This special update is mainly a report on Fantasticon and the second LIVE test of the Elite Encounters game system. I’ll warn you now, it’s a lengthy one, and is a fairly detailed overview of the live games of EE that were played at the convention.
OK, I’m a week or two late. The thing is that after Fantasticon, the lovely chaps over at Lave Radio asked me to host an online session of the game to double as the second “writer’s interview” for the Elite Encounters project. I decided that it would be good to do that session (thus testing how well the game plays online) before updating, because then I could also review how well the roll20.net website functions as a host for running remote sessions of the game.
First, though, Fantasticon!
If you didn’t know, Fantasticon 2014 was held at the Royal Mercure Hotel in Hull on the 16th August. It was a convention celebrating fantastic science fiction and fantasy, organised by Dan and Gabi Grubb, the owners and operators of Fantastic Books Publishing, who are publishing five of the Elite: Dangerous tie-in novels. The convention also served as the launch event for the paperback and hardback copies of those books. Dan graciously invited me along to showcase Elite Encounters and I jumped at the chance.
One of the Elite Encounters advertising banners. Photo (c) 2014 Helen Lister
I planned to run two or three sessions during the day, each lasting about two hours. I was given a choice piece of real estate – a long table in the middle of the Elite: Dangerous computer bank (a bunch of PCs all running Elite: Dangerous on Oculus Rift), with enough room around the outside of the table for people to watch the game in session.
On stage with Dan introducing the game. Photo (c) 2014 Helen Lister
After a brief introduction from Dan and myself at 12 noon (see above photo), I disappeared into the back room to start the first session, finding that there were more than enough interested parties to fill the 8 seats available for the game. A diverse mix of individuals were at that first session. Experienced RPG player Chris Jarvis, Lave Radio and Escape Velocity personality (as well as the producer for the Fantastic Audio Book versions of the five published books) was one of the first seated, joined quickly by the redoubtable James Vigor (who wanted to be part of EVERY session), Zieman, Flavio, Sam (another veteran from Lavecon) and Terry, as well as a chap whose name I neglected to record (but whose character was christened “Big Willie the Fisherman” – the risks of selecting random aptitudes).
Session 1 gets underway! Photo (c) 2014 Helen Lister
Scenario 1: Who Is The Mystery Pilot?
The first scenario was the discovery of two heavily damaged spacecraft adrift in space (belonging to Sam and James), and the mission to try and find out what happened to them. An inept police officer (Mike) joined two explorers (Zieman and Flavio) in trying to get the ships operational. Sam’s ship, an Anaconda passenger ferry, had three passengers – Big Willie, Terry’s character John Rambo and Chris’ character Lyra, a former naval officer. Much fun was had trying to get the Anaconda operational again, only to find that the ship had been boarded again by the trigger happy assailant. The hapless fisherman, only serving as window dressing to the goings on up to that point, found out that the whole thing was due to him muscling in on another trader’s fishing grounds!
The session took over three hours to play, from starting character generation to the big reveal at the end, so that immediately pushed everything else back on the schedule. I took a half hour break to get a drink and speak to myabandoned family who were busy getting things signed by the special guests at the convention. During that first session both my wife and my son had a go on an Oculus Rift-enhanced version of Elite: Dangerous. Both parties were suitably impressed at the capabilities of both items, and I now have permission to obtain an Oculus Rift when they go on sale! Woohoo! Time to start saving up!
I have the least to write about this session, but it’s the only one that has photos of it!
Session 1 well underway. Photo (c) 2014 Helen Lister
More of session 1. Photo (c) 2014 Jonathan Baker
Even MORE Session 1. Photo (c) 2014 Jonathan Baker
Session 2: Incident On The ISS Caspian
The second scenario began an hour later than planned but again with a full table of players and a throng of interested onlookers. First to the table (again) was James Vigor, pen and character sheet in hand, and he was joined by James Balfour, playing a combat pilot. A chap whose name I didn’t note down but went by the monkier of “Bubrick” took the role of Kevin, an enforcer/hitman, whilst my son Derri created a scientist named Jethro Maddox (which is his character name on Star Trek Online too). Rob played “Rob”, an electronics and computing specialist and his 11-year old son Adam took pride of place as the youngest player so far in the role of Gazena, an army soldier on leave. The starting line-up was completed by LaveCon veteran Andrew “Swordmaster” Sayers as Evelyn Peterson, a disgraced doctor now selling medical supplies. Colin Ford FINALLY achieved his goal of playing in a game, and joined us an hour in as Moist, a space fighter pilot drafted to security services.
Again, a very disparate cast! I decided that the best way to get these people in the same place at the same time was to assume that they were all on holiday, enjoying a trip on one of the Empire’s luxurious passenger liners.
So we began. All was well until one day, during evening meal, shots are fired in the long restaurant! A desparate man stands on a table and fires an automatic weapon into the crowd of diners and staff. Our intrepid party, all located at the rear of the hall, react in a number of different ways as the gunman declares that he is hijacking the ship to his own ends. Evelyn begins trying to help the wounded, Jethro tries to elbow his way to the front of the crowd, Kevin follows Jethro and James, Rob and Gazena duck under the table and try to get to the exit so they can get to their cabins and grab weapons.
Jethro begins verbally abusing the gunman and throwing random objects at him. He gets shot for his troubles, as well as being the direct cause of an innocent bystander being shot in the groin (much to Derri’s amusement). When Jethro goes down, Kevin sneaks up behind him and finishes the job by breaking the poor scientist’s neck. Not an auspicious start for the young apprentice of mine, as well as being the first Elite Encounters PVP kill!
Meanwhile Evelyn is still trying to staunch the bleeding of various patrons, and the three characters making for the exits get there and head to their quarters. To be honest I can’t remember what Vigor was doing at this point – I think he was sneaking out with the three others mentioned above.
Rob, Adam, James(and Vigor, I think), get out of the restaurant and make for their cabins. Adam decides that rather than just grab a gun or two, he will take the precaution of donning his armour. Meanwhile, the others grab their guns and head back to the restaurant. At the same time the ship’s security forces, padded out with volunteers from the ship’s passenger manifest (and including Colin’s character Moist) begin their assault on the hostage taker, taking the normal Imperial approach of “acceptable collateral damage” if more passengers are hurt.
The four characters and the security forces arrive back at the restaurant and quickly take down the gunman, whose attitude by then had become confused and anxious – much like he had been making this whole thing up as he went along (a kindred spirit of the GM). Rob searches the gunman’s body whilst the security forces are busy checking for any accomplices in the crowd. Rob’s search uncovers the man’s identity and room key, so Rob, Adam and someone else (James B, I think) check his quarters. There they find evidence that his attempted hijack was cover for a more immediate problem – a potential bomb in the cargo bay! Rob reports this information to Moist and the security forces and suggests that they start preparing to evacuate the ship. At some point round here, James V and Kevin begin a sort of pitched battle based around the “unfair” execution of Jethro.
Moist, Kevin and the security forces begin trying to marshal the passangers to the excape pods but Kevin rather foolishly yells “BOMB” and begins a mass panic. Happy with the chaos he has caused, Kevin folows the others to the cargo bay. Evelyn stays with the wounded. (actually, I can’t remember much of what Evelyn did after this point…)
In the meantime Rob, Adam, James and Vigor head to the cargo bay with a device that can help detect the bomb. They scan the cargo bay methodically (but quickly) and finally detect the bomb in a large suitcase. On opening the case, Rob finds that the bomb is very large and will definitely compromise the hull of the ship. He tries to find a way to defuse it, but can’t find a way.
At this point I started a timer to illustrate that there was a time scale on this part of the game. The bomb had ten real-time minutes to go, so I decided that if the timer reached 20 minutes, allowing for time spent on the other players) then it was too late and the bomb had gone off.
Around about this time James Vigor did something silly. At this point I can’t remember what it was (hopefully someone reading this will be able to remind me) but it was silly enough to prompt me to swap Derri’s character sheet for Vigor’s.
Sadly, this attempt to bring less silliness was misplaced. Derri-as-Vigor decided that he should avenge the senseless killing of Jethro and attacked Kevin. Now, there’s part of me that thinks I’ve missed part of this rivalry, and that Vigor and Kevin had a tussle in the restaurant before coming to the cargo bay. Perhaps one of them can fill me in on the details and I’ll update this post. Anyway.
Moist fires his gun into the ceiling and gets the attention of the panicking crowd. With some stellar roleplaying skills, Colin’s character successfully controls the situation and the exodus to the escape pods continues in a more orderly fashion.
Meanwhile, with Kevin and Vigor shooting it out around him, and protected by Adam, Rob manages to check the bomb for movement detectors then moves it into the airlock. After some ducking and diving around gunfire Rob successfully ejected to the bomb from the ship (at 17 minutes on the timer).
Moist and the security forces received the call that Rob had dealt with the bomb, and the captain moved the ship away from the bomb before it exploded.
Moist and the security forces received the call that Rob had dealt with the bomb, and the captain moved the ship away from the bomb before it exploded.
At the end of the pitched battle, I believe Kevin was killed, Vigor had a foot shot off and poor Jethro died by the hand of a complete stranger.
What stood out in this session was again the mix of players. Rob had roleplayed many moons past and this session was his first in over a decade. His son Adam was a fresh recruit and played his character admirably and with more maturity than some adult players I could mention. “Bubrick”. Well. Not my first experience with a player with his own personal agenda that didn’t mesh with the team spirit of the session, but was definitely interesting to integrate into the story as it unfolded. Derri again was a first-timer and played well apart from being a little too find of the meaningless violence. He found out quickly that Elite Encounters is harsh with that kind of play. Vigor again was consistent in his style, being cautious and waiting to see how certain things played out before taking action.
Writing this all up, I can see a big difference in the amount I’ve written for the first session and the amount that I’ve written for the second session. The second was definitely a much more action packed and chaotic session that was difficult to manage but, in hindsight, was LOADS of fun. I hope the players enjoyed the rollercoaster as much as I did.
The second session was another 3.5 hour marathon (compared to the 2 hours it was meant to be). It was time to GET SOMETHING TO EAT!
After getting a bite to eat with James Vigor (nom nom pancakes) we got back to the con at about 8pm, and felt that with the amount of stuff that was on during the evening that it would be unfair to start another session at that stage. My wife retired to the bedroom for the evening leaving me and number one son to enjoy the story readings, awards ceremony and raffle prize draw.; I was awarded the “Games Master” award, which I accepted humbly and somewhat sheepishly…
Receiving the Games Master award. Photo (c) 2014 Mike Snoswell
As promised, I notified the convention VIPS (Dan, Drew and any of the other authors who were up for it) that a session of the RPG was still on for midnight. Dan told me that it looked like things were going to run late, possibly until about 1am, and asked if it was OK to push the RPG until that time. I agreed to this without hesitation – getting Senator Drew, Commander Dan (sober this time) and Kate off the telly involved with a game session was too good to miss out on.
As 1am drew near Derri, Vigor and I took down the banners, cleared up the tables and Derri and I took the unwanted gear and our raffle winnings to the room (saying Hi to Mrs Selezen in the process) and headed back down to set up for the session in the Prince of Wales Bar. Now we just needed players…
Session 3: Landlocked!
The turnout for this session was surprisingly large! People had to be turned away (including poor James Vigor) as I had promised that this session would be for the Fantastic Books people only. Some of the attendees asked to spectate, so that was cool.
Anyway, the players assembled (apart from the terminally distracted Dan). Drew took on the role of his female protagonist from Elite Reclamation, Salome Loren. Kate played a version of Dread Katherine, a pirate from Mostly Harmless. Derri played another version of his previous character, Jethro Maddox, this time a retired security officer. Chris Booker played Gustav, a ship insurance salesman. Darren Grey played Isarian, a celebrity entertainer. Dan, when he finally untangled himself from convention attendees, played Dan, a bodyguard.
I should point out that I may add notes to this write-up that weren’t necessarily voiced in the session.
The party woke up unconscious, fully clothed and equipped, in a stone building next to the body of a long-dead man. The body was searched and not much was found apart from an ID card, a bag of jelly babies, a note saying “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make it” and a half burned photo of the man and a blonde woman. Other than that the building was empty. Outside the building Salome finds that there are fields of wheat as far as the eye can see in all directions, with the outline of a village some way to the east. Katherine tests the crops to make sure they are grain (and not something that she can turn into a narcotics profit), but it’s definitely grain. Near the stone hut are flattened areas that look like the landing gear pattern of a Cobra.
The party procrastinates and shuffle around the area, looking for clues as to their location and reason for being there. Quickly bored of this, Salome strikes out on her own towards the village. Seeing her leave, Katherine follows, and the others soon give up milling around and head off after the women.
They arrive at a village and ask where they are and what was usually in the stone huts out in the fields. Jethro goes on the hunt for somewhere to buy a ball of wool. They are told they are on the planet Oresqu [sic] and that the huts are grain stores, usually emptied once every couple of months by a ship in the land owner’s fleet. They find out the land owner emptied the huts a couple of days ago but found it strange that his ship had come back again during the previous night.
The party decide that they need to get off the planet and find the landowner to find out why they were dumped there. The villagers don’t know anything about the landowner, as anyone who approaches the ship pilots or crew are usually driven away. Loren asks where the nearest starport is and they are told that the region’s capital lies 150km to the south. The party ask for transport and are pointed towards Fat Bob, who has a truck large enough to carry them all. Bob graciously agrees to transport them, taking only fuel costs in return.
On the way out of the village, Salome and Katherine sit with Bob in the front, whilst the others sit in the open-backed truck’s cargo area (think of it as an futuristing American pick-up truck or Aussie yute). As the trip gets under way, Jethro cracks open the jelly-babies and offers them round. No-one accepts one, but when Bob is offered one he stamps on the brakes, stops the truck, gets out of the cab, climbs into the back then hauls Jethro to his feet by the lapels and demands to know where he found those jelly-babies. Dan draws his gun and pushes it to Bob’s head and demands he let Jethro go. Bob refuses and Dan blows his head off, throwing Bob over the side of the truck. Salome slides into the driver’s seat and stamps on the accelerator, throwing the truck forward and pitching Dan out of the back of the truck. He lands badly and breaks a leg, getting left in the dust as the truck accelerates away.
Katherine and Salome fight to get in control of the vehicle. Gustav points out that any accidents now would like not find a positive result in any insurance claims. Eventually Salome brings the vehicle to a halt again so that the two women can have a conversation. Katherine claims that they can’t leave Dan behind, but Salome calmly points out that he shot their only current contact on this world and that he was out of control. Reluctantly, Katherine agrees and they head on out again. During the struggle, however, Jethro was thrown against the back of the cab and put his shoulder through the rear window. He packs the wound with his ball of wool and indicates that he’s OK.
They head for another village on the road and change their broken, bloodstained truck for another, more inconspicuous vehicle. They drive without incident to the starport and leave the vehicle on the outskirts of the city. They decide to split up here and make their own way to the station where they may meet up again. Katherine heads off to meet with Hefty Jeff, her trade factor on this world.
Meanwhile, Dan is rather cross about being left behind. He hacks up the remains of Bob’s body and uses his bones and sinew to create a rudimentary bicycle (no, I’m not kidding). He puts what’s left of Bob’s head on his own as a helmet and makes his own way to the city, mile by gruelling mile (look, it was 4:40am at that point. The man was tired).
Katherine is the first to make it to the station, with Salome a close second. Moments after exiting the hangar where she left Hefty Jeff’s transport, she rounds a corner to see a heavy laser pistol levelled at her head. At the trigger is the blonde woman from the photograph they found on the dead man’s body. The blonde woman places the emitter of the gun on Katherine’s head and says “Where. Is. My. Husband?”. When Katherine has no ready response, the blonde woman’s finger tightens on the trigger…
Thus ended the 1am RPG session. At 5am.
This was the most chaotic, uncharted, random RPG session I have ever had the fortune to be involved with. AND IT WAS THE MOST FUN! An amazing time was had by all, at least from what I’ve heard back from the players, anyway. Everyone had a good time and enjoyed the game. Some commented that the story does take front stage and the dice rolling is quick and easy and doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay. Which was consistent with what people had been saying throughout the day.
Great fun and a great test of the system. Yet again, though, NO SHIP COMBAT!
And that was it for Fantasticon.
The week after, I received a message from Fozza asking if I would run an online session for the Lave Radio crew. This would serve as an interactive “Writer’s Interview”, catching everyone up with the progress made since the last intervew about a year ago. I agreed, and spent the week making sure that changes highlighted in the Fantasticon sessions were made and that the rules were ready to play online (they were – nothing really had to change).
During this time I did start to consider that the vehicle combat rules were way too complicated. I embarked on a significant rewrite of the rules to make them more streamlined and easier to play int he flow of a game. This process is still going on as I write this update (which is why the Beta of the rules is still pending).
On the 21st August the Lave Radio Session was recorded. Again, the session went well, and the rules are just as easy to manage online as they are live. We used the Roll20 website (roll20.net) to play the game’s normal rules (although I did utilise the diceless options once or twice), which worked rather well. It also provided a sketch pad where we could draw maps or other useful information.
Roll20’s utilities are very useful and well thought out. The biggest draw for me was the ability to simulate the rolling of 3D dice on a table, because it does evoke the feeling of being at a roleplaying session when there are dice tumbling in front of you. The chat window is useful for having a private word with one of the players, and the central map area of the interface is useful for shared notes, maps and (if it ever gets played) the hex grid options will lend themselves well to the vehicle combat rules.
A second session to finish of the scenario has been approved. That’s hot off the presses today! After the Beta is out, hopefully…
The conventions, aftermath, Lave Radio session and significant simplification to the vehicle rules have all mean that the Beta is running behind. It will be soon, so watch this space and your inbox for notification if you are an Alpha, Beta or GDF backer.
Although the actual writing process has been quite shoddy this last few weeks, the actual progress in terms of the product has been significant. Lavecon, Fantasticon and the Lave Radio sessions have proved to be very useful “alpha 2” testing of the system and content, and so far it looks very positive. RPG players of all experiences have given glowing reviews of the game and its system and the exposure has even generated some sales! So it’s all looking god as far as the system is concerned, I just need to get the colour text around it all finished and we’re ready to go for editing.
The next stop is the beta rules release. That’s the priority now.
OK, thanks for reading, and sorry about the length of the post. Again.
See you next month!