place up – and fill every upper room with steam…

Usually, my convention doesn’t start fully until the Thursday (Slots 2 [AM], 3 [PM] and 4 [Evening]), so this is counted as my Day 1.

One thing I always do when going to the sign-up boards for the first time at the convention is to look for Andy’s WFRP games. I managed to get a space in Slot 2, so started the convention on a nice note. This installment of the ongoing adventures of our intrepid adventures took us to Sylvania. I wonderful holiday destination – especially in a winter… We had a wander around a border town and then headed into the nearby land on a job we were hired to perform. Thoroughly enjoyable as always – and amusing to find someone stole all my dice rolls in combat. The tank of the party failed to hit a wolf in six consecutive attempts. His average roll was about 80. Admittedly, my first roll of the game was 97, but thankfully things improved from there in terms of luck!

Slot 3, and the first session back at the apartment, cracking open the bar and running Fear Itself. The Seventh Circle” is an adventure I’ve run at various conventions over the last year, and it went rather well. I would have liked a bit more time (as always!) in the slot, but we wrapped up pretty much on time with a nice conclusion that was reminiscent of one of the very first playtests I ran, but with elements of how it turned out at GenCon last year. The moment of the game for me this time around was the Producer, an avid whiskey fan, making a comment that he regularly deals with spirits (being the producer for a paranormal investigation TV show). Plenty of inter-party conflict, and watching expressions on people’s faces as the penny dropped on a number of occasions was a lot of fun 🙂

Slot 4, back to the apartment, but this time hosting rather than running. 7 Seas! A game I’ve wanted to try for a while and finally got the chance, thanks to meeting up with people in the bar the previous night 🙂 A thoroughly enjoyable session, with the most interesting section being our party stumbling upon a smuggling operation and a lot of fast talking all around by members of the party posing as guys sent from “the boss” to ensure that things were running as they should, whilst trying to pick up information to help our investigation. The spontaneous nature of the whole section was wonderful – and hardly a single dice roll in sight! Given the femme fatale got away in the end (*makes shaky fist!*) we’ve got a date lined up to continue the fight next year. Very much looking forward to it!

Otherwise, a few brief trips to the trade hall and meeting up with friends selling some books, have led to me filling a few more holes in my Call of Cthulhu collection (WOOHOO!) and picking up a few other bits and pieces here and there. There still doesn’t ever seem to be enough time between sessions to get food – having to grab bites here and there – but it’s a small price to pay.

Tomorrow, I’ve lucked out on playing (getting to play two games on my first day surprised me!), so I’m getting to sleep in for a bit before I hit the trade hall again. After that, I’m running Call of Cthulhu and World War Cthulhu. Saturday looks like I’m running all day, in each slot. Sunday, I’ll be having the morning off and then offering scenarios in the last two slots. Given Sunday is usually dead in the evening, I’m expecting that the last slot won’t run, so may have another evening off.

All being well, looks like it’s going to be another good convention.


[Conception – Day 2]

Slot 5 was my chance to get a lay in this morning. I’m glad I did, because I really needed the sleep! After getting ready and prepping the apartment for the next wave of games to be run there, I headed down to the main building to chat with various people, have a look through the bring and buy stall (haven’t parted with so much money as I was expecting, admittedly – which my bank balance will no doubt he happy with!) and waited around for muster. Sometimes it’s good just to have a break in a slot sometime through the convention – especially as I realized that I’m running for the next five consecutive slots… DOH!

Slot 6 saw the investigators head to a university hospital in “The Dreaming Ward” (a 1920s Call of Cthulhu scenario). Being past noon, I got chance to flex the cocktail muscles early (thankfully, it’s a lot later in Moscow, so anything with Vodka in it is doubly okay at this point). It looks like I’ve found a good subject matter with that scenario, as at least one player was a little freaked out by things as they occurred there (no spoilers, as I know I’m intending to run this again for some readers at another upcoming event – you know who you are! 😉 ). The moment of the adventure for me though (besides some very quick and imaginative thinking on the investigators part) was how the group when asked “So, did you sleep okay last night? Any dreams?” just looked between themselves and threw a barrage of “NO!” at me 🙂 “Nothing to see here, move along, nothing happened!” Looking forward to running that again tomorrow evening. If the weather is suitably shocking as it was this afternoon, having wind and rain beating against the glass will certainly help to add atmosphere.

Slot 7 was a step forward in time (slightly) to 1942 and World War Cthulhu in “The Angel of the Abyss”. This was a playtest session (being the first time I’d run the scenario) and definitely got some additions to work into the manuscript here. I think the full version I had in mind would probably easily run over 2 or maybe even 3 sessions. However, we found a nice path that leads through everything major in the time a convention allows. The moment of the scenario for me had to be where three of the investigators were gathered around an NPC that was in a pretty bad way. They gave a wonderful speech to the NPC in question, trying to convince him to take his own life, and then to a second NPC to kill the first when they outlined what was happening to him. Said problems at the end of the scenario came back to affect the investigator giving the passionate speech and he promptly blew his own brains out when he realized what was happening. A nice “coming full circle” moment there 🙂

And wrapping up around midnight, with a long day ahead of me (three sessions of Cthulhu tomorrow!), it’s time to go to bed. I do like that I was asked “how do you get any sleep at night?” after discussing the background behind the last scenario. My response was easy there. “Sleep? I’m too busy writing scenarios to sleep!” Time for some well earned Zzzzzz… 😉


[Conception – Day 3]

A.K.A. “The Big One!”

I don’t normally like to run in all three sessions during a day, but that’s how today ended up after I managed to get into two games to play on Day 1. Otherwise, the plan had been to run two games each day and then head home on the Monday. Not a big deal – the thing that is still a bit of an annoyance that I have to battle with each year is the limited signal I get to connect to the internet with out here via my phone. Sometimes it feels like I might as well be on the moon. I finally get signal, and it takes forever to open pages, or I get flooded with emails (yep, lots of Kickstarter updates…). After trying – and failing – to do much via the phone tonight, I’ve resorted to leaving all emails, social media pings, etc. until I get home. Otherwise, I might do a good impression of the Hulk with my phone as I attempt to resolve anything more!

Anyway, onto the games 🙂

Slot 8 saw a return to Greece for “The Angel of the Abyss” (the same scenario I ran last night). Setting up a whole load of tea and coffee definitely helped – and at least kept my headache at bay for a bit (I woke up thinking something was trying to smash its way out of my head – and there’s been a LOT of Con Plague going around this year). The moment of the scenario (which went down a suitably different track this time) was how the investigators went from doing one of the worst possible things (without realizing it) to following this up with one of the best possible things they could do (again, without realizing it!). Wonderful way they ended up bouncing between events. As such, they wrapped up about 30 minutes early, giving me a bit more breathing time between slots. More time to hit the trade hall and pick up some more books.

Slot 9 was a trip to Gaslight era Dunwich in Call of Cthulhu, called “An Amaranthine Desire”. I’ve run this a few times at conventions and always gotten a kick out of it. The moment of the scenario for me involved one of the investigators having noticed a group of NPCs searching the streets of the town. They didn’t know who they were, so followed from a distance before coming up with the idea of sneaking in front of a nearby house, knocking the door, running away and then waiting for the occupant to come outside and think that said NPC group had woken him up. The home-owner was not happy at being woken up at an obscene hour so ranted a the NPCs. What the group then proceed to do to him got a wonderful reaction out of the player who promptly declares “Well, I DEFINITELY won’t be doing that again!” Nice to see some investigators learn from the error of their ways. Again, we finished a little early – a bit more time to cook and tidy up.

Slot 10 was a return to “The Dreaming Ward” that I ran yesterday afternoon. The whole session was really nice. It had a nice pace, gradually building up tension (and fuelled on a nice note by cocktails as per usual!), and leading to a nice climax. I can’t say that there was a single moment that stood out for me, because one character pretty much stole the show in my eyes. Our lovely dilettante that wanders into a psychiatric wing, where she’s staying for a few days, and treats it like a hotel – the attendants are there to fetch her drinks, she wants decent food and deserts, drinks, cocktails before bed (well, that bit I could phys-rep!) and is generally a bit scatter-brained. Wonderfully oblivious – and met a nice ending (although not as gruesome as some others I can think of – mwahaha).

Afterwards, whereas I’d considered going straight to bed, still not feeling too great, I was promptly invited to a Lodge party on the other side of the complex. Traveling bag at the ready, headed over there prepared to mix a whole lot of Purple Hooters and in the blink of an eye, three hours pass. DOH! Although, definitely worth it as I bumped into a couple more listeners to our podcast (WOOHOO!) that I thoroughly enjoyed getting to talk with. Also, thankfully I’m not in any games tomorrow morning (one of the few slot I could play in had everything I would have wanted to play in fully signed up before I got the boards – my usual experience with trying to play here, unfortunately) so I can sleep in. PHEW!

So, time to call it a night. Good day in all – although a very LONG day. It looks like I’m running again tomorrow afternoon, but don’t know about tomorrow evening. I might try my hand in the raffle – shall have to see what’s up on the prize table this year. Nearly at the end now!


[Conception – Day 4]

The finale!

Slot 11 was my morning off. I was awoken by Andy coming over to discuss a few bits about WFRP, as promised, and we had a pretty good chat about games that will hopefully be on offer next year, and changes to some of his pre-gen characters. Very good fun indeed, and I’m looking forward to next year’s expedition into the Empire already!

In the interlude before Slot 12, I did indeed try my hand at the raffle… and came away empty handed. A bit like my dice rolls, if there was a prize for missing about six calls being that they were on strips immediately before or after the ones I brought, I would have come away with a lot more. DOH! Not to worry…

Slot 12 saw a return to Dunwich in the repeat of “An Amaranthine Desire”. Nigel did a great job of winding everyone up by trying to throw a spanner in the works for the party at every possible turn. They also came up with a pretty inventive way to deal with “the problem” at the core of the scenario. All but Nigel made it back to the world as he faded away into nothing within arms reach of safety. Nice to keep a kill-count running up to this point 🙂

Slot 13 I thought would be a free slot again, giving me chance to cook dinner and write for a while turned into a full sign-up sheet for “The Seventh Circle”. The players really threw themselves into the investigation and covered almost every angle – resulting in the adventure starting at 8pm as planned… and finishing at 3am. Two cocktail breaks in that time definitely helped keep momentum going! Significantly longer than planned, but thankfully with no players that had to run away to go home (everyone’s going back tomorrow) and they all really wanted to find out what was happening and resolve the mystery. Fantastic session 🙂

Well, as they say – that’s a wrap! Unfortunately, I’ve not managed to survive the con without picking up the contagion going around – sore through, coughing, etc. – but it’s just about been manageable throughout the evening. Hopefully sleep will help this… otherwise it’s going to be a painful drive home. A LOT of people have come down through the convention with this (so much so we had numerous games cancelled and they jokingly referred to renaming it Contagion next year). I foresee a lot of meds and resting tomorrow before spending the evening with my dearest Tiffany over the internet. I wish she could have been here to enjoy it – dodging the plague of course! All being well, I’ll be heading back to work on Tuesday.

I think one of the highlights of the day I’ll end with is that I bumped into one of the players that managed to get into “The Dreaming Ward” as a reserve player last night. She stopped, looked at me and said, in quite a definite and determined tone “I must play more of your games!”. That definitely made me smile. Looks like I’m doing something right 😉

Until next time – Adios!

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