Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Furnace 2018

Last weekend I attended Furnace, one of several roleplaying conventions held at the Garrison Hotel in Sheffield. I last wrote about this two years ago (last year I could only attend one day and didn’t get around to writing up my thoughts).

Slot #1: Blades in the Dark

Pete Atkinson ran The Gaddoc Rail Heist with four players, and it went really well. I played a grungy female sharpshooter (whose name completely escapes me). The heist worked, and the dice were really with us until I was savagely mauled by some kind of spectral beast. I survived, but it was fortunate that we were at the end of the session.

I didn’t know anything about Blades in the Dark before I started, other than it was the game where you do heists. I was surprised by the background (a sort of dieselpunk fantasy world very similar, I'm told, to a video game I’ve not played) - for some reason I was expecting something in the modern day and we’d be recreating The Italian Job or Ocean’s Eleven.

I think more games could make use of the flashback mechanic to avoid planning paralysis - which nobody has time for in a convention game. (The idea is that you just dive into the heist, and if you come up against a problem then there’s a flashback where you set things up to overcome the problem.)

It was a great convention game, but I’m not sure I’d want to play a campaign. I wonder if lots of heists becomes a bit repetitive. I gather that the downtime stuff becomes more important, but even so.

Slot #2: The End of Laughter and Soft Lies

Dom Mooney ran this using The Sword, the Crown and The Unspeakable Power, which is a PbtA game that I’d not heard of before. It felt very like Game of Thrones, and was very player-v-player, which was a pleasant change of pace from the other games I played.

Dom started with character generation followed by sorting out the setting. That worked well, with all of us having a good idea of the setting, despite never having played the game before. (That contrasted with Blades in the Dark, which had an established setting that meant Pete kept having to explain things.)

I played Pill, a bloodletter (physician) and the only problem I had with it was that I found myself slightly sidelined at the start, as I found my character wasn’t particularly tied into the power play that kicked off. I eventually found my feet and started reanimating some of the key NPCs...

Looking back, it must have been very easy to run. Apart from the Emperor’s younger brother asking one of us for a speech, and the (not very unexpected) announcement of the death of the Emperor towards the end, Dom pretty much left us to it and we played the game ourselves.

Afterwards I did wonder if more structured scenes would have worked - as with Hillfolk. In Hillfolk everyone gets to call a scene, and I might have been less passive at the start if I’d been forced to act instead of just watching everyone else.

Slot #3: An early night

As usual, I skipped Slot #3 and headed back home for an early night while the rest of Furnace carried on without me. One day perhaps I'll book a room and stay for Slot #3.

Slot #4: The Bone Swallower

I ran The Bone Swallower using Fate Accelerated. I’d already run it for my online group, and it was interesting seeing how new players took to it. The adventure ran pretty much on time, and the players seemed to enjoy themselves.

I had four players for The Bone Swallower, which felt about right. I had five characters prepared, and I’m sure it would have been fine with five, but I find that four players is more manageable and ensures that everyone gets a chance to shine.

Slot #5: A Cthulhu City Story: Weeping for the memory of lives gone by

Another game run by Dom, this one using The Cthulhu Hack (which isn’t really my cup of tea). Dom somehow managed to turn the epic sandbox campaign that is Cthulhu City and turn it into a one-shot. And it worked!

I played Professor Hermes Winchester, a mathematics professor at Miskatonic University, and had a great time trying to figure out what was going on and how to get back to our reality.

I don’t know if this is how The Cthulhu Hack normally works, but Dom used the Gumshoe principle of letting us find the clue no matter what we roll on the dice. (I took the same approach for The Bone Swallower as well - I can’t imagine running a mystery any other way now.)


Overall I had a great time at Furnace. I think I chose a good set of games this year (that doesn't always happen) and I hope my game didn't lower the standard.


  1. The Cthulhu Hack works precisely that way. You roll your investigative resources only to see if your progress has taxed your investigator; roll 1 or 2, they've pushed themselves too far. Each drop, they push too far. Their connection with reality and their ability to deal with ordinary human relationships become harder and harder - until they're but a shell, a batter shadow of their former enthusiastic selves. Meant to emulate Lovecraftian protagonists.

    1. Thanks for clarifying that, Paul. Luckily my professor's rolls were all above 3...