A little later than usual (I’m blaming the cold that Scott has lovingly named “The Sanderson Strain” after he caught it recently… Sorry!), but here’s my review of what is one of the highlights of my gaming calender – Conception.
For those that haven’t come across Conception before, it is held at the end of every January at the Hobourne Naish park on the south coast of the UK, near the New Forest. The convention takes over the park as it’s off season, and we have almost all of the lodges and chalets full of gamers.
It’s the same location where IndieCon is held in November. Conception though, unlike IndieCon, focuses on more traditional RPGs and board games, etc.
But Before That…
This year was a little different to those before… Myself and Tiffany were married on the Saturday before the convention! Scott stood in as the father of the bride, as Tiffany’s father is sadly no longer with us, and Paul was my best man.
Below, The Good Friends of Jackson Elias outside St. Peter and St. Paul’s church in Newport Pagnell on the happy day (courtesy of BrightSide Photography who did such a wonderful job on the big day).
Cthulhu was (unsurprisingly!) a theme in our wedding. We had tunes from Dreams in the Witch House, the Lovecraftian Rock Opera, playing in church while we signed the registry (“Madness is My Destiny” – as if I didn’t know that before then!) and in place of the wedding march as we left the church (“No Turning Back” – might not have been able to escape the way I came, but I did make my way down the aisle pretty quickly!).
The Yellow Sign featured in our order of service, and the King in Yellow was the theme for our Wedding Topper, crafted by the wonderful Joe Broers. We had Munchkin Cthulhu on every table at the reception to get people in the gaming mood, and a pub-style quiz with Cthulhu Plush toys for the winners. The theme was the 1920s (Classic Era Cthulhu!) with prizes going to the best dressed. It was a wonderful day.
For some footage of the Good Friends in action, here’s the speeches from the Reception:
Having set the gaming tone early on, the next day, we headed down to the south coast for the few days before the convention.
The following is as it was written, day-by-day, at the convention. Enjoy!
[Conception – Day 1, Wednesday]
As January edges closer to its conclusion, it’s once again time to head to the south coast for Conception. It’s a nice return to Hoburne Naish for myself and Tiffany. The last time we were here (for IndieCon) was just after Tiffany had arrived in the country. Now, we’re heading back as the tail-end of our honeymoon after having gotten married the previous Saturday.
This is also marks the first time we’ve got to the convention this early. In the few days leading up to the convention we’d been around the New Forest, in particular to Burley where we learned a bit about its Wiccan heritage and dragon myths (which may have given me some inspiration for a scenario… Watch this space!).
One of the handy things I picked up in Burley was this notebook… Ok… “tome”… I’ve got a couple of ideas bouncing around in my head as to what I can use this wonderful work of art for. I’m a sucker for books, if you hadn’t guessed!
We also took a trip along the coast from Highcliffe Castle, where we found out about Steamer Point where, during the war, secret communication experiments were conducted. A few seeds for a World War Cthulhu scenario may have also been picked up there.
In the evening before the convention, thanks to the ever-welcoming Julian Hayley, we met up with a few of the convention organisers (Duncan Rust, Nigel Clarke, to name but a few) for dinner and a game of Cards Against Humanity. Yep, Tiffany likes to break out the Bigger Blacker Box whenever she gets the chance 😉
After a discussion over dinner that night, I was convinced to run a session in Slot 0 on the Wednesday afternoon, mostly for people new to the convention. I normally don’t arrive until mid-afternoon, but being on the doorstep certainly helped this time around. As such, with just enough time to spare after clearing out the hotel room down the road and getting supplies at the local supermarket, we unloaded at the room and then dived straight into game.
Slot 0 – Midnight Sunrise
I decided upon the five games I’d like to run for the convention a few days back and printed out two copies of each sign-up sheet. So potentially I have 10 slots I can run in this time around (out of a potential 13 once we arrived).
The first game on offer was Midnight Sunrise (with added tea and scones for our guests). World War Cthulhu in the lead up to the Blitz, with a mutual friend contacting the investigators, saying she has a potential stalker threatening her. This one tends to spend a lot of time in the introductory scenes, with the rest of the wider scenario being left for multi-session play. However, I’ve found a few work-arounds for when this happens with some of my longer scenarios where the investigators can get the information they require to move towards one of a number of conclusions, and very much leaves it in their hands as to what they do when they have all the pieces of the puzzle laid out in front of them.
The moment of the scenario for me was when one of the players at the table made an off-hand comment about one of the NPCs, thinking that it would be amusing if they summoned a particular Mythos entity to help them when they returned to their mutual friends house later that night. As it happens, that was exactly what I had planned for them, so grinned at said player. They suddenly realised they’d guessed right and the look on their face was priceless. Moments like that make the Evil GM in me very happy 😉 As the icing on the cake, they even managed to dispatch the beastie when it turned up (being the first group to do so in the many times I’ve run that scenario).
Slot 1 – Wednesday Night
After the Slot 0 game finished, me and Tiffany headed over to the main building (only just around the corner given we are in an Apartment again). There, I was promptly mobbed by some good friends and players from previous conventions who descended upon my sign-up sheets and pre-booked almost every slot in every game I put up. I’ve only got one sheet left that I can potentially hand in, which I’ll run in Slot 12 on Sunday Night, if I have the energy by that point! It’s going to be a long weekend.
By the time we’d had a good chat with various people there, we decided to head back to the apartment and get some much needed rest. It had been a long couple of days beforehand, and we were both in desperate need for a rest, and ended up passing out around 9:30. On the plus side, while we didn’t get any gaming in that night (or the next morning) we got the longest run of uninterrupted sleep that we’ve had in weeks!
[Conception – Day 2, Thursday]
Slot 2 – Thursday Morning
Well, as the previous day’s report suggested, we slept in during the morning, so skipped another session of gaming. I know, dear reader, this may seem like a shock for your die-hard gaming reporter here, but sometimes, when a gamer’s got to sleep, a gamer’s got to sleep!
Myself and Tiffany got up that morning, did another shopping run for supplies we’d missed the previous day (there’s always something!) and then headed back to get the apartment ready for Slot 3.
Slot 3 – Midnight Sunrise
Yep, as it happens, given the order people requested them, I ended up running the same scenario twice in a row at the convention (although with sleep in between). The tea and scones made an appearance once again, and it’s the same premise and set-up as described for Slot 0.
The moment of the scenario this time came right at the end of the session. Having discovered what was happening, why it was happening, and what was about to happen in the near future, the investigators chose what was ultimately the most “humane” way to resolve the situation. They had their adversary picked up by the authorities before they could do more damage to society and took them away, kicking and screaming that they were making a terrible mistake. Time passed and proved that their claims were ill-founded, leaving them a broken person. Ultimately, they ended up having a lobotomy performed to try and “cure” them of their delusions, while everyone else connected with the events unfolding walked away unscathed. Everyone survived, but for the main adversary, it ended up only being a form of survival.
Slot 4 – Captive Audience
Back over at the apartment, and ready for the cocktail bar to open in the evening slot, we kept with World War Cthulhu for Captive Audience. A group of friends in Blitz-time London have been holding a Bridge club to keep up morale, but when a load of them turn up unannounced at the host’s apartment for a party that no-one claims to have invited them to, things start getting a little weird.
This is one I’ve run a number of times now in playtesting, but only a couple of times at conventions. The way it went down tonight was also unlike any previous time I’d run it! The moment of the scenario came from Julian Hayley. In an empty house in North London, the investigators stumbled across a gateway to Carcosa. Opening the doorway, the King in Yellow attempted to lure them through to join his court and join the dance that would last until the end of time.
The investigators response…? You guessed it. They attacked the god.
After a couple of critical shots with his hand-cannon, the police detective in the group managed to inflict a severe amount of damage on the King. In response, it managed to nearly kill one investigator, but didn’t manage to lure anyone into Carcosa long enough for them to lose enough POW or come in range of its physical attacks. Julian’s crazed librarian (having lost almost half his SAN by this point) ran up to the King and proceeded to inflict the last few HP needed to demanifest it by smacking it with a copy of the infamous play. A very apt way to dispatch a god (and making me re-read the section in the rulebook multiple times over to confirm that the King was definitely susceptible to mundane attacks). Evidently, Hastur chose poorly with that particular avatar!
Rounding off the night as my fellow Good Friends of Jackson Elias (Scott and Paul) made it to the convention, we headed around to their chalet to watch some films for a while, and munch on some more wedding cake. We might have enough cake left to feed the convention 😉
Tomorrow, I’m running two more games, and getting chance to play in my first session of the convention! Looking forward to it.
[Conception – Day 3, Friday]
Slot 5 – Waiting for the Hurricane
After a frantic sweep around the apartment, tidying up from the night before, I ran over to the convention centre to make use of the communal printer. It is worth its weight in gold when you realise you haven’t actually brought any print outs for the scenario you are about to run… DOH! We kicked off the morning with adventures in 1930’s Key West using Pulp Cthulhu.
I always keep wishing the morning slot was later though, and I need a lot of caffeine before noon to function. However, with plenty of tea, I soon felt a bit more like myself. The moment of the scenario this time came about from a well-timed botch on the part of an adversary. The heroes were making their way into a temple, getting ready for the final confrontation, when they encountered a couple of Deep One guards. One promptly attempted to impale the pesky human before it on its trident, only to fumble and effectively hand said trident to the enemy. The pesky human then proceeded to kill the poor Deep One with its own trident. Sometimes the poor things just don’t get any love!
Slot 6 – Along Unseen Paths
In the afternoon, a definite change of pace. We stepped away from the happy, cohesive party dynamic that we experienced in the previous game and moved into a lot more of the normal inter-party conflict that I like to see in a game. Along Unseen Paths is a follow up to another adventure of mine, The Seventh Circle, for Fear Itself. I was happy to have John, Ian and Rob along who had played the first game as they were able to identify a lot of the links as and when they came up.
The scenario involves an academic group connected with University College London that go to Somerset to perform an oral history study of one of the Thankful Villages. Things soon go pretty odd for them when they start poking around. The moment of the scenario for me actually came right at the very end. One of the more ill-fated characters, played by John, had a debt hanging over him that he was called upon to repay. He had failed to meet the terms laid down by the other party and when he met them in a dream sequence, they exacted their revenge. John set the scene up and narrated what happened, pretty much taking the words out of my mouth. It was wonderful to see it click so well that he could run with it exactly as I had planned! Reminds me of the time running Angel of the Abyss for World War Cthulhu where his investigator also met a sticky end in a very apt fashion.
Slot 7 – 7th Sea
Appropriately timed for this slot, I had my first actual session being able to play at the convention. Tiffany was able to bag a seat playing in Midnight Sunrise on its second run through, but I’d been running everything up until now, so hadn’t had the chance to play yet.
In the next part of John’s ongoing 7th Sea series of scenarios (which we play at IndieCon and Conception), we found ourselves investigating a reputedly haunted house. John came up with PCs for myself and Tiffany that played to our strengths, with both of us being a husband and wife team of occult investigators and collectors of arcane lore. Closest thing to Cthulhu investigators in the swashbuckling setting 😉
We quickly established that the hauntings were elaborate fabrications and then started trying to work out who was doing it. I came across one such villain responsible which led to the moment of the scenario. Pretty much, I pulled an Indy. A masked figure, clad all in black, drops down to the ground next to my investigator on the ground, pulls a sword which he flourishes before me… and my response is to shoot him in the gut 🙂 Gotta love moments like that!
We ended up with running battles through the burning streets of Paris, and a tantalising hook into a follow-up scenario that looks like it will take us to Spain. The 30 years war is nearly upon us 🙂
Afterwards, we spent a good couple of hours socialising with John, Ian and company before heading back to the apartment to get ready for the next day of gaming. Already more than half way through, and time is flying faster than ever. Going to be another early morning start though – I might end up dreaming of tea and coffee at this rate!
[Conception – Day 4, Saturday]
Slot 8 – In the Republic of the Saviour
Mornings are definitely my enemy. I hit the alarm button on the phone and made the fatal mistake of rolling over again. Consequently, got up about 30 minutes later than I wanted, ran around the place getting everything tidy, and then off to muster and get players for this morning’s game.
In the Republic of the Saviour (working title – not sure if I’m going to stick with it yet) is one of the vignette offerings we’re working on for our Poison Tree campaign for Trail of Cthulhu. It’s pretty heavy material for a morning slot, but that’s just the way it ended up scheduling this time around. Set during the El Salvador civil war of the 1980s, it’s the story of a group of mercenaries heading into government held territory, looking into rumours that a miracle has been performed there.
The moment of the game for me was the antics between a couple of the PCs trying to come up with a reason to go and visit a local girl rumoured to be healing people with her bare hands. They came up with a nice plan (involving small flesh wounds made to look worse than they were) although jokes were made about cutting off fingers or shooting another party member in the foot. Such things have happened before (repeatedly!) when I have ran this scenario 🙂 When they subsequently got a piece of information about what was going on with the girl, they went back to square one so quickly, they broke the sound barrier on the way. Rather amusing! Also, managed to drive one PC completely insane in the last scene, so doubly happy.
Slot 9 – Captive Audience
A return to Blitz-era London, where a group of friends have come together to uphold morale through the medium of Bridge. Enter the King in Yellow, stage left.
This is definitely a favourite of mine, given how wildly different it tends to run over multiple instances. It always keeps me on my toes, and we finished pretty close to time for once, which was a nice surprise. The investigators didn’t go toe-to-toe with the King in Yellow this time around (they didn’t find the same doorway the previous group did), but they did get hold of a flute, previously held in monstrous paws that kept the Blind Idiot God placated at the centre of the universe.
Having set the cultists house on fire (as you do), the investigators retreated with said flute, about six foot long, on their laps in the back seat. One of said players decided they wanted to try and play the flute (despite it being more like a didgeridoo around a human mouth), despite having suffered SAN loss from hearing it play the first time. One of the other investigators (played by Johnny) provided the moment of the game with the deadpan delivery of a great line – “Please don’t blow on the monster’s flute.” Laughter promptly followed. Good times 🙂
Slot 10 – Waiting for the Hurricane
Back to Key West, this time with the cocktail bar being accompanied by dinner provided by Tiffany. Her chilli is always a hit (especially with me – even though she seems determined to try and kill me with spicy food one day) and went down well, setting a nice comfortable tone with friends to enjoy a relatively light hearted game.
The moment of the scenario for me was two-fold. The initial moment came right at the very beginning, mid way through the opening description when John identified my initial source of inspiration for the scenario – something which no-one else has managed to do yet (or they haven’t admitted to me anyway!). The second was the plethora of Jaws quotes from the players when the party intercepted a Star Spawn on the way to an island off the shore, rammed it with a boat and dropped a LOT of dynamite on its poor head. The line of “the taxidermist is going to have a heart attack when he sees what I brought him!” in response to the poor child of Cthulhu floating belly-up in the ocean was perfectly timed.
So, that brings us to the close of the last full day of gaming. Tomorrow, we’ve got WHFP lined up to play, running Trail of Cthulhu again in the afternoon, and then probably packing in the evening so we can head home on Monday morning. It doesn’t feel like it’s been four days, but I think I still might need to hibernate for a good few hours when we finally get home! Will need to catch up on the rest.
[Conception – Day 5, Sunday]
Slot 10 – WFRP
The last day of the convention began with the second time I got to play in the whole event. Me and Tiffany joined in with Andy Kybett’s WFRP game, Warpstone Cocktail. We all played a gang of Skaven on a mission to recover a large lump of warpstone.
For once, we were in the main hall, whereas we normally play in the pool room. It’s not a great environment for me – too much noise, hard to hear people, gets warm and uncomfortable, etc. – and reminds me why I will only ever run games in the apartments or lodges at the event. However, the game itself was a lot of fun 🙂 We had a good selection of characters around the table, with a lot of them sniping at each other and stabbing each other in the back.
The moment of the game for me was right at the very end – a TPK. Me and Tiffany had snuck off from the rest of the group (whilst they did a fairly good impression of the Muppet Show) and found the location of the desired rock. One of the others joined us, but the rest engaged in a combat-fest and ultimately had a nasty end narrated for them. We ended up failing all our rolls when confronted with a huge lump of warpstone and ended up killing each other on the way back to deliver it to the boss. Doh! Satisfying end though 😉
Between the end of the game and the next slot, the traditional Conception raffle was held. With only two player tickets in the box each, me and Tiffany didn’t get very far there, and none of my sign-up sheets came up. However, the third ticket out in the main draw was us, so we managed to pick up a game I’d wanted to pick up at GenCon but didn’t have room in the case to allow me to get it – Deadlands: Doomtown. Score!
Slot 11 – In the Republic of the Saviour
Directly from the raffle, straight back to El Salvador for Trail of Cthulhu. Tiffany kept us all fed throughout the game with buttermilk biscuits, pizza and chilli. It made it a great way to round off the convention. In addition, Tiffany helped build up the atmosphere with a sound-deck on her iPad. Suddenly cutting all the background noise when the investigators arrived in a quiet woodland was a really nice touch. I think this is a role she might be reprising at future conventions 😉
The moment of the game for me this time around was the look on one of the players’ face when they got a brief glimpse of what they were up against. Moments like that make the evil GM in me smile with glee 🙂 However, they did all manage to get out alive this time, as opposed to previous times where I’ve driven them mad or blown them into oblivion. Oh well, can’t kill ‘em all!
With the last game wrapped up, it’s time to pack up, gab some dinner, and then start loading the car up. So far, about five hours later and we’re still packing… DOH! However, tomorrow we intend to be ready well before 10am and on the road so we’re back in the early afternoon. It’s been a wonderful way to wrap up the honeymoon, but now the real world beckons once more.
Until next time, happy gaming!