viernes, 28 de diciembre de 2018

The Kraken 2018: the Con with Chaosium (part 1)

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THE KRAKEN is a long-standing gaming convention they like to label as "a gaming retreat". It takes place every October in a tiny German village, just about an hour and a half away from Berlin. What makes this con stand out from the rest is that it is loosely focused on the games published by Chaosium, like RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu or HeroQuest, but you can actually play any game by any other publishing company, like Mythras, Delta Green or Warhammer. Above all, this con is famous because people working for Chaosium are regular attendees. For example, Sandy Petersen and authors like Jeff Richard or Mike Mason. What's more, the small format of this "gaming retreat", about 80 people in total, makes it easier to leisurely talk to everybody.

2018's edition took place on the weekend of October 20-22. It officially starts on Friday evening after dinner and finishes on Monday after breakfast. However, it is also possible to extend your stay to up to two days before that. According to my sources, during these first days before the official start, breaking the ice is much easier and the atmosphere is much more relaxed. In my case, I consider myself fortunate enough for having managed to spend the weekend in this wonderful con. Below I'll explain how I got there and what I did on Friday.

<<<Puedes leer esta entrada en español aquí>>>
Original picture by Graeme Murrell

Getting there


Si if you've read my write-up of THE KRAKEN 2016 (in Spanish), you already know that, since that time I signed up at the last minute, I had to sleep in a small camping tent. Fortunately, in 2018 I could sleep under a sturdy roof and on a bed. However, getting to Schloss Neuhausen, the small XVII c. palace where the con is held, was an ordeal. Similarly to the previous occasion, I guess this was the way fate or karma decided to punish me for signing up, again, at the last minute. If you're not interested in my misadventures, just skip this section and go straight below to What I did on Friday.

From the airport at Berlin Schönefeld you can hop on a coach at 16:00 that takes the Kraken attendees to the con. This time, sadly, I only had a vacation day to spend on this con, so I assigned it to the following Monday. I had to go to work on Friday and I took the plane to Berlin in the afternoon. The flight's arrival in Berlin was scheduled at 19:20, meaning I couldn't take the coach, so I rented a car to get to Berge, the small village where the "Schloss" stands. According to Google Maps, from the airport to the place it takes little less than an hour and a half by car, so well, I was going to get there after dinner, but I was counting on getting there way before 22:00, which is when the signing-up for games starts. What could possibly go wrong? :-)

The easiest way to get to THE KRAKEN from Berlin is taking the coach (50€), but driving there is not difficult.

Well, in case I'm building up too high expectations, I'll say it up front: I didn't crash my car. I didn't even get lost and ended up in... Rostock, for example. Nothing of the sort. However, under the appearance of a quiet and tranquil person, I'm a rather stressed individual, so those catastrophes I've mentioned earlier were constantly crossing my mind during the days before that Friday. And they didn't stop when I got on the plane. And they kept going even when I got on the rented car and started driving along the dark German highways. To top it off, my flight with Ryanair got delayed. 80 sweet minutes. That meant I was going to land in Berlin not at 19:20, but rather at 20:40.

While we waited for the plane to be ready for take-off, I decided to use the time to create the PCs for a game I was bringing.

Nonetheless, I still had hopes of getting there in time for the games sign-up. Me the dreamer. Well, we finally landed, I got in the car and I feverishly set up the GPS I had brought with me. Since I can't manage the tablet holder to hold my tablet, I leave it leaning on top of the radio, I can't spare any second longer in order to get there in time! It's dark outside. Finally, I start the car.

Beeeeeeep!!!

Oh shit, a red warning light has just appeared on the dashboard. Might that mean that my Fiat Panda needs some coolant liquid? It could be risky, but... It's so late now! I don't have time for this! In the end, I decide to risk it and drive towards THE KRAKEN. "I'm sure it's nothing" I keep repeating to myself (children: don't follow my example).

Meanwhile, my stress level is skyrocketing and now all kinds of new possible disasters are crossing my mind. Even so, I get finally out of the airport and begin to follow the road respecting at all times the speed limit. It's dark, I'm driving along unknown roads and that morning I had got up at 6 to go to work. To keep myself from dozing off I'm sipping a Coke. On the radio I can only listen to Turkish rappers. After a while, I wish I could change the station, but since my tablet with the GPS is covering the buttons, I don't dare to do strange things with my right hand.

Meanwhile, the Opening Ceremony was taking place at THE KRAKEN, with the usual introduction of the VIPS: Sandy Petersen, Jason Durall, Ian Cooper and Lynne Hardy. The big man standing behind them is Fabian Küchler, master organizer. Photo by Aliénor Perrard.

Fast-forward 40 minutes: I'm still driving on the highway and I come across an obstacle Google Maps had already warned me about in the previous days when I had checked out the route: there are works on the road. I had expected these to be only in a short stretch, but no, every 15 minutes the road signals had me slow down to 30km/h and the four lanes became a very narrow one flanked by fences that goes on and on. "I'm not making it in time", I say to myself, especially because my GPS-app indicates an ETA that's steadily advancing into the future. But there's a piece of good news: I've just found out how to change the radio station from the steering wheel and I can finally listen to some music that I like better.

60 minutes later I've left the highway behind and I'm driving along minor roads. That's when I start driving completely alone. The road snakes through a dark and brooding forest. Beyond that, I start driving past silent villages and meadows, along a road flanked by gnarled trees. A sudden flash of light from above makes me look upwards towards the shining moon, lightly covered by some translucent clouds, as if she were a vamp dressed in veils. Then, the piece of road ahead lit by my car is filled by a phantasmagorical sight: swathes of thick milky mist are rising from the ground among the trees to either side, as if they were cobwebs or ethereal claws trying in vain to slow me down. Some give way lazily and others I go through. "Nobody is going to believe me when I tell them about this", I say to myself.

Meanwhile, at THE KRAKEN people start signing up for games. Picture by Aliénor Perrard.

In spite of the blackness around my car, I cheer myself up thinking I must be already fairly close. Long story short, I got a bit lost when I finally got to Berge, and I couldn't find the "Schloss Neuhausen", but then I remember about actually filling the GPS-app with the exact address, and soon I'm driving over the parking lot in front of the building.

As I walk towards the main door, I come across a girl I met last time on 2016, Lisa, walking in the opposite direction and I say hello to her. I'm so glad to have met someone I already know. Finally, the main door is luckily still open, even if it's well past midnight. I can finally breathe and chill: I'M FINALLY THERE. Phew! By the way, where's the WC?


What I did on Friday


At the main hall I came across Risto, a Finnish guy who was right then taking care of the information point, the so-called "Infoshrine". Risto asked me my name and what sort of accommodation I had booked. THE KRAKEN has three kinds available: the camping site I experienced during 2016's edition, comfortable double rooms and the so-called "Snoratorium". This last option is the cheapest to sleep under a roof and that's where Fabian, the con main organizer, had been able to find a gap for me. I had imagined it as a narrow crowded room full of bed bunks with perhaps a folding guest bed for me. But no, it was a huge room. I guess it's actually a suite, with a bunch of folding guest beds added. Tip-toeing into the room so as not to wake up the guests who were already asleep, Risto pointed at my bed, showed me the toilets and the place where breakfast is served. The price of the room includes 3 meals, all drinks, sweets and cake. He also handed me an envelope filled with basic information. Take a look:
  • Sheet with practical information: mealtimes, Wi-Fi password, etc.
  • A handy blank timetable to note down where and when you're playing each game you have signed up for (including a map of the building with the names of all rooms).
  • Stickers with your name to stick on your chest so that everyone knows who you are.
  • The website address where you can read the program of the con.
Useful information for the attendees and the sweets I was rewarded with in exchange for this write-up. I started scribbling the games I would participate in straight on the envelope.

Risto Welling is a regular of THE KRAKEN from way back. He always takes his throwing axes with him and offers lessons in their use on the garden to whoever wishes to learn. Moreover, it's already a standing tradition that on Sunday afternoon he cooks some crepes with jam on the oven he carries in his car all over from Finland to feed all the attendees. As if that weren't enough, that night when I arrived, he was volunteering at the "Infoshrine". After my check-in, he told me next door they were watching a movie from Sandy Petersen's collection. The title was The Stuff, and it deals about a strange slime that pops up in a village. At first people start eating it, but then the slime starts controlling the people and well, I wasn't feeling much like it, so I decided to go stare at the game sign-up timetables and figure out in which there were still gaps for me to play in.

Below you can read the workshops and games I signed up for:

Saturday:

There was a game scheduled for Saturday I would have loved to play in: a RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha game run by no less than Jason Durall called The Dreaming Ruins.
On the eve of an auspicious wedding, the bride-to-be has disappeared mysteriously. The bride's family and your own has requested you and your fellow adventurers to find her, and the trail leads to a far stranger place than you could have imagined.
I would have also liked to participate in a 13th Age Glorantha game titled: Skyfall. Unfortunately, and to no one's surprise, the six gaps for players for each game had already been filled. That's what you get for getting so late in the evening instead of being there before 22:00, when the signing-up starts. Despite that, there were still many interesting games available and my game schedule looked liked this in the end:

9:00 - 10:00: Kraken Masterclass: Building a Horror Scenario the Sandy Petersen Way: his creative process when designing scenarios for Call of Cthulhu.

10:00 - 11:00: Chaosium Chat: Jason Durall, RuneQuest line editor and Ian Cooper, HeroQuest line editor, chat about what future books they are preparing.

11:00: Horror Lottery to win a place in 4 possible games run by the VIPS, including one by Sandy Petersen.

11:00 - 12:00: Calling Cthulhu: Lynne Hardy, subeditor of Call of Cthulhu talked about future supplements and books of this line.

14:00 - 18:00: After Dark. A 7th ed. Call of Cthulhu game run by Lynne Hardy.

20:00 - 22:00: Starbrow's Revolt. Playtest a Gloranthan board game about the Hero Wars, created by Risto Welling.

Follow the link to read the post about Saturday. Or keep reading this one, as you please.
Staring at the huge array of games, I hesitated a lot. What games would you have liked to play in?

Sunday:

On Sunday morning there were 3 workshops or seminars. One by Sandy Petersen in which you could ask him anything about the Cthulhu Mythos, and then two by Ian Cooper which looked really good: The Nuts and Bolts of HeroQuest and Your Glorantha Will Vary, in which you could learn to create scenarios for HeroQuest Glorantha having no fear by not being 100% loyal to the background information. However, after much hesitating, I signed up for the following:

10:00: Yozarian's Gang. A game of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, run by me (!). The same game a friend had run at a tiny Spanish con called El día de las runas. In case no one happened to sign up for my game, I planned to sign up for:

11:00: Whitechapel Blackletter. A game of The trail of Cthulhu run by Nigel Clarke, whom I had already played a scenario back in 2016 (write-up in Spanish).

17:00: The Golden Snake. A RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha game set in Esrolia with lots of intrigue. I couldn't decide between this one and the next one.

18:00: Gated! Another RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha game about mercenary characters protecting a merchant caravan.

22:00: Unplanned game of Evil High Priest, the new board game by Sandy Petersen.

Follow the next link to go straight to the write-up of Sunday's games.

Before the start of the sign-up process, all GMs include their games on the schedule tables. Then, players can sign up by filling their names in the available spaces.

One of the available games surprised me a lot. It was a RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha game and the title was just: "DURULZ GAME". I couldn't believe it. I thought I was being so original by having prepared an all-duck game, and... Gasp...! Look at that! There was already someone else who had had exactly the same idea. The GM was Risto, so when I caught up with him I asked him about his game. He told me it was a duck game inspired by Robin Hood! But wait, that's not all. Two weeks after the con I found out still someone else had run an all-duck game that evening. A Welsh gentleman called Andrew Jones had run his Ducks on the Red Moon game with HeroQuest. With that title you can expect something really weird. And it was, because it dealt about a group of durulz who go on an epic heroquest to conquer the Red Moon (no less) and retrieve the legendary Golden Egg containing the first duck able to fly. It even had a cameo of the terrible Crimson Duck... What a shame having missed this superbly fun parody!

I was still analysing my gaming options when Fabian Küchler, main organizer of THE KRAKEN, went into the room to meet me. I guess the cinema session must have ended at that time because the main hall started getting busy. We chatted for a short while and among other topics, we talked about Greg Stafford, whom he had been close with, and he told me he had prepared a small tribute to the shaman during the con. Greg was one of the main reasons why THE KRAKEN and Tentacles conventions exist, so he was deeply thankful to the man. Then I was introduced to Chris Lemens, from Texas. This gentleman belongs to the group of friends Sandy Petersen usually playtests his games with years before they hit the kickstarter. On the Infoshrine Sandy was exposing some huge miniatures from The Gods War, the board game many funders were expecting to receive soon. Chris told us that during the playtests he had always played with the Sky faction, but that the game had evolved a lot since its humble origins when it only included 3 factions! According to him, back then it had been way more difficult for Yelm to be rescued from the Underworld.

At The Kraken I could have a close look at the miniatures in The Gods War. Picture by Aliénor Perrard.

Suddenly, Fabian handed me a plastic cup with a liqueur called "The Kraken Rum". I noticed the bottle had an actual stylish kraken on the label. Yummy. We toasted and then they told me the story about the tall plastic cups like the one I had in my hand. Years ago, during the Tentacles Convention in Bacharach at the Rhine, Fork, one of team members, brought with him plastic cups  to make a cocktails for everyone. But the guy bought 2000 cups (!). And so, since that day, in all next cons they try to use those glasses to have some shots. And there are still many of them left.

Shortly after that I went to bed. I was exhausted. At the same time though, I was excited for being again at THE KRAKEN and glad I had managed to talk a bit with some people despite having got there so late. The next morning the con would start in earnest!

So what do you think? What games would you have liked to play in? Check my next two posts about the "gaming retreat" THE KRAKEN 2018. I will tell you abit about the games I played and everything else on top. Follow the link to keep reading:

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