There are events you look forward to – a weekend break, Christmas, your best mates wedding, and they are nice. Then there are the epic events that dominate your thoughts for months in advance, a sense of excitement growing as the occasion draws near. Grogmeet is one of those events, occupying my RPG thoughts for many months and when it arrived it didn’t disappoint.
In the run up myself and a crack group of Grog GM’s had been planning a multi-table adventure for the Friday afternoon of Grogmeet using the Mothership system for a neat space horror adventure. I’d also offered to run The Mad Queens Jewels, a homebrew adventure on the Saturday morning of Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells set in The Midderlands, an adventure that seemed to go down well at Owlbear and Wizards Staff con back in September. Then, just a few weeks before Grogmeet Dirk the Dice asked me to run a game for the Friday evening and after much consideration I put forward Escape from Skull Prison, the starter adventure for Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells. With a load of prep on my hands (apart from The Mad Queens Jewels which was pretty much boxed off), I ramped up my efforts for Grogmeet, not wanting to disappoint any of the players and deliver the best games I could.
Last year I had to leave Grogmeet early due to an unexpected family illness and so this year I was keen to get the full experience. Unlike previous years I had to make a solo journey over the Manchester, but it gave me a chance to go over my adventure notes, then after a bit of lunch and a quick catch up with a few Grogs, we headed over the Fanboy 3 for the start of the weekend.
Last year’s Friday afternoon game, a multi-table, multi-system bar room brawl was a lot of fun with many players commenting on it being a good ice breaker. But it was just a little chaotic and didn’t go quite as planned. I was hugely relieved then to get our multi-table Mothership game off to a start; I was much more confident about this, we were using the same system and the GM’s Dirk, Sam, Steve and Rick (plus Griff who while not present due to a bout of laryngitis left an indelible stamp on the game with his contribution) did a great job in the lead up to the game. It was truly a collaborative effort with everyone bringing ideas and insights to the format and writing one of the scenes in the game.
Dirk started the ball rolling with the introductory blurb, bringing to life the cigar smoking Sergeant Apone who unsurprisingly was a native of Brooklyn. Quickly the players moved to their tables (drawn randomly) and we quickly started the simultaneous adventures. Mothership is great for ramping up character stress levels so when they panic bad things can happen. The scenes were all designed to pile on stress and get to panic points quickly and it was no surprise to find characters freaking out, curling up in catatonic ball or dieing due to a heart attack (quite a common occurence it seems). My players – Ian, Norman, Rob and Simon – were a great group, getting stuck into the spirit of the game, with Simon as the Corporate Jerk in the last scene taking the last escape pod and leaving the others to perish. Part of the set up was that each table had to detonate a nuclear core before reaching the escape pods – if three of the five were activated then the resulting explosion would be enough to close the rift that threatened the universe. Honestly I had expected all five of the tables to activate nuclear self destruct, but at least two of them didn’t, self serving, cowardly bastards…
I was a little nervous about running Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells as the system was fairly new to me (although quite light and easy to run) and I wasn’t entirely sure about the adventure. However, a trial run the weekend before had given me some valuable feedback that I brought into this session. I had six experienced players – Dirk, Adam, Andy, Mark, Blythy and Simon – at the table and they quickly took to their characters, a ragtag bunch of cons on Skull Prison, a private facility where the prisoners may or may not be guilty. When a power shortage released the mag-locks on their doors, they took the opportunity to attempt an escape, quickly subduing Slitface and his gang, but nearly coming unstuck against the Black Bats – some quick thinking navigated that problem and the rest of the prison, until they reached the final encounter against the prison commander. A desperate firefight seemed to be going against them until the smart character in the group (played by Mark) activated the self destruct sequence (‘the Mothership gambit’ as Dirk called it), and with a minute to go they raced for one of the ships and managed to fly out as the prison exploded behind them.
Saturday morning was my last session running a game – this time it was Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells. I was feeling good about this adventure as it was a homebrew that I knew really well. As I’d come to expect, I once more had a great group of players – Steve, Martin, Malcolm and Chris – who really engaged with the setting and wasted no time planning their escape from the Leaningtown Spa with the Queen’s jewels. Once again there was some really creative play and exciting combat and despite a few hiccups this group did the job as well.
Grogmeet GM’s get the first pick of games for sessions for the slots they are not running, and I no hesitation in picking Steve’s Middle Earth Role Playing game. Like many Grogs this game has a special place in our hearts as it was often our first gaming experience in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. It was with some excitement that I sat down for the Saturday afternoon session. This was an adventure that Steve had written set in the dark days of the War of the Ring after Osgiliath had fallen and the hordes of Mordor flooded across the Pelennor fields. Our mission as a band of rangers stranded in Osgiliath was to return to the Minas Tirith and join fellow Gondorians in defence of the White Tree. I won’t give any spoilers but will say that it was an excellent adventure. MERP showed it’s age, but it worked amazingly well with Steve handling much of the crunch for us – when I think of the complexity of combat and the tracking of effects on our characters, I shudder to think how a GM would keep a grip on that for all of the NPC’s and monsters that could be encountered.
Sunday morning is the interview slot where Dirk the Dice chats to an RPG luminary and this year it was Paul Fricker, author of Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition and one of the authors of The Two Headed Serpent adventure for Pulp Cthulhu. Dirk follows the format of his show, engaging his audience throughout (all together now “Where’s me dice bag?”); it was like watching a master craftsman at work aided by the tools of his trade – the ridiculous homemade shrine to the actor Caroline Munroe and of course the GM screen so he could make hidden roles to randomise questions for Paul. Good job we all had decent imaginations… Paul was a great guest, going right from the early days of his gaming life (agricultural simulation board games anyone?) to working with the luminaries of Chaosium on their Call of Cthulhu game. I’m playing The Two Headed Serpent for Pulp Cthulhu at the moment so it was great to get some spoiler free insights.
And with that Grogmeet itself was over. Some folks had to leave for long journeys home so there were many fond farewells, but for myself and a few others the gaming was to continue as Newt Newport of D101 Games had arranged a Go Play Manchester event to follow straight on from Grogmeet. I’ve been to Go Play Manchester before so knew it would be a great event and was looking forward to playing in Blythy’s Troika adventure The Cage of Sermit. I’ve not played in Blythy’s games before and was particularly looking forward to it and to playing Troika, a game that sits on my shelf but has not yet made it to my table. We were an odd group of adventurers (and players one could observe!) tasked with rescuing an imprisoned wizard from a desert prison to save a dying world. Troika delivered admirably with light, fast moving rules as did Blythy, giving us a colourful, exciting adventure full of crazy characters and strange locations.
There is another element to Grogmeet that I’ve not yet touched on, and that is the amazing sense of camaraderie, generosity and good spirit. I spent quite a bit of time eating and boozing with the other Grogs, catching up on life and gaming – that is nearly as much a part of Grogmeet as the gaming. And so to all you Grogs (most of whom I’ll game with one way or another before next Grogmeet), cheers to you all, here’s to Grogmeet 2020!