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Furnace 2009 After Con Report

Last weekend, I went to Furnace 2009, a roleplaying convention held at the Garrison Hotel in Hillsborough, in Sheffield. Furnace has rapidly become my favourite convention for a number of reasons, not least of which is that "It's all about the games".

But surely all gaming conventions are "all about the games", you ask? Well, the honest answer is no – and yes. Each con has its very own focus and uniqueness. Continuum always had a strong Gloranthan and Freeform vibe, Dragonmeet a strong games market feel and so on. So why is Furnace unique? I can't put my finger on it exactly; maybe it's about the setting (the old Garrison building, effectively a castle, with games run in former cells and armouries, or maybe its because the pretension that plagues other conventions is missing. At Furnace, D&D 4th edition rubs shoulders with the Collective Indie chic, the "Fast! Fun! Furious!" ethic of Savage Worlds and the ever-elegant grace of one of my former loves, d100/BRP.

I've been to every Furnace so far (since 2006) and this was perhaps my best. So, what did I do?

I nervously looked at a real copy of Graham Spearings' Wordplay, the game I did the layout for, and watched it sell well over the weekend. As anyone involved in the creation of things such as this will know, I also grimaced at the (fortunately very few) glitches in the book. But it was a real buzz to see a real game I'd turned from an OpenOffice file into an actual book with the help of Lulu.

I always miss the first session, and use it as a chance to catch up with people. I'd hoped to meet John Ossoway and discuss his forthcoming SF RPG River of Heaven, but unfortunately events conspired to prevent him coming to the convention. I had a good natter with Tom Zunder, and a few others, visited the Patriot Games and other stands, and made a bee-line to go and pick up a copy of "Beat to Quarters", Neil Gow's excellent Napoleonic Naval RPG. Absolutely lovely, and I hope that he forgives me for the later atrocity. So that was Slot 1, ended with a trip to Morrisons for supplies.

Slot 2 on Saturday afternoon saw me run my first game, a Wordplay engined SF adventure in the Singularities universe I've developed for the forthcoming deluxe version of the core rules. I'd run the adventure once before, at a TomCon, and the story evolved in much the same way as before. Most amusing point was when two of the players who had played at TomCon tried to sign up before they released that this was, in fact, the previously unnamed scenario that they'd previously played. Nanotech swarms, Duplicitous AIs and STL starships combined with a hick frontier world intent on celebrating the arrival of the first starship in nearly 40 years to create carnage. One of the players has subsequently described it as "Dallas meets hard SF". I was a bit worried that some of the players were getting lost, as the game is heavily influenced by Banks, Asher, Stross, Reynolds and more and if you haven't read the new wave of British SF it can be a shock to the system, but everyone seemed to have a good time. The one thing I'm still not satisfied with is the new take of the variant scale rules for Wordplay I was testing, but it was a lot closer to what I wanted to achieve than the first playtest.

Saturday evening, Slot 3, saw me make a grown man call for help. Neil Gow had foolishly decided to set a game of "Beat to Quarters" on the Irish Rover (of Pogues song fame) and he got everything he had hoped (or feared). The plot ranged widely, with missions from God, the whale-with-the-grail, drinking, wenching, a wide sargasso sea, sea monsters, shipwrecked pirates (from the Dutch Antilles) and a huge volcano, but the Irish Rover broke with the tradition of the song and made it to New York. One of the amusing parts for me was the way my character ("Johnny McGurk") was picked on by Mick's ("Malone") and a bitter rivalry erupted, to the point that my character had the personal objective to make sure Malone looked like a fool. In the end, he was transformed into the Goat Captain! I loved this game; Neil handled it just right, but I think he was horrified with the monster he created. So that was my one chance to play a game and it was brilliant, a definite high spot. It also convinced me about the "Duty and Honour" and "Beat to Quarters" rules mechanics, which handled everything that could be thrown at them and more. I look forward to the special supplement that Neil must be duty bound to create.

I headed back to my hosts house, and Tom and Nathan and I stayed up a little longer drinking tea and eating scones and putting the gaming world to rights.

Sunday dawned almost too early, but in reality it was a lie in for me. Slot 4 saw my now-traditional Indie-special. I ran "Wilderness of Mirrors" by John Wick, which is tagged as a 'better spy game". It has some interesting tricks, including handling the core of plot development over to the players, and a clever mechanic to reduce their chance to succeed as time goes on. Highlights of this include one of the players using a special ability of his character to finish off another character (brutal but oh, so clever) and the horror of the players about the plot that they created. Certainly, by the end of the game I wasn't sure if the characters were actually worse than the terrorists that their spies were after. I'd like to run this again, perhaps at a TomCon.

Slot 5 on Sunday afternoon was the game I'd put the most preparation into: Runepunk: Broken Dreams, a Savage Worlds game. This was set in the Runepunk setting, and was the sandbox scenario from the DarkSummer Nights supplement loaded with accelerant and handouts. The setting is a Neo-Victorian Metropolis dominated by magic and steam power science, with a very definite vibe. The most clear analogies in fiction are Mieville's Perdido Street Station and In Viroconium by M John Harrison. Lovely stuff. The scenario is rich and layered, and I was worried that the players may have got bogged down. But they didn't, and they ran a tight investigation which got to the right answer. We finished 25 minutes early; had we had 45 minutes, we'd have got to the final denouement, but the characters actually completed the mission that they had been set. The final twist was that they managed to play Savage Worlds for nearly four hours without a combat, which is a first for me for that particularly crunchy skirmish based system, yet seemed to really enjoy the game. I also enjoyed riffing with some of the players in character.

Sadly, the whole convention soon wrapped up after this, and I headed home, managing to get back before Jill and Nathan who had gone across the Pennines for the weekend. I had a great time, and I can't wait until next year's Furnace to be back again!