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Finding The Fun: Seven Hills Convention

It’s been a couple of weeks since the last Finding the Fun, so let’s do something a little out of the ordinary. Instead of a review of an RPG system, how about I walk you through the highlights of my weekend at Seven Hills, and treat you to some bite-size reviews of the new games I tried at this local convention?

Day One – Saturday

Garrison Hotel

The Seven Hills Convention was held in the Garrison Hotel at Hillsborough Barracks, a spacious venue with lots of character, particularly in the cells that housed several of the gaming tables. It’s only a short jog from the nearest tram and bus stops, and there’s plenty of parking locally. The experienced con-goers were friendly and helped me find my way around, which is good because I can’t navigate my way out of a paper bag. With name badge assembled and a guide to lead me to the guardhouse cell, I got myself settled into a fun-packed day of gaming.

D&D 5e – Steel Dawn

You guys should know by now how I feel about D&D 5e, and the more I play it, the happier I feel when I can jump into a game with a DM who knows his stuff. With five players of varying levels of experience of 5e, I think Baz (our DM) did a fantastic job of balancing teaching the less experienced players what they needed to know, telling a compelling story, keeping us on-track and on-time, giving each of us a chance to shine and injecting lots of humour and personality into his game. It was a great start to the con and I had a blast fighting Kuo-toa, Cultists and a Grey Ooze in a tropical adventure that definitely felt refreshing after what feels like eons of medieval European fantasy, even if I failed more rolls than I succeeded.

Playing 5e with a pre-generated character gave me the chance to try a character I probably wouldn’t choose in an ongoing game, the Battlemaster Fighter, and gain some insight into the build I might not otherwise have. Having played it, I’d say it has elements of a brilliant support class, particularly when paired with the shield fighting style. I tasked myself with concentrating less on dealing damage and more with soaking damage and using the commander’s strike manoeuvre to direct my allies to attack at the most advantageous points. I reckon this kind of support defender character would be well-suited to being a enemy mage’s bodyguard or leading a unit of rogues using similar tactics.

Wine!!!

Galss of wine

This picture serves no purpose, except to pretend I’m an adult, being all fancy and drinking wine.

Age of Rebellion Beginner Box – Journey to Corulag

I hadn’t noticed Fantasy Flight Games’ Age of Rebellion on offer at the convention, having somehow skimmed over it in the itinerary a few times, but once I spotted it, a few folks recommended giving it a look. I signed up and headed back down into the guardhouse cell to give it a try. Now I admit I did get a bit ranty about this game over Twitter on the weekend, but in retrospect I might have been a little uncharitable. That said, as a little bit of critique, I think striking a balance between preparing what you need and being able to improvise is key to running a game, as well as understanding that a group of strangers at a con might not be able to coordinate or follow your adventure cues as well as your regular group. Still, once we were able to act a little more freely, we had a lot of fun, so hats off to you, James B, for sticking with it and remaining patient whilst we started to understand the rules a little better. Plus, I got to steal a TIE Defender, cause chaos on the deck of a Star Destroyer and engage in general capering, so I’d call that a net win.

Star Wars Dice

Whilst I think the first half of the adventure could have gone better, I think the GM did his best and we were certainly having enough fun that some confusion and a bit of time struggling to figure out where to go didn’t impact on my impression that the system has a lot of potential (and once I get the Beginner Box for myself, it’ll definitely get a full-length review of its own) and that overall I had a lot of fun. In terms of the game mechanics, I’d have liked to have seen more of them, but I liked the idea behind the advantage/threat mechanics, which seems to reinforce that Fate-like idea of success at a cost, or creating advantages even when you fail. The destiny point mechanic definitely seems interesting, creating a seesaw-like shift of power between the GM and the players as they boost their own dice at the cost of giving the other the ability to boost theirs later.

Traveller – Eve of Rebellion

For my last game on the Saturday, I took the recommendation of a mate and jumped in to play a high-powered political game of Traveller, playing the character of Duke Norris as he navigated the Imperial court. From what I gather, Steve (our GM) ran a particularly rules-light and roleplay-heavy version of the game, but I may have gotten the wrong impression. I didn’t get to interact much with the mechanics behind Traveller’s skill rolls, but what really grasped my attention whilst playing Traveller was the depth of the Third Imperium setting, full of interesting characters and a quirky feudal bent. It put me in mind of the Dune universe, or perhaps Firefly to a certain extent.

Hats off to Steve, despite a few of us having no previous experience whatsoever with the Traveller universe, he sold the basics to us well and gave us plenty of information and roleplay hooks to sink our teeth into. It was the perfect game to cap off the day, and much fun was had by all, as we schemed, cajoled and plotted to achieve our goals, disappearing off into dark corners to roleplay in secret. This kind of roleplay pushed me a little out of my comfort zone, but to be honest, I was having so much fun I barely noticed. The group had a great chemistry and we played off well against each other. The highlight for me was enacting my petty revenge against Lucan as, with my and his goals rapidly unravelling, I had his escape craft shot down to the laughter of everyone at the table. What can I say? I have a little bit of a malicious streak.

Day Two – Sunday

With an entire one day’s worth of convention experience under my belt, I hit the Garrison early on the Sunday, determined to find some bargains, play some games, and have a good time.

Savage Worlds – The Song of Steel

Sunday’s first game was a Savage Worlds steampunk and supernatural game built around the mythology of Victoriana and the Savage Club circa 1899. I played an over-the-top version of Edward Barton-Wright, inventor of Bartitsu, as the cream of the Savage Club fought against occultists, demons and the diabolical Alastair Crowley – and also a crowd of innocent French peasant who made the mistake of getting in the way of Edward, Man of Steel. The adventure was pulp at its finest, full of big dramatic scenes, moments of belly-aching hilarity and a compelling story. Our GM Glen did a great job of walking us through the rules patiently and thoroughly, and running a great game.

Savage Worlds – made by Pinnacle Entertainment Group – looks like a lot of fun to play, with the dice size mechanic (increasing d4s to d6s, d6s to d8s, etc, the better a skill you possess) making for a more unpredictable result than flat bonuses, though a wild d6 (you take the higher roll of your skill and wild dice) tends to make the result fall within the average bell curve. Savage Worlds seems like a system for big characters and heaped helpings of pulp, drama and action. As a setting-less system, there’s lots of scope to make a setting that’s full of your own personality, and it definitely seems to encourage mashing genre expectations together or defying traditional RPG conventions. I’m definitely going to be giving it a more in-depth look in the future, but it definitely rated as one of the highlights of the weekend.

Raffle!!!

Do Americans have raffles? Do they call them prize draws or something? Either way, I won a book, and picked out the Atomic Robo Fate game by Evil Hat Productions. I love the artwork and I can’t wait to give it a spin. Between games, I also found the Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorer’s Edition for a mere £7 (less than my lunch and wine cost me) at the Patriot Games stall that occupied part of the main gaming area. Bargain!

SevenHillsAtomicRobo

Code of Steam and Steel – Castle in the Sky

I took a bit of a gamble on Sunday’s final game, I must say, having no idea what to expect from this indie steampunk game. I found the character generation process interesting, seeing how the GM could use the aspect-like talents and careers thought up by the players to set the power and genre expectations of his game. The game’s creator, Simon, ran the group through character creation – graciously dealing with someone who suggested he’d rather “poke my eyes out with rusty nails than play this game” with more patience than I’d have*, explaining the mechanics and running us through a cinematic scenario inspired by Castle in the Sky.

I was pretty tapped-out by this point, so I wasn’t as alert as I could have been, but the game definitely had some interesting points, favouring big numbers by multiplying dice rolls, making for very random results. I liked the mechanics surrounding double-rolls and activating character quirks, but I’m not sure it would be a hit in my home game. Still, Castle in the Sky was an interesting game that played out quite differently to what I was expecting, and Simon was a patient and friendly GM, so it was a good end to a great weekend.

*I’m sorry, but even if you were just joking with Simon, you made everyone sat at that table feel awkward and uncomfortable for a moment by suddenly declaring that the game was “anime b$#%&*!t”, without having the benefit of experiencing the game for yourself. You don’t get to decide that you are the universal arbiter of what makes a good game and what people should be embarrassed to play.

Home!!!

So, after almost 20 hours of Steel-themed gaming, I was utterly shattered. Still, I had two days of really great gaming, lots of laughs and plenty of ideas and new game systems to find and review. With the exception of Mr. Rusty Nails, I didn’t have a single bad experience at Seven Hills, and I have to congratulate Paul Mitchener and Graham Spearing for organising such a great convention. I’m looking forward to going to Furnace in October (and if you’re able to get to Sheffield, I heartily recommend you join me) and returning to Seven Hills next year.

So, do I have any thoughts for you, dear readers? Yes I do. Push yourself to engage more with the RPG community at large, over Twitter, through local and worldwide forums, and by attending local conventions. I can’t guarantee every experience you have will be a positive one, but overall, you’ll come out winning, there are too many awesome people (like my fellow Mad Adventurers, or the Seven Hills attendees) out there to game and chat with to hide away from the world. Go out there, and be awesome.

If you’re a developer and would like your product reviewed, or you’ve seen a product that’s worth a look, let me know here at the Mad Adventurers Society via the comment box below, or on Twitter @jay_jaydraper.

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  1. [Traveller] Eve of Rebellion – UK Role Players on Friday, December 29, 2017 at 11:34 am

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