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TravCon11 Conference Report

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Freelance Traveller.


… it must be time for TravCon11!

For the fourth year running almost 30 intrepid Travellers gathered at Redwings Lodge on the Old Great North Road in Cambridgeshire (a little over an hour on the train out of London) on the 4th-6th March 2011. Once again, the annual British Isles Traveller Support (BITS) convention laid on a dense weekend of twenty games across 4 four-hour slots and one six-hour slot. Once again, this reviewer wished for a clone or three as there was so much great adventure to get involved with and so many excellent referees devoting their skills to providing fun and excitement.

This One Looked Easy

An early finish at work, and a couple of trains later, my journey from the south coast of England saw me arriving with a little time to spare before the first game at 8pm on Friday. The usual dilemma over the choice of which adventure to sign up for could wait until tomorrow as the only slots left were in the ongoing In Search of Angels saga. But the individual segments are stand alone and it was great to meet up with familiar characters from previous years. Simon Bell (see picture, right) was refereeing and his precise, carefully thought out style ensured we were in for a treat with Storm Warning.

SuSAG were employing the group to deliver a cargo to a research base and as the teaser for the game had it, this one looked easy. Unfortunately, a nasty storm hit the underground base delaying our departure from a world with a corrosive atmosphere and not somewhere we were hoping to linger. Meanwhile something or someone was going berserk in one of the labs. Although the ensuing panic was quelled, it was clear that something was not quite right with some of the base staff, including the director. Matters weren’t helped by our observation that maintenance at the base seemed to be rather shoddy. Trying to get medical assistance to two laboratory workers, we arrived too late to be of any help; and now more people were acting strangely. When the power went out, there was nothing for it but to race to the power plant. Here our worst fears were confirmed when we encountered a giant tentacle emerging from a crack in the floor. It was unfazed by our attack, and reasoning that a giant tentacle is probably attached to something even larger that we really didn’t want to meet, we decided that discretion was the better part of valor. Unfortunately, there was little time before the atmosphere was going to breach the base. We rescued what personnel we could and headed for the surface in ATVs before the whole place turned into an outpost of hell.

I don’t think I’ve played in a Traveller game where we so completely failed to achieve any reasonable goal – save that of getting out with our own skins. But it was certainly an entertaining chapter and a great start to the weekend.

Cons at a Con

Next morning it was time for the usual weighing up of options. Choose an adventure based solely on the teaser given on the sign up sheet? Try to outguess the teaser and predict what the contents will be? Choose based on referee and/or other players signed up? Or some complex algorithm of all the above?

In the end I plumped for The Y699 Occurrence, possibly intrigued by the title more than anything else. Run by Edd Quick, this adventure saw five of us as assassins locked up in prison and kept in stasis on Mithras in the Spinward Marches (see picture, left). We were awoken occasionally to be checked over medically but it was a pretty miserable existence. When we woke up in the dark with emergency warnings going off, it was soon apparent that we were being automatically and unceremoniously decanted from our stasis pods because something was very wrong.

Using what little we could find about us, we were able to explore and eventually break out of our ‘cell’ only to find the situation not much better elsewhere. Worse, one of our number was attacked by an apparently flesh eating, skinless nightmare in the dark. I was so glad I was playing this on a Saturday morning rather than late at night! Eventually we made contact – just barely – with a member of the prison staff behind a makeshift barricade. They weren’t pleased to see us out of our pods and even less pleased to know one of our number had been bitten. Kill him now, was their advice. We weren’t pleased to find that they’d been experimenting on inmates in particularly unpleasant ways. There appeared to be no way out of this level of the prison except via a damaged lift shaft. No apparent lift cage, cables or anything for power even if there was. The sides of the shaft looked too difficult to climb or descend. Trying to negotiate food and protection from the prison staff didn’t go well but eventually we were desperate enough to storm the barricade. Only to find there were only two members of staff remaining and they were barely in better shape than we were. They were also down to their last rations after several months of trying to survive.

Basically they were now the only survivors of a prison that had gone horribly mad from whatever it was being tested on us convicts. The lower levels of the prison were now a no-go area with monstrous figures preying on each other. It really was a nightmare scenario and there was only one way out: climb the lift shaft and escape the world. Some trials of making the climb – roped up as best we could manage – demonstrated that it was a one way ticket to the bottom of the shaft. Unfortunately as the most athletic and dexterous of the characters it fell to me to play the hero. But with a little ingenuity we were able to cobble together a primitive grappling hook and place a makeshift platform into the shaft to give just a chance of success. When the time came to make the climb, I’ve rarely had such a sense of ‘presence’ in a game, and been so uncertain of success. But alea jacta est (the die is cast) and after a moment of stress I made it to the next level and was able to help the others up after me. As ex-cons we didn’t wait for rescue or to find out what happened subsequently – we were out of there.

Naked Dewclaws

After a quick lunch, snaffled as usual from the garage beside the hotel or grazing on the excellent snacks that BITS provides, it was time for my first experience of Living Traveller. The adventure itself, Of Dust-spice and Dewclaws (available from: http://www.mongoosepublishing.com/living-traveller.php as ‘Adventure 1’), was great fun and well refereed by Andy Lilly (the conference – and BITS – organizer, see picture, right) with his usual touches of humor that work so well. I particularly liked the taste of the high-population world Mora and a visit to the semi-submerged Wavecrest City. With a stressed Aslan as a patron we were on the trail of some missing – and hugely valuable – dustspice. Amongst other places we visited a restaurant (the Land of Spice) and pretended to be inspectors, found our quarry being thrown naked out of his apartment, and ended up in a dock area complete with menacing gang members rippling with muscles. For once, the characters met with complete success and not only retrieved the dustspice but did so without the Aslan captain finding it had gone missing, thus saving the honor of a poor junior crew member. Not to mention that of the stressed Astrogator who had employed us. The climatic moment the gang members turned on us thinking we’d be easy meat, only to have several angry Aslan appear behind us, is a moment I’ll treasure for some time. My only difficulty with the game was the rather bland character I was given in the place of (not) having my own Living Traveller character. It was quite hard to get into role-playing someone I had so little handle on. Moral of the story: bring your own Living Traveller character for just such occasions!

From Land of Spice to Spice Land

Saturday evening and supper is either a visit to the Spice Land Indian restaurant next door to the hotel (yes, the venue in the previous game had been directly inspired by the place), or for someone to make a phone call to get a short ton of Chinese takeaway delivered. Either way, stomachs were filled, and paying the bills remarkably avoided any need for Douglas Adams’ style bistromathics so we could get on with the matter in hand.

There was no question of what I wanted to do. Detached Duty. A few months ago I’d read the excellent Crowded Hours book by Martin Dougherty and I spotted that one of the adventures was a re-titled version of ‘Type S’ from that book. Fortunately I could remember none of the details of the story save their being a volcano involved, but knew it was going to be a lot of fun. Nick Walker was refereeing in his own inimically relaxed style and we had a huge amount of laughter – not all of it game related admittedly – as we somehow bumbled our way through to the heroism of saving a couple of dozen people from certain death as tephra from the erupting volcano rained down on our heads.

Thorny Problem

Finally, Sunday morning dawned – not too early which was a relief after the late nights of afterhours Monty Python Fluxx games in the bar – and TravCon11 was all too soon drawing to a close. Just time for the six-hour game slot and I signed up for Thorny Problem which sounded interesting. Andy Lilly was once again refereeing and this time we were the crew of a scout ship responding to a request from a journalist friend of the captain. A particular highlight of this game was Edd’s remarkably accurate portrayal of a female computer expert. From taking the gun-bunny shopping for respectable clothes, to acting (or was she?) royally narked off with the captain, ‘Marie Benn’ was definitely a character to watch. As we got deeper into trying to figure out why there was so much interest in some otherwise unremarkable cactus farming, and realized that we were also getting deeper into potential conflict with a rather nasty government, debate raged as to just how much our captain really cared for the woman we were trying to help. Is she just an old friend – or is there something more? We’re risking our lives for how much? Eventually with plans of using a lightning strike to free a hostage – no, not a quick raid but a real live thunder and lightning storm lightning strike – with a backup plan of poisoned pizza delivery by a 40-something professor, we moved in (see picture, left). There was mixed success with no opportunity to extract the hostages, but a chance to deliver a communit to the key hostage which sufficed.

A final look around the sales tables – books, miniatures and more from all the Traveller eras were available, as well as second hand material which conference attendees could sell with a percentage going to charity. The hotel had looked after us very well as usual so final thanks were due to the staff who are so patient with so many guys (and one lady) descending on them and taking over for a weekend of what must seem to outsiders as quite bizarre.

The Awards

Traditionally two awards are handed out at the end of TravCon. The Starburst for Extreme Heroism for a heroic act and the Ping... F*** It award for the best (worst?) awful moment when a player or their dice roll or circumstances foul up in a particularly extraordinary way. This year the SEH (a beautiful acrylic trophy) was won by Derrick Jones (see picture, left). In a Dom Mooney written game, Fallen, he was playing ‘The Mother’ – one of the survivors of a lifeboat crash and an amnesiac character defending herself by waving a baby around. We trust it was being done tastefully.

The PFI award went to Tom Zunder (picture removed at Mr Zunder’s request) who in jumping onto a moving beanstalk capsule managed to just barely make it. Then jumping off after his colleagues again just barely made it. That might not have been enough to win the award as he did, in fact, survive - but unfortunately the valuable hostage he’d grabbed and was carrying wasn’t so fortunate and was last heard of screaming profanities as he fell a considerable distance to terra firma. A strong runner up for the PFI award was the delightful moment when a low social standing character at a garden party thrown by Duke Norris, managed a double 1 on his carouse throw as he tried to chat up three charming young female nobles. He was unceremoniously ejected from the function, the referee decreed, for inappropriately pinching one of the ladies! One suggestion for next year might be to include an award for best role-playing.

The auction of some of Derrick Jones’ specially designed (and Marc Miller approved) Traveller ales – ‘Ancient’s Dream’ and ‘Scout Brew’ – raised more money for the Help for Heroes charity. And in a well-placed final moment, Andy’s wife Sarah was revealed as the author of Thorny Problem. Many hope that she will put pen to paper again. A special note should be made of the support that Sarah and daughter provided in making TravCon happen. Thank you.

Writing this, while enjoying a glass of the cold stuff in a splendiferous BITS tankard (see picture, right) which were gifts for everyone who attended the conference, I look forward to another year of Travelling. At time of writing it looks as if TravCon12 will be running – make sure you sign up as soon as bookings are open as places are sure to go quickly. I hope to be there and have even been inspired to dream of running a game. See you there!