It’s a few years since I’ve been to Gaelcon, as the dates have either clashed with work assignments in the Balkans or else chess tournaments closer to home. This year I decided to eschew the Limerick Open however (recent ICU micro-political infighting has made me thoroughly sick of the Irish chess scene) and I headed up to Ballsbridge for a long weekend of RPGs and boardgames.
The boardgames part was a bit disappointing. Neither of the two I really really wanted to check out in detail were available from the Gaelcon library. They do have the A Game of Thrones boardgame apparently but it was unavailable as it was at someone’s house. They didn’t have Lagoon: Land of Druids at all. The genuinely-trying-to-be-helpful suggestion I was given, that one of the dealers might have them for sale rather misses the point; since what is access to a boardgames library, if not an opportunity to try before you buy.
Fortunately the RPGs more than made up for it. I played in four; the Gilgamesh RPG, Dragon Age, Victoriana (Blood and Iron) and Supernatural. The standard of GMing in all of them was good, the scenarios were satisfying and for the most part the groups of players thrown together gelled sufficiently to put the need to maintain a reasonably functioning party ahead of the personal quirks of their player characters, a certain bomb-making anarchist excepted.
I particularly enjoyed the Supernatural scenario involving skunk apes protecting a ruined Maroon camp in the Great Dismal. The playing arc did one of those sudden flipflops half way through and from us all faffing around getting nowhere, everything suddenly clicked and in a trice the party were homing in on the crux of the story like a perfectly oiled machine. Magic.
Like almost all RPG’s at cons, the game mechanics of the ones I played in tended to be pared down to the bare minimum. You have to do this when you are bound to get players who are novices at a particular system. I do wonder why a universal, low mechanics high storytelling scheme has still not supplanted all the number and stat heavy systems out there. The Gilgamesh RPG was notable in this respect. Since it has evolved from a LARP, the dice (or in this case cards) crunching really was kept to an absolute minimum but it conceded nothing in cohesion to the other three I played in Also, there is really quite a good set of background material available online for it here.
I definitely want to use a Gilgamesh RPG type approach – free form story with minimal mechanics – for my Green Redoubt RPG which hopefully I’ll be launching at Gaelcon 2016.
Of course, there are a couple of grumbles I should mention. The first concerns timekeeping. Three of the four RPG’s I was in started about half an hour late and two of these then over-ran a whole hour past the scheduled finish time. Of course it can be difficult to avoid over-running but I really don’t understand why the starting was so chaotic. The worst thing though was the level of ambient noise in the RPG rooms. Typically you had three different RPGs running in the same not terribly large meeting room, each consisting of a GM and six players. It was frequently difficult to hear what your GM and/or other players in your own group were saying because of the noise coming from the rest of the room. This detracted from one’s overall enjoyment and really needs to be addressed.