domingo, 13 de enero de 2019

The Kraken 2018: the Con with Chaosium (part 3)

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In this trilogy of write-ups I'm telling you about my experience at the RPG and board games con THE KRAKEN 2018, which took place in a remote village in Germany, and is famous for including among its attendees people like Sandy Petersen and other authors involved or working for Chaosium. It lasts for a weekend, so in the first part the trilogy I talked about how I got there, and in the second part I told you all about the seminars I attended and the games I played on Saturday. Below you can read all I did on Sunday: roleplaying games, a brief tribute to Greg Stafford and, to finish with, more roleplaying games and board games. Let's go!

>>>Puedes leer esto en español aquí<<<

On Sunday I woke up feeling much better in terms of sleep, although I was missing some more hours. But after an invigorating breakfast, the only thing in my mind was set on...

10:00   Running RuneQuest Glorantha: Yozarian's Gang

My plan of running my first game in English had me a little bit jittery. Most of all, I wanted to know if enough people had signed up for my game, so I went straight to the main building to check the sign-up paper. No one. No one had signed up for it yet. Well, it wasn't that surprising, come to think of it, as I had hanged the paper just the previous night well after dinner, so not many people had had the chance to see it. I decided to wait an hour to see if I got lucky. Some people came close to the schedule panel and I saw Chris Lemens, who I had first met on Friday, reading the blurb of my game. He told me he loved Gloranthan ducks, but that he was going to wait until he saw other people signing up. However, an hour after that no one else had signed up for my game, so I cancelled it. This is another obvious lesson to remember: don't include your games too late into the schedule, otherwise no one will sign up for it.

Oh well, maybe next time.

11:00 - 18:30   A game of The Trail of Cthulhu

Fortunately, I still managed to join this game run by Nigel Clarke. Two years ago, this British gentleman had run a Mythras game (back then it was still titled RuneQuest 6) set in the world of Zothique by Clark Ashton Smith (read more here -> use the translation gadget). The players included two I had already played with during Saturday's Cthulhu game. I was looking forward to trying The Trail of Cthulhu system and Nigel summed up the main rules and made them sound very easy to grasp. I found out the basic roll is done with 2D6. Before you roll, you can spend skill points of the skill you are using to add them to the result of the roll in order to beat the target number, which is usually 6 or 7, if I'm not wrong. This is how you use your action skills. On the other hand, you have investigation skills, such as Astronomy or Occultism, which you don't need to roll at all, you just need to have the appropriate skill and just for that, you get a clue. However, you can spend skill points to get further information out of the clue. Similarly to Call of Cthulhu, you also have hit points and sanity points, but also stability points, which you lose every time your character witnesses shocking events. You can regain these through your sources of stability and pillars of sanity, which are places, people or beliefs that help you restore your lost stability and sanity between adventures.

The GM explains the rules of the game to my boss, the bookkeeper. Picture by Aliénord Perrard.

The scenario we played is The Whitechapel Blackletter, which is included in the supplement Bookhounds of London. In this scenario, the player characters either work for or have some sort of relationship with a bookshop in London. The gamemaster gave us the pregenerated characters and you could choose between the owner, the book hunter, the journalist, etc. I got the Russian antiquarian. The plot kicked off with the task of finding an old book that was going to be auctioned privately somewhere in the city. We started investigating and everything got very interesting pretty fast. Especially when we realised others were looking for the same book, and they were ahead of us! It was cool when the first supernatural event took place, as one of the characters had to face it absolutely alone. That's what you get for dividing the group! So now you know, children: never go investigating on your own. On the other hand, the GM did something I had never seen before: he had some blank plastic cards he used to write on them the clues we found and the non-player characters we met. Every time we got a new piece of information, he filled a card with that clue and left it on the table for everyone to see, so we could group them per topics. We were completely immersed in the game when lunch was served. That day it was pasta either with vegetarian ingredients or with cheese and bacon, all of it covered with cream sauce. We took our dishes to the table and we kept playing, although we only chewed when we didn't have to talk, of course. We are civilised people here.

Unfortunately, some aspects harmed the development of the game. For starters, the group playing on the table next to us was being very noisy and that was annoying. Of course, in this sort of conventions there will be people playing everywhere and it's difficult to have just one game going on in every room. But the worst thing was that our investigation stalled and we didn't know how to go on. Precisely The Trail of Cthulhu roleplaying game is based on the assumption that a bad dice roll won't ever hamper your investigation, but then, if the players don't know how to follow the clues or what to do next... Then what? We slowed down and the session started to lengthen. As the game had been going on for more than 4 hours, one of the players told the GM that in 10 minutes one of the lottery games was starting, and he hoped we were OK with it, but he was going to abandon the game to switch to the other. I thought that was all right, but I guess the gamemaster didn't take that too well.

16:00 - 16:30   Tribute to Greg Stafford

Fabian summoned us all to take the group picture. As we were all together on the garden, it was announced that in the old chapel they had placed a condolence book and, whoever wanted to, could go there and just sit some minutes in silence in honour to the recently deceased Greg Stafford. I went and wrote some words in the book. However, it felt like too little for such a great man. Well, I'm sure not everyone was interested in that, but I personally would have liked to hear the people who'd known him to share some anecdotes or something more personal. On the other hand, I believe playing his games was in itself a good tribute.

I went back to the game of The Trail of Cthulhu. Seeing the lack of ideas on our part, the GM introduced a couple scenes to liven up the game. I liked one of them a lot: one of the book hunters came across a suspicious woman at a Tube station, but she was standing on the opposite platform, so he had to run upstairs and downstairs to find her. Finally, the GM hastened the end towards the final scene where everything was solved with some tension. Although some of the players later voiced complaints at some of the most rail-roading decisions of the GM, the end of the story was great and absolutely fitting: the very example of a pyrrhic victory.

17:30 - 20:00   A game of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha

I sat around the table with four other players and introduced myself to the GM: Andrew Wood, who had come from a faraway land. In the 2016 edition of this convention I had met people coming from faraway places. For example, a guy from Texas or Andrew Bean, from Australia. But this new Andrew had come from even further away: New Zealand. I obviously asked him whether, having come from so far away, he would take the chance to visit Europe a bit. But no! He had come from the Antipodes exclusively to attend THE KRAKEN 2018. Wow.

I was very much looking forward to playing that game after so much cthuloidean action. The game hadn't started yet, because the character sheets were being printed (!). Curiously, our GM had created the PCs with software he himself had programmed. Alas, he hadn't had time enough to fill the official RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha character sheets with the data. So he had just downloaded them and had asked the organizers to print them for him. That had had a positive outcome for me, because last game had taken so long to finish that I had feared I wouldn't get to this game in time. However, some of the players got tired of waiting and abandoned the game to go look for other games. Only three of us were left and it was cool because then everything flowed more quickly. We were, first an Orlanthi warrior played by Ivan, a nice guy from Malta. Then, a Chalana Arroy healer played by Gianni Vacca, who lives in France. And as for me, first I had chosen a weird character: a follower of Eurmal the Trickster who was an assassin equipped with heavy armour. But then I changed my mind and chose a thief, follower of the goddess Vinga, daughter of Orlanth, who I named Saryan and who was a good archer. Andrew's game was going to have strong visuals so, for example, every character had a miniature to represent it.

At the beginning, the gamemaster warned us that the game consisted on playing a series of scenes of an adventure he was still working on. I wasn't bad at all, but of course, in the end we felt we had left the story unfinished. The initial premise was that the three main characters had been hired to guard a caravan departing from the city of Nochet. The adventure started when we got to the end of the journey: a small stead on the fringe of the fertile area in the Valley of Cradles. At that moment, Andrew said: "Wait a minute", and he got four colour printed sheets of paper on the table that he joined to make a detailed map of the terrain. Then he placed the miniatures on top and said: "So, what do you do?"

An incredible visual display

We noticed one of the houses was burning and spotted two scorpion men. We killed one and scared off the other. Later, we met a retired Lhankor Mhy sage. He was the recipient of the package the traders were transporting, a gift from far away Esrolia. Since we were there, he asked us to go visit the chief of the area and warn him about the Chaos attack. We departed immediately riding our zebras and we went round a haunted forest where according to the legend, was inhabited by hundreds of ghosts. We arrived in the town when it was already dark, and were coldly welcomed by the head of the guards. He told us the chief was in some nearby ruins, fighting Chaos. Later on, we found out something smelled fishy as we saw the guard talking with a mean-looking tusk rider. I deemed it necessary to spend a rune point to cast the spell Wind Words, which came in very handy to understand what they were plotting...

Saryan the Vingan talking with the guards during the RuneQuest Glorantha game.

A bit later on we joined a bloody combat. In order to establish when acted who, Andrew had bought Infinity Engine's Strike Rank Tracker at the KRAKEN Bazaar. Each of us placed a rune counter next to the strike rank we could do our action. This was very useful, as it let everyone know the order of actions. However, after this short combat scene the game came to an end and we could only guess what would have happened next! On the one hand, time did fly, but on the other hand, it was too short a game. The exact opposite to the previous game I had just played.

At least the visual display was great. Besides, after we finished, Andrew had a surprise in store for us: gifts! Every player got a big Australian chocolate and a small cloth pouch to keep coins or dice, decorated with a Maori symbol. That was the first time in my life someone has ever gifted me after playing a roleplaying game. And with his nice gesture, the GM automatically left a good memory of the game in all of us.

The pouch from New Zealand and two things I bought: a tale set in New Pavis and the official RuneQuest Glorantha dice.

20:00 - 20:30   Dinner and board games' chat

During dinner, I chatted away with Gianni about some political topics (no less) I was looking forward to talk about with him. Then the rest of the "French team" sat on our table: Jack, Jean-Christophe, Philippe and Remy, and I did my best to follow the conversation with my French Language skill of 25%. The main topic was board games. I found out, among other things, that Jack worked for Asmodee demoing games at cons. I then commented how the only games I buy nowadays are those I'm sure my wife will also enjoy (with some exceptions), and he recommended me Paper Tales. Later on, I suggested playing some board game, and so Remy went over to Sandy Petersen to ask him if he would let us play with one of his latest board games...

20:30 - 00:30   A game of Evil High Priest

Evil High Priest is a board game for 2 to 5 players designed by Lincoln Petersen together with his dad Sandy. It's funny because, unlike in the Call of Cthulhu RPG, your goal here is to help an evil cult be the first to summon an Old One. Regarding the mechanics, it's a worker placement game with a different touch. The game includes several boards, one for each Old One you are trying to summon. All the classics are there: from Cthulhu to the Yellow King, even the Black Goat. This last one is the one we used. The other players had already tried the game two days ago, so Remy patiently explained all the rules to me.

The goal of Evil High Priest is to be the player with the most points at the end of the game, and the easiest way to achieve that is by breaking the seals preventing the Old One to manifest in our world. These seals are on the main board and you can place your cultists there to break them, but first you have to follow the lines and pay some tokens, and that configuration changes on every board, which I guess is a way of adding replayability to the game. When the last seal is broken, the Old One is summoned, the game ends and everyone counts how many points they've assembled.

Playing Evil High Priest with the French guys.

But there are other boards: the board of resources, divided in spaces where you can place your cultists in order to get different tokens that are the game's currency: blood, money, energy, magic, etc. You keep these resources safe in your evil cult's lair, which is a small board that every player keeps in front of him. Resources are used to advance through the summoning board and break seals. But, in order to win you need to build a good lair, with lots of traps, monsters and safes to keep your valuable resources (and the broken seals!). These sections in your lair must be paid with resources and you'd better hurry and build a better lair than the other players, because every time someone breaks a seal, all cults suffer the investigators' attack (the usual PCs in a Call of Cthulhu game) who are trying to stop the summoning. If you haven't managed to protect your lair with good defences, the investigators will take away your resources and kill your cultists. If all goes awry, you can always rescue more cultists from the asylum and harvest more resources, but perhaps by then the other evil cults (meaning the other players) will have reaped many more victory points than you (!).

The game them revolves around each turn knowing where is best to place your cultists so you can get the resources you need. At the same time, you need to know what improvements to buy for your lair so you can then break seals and get points, but also damage the other players. It's very strategic and during the game you keep thinking: "Mmhm, I'm going to get three blood tokens now and two magic, and so I will break that seal, or will it be better to spend them in purchasing a new monster for my lair? Because if I break the seal now, the investigators will get all my money and..." and so forth.

In the end, Remy was the winner. He mopped the floor with us, actually. I was content, however, at ending in second place. It's a fun game and I like how it combines the worker placement mechanic with building a lair. This reminded me a bit of Castles of Mad King Ludwig, because there are always three improvements available to all players, and the first to get the best one is usually the one with the best lair, so he can better withstand the investigators' attack. Summing up: I had a lot of fun.

"Mmmhm, what should I do now? - Original picture by Aliénor Perrard.

00:30 - whenever   Chatting about roleplaying games

After the game I came across Juho, a Finnish guy who I had played a game of HeroQuest with during THE KRAKEN 2016. He introduced me to his friend Timo and I learned they belong to the Kalikos Association, a Finnish association of Glorantha fans that, among other things, has published HeroQuest in Finland, as well as a Gloranthan fanzine in English: The Zin Letters. I had a blast talking with them.

When I mentioned I had played the Colymar campaign with HeroQuest Glorantha, Juho asked me how that had gone, because he had run it for his friends and he was curious to know how different our campaigns might have been. I was surprised to know how cruel his players had been with the Greydogs. Contrary to my experience, they had encouraged a true blood feud against the Greydog.

Moreover, thanks to Juho I learned that Jeff Richard, creative director of the RuneQuest Glorantha line, had participated in the Glorantha seminar with Ian Cooper that morning and had explained how he was working on the new heroquesting rules with RuneQuest. It looks like Jeff had been working on a way to run heroquests that does not require the GM to first create a myth that then the players must memorise and go through in the Godplane. The approach Jeff is working on consists on going to the Godplane and creating the myth as the players go through it, so there is no longer the need to plan and prepare a coherent myth before play. That is to say, the in-world characters do know the myth beforehand, it's just that it won't be necessary for other players (and the GM!) to know it beforehand. In order to achieve this, he's working on a set of maps of the Godplane, where you can see how all the myths interact, so at least the GM can have a good picture of where can the PCs end up if they do certain things in each mythic place, so by chaining Godplane events, players can get to a climax not even the GM was aware of before the beginning of the quest. In my opinion this sounds like a fresh and great idea so people have it easier to go heroquesting without the need to first find the most appropriate myth. On the other hand, it looks like a very hard feat to pull off in terms of mechanics, so we'll need to wait and see what the final rules look like.

Talking about past games. Is there anything better than that? - Picture by Aliénor Perrard.

We also talked a bit about Greg Stafford and how the news of his passing away had affected each of us. Juho has been attending THE KRAKEN since the beginning and before the Tentacles Convention, so he had met Greg on several occasions. In 2010, he had even managed to play a game run by Greg Stafford (!). Stafford had a game in store for the players that was completely out of the ordinary: The Sylkar Mystery, with HeroQuest Glorantha. Read the blurb below (also found here):

Imperial Command: Seven Lunar scholars are to be sent to resolve a problem. They are to outfit an expedition and go see...  (A week-long mini-campaign!)

Players played the role of Lunars at the end of the Third Age who were tasked with investigating what had exactly happened during the recent cataclysm known as the Hero Wars. Greg had dropped a big fat pile of manuscripts on the table and told them: "Solve the puzzle!" In the end though, Juho had been disappointed by the fact they hadn't had time enough to finish the game. On the other hand, Gianni Vacca had been telling me hours before how he had also played in that game, but had been shocked at finding such an experimental game.

In this kind of conventions it's such a pity to realise that, when you've finally managed to break the ice and you start feeling a real camaraderie, then the con is over and you have to go home. Maybe that's why some people lengthen their stay by meeting there two days before the official start.

Good bye and wrap up

On Monday morning the usual closing ceremony was held during breakfast, but this time it had to be shorter due to time constraints. I like it that they thank all the gamemasters who have run games and every one of them is rewarded with some Chaosium product or book. Afterwards there were further acknowledgements, thanks, and applause. Finally, the people who had booked the return trip on the coach took their things and left.

I left a little bit later. When I started my car again, I didn't hear any strange beep this time, so I drove back to Berlin. The phantasmagorical landscape that had unsettled me on Friday evening had vanished, and the sunlight turned it into a sunny sight full of lush meadows and cows. Even my flight was on time!

This had been my second time in an international RPG convention. This time over, already the first day I realised this time I wasn't going to get the "first time" novelty effect that had made the first time so special. However, this was substituted by something perhaps even better than that, which is meeting people you met the first time and chat with them, enjoying the feeling of belonging a bit more in the crowd. That nice feeling of not needing to break so much ice. For someone who took the plunge and went alone to an event like this, that's worth a lot. And, as always, it's the people you meet what makes a trip like this really worth it. Maybe I hope I can attend THE KRAKEN again in the near future. Finally, I have to thank Fabian for having found a gap for me again in this great gaming retreat.

Nice people, from different countries - Picture by Aliénor Perrard.

Oh, and by the way: next edition is on the 18-21 October 2019! More info on the website.
And there's also the Mini-Kraken on 7-10 June 2019. Are you going? Registration is already open for this summer mini-version of THE KRAKEN. So don't be like me and sign-up early!!!  :-)

5 comentarios:

  1. Coloured printed sheets to form a detailed map looks like a fantastic idea, and also giving trinkets to the players who played with you ;)
    Finnish gamers are fantastic people to discuss with. Go to Ropecon in Finland if you can! :)
    I also don't have a fond memory of my only con game... convention game with Greg Stafford. We guess he had ran so many games that he wouldn't bother to write a scenario beforehand ;) Still, great guy.

    1. Hi Regis, and thanks for your comment! :-)

      So you've been to Ropecon in Finland, and on top of that you have also played a game with Greg Stafford?! I'm beginning to think I'm the only fan who never got the chance to play a game with him! :_( So did you also play in The Sylkar Mystery or was it some other game?

    2. The game was supposed to be a test game for a "Holly Grail Quest" campaign. Greg ran the worst Pendragon game I ever was in :( no preparation, no story, boring battles from which our characters came useless, out-of-genre jokes of Monty Pythons... the fun came from the other players! You did not miss anything ;)

    3. I'm amazed to read that! O_O; No one would've expected that from the Master, right?


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