North Star 2020 - an online RPG convention report

North Star is one of the Garrison conventions, held at the Garrison Hotel in Sheffield. And, like all other cons, was cancelled due to the Covid-19 crisis.

However, Graham & Dom, the organisers, stepped up to be chief cat herders and sort out doing the whole convention online. The usual North Star arrangements swung into action, and Google Drive became a fluffy of activity: “game pitch” sheets for GMs to submit games; ‘sign up’ sheets for folk to state their preferred choices in each slot; some frantic timetabling, and finally a flurry of emails to put everyone in contact with everyone else.

GMs could choose their own platforms for running their games. The Discord channel of the Tavern RPG forum was also put at everyone’s disposal.

I volunteered to run two Doctor Who scenarios, but only got players for one, so I ended up playing in 3 slots and GMing in a 4th.

First up was Golgotha: The War Hive, run by Graham. This was The Black Hack variant, and was essentially a dungeon crawl in space. We were a team of scavengers sent to retrieve an AI crystalline matrix from the heart of a derelict “war hive”. I was the talky character, the Operator. There weren’t really any folk to talk to - just robot defences trying to kill us - and I fumbled a lot. But it was still great fun. Fortunately for me and rest of the party, I didn’t roll any fumbles when carrying around the glowing, pulsing, radioactive, potentially explosive fusion cells!

We used Let’s Roll for visuals and Discord for chat. Both were stable. Let’s Roll is very pretty to look at. But I found the dice rolling animation annoying. Yeah, lovely CGI of a d20 rolling around the screen and ricocheting off the edges. Maybe it could just do that a bit faster? At, like, the speed of a real dice. And don’t do the “ooh is it a 4 or 12?” final wobble on every bloody roll.

Next slot was a playtest of A|State - a Forged in the Dark version of the A|State setting, which will be launched on Kicktarter, er, sometime. It was run by Dom. We were looking for some missing children.

I got to play Banksy! Sort of. I was an Activist with “street art” gear on my equipment list. I also had pamphlets to give out when I was rabble rousing (for a bonus dice IIRC), but noticed partly thru the game that I was illiterate. So possibly I didn’t know what was written on my own propaganda! :slight_smile: We faffed about a lot at the start, which was mostly us getting to grips with the system and the setting, plus discovering that none of the pre-gen characters had the skill which we all kept wanting to use: Tinker. (Let’s pick the lock! Let’s turn off the machine! Let’s…)

I like the concept of the FitD game where you are a force for good, rather than just doing stuff for wealth and power. I’ll kickstarter/buy this when it is available.

Platforms - we used Webex, which all went fine. I think Dom had some issues with screen sharing at first, but those were resolved.

First slot, I ran Dr Who. Tech issues mean we lost the first 30 minutes of game time. First we were on Hangouts, and Roger couldn’t get his audio to work. Then we moved to Tom’s Zoom account, and I couldn’t get my audio to work! Apparently the issue was that I have 3 microphones and Zoom was using the wrong one. The 3 mics was news to me! As far as I’m aware I only have two: the computer’s one and the webcam’s one. WTF?

Anyway, I eventually got it to work and the Sir Humphrey Appleby, Ohila of the Sisterhood of Karn, Martha Jones and Sarah Jane Smith set out to investigate a disappearance and sinister goings-on at a food factory. They talked their way out of every tight spot, bamboozled people with bureaucratic paperwork, and Sarah Jane ever weaponised Sir Humphrey’s cufflinks, James Bond style.

The final slot was Mothership, run by Sean. I started the con by fumbling like it was going out of fashion. I finished it by criticalling copiously. So none of us died, probably because my steroid abusing Marine got lots of extra actions to shoot the gribbly aliens before they ate our faces. However, our archaeologist and one of our two androids were left psychologically scarred by the whole affair.

The game was fun. We used Roll20 and Discord. There was a bit of dropout, but nothing too bad. The Mothership system was simple enough.Not sure if I’d buy it though. I already own Cold & Dark - do I really need another going insane while alien monstrosities eat your friends setting?

Overall, thanks to everyone I played with! North Star Online has been the most fun filled two days I’ve had since lockdown began. Kudos to Dom & Graham for doing all the heavy lifting.