20th September saw me up at 07:00 on a Saturday, quickly packing my dice bag, a pad and a pencil and heading off on a journey to Wales, via four stops to pick up fuel and passengers.
Our destination? Newport, Wales, for the Dragondaze Games Convention.
We arrived in good time – just before the official doors-open time of 10:00 – and I headed straight up to the Roleplay room. I was keen to get in on a game of Fate, and wanted to secure my place at all costs, expecting the place to fill up quickly.
As it turns out, there were two Fate games and a lot of other choice, including Call of Cthulhu, D&D 5th Edition, Pathfinder and several other systems. And that was just the RPG room! The centre was enormous, with separate rooms for board games and wargames and the entire centre hall filled with game stores, clothes stands, jewellery, bookshelves and more.
Morning Session – Fate Part I
I secured my place in a Fate game run by a hugely enthusiastic “Ref” called Dom. Dom and his team had clearly put an enormous amount of effort into planning the one-off session and I came away with a few system-agnostic ideas for my own games. One of these was the inclusion of handy popup stands with character names on for one. This helps with immersion, as you will always be able to use the character’s name when referring to them in-game and is especially great for a one-shot where you have a lot of other new names and concepts to remember.
Wow! I am still reeling from my impression of the Fate system, as taught by Dom. Dom was brilliant. He explained the core concepts and walked us through the character sheet and basic gameplay options before diving straight into the first setting. I’ll summarise the parts of the game that impressed me the most, but won’t go into specifics about the story:
Good bits from the Fate game (and they were amazing):
- Dom knew every pre-gen character inside and out. This meant he was able to make suggestions in the early game, to help us understand how the system works. He was also able to easily draw on the “Aspects” and “Trouble” for each character – concepts of Fate that push the game forward.
- Fate’s Fate Token system not only helps to push the story forward, but enables very quick character immersion. I felt by the end of the first hour that I had a pretty good idea of what my character was like, how he thought and what drove him; all based on his aspects and stunts.
- The Fate Dice system helps to force the use of Fate Tokens. The dice rolls average out at 0 (zero), so you effectively have to call on your character aspects, or the aspects of your current location (or other temporary aspects in play) if you need to make a difference.
- Just as the aspects can be used to help your character, they can be equally used by the “ref” to provide obstacles that need to be overcome (gaining you a Fate Token). Each character had a “Trouble” aspect, but any aspect could be interpreted negatively or positively, depending on the situation. The best thing about this mechanic is that it always pushes the story forward, similar to fail-forward mechanics I’ve seen in other systems.
- Dom did an excellent job of bringing the story to life, embracing the fantastic (and at times downright insane) and generally ensuring everyone present had a good time. I don’t think I stopped smiling for 3.5 hours.
I’m a strong believer of the phrase:
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything”
So you will rarely get negative reviews from me. However, in this case, I literally have nothing bad to say. I cannot imagine how I could’ve enjoyed Dom’s Fate game more. Thank you!
General Convention – Lunch/Walk-around
After the epic finale of Dom’s Fate game (which did involve the defeat of an elite German scientist-come-sorcerer and his goons and then escape by slowing down time and then building a stairway made of broken stone and glass to aid our escape from a deep underground cavern in the middle of the Egyptian desert that was collapsing around us… I did say it was epic), I wandered around the convention rooms for a bit, taking in the sights.
I’d already seen Captain Jack Sparrow, who wore an incredibly detailed costume and carried off the Depp drunken swagger impeccably. During the morning session, a pair of Daleks had also come by to remind us how inferior we all are.
I was impressed by a Darth Vader and a pair of Imperial Stormtroopers. I actually heard Vader before I saw him. Feeling my spine shiver at the distinctive heavy breathing, I am almost ashamed to say that I mentally attributed the sound to a rather portly, elderly gentleman hobbling in front of me, leaning heavily on a stick. It seemed to me that this man could easily be struggling to breathe through a respirator and that that was far more likely than Darth Vader being around the corner… How wrong I was!
There were several other recognisable movie characters, including a Minion and several Colonial Marines (no doubt there would’ve been more, if only they’d survived…).
In my travels, I paid a visit the Dreadball table in the war-gaming room and said hi. They looked a bit lonely! I sent a couple of players I’d met in my first Fate session their way afterwards, although I don’t know if they made it that far.
I met Tris, the Mantic Pathfinder for South Wales much later in the day, just as he was about to leave (I got caught up in another RPG in the afternoon) and am looking forward to the Cwmbran tournament in November.
Afternoon Session – Fate Part II
Okay, I might’ve gone a bit over the top on the whole Fate thing…
But I was seriously impressed by Fate á la Dom. I was keen to see it in a different setting and joined the Age of Arthur game after lunch.
The Age of Arthur game was being run by a quietly enthusiastic man named John. I was instantly drawn into his role-playing style, as I was acutely reminded of my first GM, Ritchard.
This game was very different in style to the first. Whereas the morning Fate game had been a pulp fiction superhero blast-em-up investigation setting, Age of Arthur was almost the polar opposite; quest/reward-based, pseudo-historic in nature, with an element of politics and a much more gritty environment. I got to experience social combat and see how it works in Fate, which is a very interesting mechanic – essentially, you are dealing verbal ‘damage’ to your opponent when trying to convince them to help you/leave you alone/etc. It’s even possible to heal the damage with soothing tones. Once again, Fate’s aspects come into play heavily, as the better your verbal onslaught, the more confused, or angry or scared your opponent may become.
I was impressed at the skill of roleplaying at the table and came away realising how Fate doesn’t just encourage good roleplay, it demands it and rewards it.
The Age of Arthur system is very slightly more rules-heavy than the core Fate system seems to be, with several additional stats. Several aspects (my character had “skin-changer”) were padded out with official rules to dictate how they work and were therefore somewhat limited by those rules. However, I have been in a game where shape-changing has broken the game, so I was partly glad of those limitations…
Good bits from the second Fate game:
- The detail! John was clearly passionate about the world. It was unclear how much came from John and how much was from the Age of Arthur canon (if I’d thought ahead about writing this review, I would’ve asked), but it was obvious how much preparation had gone into the game.
- An actual trial that worked! Part of our quest involved a trial designed to test various aspects of a person (very Arthurian and not in the least like Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail). Not only did I not even think of this picture once during the whole session, but I actually felt the trial worked very well in the setting.
- The other good bits mentioned above still applied here.
- I must add that I was personally drawn to the setting because it reminded me so much of the first Rune Quest game I joined, set in France. It was wonderful to see how Fate could be used across such a wide range of possible campaigns.
I was there for Fate and I was not disappointed. I was, however, also incredibly impressed with the sheer scale of the rest of the convention. The main hall at the Newport Centre is enormous!
If there was one thing I would say could be improved in next year’s Dragondaze, it is the signposting. I knew Dreadball was going to be there, but I actually had to go hunting for the war-gaming room (and nearly got lost in the gym… twice… looking for it). A welcome map and a few signs along the way would do wonders to tie the different rooms together. The lack of signposting may go some way towards explaining why the roleplay and war-gaming rooms were not as full as they could’ve been.
I will also be taking a packed lunch next year, as the Newport Centre café made very little effort to scale up its efforts with the large influx of visitors. Queues for food lasting over 20 minutes ate into precious time I could’ve been visiting stalls or chatting to Johnny Depp… I mean Sparrow… I mean… what? (His costume was awesome).
However, those minor negatives aside, it was clear how much effort had gone into the day. There was an enormous amount of choice of activity – an entire room full of boardgames! All the stands were manned with people really keen to show you something new. It was truly a great day; very enjoyable and I came away with awesome memories!
I am already planning next year’s sojourn into Wales. Next year, I plan to bring at least a whole car-load of extra people to enjoy it with me.