The British Role-Playing Society held the Baroquon convention this year from 16th to 18th July in the pleasant surroundings of New Hall, Cambridge. Although the attendance was over one hundred zealous gamers, the convention did not appear crowded owing to the roominess of the hosting college. As New Hall is almost literally around the corner and across the street from me, I had no excuse for missing Baroquon.
It was an incredibly well organised con with the committee ensuring that games, events, panels and everything else happened on time and with the minimum of fuss. Even the absence of the primary Guest of Honour (Mary Gentle) due to illness did not hinder the committee. One minor complaint that I did have was the lack of an event timetable released in advance of the convention itself – it would have helped me to plan my activities somewhat better. I managed (somehow) to see a large slice of the convention but there was a lot of other stuff I didn't catch.
I spent the Friday evening attending the panels on "Styles of Play", "The State of the Industry" and "Running LARPs". As Baroquon was my first gaming convention and I had been "volunteered" to sit on a couple of panels, it seemed sensible to observe some of the more practised panel members in action. "Styles of Play" was an interesting discussion led by Andrew Rilstone on how to assist gamers in fitting game mood to game universe. I'm not a fan of live action role-playing so what struck me most about the problems of LARPs explored by the LARPs panel was their similarity to the problems experienced in tabletop role-playing. If anything, the LARPers seem to have a harder time of it than other gamers. "The State of the Industry" provided an opportunity for James Wallis of Hogshead Publishing (publishers of Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play and The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen) to hold forth on the past, present and future of the adventure games industry from his unique perspective. It was also an opportunity for James to plug his imminent and future role-playing games. As these are likely to be incredibly good games, he will be spared prosecution (or is that persecution?) by the "People's Revolutionary Committee, Role-Playing Games Subcommittee, Firing Squad Detail"!
"The People's Revolutionary Committee, Role-Playing Games Subcommittee, Firing Squad Detail" was the con's first truly silly event. Masterminded by James Wallis as the People's representative, it provided the opportunity for the assembled gamers to prosecute games, companies, organisations and individuals for crimes against the revolutionary ideals in a spirit of fun. Most of the prosecutions were purely fun digs at various games, Marcus L Rowland (author-publisher of Forgotten Futures : The Role-Playing Game of Scientific Romances) prosecuted himself (!), and Hogshead Publishing managed to escape the firing squad twice (once by vote and once by inconsistency). A few prosecutions were on more serious subjects and allowed the People and their duly appointed representative to vent their anger on a number of justified targets.
Despite a disturbed night's sleep as a result of the heat, it was back to the con on Saturday morning for more panels and some browsing in the dealer room. On impulse, I picked up four of the 101 series of supplements produced and published by BITS (British Isles Traveller Support). These are supplements with a lot of potential. I'll be reviewing them over the next couple of issues.
Saturday afternoon saw me usefully employed as a panellist on "You Couldn't Make It Up". The aim of this panel was to entertain the attendees with real historical incidents which would be too incredible for a role-playing scenario. We quickly decided that role-players will believe virtually anything in a game setting and so contented ourselves with relating anecdotes, covering "invisible" aircraft, drunken sailors taking forts single-handedly, bizarre "scientific" theories, military blunders, and ill-fated expeditions, amongst others.
After a pause for breath and reflection, I set myself up in the Walkway and made my final preparations to GM Run out the Guns! Eight gamers had signed up which made for some last-minute panic as I had only prepared seven characters. A couple of minutes work with the Duelist template and the Colonist and Schoolmaster backgrounds provided an eighth character. The players duly assembled. One of the players saw that I was intending to run with pregenerated characters and bowed out immediately claiming prior bad experiences with such characters. So I shelved the Duelist, and got on with running the game. Three hours of "Har Har!", councils of war, landing parties, musketry, raking broadsides and more yielded the pirates of the good ship Bonaventure a large haul in doubloons and silver and saw the unfortunate crew of the San Cristobel marooned. It nearly did for my voice, but the session was a successful one. The scenario, A Fistful of Doubloons, will be appearing here as soon as the editorial schedule permits. (Yes, I know I'm the general editor here but somebody else has to proof-read my articles...)
Next up was "Have I Got Rules for You", a quiz game on the more esoteric details of games from the present and the past. Quite silly but fun to watch. The major event of the day was the Charity Auction in aid of Intermediate Technology with games, artwork, memorabilia, and other oddities for sale to the highest bidder. The auctioneers praised, lambasted or simply described the lots according to their own particular biases and most lots found new homes. The last lot and the highlight of the evening was a copy of the out-of-print and much sought after Ringworld role-playing game. The high opening price of forty pounds sterling discouraged frivolous bids and the auction became a tense three-way battle. My nerve and bank balance held and I left with Ringworldwhich turns out to be quite a nifty game.
Sunday was the third and final day of Baroquon, and only Baroquon would have a panel on "How to Get Out Of The Role-Playing Industry". Somewhat of a misnomer, this panel actually gave advice on the safest ways of getting into the industry, so that the rest of us could escape. (Didn't work, I'm still slaving away ensuring that you have yet another issue to feast your eyes on ...)
This was followed by "If It Ain't Baroque, Don't Fix It", with Phil Masters, Andrew Rilstone and myself ranting about how few people go beyond the medieval era when setting up games and making some insightful remarks on what can be done in the Renaissance and after for a refreshingly different game. (Okay, I'll grant you that some of the remarks were more obvious than insightful but nobody lynched us.)
In the afternoon, I had been planning to run Beneath the Veil, a perilous adventure set in the jungles of Venus, to play-test Worlds at War. Unfortunately I made the mistake of scheduling this still unknown game against two large LARPs and unsurprisingly found myself with insufficient players. The game was advertised in a preconvention progress report, but I should have added some explanatory detail to the signup sheet. Moral of the story is to run big brand name games against major events and save the unknown games for time slots with lighter competition. You live and learn in this industry or you don't last long.
Cancelling Beneath the Veil, I quickly entered myself into a novelty Traveller game run by Andy Lilly and a henchman from BITS. Two groups of half a dozen silly characters joked our way through the equally silly plot. It was good fun and the first time I've had the chance to play in a game for four years.
I then loitered in the bar and watched the final half hour of a play-test of "Get Your Trousers On, You're Nicked", a game based on Seventies' cop shows. Hogshead Publishing aims to launch this game (probably with a different title) in the first quarter of next year. More details as they happen.
One final touch of surrealism closed the convention as it was decreed that the convention would not officially end until the presentation of a gift could be made to Mary Gentle from the Committee. It is intended for this to happen once she has recovered from her operations. Since that is likely to be in September, Baroquon will officially run for a full eight weeks.
And the current Baroquon committee did find some victims to form the core of the organising team for Rococon which will be held in 2001. See you there.
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