Dragonmeet 2016 – A Reportage

My friend Alessandro Viola went to Dragonmeet last weekend and accepted to write a reportage for The Hero Engine. And here we are…

Dragonmeet is “one of the most vibrant tabletop gaming conventions and the largest of it’s kind in London.” I would like to attend but I actually couldn’t, so I asked my friend Alessandro Viola – who was going there – a “reportage”.

Here it is.

Dragonmeet 2016, a reportage by Alessandro Viola

This was my first Dragonmeet convention and on this occasion, while there were many things that I expected, I also found out lots of surprises!
What will follow is not the point of view of a gaming industry professional or a journalist (I’m not one of them by any means!), but just my personal experience as a fan.

The venue was a nice hotel in Hammersmith, London, in a well-connected position, and the entrance in the morning was pretty smooth (especially if you bought the tickets in advance and not on the door), with a very nice and helpful crew. First positive surprise: no long queues – and I expected them!

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Inside the main hall there were many colourful stalls and lots of people, but not a daunting crowd: you could easily go everywhere, surrounded by smiling people, without having to elbow your way forward. It was a happy and funny mingling with people of every age, all nice, friendly and approachable, as if we were a bunch of friends that didn’t see each other for a while.
I have to say that the atmosphere at the convention was saddened by the recent loss of Joe Dever and many people spoke each other about this sad event as if we were all relatives mourning.

I went to the “bring and buy” tables (I had a few gamebooks to sell, just to try the experience), but there was a queue (longer than at the entrance), so I gave up immediately: I was booked in advance to an RPG game and I didn’t want to miss it!

RPG gaming turned out to be the real super-hero of the convention, much beyond my expectations! The games were well organised in a number of rooms upstairs (in three turns: morning, afternoon and evening!) and these events had perhaps the greatest success of the whole convention! It was possible playing games run by Game Masters giving constant feedback to the very interested authors of the various games, or even run by the authors themselves!

Something that I definitely didn’t expect on the RPG tables is that the biggest game was not D&D 5th edition or Savage Worlds, but Pathfinder, still going strong and healthier than ever. While I’m at it, I have seen almost no Magic the Gathering games ongoing, and this absence was very unexpected as well…

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I enjoyed a game of Stellar Adventures (a game not yet published by Arion Games…) run by Stuart Lloyd, popular gamebook blogger and author (very interested on the Italian gamebooks market after Joe Dever mentioned it as the likely cradle of gamebook renaissance, in fact, Dever’ last Lone Wolf gamebook was recently published in Italian before being published in any other language!), then I went down to have lunch before some more gaming.

dscn3994Queuing at the bar I was lucky enough to meet Tony Hough, a very nice person and a creative artist that produced a lot of artwork for Warhammer 40,000 and Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. Stuart introduced me to him, as I didn’t recognize him, and then I found out that he drew some of my favourite gamebook artwork, such as the one in the photo!

After lunch I had a look around and I found out that the hottest board game of the day was probably Wings of Glory: lots of games and interest around that table!

Some gaming proposals were definitely for nostalgics (the Thunderbirds!!! Amazing!), some other more geared towards kids, but what surprised me is that all ages mixed up and there was a genuine interest from kids for games that I thought were for “more experienced / old players” (such as AFF, for example) and vice versa. Somehow, not many people wanted to stay in their “target” nor in their “comfort zone”. A very nice surprise for me!

One thing that came up very clearly to my eyes is that, a bit all over the board, the level of artwork is definitely higher than years ago. I don’t know if it’s due to better artists interested in the gaming industry or to higher budgets earmarked to developing better the visual aspects of the games, or perhaps to the need to produce hard copies of the games that are more interesting to own and valuable compared to software ones, but I think that’s a clear trend.

dscn4007Under RPG rulesets point of view, it looks to me that the proposals have split along two main lines: on one hand you have well rounded, complex, detailed rules covering meticulously almost everything that can happen in game and on the other hand there are light, simple rules that may often require quite a lot of free but quick judgement from the Game Master.

Similarly, talking about settings and adventures, you can have games and authors that develop very fine detail, requiring careful background studies before starting an adventure, and random adventure generators (often using cards), that allow you to start in seconds without having any major background preparation.

I can see how the various trends may have different appeal to different players or to the same players in different times of their life, depending on their history, experience and availability of time to play.

I noticed that at least almost every publisher at the convention had a Cthulhu product on sale! In RPG rooms, still behind Pathfinder games, various versions and proposals for Cthulhu games were very high on popularity as well.

Lovecraft must be stirring in some obscure cosmic dimension!

dscn4001This invasion of Cthulhu games will hopefully develop better Game Masters, as I definitely think that running any Cthulhu game decently requires a very good Game Master, able not only to involve the roleplayers in an action, but also in an atmosphere, immerse them in a feeling, that is much more difficult to do (for me for sure!) but can surely bring more satisfaction to all the players.

dscn3982I also had the pleasure to meet Jon Green (and his kids!). He was telling everybody that on the 2nd of September there will be the second Fighting Fantasy Fest in West London (people whispered that the location was chosen so that Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone can easily walk to it) and that soon he will Kickstarter The Wicked Wizard of Oz, his longest gamebook so far (over 700 sections!) and with a choice of multiple characters, that will have different possible paths depending on the character (a new feature in his well known technique and therefore, hopefully, new step in his artistic development)!

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The relaxed atmosphere and discreet crowd allowed me to have a few words also with one of the two great fathers of Fighting Fantasy:

dscn3997Steve Jackson (here in the picture, on the left. The other guy is our reporter hero Alessandro Viola)!

We spoke about Creature of Havoc, the peak of a long path of ideal development for gamebooks – 460 labyrinthine sections very difficult to solve without help – and about The Tasks of Tantalon, a graphic puzzle book of a dozen of pages only that requires perhaps as much time and sweat to solve without help, despite being apparently so short.

He said that it is not easy to write a new gamebook after Creature of Havoc (and I can easily believe it!), but that he’s considering more and more seriously writing a new gamebook.

Fighting Fantasy fans are notoriusly very patient and… I’m already looking forward to that!

Overall I’m glad I took the chance to go to this convention with such a friendly and relaxed feeling, crowded, but not overcrowded, with a lot of people smiling and enjoying roleplaying (probably at any given time there were more people in the roleplaying rooms than at the stalls), with a good chance to try games by playing with their very own authors… under many points of view it was very different from what I expected, with many good surprises!

Something for me unexpected that I haven’t mentioned before is that there was (almost) no cosplay. Never mind, I’ll get overloaded with that at some other convention!

I really have to say thank you to Alessandro Viola for his reportage. I really envy him for this wonderful experience… 😀

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