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.
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…