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What Dr Moose Did At Continuum 20 August 2016

Posted by Dr Moose in Chaplaincy, Conventions, Faith, Geekery, Glorantha, Life, Role-Playing Games.
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The good intentions of blogging are rather like my aspirations to so many things, fragmentary and scattered. However, the house is quiet, with girls asleep, the GLW will be on the way back from her parents (with Mummy for company), I have some housework and a sermon for tomorrow to prepare, and therefore I am here!

It’s been a month since I finished my sabbatical, and I’m still not quite sure where it went, but it has. It’s been a busy and rather expensive time, not just returning to the joy of work (and yes, most of the time it is), but also what with the acquisition of a new hobby, a summer family holiday, a Role-Playing Games Convention and with the annual pilgrimage to Greenbelt due for next weekend.

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Last weekend saw me (unusually taking the car rather than a bus) heading off to the biennial Continuum convention in Oadby on the outskirts of Leicester. The event always holds a double significance for me, as not only a wonderful excuse to meet friends old and new, play games, drink beer, sing songs and have the opportunity to hold forth about something I allegedly know, but also to revisit the parish where from 2000-2003 I served as curate. It’s always a little odd in that regard, to see the place slowly changing and to count the years in growing disbelief. Where has the time gone? And why has it stolen so much of the colour from my hair and traded it for an expanded waistline?

I always enjoy Continuum. The first Con I ever went to was the final Convulsion (2002), from which the Con derives, and is the only British RPG Con I regularly get to. As much as I’d prefer it to be an annual event it’s possibly because it is biennial that I can actually make it with minimal household wrangling. (I can’t hide the fact that given the choice, and budget, I’d happily go off to quarterly, if not monthly.) It’s often the only time in a year that I might get to actually play some RPGs rather than read, think, write and dream about them. That’s certainly the case this year, despite a highly enjoyable trip to EternalCon in Germany, where for various reasons, some within and some beyond my control, I didn’t get to play a single RPG (although I did get a freeform and some board gaming).

I managed to arrive with plenty of time at Continuum on the Friday, finding registration far quicker than I remember, and once I’d sorted out the accommodation (a room identical to nearly every other year it’s been held at the rather bland John Foster Hall) headed off to a functional lunch, not so much based on hunger as the recognition that when the bar opened I had every intention of using it, and that my Friday record of consumption tends to be quite high! I was pleased to be able to land a slot in a game of Kingdom, a game I’d not played before, but from the author of Microscope, of which I have a copy. Kingdom is a GM-less, dice-less, narrative, story-telling game in which each player takes the role of movers and shakers in some form of organised society, not necessarily a kingdom per se. We decided on a D&D pastiche dungeon ‘kingdom’ from which the ruling Lich has disappeared for reasons unknown, leaving the Katakombs (spelling intentional, as was the liberal addition of umlauts and other such special characters to the second half of the name, which I’ve forgotten) without conventional leadership. “Power” was left in the grasp of his Right Hand Man, “Perspective” came from Advisor to the Drow Queen and the Chief Chorister Slavemaster of the Temple which guarded an artefact of great power (kept from awakening by the endless atonal cacophony of slaves), and the Mushroom Shaman, guardian of the Fungus Caverns that produced the bountiful food and hallucinogens that kept the place alive was the “Touchstone” (who perceived and spoke the feelings of ‘the people’). Each scene is dominated by a question that can only be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and is decided after all players have had their input. I’d certainly consider acquiring it at some point (even if I successfully resisted temptation at the con).

I had been listed as running a game of Heroquest titled “Whatever Happened to Lyubov Orlova”, in the mould of a contemporary action movie, but pulled it, as it simply wasn’t complete enough to run. Maybe next time. Instead the evening saw me consuming pizza, delivered from off-site, consuming much Hobgoblin and catching up with old friends and new about all sorts of subjects, including a degree of what I’ve come to regard as being “Chaplain to the Con”, until well into the morning (the bar being open until 2am this year). Mercifully the weather was not as unbearably hot as last year, even if there wasn’t much time to actually sleep!

Saturday was greeted by the traditional cooked breakfast, the only meal included within the price, and correspondingly busy (even if the kitchen had run out of sausages by the time I arrived). Following on from this was Jane Williams’ hugely enjoyable Great Duck Point Boat Race, a very-tongue in cheek rules-light boardgame outing in Glorantha in which difference teams compete for the privilege of securing a trade concession, although most of the time other (often far sillier, or just odder, agendas) are in play. Teams included a group of Lunars apparently genuinely trying to win the contract, a boatload of duck bandits, a group of coots (with much inter-avian rivalry), not one, but two dragonnewt teams, one with the mystical aim of finishing third, the other a band with a tendency to stop at random intervals to play mysterious Dragonnewt Death Metal (with the added bonus of Turning Undead) and a group of Beavers. Great fun, obviously, was had by all!

Once the excitement of all that had been resolved I yielded to human weakness, having realised just how much I’d had to drink the day before and getting worse rather than better as the day went on, and availed myself of no lunch, a shower and a couple of hours of afternoon sleep. I must be getting old of something!

Suitably refreshed I returned for a surprisingly good Vegetable and Chick Pea Tagine from the cafeteria (my only quibble would be that it was somewhat overpriced for the quantity, and yes, I would have happily had more). The evening was my turn to give back, rather than simply take, and the ensuing game of Glorantha Toon, The Phoney Express, was suitably fun, even if nine players was rather stretching it. Our intrepid heroes from Hippi Irrippi Same Day Courier Service succeeded in their mission, leaving the City of 10,000 9,997 Magicians in Aggar to return the Baggage to it’s frightful owner in the Upland Swamp of Harshest Tarsh, despite the machinations of a hotel where you could check out any time you like, but never leave, and a Mistress Troll heroine in Black bearskin cloak and full lead armour, not to mention the Baggage itself and several others. The players all acquitted themselves well, but the amorous Morocanth (channelling Leslie Phillips an Terry Thomas, “well hello…”) and the lovelorn Crested Dragonnewt are worthy of special mention.

And of course, the bar was still open when we finished…..

It being Sunday the following day, what else would be happening other than my 10am seminar slot on Spirituality (or Religion) and Role-Playing, for the sixth time running. I never quite know where it’ll go, partly because my preparation is fairly minimal and partly because the interactive element is important. Not just me telling people something but us all engaging together. As usual I can’t remember any details (or maybe could, but am aware I have lots to do today!) but I know we touched on things like the power of narrative and why it can be difficult for people of faith, about community and belonging and I spoke to some degree about my sabbatical and the differences that have evolved between what happens at Continuum and what happens at EternalCon (where the former is a more incarnational presence and the latter a more sacramental one). While several regulars failed to make it along to the seminar there were some new faces, and, from the feedback I received it went well and provoked thought… which is what it’s meant to do. I’ve also pretty much decided, and have two members of the Committee happy that I do, formally introduce myself at the start of the 2018 Con as available as Chaplain/Listening Ear/whatever.

In the afternoon I engaged in the activity I have a love-hate relationship with: freeforming. I always enjoy it (probably more in retrospect than at the time), even though I feel that I’m not very good at it. Out of the list of freeforms this year one really jumped out at me, and that was MASH: Brothers in Arms – a well-balanced game set in the 3066th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. Any resemblance between the characters of the film and TV series is completely deliberate, and beautifully done. I had slight concerns that the game might fail to capture the darker side of the original as well as the humorous, but am delighted to say it got it perfectly right, and the interplay between characters was for the most part very well-handled (even if I, as usual, felt that I wasn’t quite getting it right). It was the smallest freeform I’ve been in, with 14 players, and ran for about two and half hours, meaning that although I was occasionally struggling to do things it never reached the point when I felt too isolated and adrift, which I find can happen in longer games. I’d recommend you play it.

Sunday evening didn’t quite happen as I’d expected. Originally I’d had nothing scheduled, but because it felt like games were perhaps a little thin on the ground I’d decided to run my Toon Glorantha game for a second time, hopefully with no more than 6 players this time. With four lined up and a takeaway on the way disaster struck with an attack of the migraine eyes! I don’t get them very often, mercifully, and these days the headaches rarely seem to follow, but I can’t afford to take any chances and ended up dosed-up on my tablets and reliant on others to help me I sat mainly with eyes closed awaiting my take-away, the flavour of which was not diminished by the experience. Sadly the game was though, and I couldn’t run it, which was a shame. Instead I retired to bed for a few hours… setting my alarm for 11pm as I needed to be at the Glorantha Singalong (as it has been perceived that I possess not only a voice but an ability to hold a tune and sing it loudly enough to wrestle (most) other singers into line!) In the event it was very good, being moderately well-attended and mainly tuneful, and because the bar was running extended hours we actually managed to retire there afterwards!

Unsurprisingly Sunday was a very late night (probably made personally possible by the sleep I took earlier), and I was impressed how quickly many managed to arise in the morning (whether they wanted to depart or not!) Having the car, and reluctant to depart I ended up as impromptu taxi to the station before returning to loiter and make the most of the morning, and then to take probably the oldest newcomer to the Con most of the way home.

All in all, it was a good Con, a very good Con. I hesitate to call it the best, at least in part because with two years between each it’s very hard to actually compare them in a meaningful manner! As at EternalCon earlier in the year there were a number of familiar faces who were absent maybe as many as a dozen, and the experience, for me, was slightly weaker by their absence. As usual there was a modest Trade Hall, where I managed to avoid too much expenditure (although I did finally pick up Ars Magica 5th ed, something that’s been on my mind for a while. Thank you Leisure Games!) There was a good spread of seminars offered, even if I only managed to get to my own this year, but a noticeable thinness of Guests of Honour. I suspect this has as much to do with the timing of the Con as anything else, coming not long after GenCon, but also reflecting the financial realities involved in running such an event, and as always I’m grateful to the Committee, and as always, tempted to offer my services. In that respect though I have to recognise real world responsibilities… and my frankly poor record in delivering anything on a strategic timescale. Having said that there is one strategic action that would be useful. Continuum has evolved from Convulsion, and has its roots in the games of Chaosium. Call of Cthulhu and its accompanying stable of games remains strong, and there is a commendable variety of games on offer. However, as something of a Gloranthaphile, and especially given the recent and continuing rise of all things Glorantha, it’s a shame there were not more Gloranthan games & seminars. Perhaps in 2018 it’s time for myself and other like-minded folks to network and pull together a consortium who’ll ensure that at least one Gloranthan offering is available in each slot? With Runequest, Heroquest and 13th Age all on offer it shouldn’t be that difficult, after all. Maybe it’s time for the Glorantha Geeks to rise?

And on that point, whether I’m finished or not I need to rise from the laptop. I have a sermon to write, housework to do and a fourteen year old to wake before she misses the afternoon the way she’s missed the morning!

And maybe, just maybe, I might get around to blogging more often, after all, I mentioned a new hobby earlier (I believe that is known as a Hook….)

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