After Action Report: TravCon 13
This was the featured article in the June 2013 issue.
TravCon13 saw the annual UK get-together of Traveller enthusiasts bigger and better than ever! Better may be subjective, but it certainly seemed to go extremely well with a huge variety of games of high quality which just seems to improve each year. Bigger? Certainly. For the first time we entirely filled the Redwings Lodge hotel (see picture above) on the old A1 near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire: 36 booked in. Not only that but instead of the usual four games running concurrently, there were five. More choice! More games I couldn’t play! With the usual Friday night slot, three slots on Saturday, and one slightly longer one on Sunday (6 hours instead of 4), that meant a total of 25 games on offer! Not only were there 25 game slots over the entire weekend, but the initial schedule showed that there were no repeats. Andy Lilly, the conference organizer, is to be congratulated not only on meeting the growing logistical challenge but also for encouraging, training, and leaning upon(?!) so many people to get involved in refereeing.
As ever, there was wide variety of choice. Whether you’re into role playing, storytelling, live action, variants such as FIASCO or Travellerised Battlestar Galactica, miniatures combat, or simply want weird sound and light shows from a real life appearance by Yaskodray – there was something for everyone. Rules heavy, rules light, or even rules-wot-rules? For the most part games were recognizably Mongoose based and as usual referees provided pregenerated characters so everyone could jump right into the action.
Last year, I reported on my first experience of running a game at TravCon. The whole thing had been so encouraging that I was determined to give it a second go and see if was just a fluke. I didn’t expect lightning to strike twice, but this time I wasn’t going to leave writing it until a month before; I was determined to get going sooner. Unfortunately, that simply meant that I spent pretty much all year developing material for the game and was close to fed up with the whole thing by the time the convention arrived! I’d also prepared way too much material and I think someone counted over 30 handouts on top of the 100 page booklet of my own notes. Memo to self: it’s role-playing, not read-playing. This year, my idea was to place six dilettante nobles into the thick of things culminating with an auction which would be a little more exciting than they’d bargained for. I’d actually had the original idea some 18 months before but the real life auction at the end of TravCon12 convinced me that what I was planning would work dramatically.
Once again I went through the nervous anticipation of whether it would ‘work’ as an adventure, whether any would want to play, and in addition I’d made life even more complicated by wanting to incorporate both a little live action role playing and also produce one of the courses at a banquet for the players to actually consume. This time there was no quick fix and I had to wait until Saturday afternoon to see six players signed up for “The Second Scions’ Society”. However, it seemed to go well enough that I asked Andy if I could run it again on the Sunday instead of the rerun of last year’s game that he had me down for. Yes, I’m afraid I spoiled his 25 different games record.
‘The Handout’ this year (after my daughter’s 10,000 word diary last year) would be a fully worked up, colour printed, glossy catalogue from one of the finest auction houses in Core sector. On and off it took the best part of the year to write 60+ entries based firmly in the official Traveller universe history and astrography. To be honest I thought it would be more fun to write than it turned out to be! It also included the biography of an old fashioned explorer and his three major expeditions around different parts of Known Space with charts of his route and lists of every world visited (some 382). Once the printers had done their work, the finished product was worth the effort and not one of the 12 players across both games left their copy behind.
The food element was more of a pain than I’d bargained for. I couldn’t prepare it before the convention so non-existent gaps between games saw me desperately trying to soak hazelnuts in rum, grate chocolate, and chop up liquorice. Not to be recommended. The live action segment seemed to work, however – with a co-opted attendee not involved in a game sitting in the hotel corridor playing the part of a beggar that the dilettantes had to pass1. While each player took their turn, it gave the others a chance to make some notes for another element I wasn’t sure would work. The idea was that at a banquet of their small select society, each PC would tell an after dinner story. The players, however, threw themselves into this more wholeheartedly than I expected and rooted their stories in Traveller, some with humour, some with horror, and some utterly heartfelt. The highlight of the convention for me was the joy of listening to their tales with a couple of them standing out as jaw-droppingly spell-binding. I wish I’d recorded them.
Unfortunately, running two games meant that I could play in only three games out of the 23 possibilities remaining. On the upside, I was in for a treat on each occasion. Friday night saw my first encounter with Richard Talbot refereeing ‘Snow Drops’, an innocuous sounding cargo run for the PCs as free traders. Of course it turned out to be anything but innocuous as we delivered 100 tons of chilled snow to a noble’s birthday party for his daughter. Saturday morning I saw a whole new level of refereeing as Steve Ellis – with only 3 pages of notes and 6 single sided character sheets – wound us all up, set us off and then sat back to watch us run in The Zhodani Candidate. The title may give a hint at the psychological complexity but the characters had been cleverly designed to interact with each other at several different levels and while difficult to get your head around at first, paid off in spades as we got into our roles. A real highlight for me – playing a female character – was not only finding that I was pregnant, but also getting to meet the father at the end of the game. A very high powered Traveller character of some note!
Finally, on Saturday evening I joined Andy Lilly’s game “Taking Prisoners”, the TP title a hint that his wife Sarah was continuing to develop her writing skills after “Thorny Problem” and “Trading Places” of previous years. This time we were a team of crack medics called in after a major earthquake trying to help out at a prison full of dangerous inmates. Of course, it wasn’t that simple; it never is—but in the only game of the weekend that wasn’t noble related for me, we had a terrific time saving lives, treating injuries, and all the while adding to the mayhem around us. A wonderful moment of roleplaying came when our glorious leader, played by Keith (leftmost in the photo of Andy refereeing), who had spent ten minutes debating with the prison governor over whether the marines we had as security could bring their weapons, finally browbeat the governor into seeing it our way. The governor’s last ditch attempt to assert some authority with a “Who’s in charge here?” was instantly met without a batted eyelid from Keith with “you are” as he moved the – armed – marines into the prison.
As ever I’ve neglected to mention the other games I wasn’t part of – 20 of them this time! But from the general intensity, mirth, strange noises, excellent miniatures, handouts and so on it was all going as well elsewhere in the three lounges we call home for two and half days. An “Azhanti High Lightning” was in action against the Zhodani, scrap merchants were getting more than they bargained for, and the Navy were trying to rescue a Noble and his 400 bottles of champagne from a war zone. Classics such as “Ordeal by Eshaar” and “Cold Dark Grave” were being run and completely disrupting play everywhere was the moment the room darkened, stars swirled in the ether and Yaskodray appeared with booming voice to instruct the players involved in Paul Thornbury’s miniatures spectacular in the casting of the coyns.
The weekend flew past and all too soon it was time for the final wrap up, thank yous, auction and for us all to vote on the awards of the Ping, F*** It! prize for the biggest moment of either stupidity or “oops” along with the Starburst for Extreme Heroism for an act of outstanding bravery. Congratulations went to Andy Lilly and his family for the time and effort they put into organizing the convention, snacks throughout and a host of other things we probably don’t even notice. The auction saw my notes, handouts, and large deckplan of a noble yacht making £50 for charity ($78) which was very gratifying. TH managed to win the PFI award. His character needed to cross to a hulk in space and set off some shaped charges in lieu of a jetpack. He used broken hull plating to protect himself but overestimated the force and went bouncing off the hulk like a pinball. He survived the first explosion but had to try again to get to where he needed to be. He did finally reach it but was now travelling at high velocity and no longer had any means of slowing himself down! Chris won the SEH for, as the citation had it, “emergency tailoring” in a critical situation under fire. I think you had to be there.