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Reefcon '05 Report

As you may already know, I attended Reefcon ’05, Cairns’ annual RPGA convention at the Trinity Bay High School, yesterday evening. Almost half the players were up from Brisbane; the event they call the “Spring Revel Downunder” is actually going to be in Brisbane this year, so the money the Brisbane gamers usually save to fly to Sydney or Melbourne for the Revel was used on flying up here instead.

Couple of things I’ve learned:

  1. If you want to go to an RPG con to meet new gamers, it’s best to go to as much of the whole event as time and money permit. Just turning up for one session ain’t gonna do much good; you don’t have any time to really get to know anyone and, unless you’re Captain Charisma, you’re not giving anyone else a fair shot at getting to know you. Invest your time in them and it's more likely they'll invest some in you.
  2. An RPGA convention attracts the “gamer” type more than most. Expect to hear conversations on whether to get a mastercraft broadaxe or the enchanted armour next, or how rule X on armour-stacking in the Player’s Handbook interacts with rule Y on Divination school spells introduced in a campaign card. If you hear any discussions on character development, you’ll be very lucky.

My picture of the typical RPGA con gamer (based, admittedly, on a couple of hours of pre-game and a single session alone) is one of an RPGer who is focused on maximising his character’s system-based capabilities. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no issues with that. The D20 System as implemented in D&D and most of its iterations are geared around gettin the most out of your game-piece's tactical strengths and options. And yes, that can be quite a bit of fun. It’s just a little disheartening if you want to run a game using Primetime Adventures next. (Not so much if you’re also thinking of running Starship Troopers, though…)

The adventure itself, the Living Force module “Decision: Almas”, was sorta fun. A few of the old hands, grognard-types, had a tendency to run rough-shod over the others (myself included) and get into rules arguments with the GM. I came up with a Zabrak Fringer 2 / Scout 2 (on a whim, you see) named Zen Mallon (yes, I like using that name for Star Wars characters) in the two-hour gap between when I arrived and when the game started. He wound up as captain of a ship when it turned out that no-one else had Space Transport Operation and a Pilot total higher than +4 (even though the aforementioned grognard-types acted as though they were in charge anyway, and I will confess, I did nothing to disabuse them of that notion). Unfortunately, during groundside battle I discovered that poor Zen Mallon couldn’t hit the broad side of a bantha. Next time I’m multiclassing with something that actually starts with a Base Attack Bonus of at least +1. (I’m actually starting to think like them…)

So, in terms of using Reefcon as a way of meeting gamers, I’ve decided to formulate a plan of attack for next year. It requires buying the 3.5 Core Rulebooks, which are an investment I can’t afford right now, but I should be able to plunk some change down once the job situation has stabilised.

And here's an interesting tidbit: The gent who runs Reefcon is, I believe, the librarian of Trinity Bay High School. Why do I think this? Well, the big clues were the facts that (a) most of the attendees there constantly referred to him as "Mr. Paris" and (b) most of the events were run in divisions of the school library. But another, somewhat more subtle yet more telling clue was that I spotted a set of the Dungeons & Dragons version 3.5 Core Rulebooks and a copy of the Star Wars RPG Revised Core Rulebook, all with Dewey decimal stickers on the spine, all ConTact-coated and well-used in that high-school-library-book fashion.

I have a lot of respect for this man...

Oh, by the way: Here's Zen's stat block as after Decision: Almas:

Zen Mallon: Male Zabrak Fringer 2/Scout 2; Init +3 (+3 Dex); Defense +17 (+4 class, +3 Dex); Spd 10 m; VP/WP 30/12; Atk+5 ranged (3d6/20 or DC 15 stun, Blaster pistol, range 10 m) or +1/+1 ranged (3d6/20, Blaster pistol with Multifire, range 10 m); SQ Barter; SV Fort +8, Ref +7, Will +4; SZ M; FP 1; Rep 0; Str 11, Dex 16, Con 12, Int 12, Wis 10, Cha 14, Challenge Code C.

Equipment: Blast helmet, vest (DR 2).

Skills: Astrogate+2, Balance+4, Bluff+5, Climb±0, Computer Use+3, Diplomacy+4, Gamble+3, Handle Animal+4, Hide+5, Jump+2, Knowledge (Cularin System)+4, Listen+2, Move Silently+4, Pilot+6, Ride+6, Search+5, Spot+5, Survival+4, Swim+1.

Feats: Armor Proficiency (light), Endurance, Sharp-Eyed, Starship Operation (space transport), Weapon Group Proficiency (blaster pistols), Weapon Group Proficiency (blaster rifles), Weapon Group Proficiency (primitive weapons), Weapon Group Proficiency (simple weapons).

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You haven't encountered odd at a con in a school till you've murdered, bashed, intimidated and bribed your way to the top of the heap in the city's criminal underworld - in a year 1 classroom.

Strange atmosphere is something of an understatement...


RPGA gamers: I'm glad you said it - I'd be too fearful! Not that they're a bad bunch, but don't expect too much interest in roleplay... I went to the Spring Revel last year in Melbourne and our group was pretty disappointed by the "goal-oriented" attitude: max everything out, drive for the prize. If we'd known it was going to be like that, we might have reconsidered. That said, we did get some excellent games of Living Death - the people running those sessions were far more interested in roles than rolls - and we enjoyed the Eberron Challenge: James Wyatt (from WotC) and Keith Baker (creator of Eberron) were also interested in roleplaying.

Anyway, I entirely sympathise with your "between games" situation and I hope that you stumble upon a great group of gamers in your new locale.



Heyup - has anyone else noticed that the Players handbook et al. no longer says Roleplaying game on the cover? Time was they were Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying games (maybe with Advanced as a prefix) but now they are Dungeons and Dragons D20 system game.

We rarely play the vanilla flavour game now. I still run 2nd Ed. AD&D about once a month, which is a (very) hi-level campaign. I used to DM for the RPGA UK a hell of a lot, and was once rated very highly (read: Top 10) but I did lose faith in the goals orientation. In DM's meeting we used to discuss how we could make it hard for the players, who were essentially ganging up on the DM's. Sad state of affairs and I only stuck it out due to friendships. The RPGA do do great things for the hobby - I blame WoTC / Hasbro for losing sight of the role playing ball. D&D 3.5e is more like advanced skirmish combat rules now.

Even dragon magazine has a munchkin section......

Roger - I think you're on the money... and I do mean money. Those prepainted Miniatures are ... OK. Expensive and unsatisfying to me, but my 3 year old LOVES them.

The rule books are certainly focussed on measurable outcomes - 5 foot rules and the like - and less on the game. You need that for competition, so organisations like RPGA have to be run that way; doesn't make it much more fun, though! Personally, I'd stick to DBM for my wars, Halo for my skirmish and Call of Cthulhu for my role playing - I am NOT joining the local G&S repertoire for my musical theatre, though. No, and again, NO!!!!

Rog, Luke, thank you both for posting on this! I think this will probably wind up being something of a hot topic here.

You know what? I think that, not so long ago, I would’ve probably agreed with you regarding the mindset encouraged by the RPGA, not to mention the “munchkin” guides in Dragon magazine (and, for that matter, in the appendices of the second printing of the 3.0 Player’s Handbook). But not too long ago, I read an essay by a gent named Ron Edwards on the approach to RPGs more focused on the aspects traditionally associated with games. It’s a very interesting and compelling case for that type of play, and I’m a little more appreciative of how fun it can be when treated honestly.

You can find it here: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/21/

Now, whether what Ron refers to as “Gamism” matches the average RPGA member’s style of play, I’m not sure; although there’s enough “Step On Up” in terms of challenge and reward, I tend to notice arguments over conflicting rules or interpretations of rules, which seem inevitable when you get given one book of complex interlocking concepts, i.e. the Star Wars Revised Corebook, let alone three (the D&D Corebooks). But I do think it’s easy to pooh-pooh the whole thing as “not roleplaying” while not realising the fun that can be had, and yes, it’s different fun to your standard tactical wargame. Sometimes, it is nice to have measurable outcomes.

Rob - I think you've hit the nail on the head: it's a game, so do what you can to win. (That article looks very interesting - I'll bookmark for later). Expectations of a Warhammer tournament are not for high levels of roleplay (maybe a little Orcish grunting and lizardy-lisping); expectations at a M:TG game are similar to those of a wrestling match (only one will emerge victorious, but there'll be hijinks on the way!); RPG has a completely different set of connotations, to me. Now that I know what RPGA is about, I know what to expect and I won't bring a Lvl 1 Bard who plays a handmade recorder... although, oddly, the rules worked very well for that character in competition.

As to the interpretation of rules, it reminds me too much of Magic - not "what's the spirit" but "what's the letter". Computer games provide a much more rigid framework for operating within steadfast rules; perhaps I'm missing the point, but that medium would seem more appropriate for this style of game.

As I said before, a competition requires measurables - maybe competitive fantasy gaming? - so I don't begrudge that; we're all complex, multi-faceted creatures: rules lawyering and munchkinism have their place in all of us. Once I've read the article, maybe my thoughts will have changed.

If you go to an RPGA meet to play a role, though, you will disappointed.