Friday, April 07, 2006

Nationals Are Coming

Well, I'm nearly off to the Nationals in Sheffield. Unlike the poor saps up north I don't leave until 4pm which means I'm in work today making a pretty Java 3D scene for practice.

In the meantime because I'm leaving sharpish I thought I'd amuse those of you not going with some "Classic Adventures of Stuart Kerrigan" re-runs. For those of you bored or who have have no idea what the Nationals is like, I rooted through my archives to bring you the story of the Nationals 2004, which was in Sheffield. Again.

Hark ye now and hear of a more innocent time, when men were men, women were women and I was pretty much 2 years younger and much the same. Hear of a time before Leicester, and endure a flashback special effect as we go to...

The Student Nationals, Sheffield, April 2004

Every year the University roleplaying societies hold a Student's Nationals where the various clubs duel out over competitive roleplaying (basically roleplaying where DMs arbitrarily decide who is the best). I must have been to 6 of them now, playing farflung categories as Cthulu, D&D, Chivalry (Pendragon - which I actually won!) and now Open Fantasy (basically any fantasy RPG they can find someone to DM).

This year was in Sheffield. I'm familiar with Sheffield's campus as I went to a conference there... or so I thought.

After 7 hours or so on a University minibus that seemed to wobble in the April wind, the first hour of which I discovered my initial chair selection was somewhat dangerous to my pelvic region and chance of having heirs, I was a little bit tired. However others in our party had it worse, including a car which was involved in a crash near Newcastle.

I stayed up to about 2am that night, drinking other people's beer (which always tastes best) before retiring to my bed. I think I did likewise on the Saturday night. Despite my 8:15am wakeup I was surprisingly alert both days. I went to call out the games.

Now, let's take an interlude to explain my attitude towards D&D at the Nationals, and why for the past 2 Nationals I've played in, I have given D&D a mile's breadth...

I've never enjoyed D&D at the Nationals. The first year I did it, in Glasgow, it was exceptionally dull. The first game having obviously been written the night before using dungeon geomorphs (basically random dungeon maps). The second game had obviously had nothing like that much preparation used.

The second year I did it, it was some bizarre PvP scenario, where there were no roleplaying encounters and the only combat beyond some cannon-fodder orcs was with other members of the party, who were secretly all-powerful liches that were a bit indestructible.

Last year I ran the D&D - using retrofitted US RPGA scenarios (no time to write them!) and I hope it was a lot of fun. We had a murder mystery on Saturday and a plot-ridden hackfest on the Sunday (hangovers probably would get in the way of a cerebral Sunday scenario, say that 3 times!)

Suffice it to say I like D&D - hell, I write enough of it, but I will never return to play it at the Nationals. Besides Egor seems to have a monopoly on that category.

Now, I was sharing my thoughts on D&D with my fellow players and DM in the Open Fantasy. As I sat down I peered over the table, only to see the DM set down a set of 3 familar books.

Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide... Monster Manual

But, no, we were not playing D&D, but rather a D20 Renaissance game.

Sounds promising I thought. At least I knew the system.

Suffice it to say that it was D&D. And a dungeon hack, with a suspicious "written the night before" feel to it. Sunday was L5R, a setting I am not really comfortable with.

If a person were to ask me in the street which game I would more likely have enjoyed a campaign of I would have answered D&D, but however it was the L5R that was infinitely superior this weekend.

Now I shall go on to describe my group. Apologies to those who I do not remember the names of.

J... - Older roleplayer, very good. Had an encyclopaedic knowledge of L5R and enough gumption to turn his hand to the characters he was given at. Came in a well-deserved 3rd place, being the only person on our table to win (there are 3 tables of players, and 3 DMs, who decide which players win what). If I'd been picking winners on our table it would have been a toss up between him and...

Je... - Good lass. Very good roleplayer. Overlooked when it comes to prizes, which is a crying shame. Played with Jess in Open Chivalry 2 years ago. I enjoyed it, she didn't. It certainly didn't show at the time however, as I seem to recall her knight, "Rory the Red" being quite memorable. Je... had the good fortune? of playing my wife on the Sunday. Good sport. :)

Foreign Girl - Quiet, but competent. My mind boggled as to why her con badge read, "Do not bother me. I am sleeping." Either she has a very enthusiastic boyfriend, or she just knows roleplayers too well.

Quiet Guy - Quiet Guy knew D&D/D20 and he knew L5R. Therefore he was a pretty competent roleplayer, a kind of quiet and useful type.

S... - The rest of the table (including the DM) were not sure if it was shyness, the effects of alcohol or something else which deserves more understanding than I was capable of at 10am on a Saturday.

S... seemed content to say nothing for the entire game, sitting there, shoving as many M&Ms into her mouth as she could, and occassionally choking on them. At the risk of seeming unkind S... needed to be brought up to speed on what was happening any time she was required to make an action. This usually resulted in her doing something completely random. On the Saturday I dubbed her the 'Random Dwarf Table' given her tendency to fall asleep in combat, look for the kitchen or throw grenades at things we really did not want to grenade. Like engines.

A sample of the random dwarf:-

DM: "Ok - S... there are 20 orcs charging you. What do you do?"

S...: "I'll sleep."

My favourite was on the 2nd day... (dialogue probably changed due to crap memory than to protect the innocent)

DM: "Ok - the evil samurai has approached your shugenja with his sword. If you do not step in between him and the shugenja he will possibly attack him."

S...: "Why would I do that?"

DM: "Because you are his bodyguard?"

S... (learning character's background for the first time despite 45 minute preamble the DM gave us): "I never asked for that!"

DM: "Sorry - I decided this when I was generating the characters."

S...: "No, I will defend myself."

SK to Shugenja: "Sorry dude."

English Dude: English Dude fancied himself as being a gentleman and the leader of the group, that is to say, regardless of which character he was playing. You might have seen him wandering around the pub on the Saturday night with a top hat and cane on. I would like to believe it was a costume, but I could see that as being his normal dress style as well.

He was basically the avatar of everything that I might find annoying. Bossiness, an inability to keep his hands off my character sheet - even to the extent of writing things on it for me, an inability to keep quiet and not offer advice, and so on.

I'm not talking awkward, but rather telling me what to do every time I wasn't sure, and annoyingly enough this makes you look dumb as you simultaenously decide to shoot the monster with your gun to him telling you to do it.

So, there you have it. Of a table of 7, there was me, 4 decent people, 1 oddball and 1 prick.

Saturday's D&D was promising at the start but there was no roleplaying after lunch, only a series of 4 predictable hackfests as our 6th level characters took on baddies that I estimate were around 1st level. Crossbows and muskets proliferated the game to remind us it was renaissance.

Sunday's L5R - which upon learning that was the Sunday's system, I dreaded (previously we'd had an Open Oriental category to catch L5R when Dundee ran the Nationals).

It was fun however. I played a Rank 5 Dragon Magistrate - basically a detective with this barmy idea that Rokuganese courts should consider 'evidence'. However my character had (when played by someone else on Saturday) been discovered to have 0 combat skills, which means any attacks on him automatically succeeded. He was now mediocre at Japanese archery - sadly not something that staves off assassin's blades (which made me wonder how I made rank 5).

It was fun. The party had a pretty decent history together, for instance I was married to Je... who had cheated on me with Quiet Guy (at least it wasn't English Dude), while J... was a pretty fecking competent bodyguard (perhaps explaining why I was rank 5 magistrate, not rank 5 fertiliser). My character was even useful - as it was a murder mystery! Yes - a murder mystery!

The Awards ceremony at the end was mercifully quick. Only 3 out of 20 person team won, and Egor won D&D again, making him insufferably smug. He seems to show remarkable consistency in winning it - though his winning streak was broken last year by him having to DM it.

Sunday saw the minibus depart - and after only a few potential collisions and a few crap exestential conversation with M..., who we quickly discovered is a moron - we arrived in Dundee where the chaps kindly drove me back to Monifieth and my bed by 3am.

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