Grogmeat 2021, the meatiest yet

You’ve heard it all before… “can’t wait for this”, “more excited than a kid on Christmas eve”, “will be brilliant to catch up with people”. But this time every sentiment like this carried the hopes of Grognards everywhere. Missing the face to face Grogmeet in 2020, we were desperate for this one, we needed our face to face Grogmeet fix!

Dirk the Dice and Judge Blythy do an amazing job organising the event and I have a small part to play pulling together the now traditional Friday afternoon session that opens Grogmeet. At my first Grogmeet in 2017 I was so desperate to get some gaming in that I suggested grabbing a table at Fanboy Three for the Friday afternoon where I ran a game of Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells; I had two players with three more joining for the final hour… The following year Dirk asked if I’d like to arrange something more formal and of course I accepted. So in 2018 we had Grogfight, a multi-system bar room brawl and dungeon crawl – it was as crazy as it sounds. Mothership was the game of choice for 2019, seeing multiple tables fight for survival against the horrors of deep space. The event was entirely online for 2020, and Mausritter was the game of choice… this time with even more tables; players ran their mice through a gauntlet of fiendish encounters created by the GMs. And so that brings us up to this year’s event.

Friday

I picked Clarky up from the nearby station and we headed over to Manchester, arriving a little earlier than anticipated. This gave us a chance to catch up with many of the grogs who like us didn’t want to miss a second of the event and were there as early as possible. The usual coffee/breakfast/lunch haunt, Ezra & Gil, was stupidly busy with folks queuing to get in, so we tried out La Collina; it’s only a couple of minutes walk away with plenty of space, the perfect place have a bite to eat before the fun started.

Seeing that basement full of gamers in Fanboy Three was uplifting; this is what we’d all been waiting for. For me it’s just pure excitement at this point, no space for nerves around the success of my afternoon extravaganza. This year I’d fallen back on a system that is a firm favourite of mine, Barbarians of Lemuria and all of the GMs were keen to run it. Players moved to their allocated tables and the session began. Each table controlled a tower in a fortress under siege by a demon horde and they had to undertake heroic actions to undermine the demonic force and swing the battle in their favour. At the end there would be a final roll of the dice to determine the outcome of the whole battle… would humanity survive against the demons?

Slaughtering demonic meeples, all in a days work for Barbarians of Lemuria

My table was fantastic with a couple of familiar faces (Chris and Debbie) and two newbies (from my point of view that is, but it was great to have Chris L and Colin at the table), full of creative solutions to dealing with the demons; we had some epic combat and adventure, chase and stealth scenes and a final confrontation as a horde of demons charged the fortress gate. The funniest point was when they rolled a double one on a battle roll, losing all of the advantage they had previously gained and setting their victory points back to zero… all of that effort seemingly for nothing. I’d like to think I was the only one who found that amusing.

The session came together far better than I could have expected. The key for me was a simple premise and a great system to back it up. I was fired up after that I can tell you, and ready for a monstrous evening game.

After a bite to eat players settled down for their evening game. I’d chosen Frankenstein’s RPG, a fantastic project pulled together by Dave Paters that aims to stitch together the best parts of different RPGs voted for by a panel in each episode of the podcast. Dave did a great job, creating a relatively simple game where you could see the influence of the various other systems; rather cleverly he had included the spirit or intent of those games rather than the absolute mechanics which could never have worked. The chosen adventure was Make Your Own Luck for 13th Age which started in media res defending the walls of a besieged town. We pulled and tested the system quite thoroughly, and I turned many of the players against me for suggesting tweaks that nerfed the critical system and the power of magic-users, all the while leaving my character largely unchanged… bring it on fellas, I can take it!

It was a cracking session though, lots of laughs and high adventure. The core system really does feel solid, and while there are quite a few tweaks still required I reckon after a good few more play tests it’ll definitely be a game worth playing.

As is traditional we decamped to the Port Street Pub around the corner from Fanboy Three and spent a pleasant evening chatting and boozing until we were turfed out at what felt like an unreasonably early time. Probably just as well, we all wanted to have clear heads for what was to come on the Saturday.

Saturday

Following a hearty breakfast in Ezra & Gil accompanied by a band of hungry grogs we settled into the morning games. Same as previous Grogmeets there were two venues, Fanboy Three and Fitzgeralds, a 1920’s prohibition themed bar a couple of doors up. All of my games were in Fanboy Three which suited me fine, it’s a great venue with plenty of space.

I’d deliberated quite a bit about the main game I would run for the Saturday… initially I had considered Barbarians of Lemuria, the homebrew adventure that I’d run successfully at Owlbear and Wizards Staff con back in September, but that was too modern for Grogmeet Saturday which is themed around old school games. Then I’d thought about an adventure from The One Ring 2e starter set, but again came to the conclusion that it was too modern (although Guy Milner had blatantly broken the rules, the cheeky scoundrel, and ran a mash up of the starter set adventures, and by all accounts it was bloody brilliant so he is forgiven). I finally settled on Old School Essentials, a game that I’m very familiar with and rate very highly, so I ploughed through a huge catalogue of potential adventures before settling on the scenario from Imagine magazine issue 3, A Box for the Margrave. This is an adventure I’d read back in the day and really wanted to run, but just never got around to it, so 38 years later I managed to get it to the table.

Look at that GM screen! OSE for the win

It was also a great opportunity to take the fantastic OSE GM Screen out for a spin… I do love a good GM screen! The adventure was truly old school with blocks of boxed text (I appreciated my player’s patience as I took a few minutes reading the introductory text), some odd encounters and a decent dollop of lethality, but overall the players did really well, all but one surviving to the end. The simplicity and familiarity of OSE is so appealing to me, yes it has it’s problems, but it always just works in play, can’t recommend it highly enough.

Lunch was arranged courtesy of Dirk the Dice with a galactic ton of pizza’s delivered for the ravenous grogs. It was a great opportunity to catch up with a few other folks before settling down for the afternoon session.

Having backed OpenQuest in the recent Kickstarter I was keen to give it a good spin; there were a couple of OQ games on offer – Steve Ray’s The Broadsword and the Beast, based on the Jethro Tull album, and Paul Mitchener’s Non Semper Erit Aestas, GMd by the author himself. I’d picked Paul’s game because frankly I’ve played in tons of Steve’s games, and while he’s a fantastic GM I wanted to play the field a bit (as it were). Joining fellow players Martin, Ian and ABS we headed into the depths of barbarian infested Germany as agents of Rome on the frontier of the empire. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but the adventure was ace; we were the Vigilis Nocturni, a special ops unit protecting Rome from the supernatural and needless to say there was a fair old bit of that as well as some mundane threats to deal with. I really like the OQ system, it plays like a streamline version of RuneQuest and does away with much of the complexity in that game… really hope to play more soon.

Post gaming we retired to Fitzgeralds to dine and booze. I struggle to drink more than a few pints these days and know when to call it a night, but before I did Chris Watkins quietened the crowd to give a moving speech to the memory of our good friend Mike Hobbs, the Welsh Wizzard who sadly passed earlier this year and to present Jeremy Short with the Mike Hobbs Memorial Award for winning the Gods of Glorantha game on the Friday night… great stuff that shows the very best of our community.

So while others partied on into the night, I retired to my hotel at a sensible hour, left to ponder the awesomeness of an amazing day.

Sunday

I do love a long weekend of gaming, and Grogmeet still had more to offer. After a hearty breakfast with the great grognard council and checking out of my hotel, we headed back to Fanboy Three once more to witness a unique event in the making – a live recording of The Grognard Files meets Frankenstein’s RPG. Dirk and Dave had assembled an elite panel of gaming royalty; Blythy, Paul Fricker and Ian Cooper, all with the sole purpose of determining the perfect supplement for Frankenstein’s RPG. It was glorious; educational, insightful, inspirational, but you’ll need to listen to the podcast to discover the winning supplement. All I’ll say is that I do suspect an unfair RuneQuest bias…

Scumbag College 2021

The day was not yet over though. Newt Newport was running Go Play Manchester in the afternoon to complement Grogmeet and offer existing GPM players a chance to get together. I’d opted to play in Blythy’s Cthulhu Dark Ages adventure The Siege of Ely. There are some clever twists with Cthulhu Dark Ages and characters can feel more capable than their 1920’s counterparts, but ultimately going mad is still going mad with the same dreadful consequences. I bowed to Blythy’s skill in engineering a TPK… although in truth only the dice were to blame.

And that was it, a fantastic, long looked forward to weekend over in the blink of an eye. It was everything I’d hoped for an more, and I’m just a little sad it is behind us; but of course there are other cons to look forwards to and hopefully Grogmeet 2022. Never too soon to start planning…

It’s been said elsewhere before, but I can’t close this post without thanking Dirk and Blythy for putting together such a spectacular con. Here’s to your good health lads and to Grogmeet 2022!

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