Sunday, 2 December 2012

Dragonmeet 2012 – The Verdict

As I mentioned on Friday, I spent yesterday in Kensington, South London at the Dragonmeet 2012 convention, London’s leading roleplaying and board games convention.   I’d been before a few years ago – my friend Mike who came along as well reminded me there were a couple of times we visited in the early 2000s.  How time flies!
So, how was it this time around?  In a word it was excellent and really inspirational, and not just for the reasons I thought it would be.  By the end of a very full day I was pretty much buzzing with ideas, as you’ll see below.
But first, let me take you through what I really liked about the show and what I saw.

By comparison to a lot of wargames shows, Dragonmeet is compressed into a fairly small area of Kensington Town Hall.  I think I visited the venue in 1997 when the old Salute show was held there..  There’s a main hall, an adjacent smaller hall and about four of five smaller break-out and gaming rooms being used.  There were about 15 traders, ranging from major roleplaying game publishers to much smaller indie outfits and a few self-publishers, and literally dozens of gaming groups scattered around the various halls and rooms.  The venue was a hive of activity when I arrived just before 11am, with gaming in full swing on almost all the tables and a reasonably lively activity at the various traders’ stalls.
So far, and not that different to many wargaming shows. 
I took the time to seek out Kenneth Hite, author and game designer and general hobby luminary.  Ken’s work needs no introduction from me.  I thought his “Bookhounds of London” supplement for Trail of Cthulhu was the most perfectly themed roleplaying book I'd read for many years until I bought a copy of his latest game, “Night’sBlack Agents”, earlier this autumn. 

Night’s Black Agents is simply terrific, being a roleplaying game in which you and your fellow players are “burned” spies unearthing various pan-European conspiracies involving vampires.  Vampires and spies – once you’re past the initial surprise, you’ll see that they work tremendously well in tandem.  Well, I think they do, and I think the book’s an absolute knockout.
I got the chance to meet Ken briefly, and told him how much I had enjoyed reading Night’s Black Agents and how much I was looking forward to running it.  He was gracious, warm, encouraging and thoughtful – in other words, a true gentleman.  It’s always great to meet a hobby hero, and even better when they’re everything you thought they’d be.  And he took the time to sign my copies of his books which I’d bought, which is always a great touch from any author.

What I like most about the book, and the supplement “The Zalozhniy Quartet” which is written by the very talented Gareth Hanrahan,  is something which I want to translate across into my own wargames.  And that is creation of the feel and theme of a particular place and the passage of time in that gaming setting.  Ken does this very well in all his books but in Night’s Black Agents he’s done this brilliantly.  Although vampires and spies sounds a long way from the Western Front in the Great War in a traditional figure wargame, I think there’s always going to be a lot to be learned from a true Master.

So, apart from meeting a hobby hero, what else was awesome?  The first thing to really surprise me was a full programme of seminars being run at Dragonmeet 2012.  For me, about twenty years on from university, seminars are something I never wanted to go through again.  Dry, dusty, dull and long was how I remembered them.  So I was surprised to see a full day’s seminar programme at Dragonmeet.
My friend Mike was keen to go to the first at 11am, so I dutifully attended, with some trepidation.  I was very pleasantly surprised.  In the municipal splendor of Kensington Town Hall meeting chamber (complete with remarkable lighting)...

.... I listened in rapt attention while three very able speakers ran through their plans for publishing a set of books on Greg Stafford’s Glorantha world. 

Now, I confess know next to nothing about Mr Stafford’s masterpiece.  I once played a noble duck adventurer in Runequest decades ago and enjoyed it.  But since then I’ve not had anything to do with the Glorantha.  So I came to the lecture very cold.  I didn’t need to have worried, as within 10 minutes, the sheer enthusiasm of the speakers, the knowledge they displayed about Glorantha, its politics, astronomy, astrology, climate and ethnicity and the world of maps they displayed on the video screen had caught my attention.  I’ve mentioned before how much I love maps, so this was an easy win for me.  But as for lectures at 11am on a Saturday?  Well, that was something new to me.
The lectures carried on through the day.  A detailed run through of the changes in Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition.  A live version of the excellent “Ken andRobin Talk About Stuff” podcast. A roundtable about the state of the British RPG industry.  I sat through them all, admittedly in the extremely comfortable leather chair of a Kensington councilor, and very enjoyable they were.

Before I knew it, it was 5.30pm.  For me, staying that until that time at a wargames show where I  wasn’t helping run a game at was a first.  I felt I’d really spent my time well, found out some useful and interesting “stuff” and got some new ideas. 
Which leads me to my first thought - whether running seminars at wargames shows would be a good development.  It would certainly be different to what happens at most wargames shows at the present time.  But there’s no reason why wargamers like me wouldn’t be just as happy listening to game designers, figure sculptors and rules writers talking about wargaming in just the same way.  I hope that’s something which might catch on.
And as I left the convention, the second revelation struck me.  Almost all the tables for gaming were still full.  I looked at my watch – yes, it was almost 6pm and the gamers I’d seen at the start of the day were still gaming furiously, with very few empty spaces.  People had come to game, meet friends, and have gaming fun as much as they’d come to spend money at the trade stalls and listen to the seminars.
I’m a huge fan of wargames shows.  I’ve been to many in the UK and a couple abroad.  But I’ve not always found them as busy at almost 6pm as they were at 11am.  And I’ve not seen so many people actually playing games at them. 
Perhaps I’m very slow on the uptake here.  There’s always been a part of the wargaming hobby which loves looking at stunning terrain, lovingly sculpted and painted figures and a fine display.  I’m as guilty as the next gamer in enjoying such a spectacle.  I’ve helped run participation games at wargames which have attempted to create that sort of display.  And, of course, generally with roleplaying those visual themes in gaming are not as pronounced – it’s not about a layout as much as the game itself.  But for a wargamer, looking around an active roleplaying convention at 6pm on a Saturday evening, with gamers furiously rolling dice and crowding around tables, I felt there was a sharp contrast with a thinning crowd at some wargames shows by 3pm.

I came away thinking that however much I love wargaming, there are always great things to learn from other branches of what is still a very closely related hobby such as roleplaying, particularly about how to get people involved and enthused in the games themselves.
All in all, then, a cracking day out.  Thanks to all the Dragonmeet folk for running a great show, making me personally feel welcome (everyone I spoke to without exception was really enthusiastic about what they were doing and playing), and I’ll certainly be back next year.

One final, quite strange note, was that for lunch Mike and I stopped off in a quiet pub around the corner from Kensington High Street.  Called the “Prince of Wales” it is the only pub, or indeed anywhere in the UK, I’ve been in which I’ve seen displayed the picture of Edward VIII as Prince of Wales.  It was quite intriguing.  I’m sure there’s a story or two in there…


  1. That sounds more like an American style wargame convention. Our shows pretty much revolve around the games rather than the dealers. Yes, the dealers are still an important part of the convention but its the games that draw in the crowds.

    1. Kris, that US-style of convention seemed to be very much the Dragonmeet theme - the games were certainly drawing in the crowds much more than the traders (although the traders seemed to be doing pretty well). I think that's possibly the same with some UK shows, but there's certainly a trend in the UK towards the games which draw the crowds being "demonstration games" as much as participation games.

  2. Thanks for this detailed and well-thought post. I looks thta you enjoyed it a lot and the atmosphere was also great (it transpires that it was much better than Salute...)

    It's a funny coincidence that you're turning to RPG now and literally this morning I have played my first RPG game in DECADES (no kidding, I know because I left playing these types of game when I moved to London in 1995).

    1. Benito, my pleasure! I did enjoy it a lot, and the atmosphere was excellent. RPGs have always interested me, and I've played a lot over the years. But you're right - thinking more about how the two branches of the hobby could inter-relate (RPGs and wargaming) is something I've come back to. I think there's a lot of potential there, certainly from the game design standpoint.

    2. Platoon Forward could be a good starting point in my view on how to get a closer connection between a wargame campaign and the key leaders progression. Several years ago a boardgame called "Patton's Best" from the defunct Avalon Hill also tried something similar

    3. Absolutely. "Platoon Forward" is what we've been working on for a while - trying to do a Great War trench version of that terrific module by Joe Legan. I shall have to look out for "Patton's Best"

  3. Sidney, I'm delighted you enjoyed our "Guide to Glorantha" seminar so much! If you (or any of your readers) wants to join the Kickstarter campaign (which is running for another two weeks) and/or pre-order the Guide (and all those beautiful maps!), all the details are here:

    Cheers, Nick

    1. Thanks Nick, and thanks again for the great presentation on Saturday morning. It was, as I mentioned above, really interesting and delivered really well. Thanks also for the heads up on the Kickstarter, and very best of luck with that!

  4. I missed so much of the show doing my bit to demo OGRE for SJG. Sounds like you had a fabulous time, and I really enjoyed reading the report.

    1. You were flat out, Ashley!!! We came by at 2.30pm, just as the seminars were switching around. You were engrossed in the game, dealing with that floundering Ogre. The game looked really great, especially the terrific Ogres. I couldn't believe how many you had. Very impressive.

  5. I'm feeling the love washing off the page - it sounds like a fantastic day. Being in the centre of such a big, focal and well-connected space like central London could part of that late buzz, but I think you've picked up on a general something in the approach between the game types. Maybe it's related to the physicality and structural limits of higher scale wargaming, and the fact the tabletop and miniatures shoulder some of the creative burden. The demands of a more virtual back and forth may give players a workout that raises overall gaming vigour or stamina. Whatever it is, your reply to Anibal Invictus on blending the forms more suggests good times are ahead.

    1. Thanks Porky. I’ve had a bit of an up-and-down year as regards game design. I’ve not got nearly as much done as I’d have liked to. I’m going to try and focus more on this next year.

      I feel, and it’s a very personal view, that the aspects of wargaming which are visual and physical can sometimes overwhelm the game slightly. It’s a natural thing, perhaps. It takes a long time to paint, model, build and create the miniature side of the game. Even with a great set of rules, I often find myself planning the details of the game just shortly before it starts. That’s a huge contrast to an RPG, where the setting, theme, pacing of the game will be thought out beforehand – in other words, for the RPG, the game, and the scenario which is the only medium through which the game is experienced, is everything. Of course, there are overlaps. The setting and sometimes the theme of the wargame will be clear from the layout of the wargames table. But I am sure there is a lot more I can do in wargames scenario construction to immerse my players.

      If you like, it’s a variation on the “Getting out of the Boat” approach which you blogged about in February 2011. And that’s what I want to concentrate on next year – getting my players “being THERE”, at that precise time, place and in the right theme.

      That’s what’s coming.

    2. I'm convinced there's more can be done along those lines too, and I'd say in general terms we're still very far off realising all the potential there is. Looking at your approach, with the Dark Ages for example, it seems to me you'll be making good inroads. Looked at slightly differently than usual, it's relatively early days in wargaming.

      I've made progress on that 'Getting out...' system, and in a more universal form it's a key focus of all the playtesting going on at the moment. The possible dynamism is almost mesmerising and the change in view in that one area opens up new directions in itself.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...