Reflections on the UK Games Expo

It’s been a few weeks since I was at the UK Games Expo, a yearly gaming convention that takes over the Birmingham Hilton hotel and a signficant amount of the Birmingham NEC, I’ve been a few times and always look forward to seeing a lot of the UK people I game with online “in the flesh,” this was my first year actually GM-ing at the convention though.

I was asked by Lloyd Gyan–Modiphious game advocate, RP Hipster and general great guy–who I game with a fair amount, to help him and a few others run Games on Demand, essentially the idea being that people who haven’t prebooked into a game in advance can rock up, buy a quick ticket for a game from the desk and then stroll down the room where we are and jump into a game. This is a great idea because the pre-booked games sell out pretty fast, perhaps you weren’t sure if you could make it, or perhaps you came for something else but are interested in this roleplaying thing that people have been banging on about, well if that’s the case you can still get in a game on demand.

The plan was that each of the GMs would take four or five games down with us that we were comfortable with and then we’d run two hour taster sessions with them, I think pretty much all of my games overran so I’ll have to work on that next year. I took along:

Game System
Young Centurions Fate Accelerated
Wild Blue Fate Core
Scooby Doo (home brew) Fate Accelerated
Tremulus PbtA
Dungeon World PbtA
MASKS PbtA

I knew Lloyd had ran Games on Demand pretty much single-handedly the previous year, although I’d only really glimpsed him from across the room as I’d been on the way to pre-booked games, but he looked pretty tired, happy, but tired. I think if you had to sum up the effect of Games on Demand–and probably a lot of the con–on the GMs that’d be as good a description as any “happy, but tired.”

First day there I was a little concerned about what exactly the arrangements would be re: tickets and hotel rooms (I knew that I’d already paid for my wife’s half of the room at the Hilton) but the hotel was great and had our names on their list so were able to go and drop our stuff off straight after arriving on the train. There were some new security measures in place involving bag searches every-time you went in and out of the NEC, but that was understandable given recent events and all the people who checked my bag were polite and approachable, one of the staff even joking with me about the various game notes with bulldog clips that I had stashed in my rucksack.

Our first day there was a little chaotic, there were some problems with the new electronic systems for the Expo that resulted in it being difficult for us to get tickets, and there was some confusion regarding which tables we’d be allocated for Games on Demand and where exactly we were located, this lead to it being quite a quiet first day at the con, however, once the issues were resolved by the very helpful UKGE staff the demand for games started to pick up. A couple of the GMs had to leave the con early for various reasons which pretty much resulted in Lloyd and myself running the latter stages on our own but it all seemed to go pretty well and I was even brought a couple of pints of cider by people from my games, the only alcohol I had time or energy to drink all event – which may seem like a bit of a drag, but TBH I was running so many games that I barely noticed, and at least I didn’t get told off by the Hilton Hotel Security for being too loud drunkenly explaining Fate rules to people (like I did the previous year).

Helping with Games on Demand was a very rewarding experience, and I’ve already asked Lloyd to sign me up for next year–where Dresden Files Accelerated will no doubt feature in my selection of games–my better half Hannah (who stepped in and was amazing making sure that myself and Lloyd had drinks, food and whatever else we needed so we could focus solely on GM-ing) has even expressed an interest. I’ve got a copy of Modiphius’ Star Trek Adventures RPG on order for her, since she loves Star Trek and I thought it might be a cool thing for her to have a go running at the con.

I think that the main things I’ve gained out of Games on Demand this year at UKGE are:

  • I feel much more comfortable about the notion of running a game at a Convention.
  • It’s given me some experience in pretty much improvising an entire session from limited notes.
  • I’ve met some new people who seemed pretty cool – as someone who’s not particularly outgoing I sometimes find this difficult.
  • It’s given me a bit of an insight into how much hard-work volunteers and crew put in at these events.
  • I got to have the most “heroic death” in a Cthulhu-hack game I joined to make up the numbers.
  • It’s given me experience of running games for a variety of different people and gaming styles.

One of things that I’ve come away from UKGE2017 with is an appreciation of the people who actually played in the games I ran (and those I observed), everyone who came up to Games on Demand seemed really up for having fun–whether or not they knew the other people in the group–and just getting into the spirit of the games available.

I think next year some things that i’ll try to keep in mind:

  • Take a larger variety of games – this might involve me learning some new systems but it’ll give the players greater choice.
  • Don’t sweat the prep so much – just a few ideas dotted down on index cards is fine, I added to the notes as I ran the games and then–if I ran the same game again–I could use my notes from earlier versions as prep if I wanted to.
  • Run more iconic genres – I basically ran a couple of different genres, it’d be nice to have more to offer (whether the rules are different or not).
  • Definitely take Wild Blue again – people really gelled with the Western vibe, next time I should make the Marshall’s superpowers more showy though, they were a bit understated in my games.

The traders hall at the NEC was massive (bigger than ever) and–despite the convention being split between Hilton and NEC–it still seemed like a community event, which was great to see; I’d love to talk in more detail about various things that went on at the event but TBH I barely left the Churchill Suite where we were running Games on Demand during the convention, and then it was mostly to grab food or a drink. I did manage to visit the trade hall though and pick up a copy of the Adventures in Middle-Earth Players Guide though (I’ve had the GM guide for a while but haven’t been able to find a Player’s Guide locally).

Some of my favourite moments from games were:

  • A superhero in MASKS (called Spearhead) restarting the hearts of numerous dead superheroes using his electrified spear.
  • A different group of heroes facing off against a group of robotic cheerleaders on the moon.
  • Watching different groups of people handle the same scenarios in wildly different ways.
  • Having the GM announce that my death was the “most heroic he’d seen” in a Cthulhu-hack game.
  • The reaction of the players in my Tremulus game when they realised the ghoul-creatures were invisible and used to be people.
  • One of the Marshall’s in Wild Blue, after discovering the Mayor and his townsfolk had been sacrificing youngsters upon discovering that if the deal wasn’t kept that many people including the mayor would die: “F*ck the Mayor.”

Overall helping with Games on Demand was a great and very rewarding experience, I hope to continue helping with it for many years to come (although I may try and run some pre-booked games at some point too) – if you’re considering running a game at the UKGE (or any other convention) then I’d suggest that you go ahead and jump in, you’ll gain valuable experience and get to flex GM-ing muscles that you might not with your regular group.

7 thoughts on “Reflections on the UK Games Expo

    1. No problems – I’ve not really read many other reports from the Expo TBH but I had a great time running games for some very enthusiastic people 🙂

  1. This was my second Expo and I loved it as much this year as I did last. I was disappointed at the prebooked games as the few that I was interested in were sold out before I’d even clapped eyes on them. I had no idea that you were there running Fate or I’d have been in like a shot. I’d heard of Games on Demand but had no idea how it worked. I may well eschew prebooked games next year in favour of GoD. I may even end up at your table.

    1. The pre-booked games do send to sell out pretty quick that’s true, we were tucked away in the Churchill Suite so I think a few people missed us over the weekend; we’re hoping to publicise GoD more next year (posters, etc) so that people can find us more easily.

      Hope to see you at my table next year, I’ve no doubt that I’ll be running a fair amount of Fate and PbtA again at Games on Demand in 2018 🙂

  2. Noisy cons are difficult conditions at best, but often a spot for people to learn about tabletop RPGs. Often the mice are lured in by the piece of cheese which is quick, colourful board games and computer games, but then they might hear about the runny, aroma-laden piece of Brie or Camembert which is TTRPGs. Like these cheeses you need careful introduction…

    To introduce people to the hobby makes you a great humanitarian. 🙂 Obviously the event should be geared to be quick and simple. Fate, and the “playbook” or “menu” approach of Powered by the Apocalypse are good choices.

  3. I was one of those that grabbed a couple of back to back Games on Demand tickets and had an absolute blast. Scratch groups of folk who’ve never met before might have been awkward or stilted but the Wild Blue game felt like a well rehearsed movie shoot. What nice folks most roleplayers are.

    The Young Centurions setting was a leap of faith, but like a bungee jump, take the single step into space and WoooooHoooo!! – Crashing Zeppelins, stealing old ladies’ walking sticks,… – loved it!

    Looking forward to next year already.

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