What a build up, what a sense of excitement, the first proper Expo since 2019! With the two games I was running prepped and ready to run, my checklist fully checked (I do lists for pretty much everything), hotel and parking tickets printed and bags packed I was good to go.
Expo offers a lot for a gaming weekend: a chance to catch up with gaming chums over a few pints, an opportunity to buy a load of new games and perhaps most importantly sitting around a table and playing some RPGs!
Some of my gaming pals were heading to Expo on the Thursday and I was supremely jealous, so I was up and on the road early on the Friday morning, arriving at the NEC before 9am.
Meeting up with gaming mates @davepaters, @OrlanthR and @filmfan68 (and later @Lintillaz), after a coffee to start the day we spent a pleasant few hours trawling the trade hall, futiley trying to resist the shiney and entirely failing. I love this part of the Expo weekend, catching up with friends, the whole weekend ahead and a trade hall full of games. I showed some restraint, it’s probably the least I’ve spent on games out of any visit to Expo, but still I’m happy with my haul.
After dumping my bags at my hotel I set up at the Hilton to run my first game of the weekend, Barbarians of Lemuria. This is the second time I’ve run The Witch Queen’s Ire, tweaked since Owlbear and Wizards Staff last year. With other cons where the players are mostly Grognards you have a good idea of the type of players you’ll get, but not so with Expo. Luckily the group I had was fantastic, three grogs I know well (@JimjimTheGrim, @Son_of_Albion and @pauljbaldwin) and two players I’ve never met before – Barbarians of Lemuria encourages heroic action and the players quickly found their heroic stride. I always try to encourage players to spend their hero points earlier in the game so the finale is a challenge; when it came to the boss fight this group of heroes were smart and triumphed over evil.
Once gaming was finished for the day it was time to hit the Hilton bar with the Grognard crowd for a drink or two…
For the Saturday morning game I took another pop at The Burning Wheel, a game I have previously played and enjoyed with the Harn setting. This adventure, The Gradual End of a King, was advertised as courtly intrigue with a dash of PvP. Not my usual thing, but I fancied trying something a bit different and this game did not disappoint. The PCs were all members of a court with a dying king – the ailing King himself, the frustrated princess, the returning prince and the conniving vizeer. We all had our own beliefs and goals which lead to lots of interesting situations in the game; I played the prince who had just returned from a quest seeking a magical solution to his father’s illness. But the others players each had their own agendas. The GM would put us in situations, prompting and asking questions about our motives – what was our intent, what did we want to get out of each encounter. There were few dice rolls made (usually as a result of a PvP situation) and no combat to speak of. I was impressed with how the GM, Guy Macdonnell, ran the game, keeping things moving along, prompting and prodding and helping us to play our characters. I found the play style quite intense and was knackered afterward. I’d definitely try it again, but I couldn’t see myself playing this style of game on a regular basis.
Before the afternoon session there was a chance for another dip into the trade hall and a bite to eat, then it was on to the afternoon session. I was running Round the Bend, an adventure presented in Imagine magazine issue 15 from June 1984, using the Old School Essentials rules. This was one of the first games I’d ran at a con not long after getting back into the hobby (at Grogmeet 2017) and I’d done a load of prep back then, printing out large 2D maps of the dungeon, paper minis and so on. My plan had been to run it muliple times to get the return on the time I’d put into prep, but I never turned my attention back to it until preparing for Expo.
I had a fantastic group of players – four Grognards who I know well: @LaticsExile, @Son_of_Albion, @Lintillaz and @sjamb7, and one much, much younger player who was keen to try out OSE. While it was no surprise the grogs got stuck into the old school nature of the game, it was great to see the same from the younger player who had only played 5e before. To be honest, who wouldn’t enjoy an adventure where you play miniaturised half-orcs trying to retrieve an item lost down a wizard’s drains? It really is old school in every way, the encounters nearly all involve combat and there is relatively little character development, establishing backstories and creating a shared narrative – this is all about the adventure, my kind of game! All but one of the PCs survived the game, and the player who lost that character took on the role of dice roller for the enemies and took to it with glee – thanks @Son_of_Albion!
The great thing about gaming in the Hilton is you have a very short walk to the bar, and that is where I spent the Saturday night with some top gaming folks. I didn’t last as well as I had on the Friday night, but while I did it was great to drink and chat.
Starting to feel a bit of fatigued, I made my way to the Hilton for my last game of the event; The Palace of Cinnabar Dreams, a Conan 2d20 adventure with @theGROGNARDfile as GM. Another court in strife adventure, but this one much more up my street. Based on Robert E Howard’s Kull we had to deal with a sorcerous evil that disabled King Kull while the palace was under attack. I played a warrior from the Red Slayers, an elite force that served the King while the others were vizeers, courtiers, nobles and sages. Lots of strange sorcerous goings on and a good dollop of investigation lead to a satisfying conclusion with the heroes of Valusia saving the kingdom.
The event rounded of with a final tour of the trade hall with @theGROGNARDfile and @sjamb7, but I was pretty jaded then and happy to head home with my haul of goodies and a bucketload of great memories.
There are some great events to look forward to over the next 12 months, but with the dates for Expo 2023 announced I’m already looking forward to that!