Seven Hills 2017 convention diaries

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Seven Hills is a new roleplaying convention, to be held in Sheffield, the Rome of the north, on the 26th and 27th of April 2014.

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Seven Hills 2017 convention diaries

Postby simonpaulburley » 11:18pm on 22 Apr 17

Seven Hills is one of the (many) conventions that takes place at the Garrison Hotel in Sheffield. It runs on Saturday and Sunday, with three game slots on Saturday and two on Sunday. All games are advertised and allocated specific slots and gaming tables prior to the event. Everyone gets to "presign" for one game prior to the event. Referees get an additional presign for each game they offer. So it encourages you to offer to run exactly to two games. Given that it's a convention blessed with a large number of high quality referees, it works very well.

Unlike its Uncle Convention - Furnace - Seven Hills has a theme each year. This year the theme was "urban legends". There's no-one holding a gun to your head to ensure your game matches the theme but it's a matter of honour to try to do so.

For convoluted reasons - and totally against the zeitgeist - I've recently been running some Blakes Seven games. Since the scenario invokes the discovery of an "ancient Martian Artefact" then it was pretty easy to tack the "urban legend" theme onto that.

For my second game, though, I tried to cleave closer to things and had this idea of running an "Elvis is still alive" game - based on the film "Bubba Ho Tep". This was great in theory but, as the convention got closer, I began to struggle with it. My original idea was to use the multi-genre rules I'm developing - "Manifold" - to run the game. However, it turned out that those rules are just a bit too complete for such a throwaway game idea. I would have had to think carefully about downgrading the character's physical stats and balancing that with higher levels and bonus points. I could've produced pregens but I wanted players to make their own characters at the table. It would have been too complex.

I couldn't find an appropriate alternative set of rules commercially available. (I welcome recommendations. I guess I'll get lots of Fate aficionados recommending it.) Anyway, at the last minute, I did a "hack" of my lightweight "Code" system which looked like it would do the job.

The convention was at the end of the Easter holiday, so I was able to travel up early on Friday. I checked in and found that I, like some others, had been accidentally booked into two rooms. I was only charged for one but felt guilty. I know that some people who come to Seven Hills can't get a room because the Garrison books out so quickly. It looks like rooms would have been available at the last minute if people had asked.

Friday night was ace. I met and chatted to a couple of people as usual. There was an "event" on - as ever - but this was just a birthday party. They had a live band but they were talented and very restrained on volume. Much quieter than the usual Friday night disco. Even better, Julian offered to run a game of "Dungeon Crawl Classics". A slot zero game! My first one ever! I've always preferred it when a convention is a weekend convention with things happening on a Friday rather than a two day one, just on the Saturday and Sunday. Arriving a bit earlier really seems to help.

The game was lovely. DCC is an OSR D&D game, apparently created as a response to 4th Ed D&D. Straightforward rules but a MASSIVE rulebook which mainly seems to be descriptions of the many and varied possible outcomes of spells cast using a "mercurial" magic system. I approve of wild magic.

The game was set in Lankmar and had no clerics. But it did have a "bennie" system called "Fleeting Fate". These can be used for many things, including recovery. They are freely given out but need to be freely spent. If you hoard them, you can lose them as they all disappear if anyone rolls a "1". Again I approve.

The scenario was super simple. Our various rogues started off in chains and had to fight our way out of the dungeon of the evil sorcerer. But the table was all old time players delightfully eating up the scenery supported by a light touch GM. Who knew you could have so much fun finding a wheelbarrow in a dungeon? The evening just flew by. Slot zero. I approve.

I couldn't find the time for breakfast anywhere in my room or on the telly. So I turned up at what seemed a reasonable time - 7:30 - only to find that it started at 8:00. That gave me time to nip over to Morrisons for supplies and still be first into breakfast.

I was very grateful to Keary for popping over to chat with me. He updated me on Continuum 2018. We debated the sign-up system they use there and I came to realise the particular issues they face. It's actually a pretty big convention. If the organisers want to maintain some control but allow free sign ups, the sheer number of signup sheets they have to pin up between games is massive and takes time. Mmmm I need to think about that one.

Saturday morning was my "Famous Dead People in a nursing home" game. I was worried it wouldn't run. There have been times in the past I've offered games at Seven Hills and garnered no players. The games on offer are all EXCELLENT and you're competing with the very very best referees. And I only had one presign. As it turned out I had a full table of 6 players - all but one of whom have played in my games before. It's lovely when people show such appreciation.

The youngest player had difficulty thinking of an appropriate famous dead person to play, so she played my pregen version of Hitler. (Original brain, clone body.) The other players made David Bowie (had to happen, I suppose), Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe (both of whom I'd considered doing as pregens in the run up to the convention) and Che Guevara. Not one I'd thought of but very feasible.

The last player made Ray Dolby - the guy who invented everything to do with Acoustic Technology, apparently. Wow! Talk about a left field choice!

The game went well. When their remote, secret, secure nursing home was attacked, the OAPs fought back with relentless efficiency. Hendrix, boosted by Dolby's tech, shattered the giant walking robot tank with a single massive chord - derailing the first attack. Monroe and Hitler made the worlds most effective "good cop, bad cop" team and Hitler even converted one of the baddies to his cause.

Then they were able to ambush the mercenary team sent to take them out. These were actually "The Expendables" from the first film. But, what with Che Guevarra's ambush allowing the team to take out Stallone and Statham before they could get a shot off, they were also dispatched in short order. And Dolph Lundgren was definitely swinging towards Hitler's viewpoint.

In fact more damage was done to the PCs inadvertently by Marilyn Monroe than all of the Expendables put together. Someone gave her a rifle - because she'd fired one in "The Misfits" (and still had the original outfit to put on). She nearly killed Bowie and Hendrix.

Anyway it turned out the bad guys were hired by a spider like race of lizards from Mars who wanted their exiled prince to return, and Bowie was more than happy to go.

It was a fun game with great players and great characters. Being hypercritical, for me it lacked a certain something on my part and there are two things I'd do differently (better) next time. Up the NPC personalities to match the PCs and add in one extra plot twist.

After lunch I played in Declan's Timewatch game. The table was nearly all really really good convention Referees who'd all prebooked the game - so that tells you how highly rated it was. Time agents sent back to unravel an anomaly which, it turned out, involved hyper evolved cockroaches, the melting metal terminator and an impeached Donald Trump. Unfortunately we were required to save Donald Trump - though we did manage to kill off Tony Blair. Declan is a good Referee. The players were all excellent. Declan's scenario was ace and the setting is great, with lots of popping back and forth in time to set up things in advance so they're ready just when you need them etc. But the system didn't pop for me. I felt the "bennies" (called "stitches" - nice touch) gave quite limited benefits and I spotted a flaw in the system. I had a bow wielding Amazon who spent "shooting" points to aid her missile rolls. Julian had a gladiator who spend "scuffling" points to aid hand to hand combat. After a while, my character had more scuffling left than his and vice versa. At the end we would have been better off swapping weapons. Odd. Great setting, system issues.

Great game though.

After tea, I popped, to reception. When I logged onto the hotel wireless it told me I was a loyal customer and I could pick up a free drink voucher from reception. Nice little bonus.

The evening game was a "Mindjammer" game run by Dr Mitch. This is a transhuman setting powered by the Fate system. Four great pregens - a sentient starship, a vat-grown supersoldier, an engineer with cybernetic enhancements and a Xeno-linguist who was suspiciously pure human. Too pure to be natural.

We were dispatched to find out why hive mind humans were having issues with sentient energy clouds. That's an oversimplification of course. It was my first Dr Mitch game and he came across as one of those gentle, softly spoken referees who quietly stir the pot and up the ante until you somehow find yourself in a frenzied fight for survival. Of course there was more to it than that. Moral decisions, inter-party friction and switching allegiances. All great stuff. Didn't convert me to Fate though. I still find the system comes between me and the Roleplaying somehow.

In the after game chat, Dr Mitch let me know how much he enjoys my food reviews in these diary entries and I realised I hadn't included any for this convention yet.

Ok I'll whisper it. (The food at the Garrison is still fine, the service is good and supports the convention well. But the quality isn't as brilliant as it used to be.) I ate in my room all day, food I bought from Morrisons in the morning. Far more than I could manage to eat and costing less than a single course of the bar food at the hotel. Sorry.

The bar staff are friendly and efficient and the bar carries a wide range of craft ales which go down very well. I hope that fills the bill, Mitch.

I have had a super two days. Seven Hills remains supremely well organised, with a wide range of superior games on offer and a really friendly and inclusive atmosphere.
"People don't stop playing because they get old. They get old because they stop playing."

Been around since original D&D
Author of Golden Heroes, Squadron UK, The Comics Code,The Code of the Spacelanes and The Code of Steam and Steel.
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Re: Seven Hills 2017 convention diaries

Postby dr_mitch » 11:33pm on 23 Apr 17

Good to finally be in a game together Simon, and thanks for honouring my request with the food review!

As for me, I had a great time, have lots of positive thoughts about the games I played, a good few thoughts about future games, and some organisational thoughts. That can all wait until tomorrow!
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Re: Seven Hills 2017 convention diaries

Postby simonpaulburley » 11:36pm on 23 Apr 17

As I sit here on the train back from Sheffield to Birmingham, preparing to write about just one day at Seven Hills - the second day - I look back and the morning seems a week away. Is there any other hobby where you cram so much into such a short time? I'm sure there must be, but they don't come to mind.

Breakfast. I left my room, headed up the stairs to breakfast and nearly gave a heart attack to the cleaning lady. I was the first to arrive and popped my toast into the toaster, collected my coffee and was surprised when a hoard of convention-goers all arrived together. It seems everyone else had been waiting for the "proper" door to open and I, somehow, have found a secret back way to get into the Garrison breakfast ahead of the pack. A useful trick that I'll be employing in future.

I had a great breakfast chat with fellow convention organisers (I know I'm rather bigging my qualifications in this area up). It turns out that - guess what - no matter what you do, someone always complains about it.

I'm sure you all already do it but, if you don't, can I humbly suggest that you all take a moment to thank a convention organiser? We need a wave of love to overwhelm the occasional loud moan.

Back to my room to pack and check out. Then I went to my assigned table to set up my morning game - my Blakes Seven scenario. I realise I'm completely out of step with the times on this one. The series isn't on anyone's radar. As I sat there. The table next to me filled up and I had no players arriving. So I went upstairs to check the sign up sheets. As I suspected, I didn't have a single player. Ah well, no worries, I took down my sheet and looked for a game to play.

To my shock, I discovered that the sheets fell into two categories. They were either empty, like mine, or completely filled up. There were no games with any spaces left. I pulled down my sheet and considered going around the tables trying to crash a game or demanding Dr Mitch sort me out a game to play in. Then two guys came in and also checked the sheets. I think one of them was in the same boat as me - a GM with no signups. I pounced and offered them Blakes Seven. He countered with Toon Glorantha. I held firm. (I'm not big on Glorantha.) We grabbed a third player and I had a game to run. Phew!

No Blake but, more surprisingly, no Avon. Vila (naturally), Cally and Tarrant. I've run this scenario a couple of times and this was the best yet. Everyone got into character. Vila tended to dominate earlier on, with Tarrant seeming under powered by comparison but, as soon as conflict started, this switched. I thought I did a much better job running the NPCs than I'd done the previous morning. I got to roleplay Servelan for the first time and even got Avon to make a surprise appearance as an NPC. As usual, because I'm running this at Expo (where it's booked out), I can't discuss the plot details. Suffice to say there were many laugh out load moments, many in-trope scenes and the characters were all portrayed perfectly. Which means we all got to enjoy the marvellous Vila, again! Being a bit of a gonzo Referee I've always tended to randomly roll the effects/powers of the maguffin when/if the characters get control of it. However, the idea they came up with this time was so strong I may seize and use it for all future run outs. It'll be on the random table every time at least. Great game with great players.

Lunch at the Garrison is normally their special Sunday lunch where the huge Yorkshire puddings dominate the plate. But I had some fixings left over from my visit to Morrisons the previous day and am on a bit of an economy kick so I popped down to MacDonalds for a couple of items from their "saver" menu. It's the first time I've popped there at a Garrison con. and I was struck at how close it is to the hotel and how easy it is to nip there and back. I wasn't the only one.

Then you carry your food back and cram into the upstairs room for a chat and wait for the closing ceremony. This starts with the raffle. No tickets required, everyone's name goes in the hat. I won - as often happens - and am now the proud owner of a 5th Ed campaign book (The Curse of Strahd.) Hey, I own the 5th Ed starter pack so I might use it one day. If not there are always bring and buy stalls. The opening of tickets for Furnace was announced and the theme for Seven Hills 2018 was drawn. "Far Frontier". (Anticlimax if you ask me.)

My afternoon game was Simon Beaver's "Stiff upper lip" Fate Hack. You'll have noticed I haven't tended to give surnames in these two Seven Hills reports, but I give Simon's name because he was one of three good convention referees called Simon at the convention and I don't want anyone getting confused when I completely and totally commend his games to you. When he came to the table and began sorting out the pregens, I began to recognise a few things. When you go to as many conventions as I do, you can't remember all the details of every game. I began to worry that I might have played this scenario before. It turned out I HAD played these rules with Simon before and some of the characters were the same. (Some of the players were the same as well.) But it was a brand new adventure. Phew!

"Stiff Upper Lip" is a superb, highly researched, set of rules set at the height of the British Empire and is absolutely spot on in detail and tone. So let's get my reservation out of the way first. The scenario centred around hunting a Maguffin that had been stolen from India by returning members of the East India Company. Some of the citizens of that sub continent had come over to London and were trying to hunt it down - killing people in the process. I felt a bit awkward playing at a table of all white players - and characters - fighting a horde of NPCs antagonists from a different ethnic background. Simon played it straight, it was true to both the history and the fiction of the time ("The Sign of Four" comes to mind), it actually turned out to be sympathetic to our opponents (one of whom was portrayed in a very superior manner) and no-one at the table crossed the line in any way. But I was on tentahooks every moment worried that there might be an inadvertent racist comment. I guess I like my history games to be more revisionist.

That aside, this game was superb. I was struck how close Simon's sensibilities were to my own. We both have "morality" as hit points, for example. The aspects, skills stunts (whatever) are all laugh out loud genre appropriate. And, as I said above, it is meticulously researched. I took the last character, as always, and it turned out that the seemingly straightforward heroic ex-soldier had a deliciously twisted back story. Great fun.

I had accidentally sat right next to the GM for the fourth game of the convention. Normally a sit as far away from the GM as possible because I don't want to dominate the game. I find it hard to wait for my time in the spotlight, especially in the last half hour of the game. I hope I didn't irritate my fellow players too much. They were keen to solve the mystery and find the maguffin before the bad guys to stop the murders. I was keen to roleplay my roguish conman and pretend we'd already found the damn thing and flush them out to be ambushed on our terms (which could, potentially, have included backup from the entire London Police Force.)

The game over-ran slightly so I had to cancel my taxi, order a later one, accidentally steal someone else's and catch a later train - which was delayed. All worth it. "Stiff Upper Lip" is the best iteration of Fate I've played. The system almost makes sense. (Almost. I lost it a bit when an "Invoke" was created and a card dropped on the table.) I really flattered Simon in the hope that I could encourage him to get the bloody thing into print. It's a really fine game.

Whilst waiting for my delayed train, I bumped into Dave M. scion of the U.K. Roleplayers forum and someone to whom the hobby owes a debt of gratitude. Then the train home - where I've just about finished typing this up before my final destination.

Fantastic Convention. Great setting. Fantastic people. I loved my whole weekend.
"People don't stop playing because they get old. They get old because they stop playing."

Been around since original D&D
Author of Golden Heroes, Squadron UK, The Comics Code,The Code of the Spacelanes and The Code of Steam and Steel.
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