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Conpulsion 2017: Reflections

This weekend I attended Conpulsion in Edinburgh for the first time. I say “for the first time”. In reality I’d attended it in it’s previous guise of Big Con back in the early 1990s but I don’t recall much beyond a bizarre LARP session where a litter bin was supposed to be an Android.

This year I submitted a game to be run. I opted to run a 13th Age game, which was pushing myself slightly, having only ever run D&D 5th Edition before. I didn’t think D&D in any form would fly with the selection committee so I opted for 13th Age, thinking that even though it was a d20 game, the indie nature of the game would get me in the door. And it did. I had decided to run “Make Your Own Luck“, a lovely little one-shot by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan which is great in it’s own right but also serves as an introduction to that most unusual of recurring villains – the living dungeon known as The Stone Thief.

I’d only GM’d one 13th Age game before, the previous Tuesday night, when I ran a dry run rehearsal of this scenario on Roll20 to help me to prepare. It went well, although (as I was soon to learn) I had perhaps relied too much on both the in-built support for the system in Roll20 and the fact that my “dry run” players were mostly all experienced in 13th Age (more about that later).

On Saturday morning, I rocked up at Teviot House with my long time gaming buddy Don and got set up. My session was scheduled to run from 10am to 1pm. Arriving at the signup desk, I noticed with some concern that there was only 1 player signed up with an hour to go. Don very kindly added his name to the list on the basis that “if there’s only one name on there then naebody else will sign up”. Wise words but I wasn’t confident.

However, I need not have feared. At exactly 10am there was a deluge of players at my table in Potterrow and we were off.


The game started and for a complete novice to 13th Age, I was doing OK. The players were engaged, the story was woven and the action started immediately. It was about 3 rounds in to the first combat that I realised I hadn’t been using the escalation die, applying damage on a miss and I hadn’t asked the players to roll icon relationship dice.

You’re probably thinking that every GM misses things, right? Yeah they do. I however had missed the three core mechanics which set 13th Age apart from it’s big brother Dungeons and Dragons. On the whole though, these small slips hadn’t altered any outcomes and the error was corrected and we moved on.

I managed to run the game in pretty much exactly the allotted time and the climactic ending with the arrival of the Stone Thief, the destruction of the town of Harrowdale and the final battle with a giant Troll named Marrowbreath was as stunning as I hoped it would be. This was of course helped by a young teenage player in the group who, rather than just hit the bloody troll, seemed hell bent on bringing it down in the most spectacular and left-field fashion. At one point he was standing on the steeple of a nearby temple with a lasso made out of the bell rope from the church, trying to lasso Marrowbreath from 30 feet up. It showed great lateral thinking and his repeated failure to do so added humour to the situation and increased the drama no end.

On to the afternoon and I found myself lined up to play in a Diskworld RPG session, run by a GM called Phil Masters. Not just any GM either. This was the guy who had actually written the ruleset (apparently in conjunction with Terry Pratchett himself).

Unfortunately, the game didn’t grab me. The GM was great, as were the other players and the story was a real departure from the usual “go in there, kill everything and grab the loot” kind of gig but the Diskworld RPG is layered on top of the GURPS ruleset and this caused me all sorts of difficulties, not least of which was digesting the overly complex character sheet and trying to work out what my character could actually do. There were way to many dice rolls in the game for me and I wasn’t too heartbroken when I had to leave at 6pm to head home.

Playing the Diskworld RPG actually confirmed to me something that I’ve been thinking for a while, that being that I’m not actually a fan of role-playing games. You may find this odd given the nature of this blog but I’ve felt for a while that really it’s D&D I like, and by extension it’s siblings like Pathfinder and 13th Age. Give me any other setting or any other system and I’m suddenly indifferent and have no urge to play. I guess I’m like a boardgamer who likes Monopoly but not necessarily boardgames as a whole. It’s weird. I’m definitely a D&D player rather than an active RPG player.

Conpulsion was well organised on the most part. I do feel that more assistance could have been provided to GMs but I think a lot of that is down to the assumption that people had been at previous Conpulsion events so knew what they were doing.

Potterrow wasn’t ideal for running games. There were some larger tables up the back of the room but the majority of space was slightly inadequate for games which consist of 7 players when the GM is counted in. On multiple occasions, I struggled to roll dice, take notes or open source books without shuffling stuff around and moving things on to the floor to make space. Not a huge hassle but more space would have made it easier.

On the whole though, people were friendly, blueshirts were helpful and everything ran smoothly and to time. No mean feat. I’ll definitely be back in the years to come.

I arrived home last night with some random d20s (6 for £1 – what a deal) and a lovely little game for the kids called “Hey that’s my Fish” which we had a few games of this evening. All in all a success.

Return of the DM View All

I am a 40 something DM/GM located in Scotland. In 2016, I rediscovered the joys of tabletop role-playing games. This blog documents my journey back into the fold.

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