This week we took a trip to the mountains for the first annual Beyond Cataclysm RPG Retreat. The plan was to escape for a bit to a beautiful place, and to use that time to rest, and to enjoy good games, good food and good people.
The Lake District is a decent trek away. The Leyline boys came up from London by car, and Anna jumped on the train down to Kendal where I picked her up.
The weather was… as you’d expect, in the Lake District, in October. Lots of heavy drizzle; a perfect excuse to sit inside playing tabletop roleplaying games for hours on end.
Shadow of Mogg
Our first evening, after a pitch black hunt for Aled & Panny in the damp hills, we settled down to an utterly ridiculous game of Shadow of Mogg, Leyline’s mock political anti-game. With a group voting mechanic and an Alice-in-Wonderland approach to a London Underground map, it was deeply stupid and quite a lot of fun.
I played a 96 year old dementia-riddled alternate-universe version of Laura Kuenssberg, and eventually died after being shot by James Bond. It’s how she’d have wanted to go.
The History of D&D
We slept long and deep, waking around 10am ready for porridge and coffee. Professor Panny took us through a sort of informal history of Dungeons & Dragons from its beginning with Original D&D (and precursor Chainmail), through the split into Advanced D&D and the Basic/Expert editions.
We discussed Heroic Adventures, bio-essentialism and the joys of companies filled with “difficult” people. I took notes, it was great.
This set the stage for a classic adventure setting: Horror on the Hill, GM’d by Panny.
Our intrepid group slugged our way up and around the hill; a cleric, a swamp witch and a disgruntled elf, bound together by fate.
Anna’s swamp witch abandoned the party after finding a hero’s ransom in bat guano that she stuffed into an inadequately porous sack. The two remaining players proceeded to get in over our heads as we encountered a group of hobgoblins, who immediately killed my servants and knocked me unconscious. Aled’s cleric wisely retreated, and remained non-committal on whether a future rescue would be on the cards.
We rounded off the evening with an uproarious game of the new MÖRK BORG successor, set in a ghastly cyberpunk alt-future.
We tried an attempt at the book’s starting scenario – – a surreptitious raid on a casino. I was the GM, despite not having really finished reading the book, or the scenario. Ah well.
The PCs took the – ahem – “direct” approach, firing ultra-heavy lasers through walls, doors and casino patrons, then chainsawing everything that remained into little messy pieces. It’s the first time I’ve ever annotated a map with red ink to visualise the carnage. As you can see, there was a lot of carnage.
The next morning I went off for an (overly keen) jog down the hill and a cheeky swim on my return. The water was actually pretty lovely – the dogs certainly enjoyed it!
Before Aled and Panny had to head home, we squeezed in a fast-paced game of Mothership, trying out the “Helium Hysteria” scenario from the upcoming Hull Breach anthology. (I think we even managed to win the award for first non-contributors to play a scenario from the book).
Hysteria found our players rapidly running out of air, intact space station modules and breathing colleagues. We ended the game slightly early due to time, but our PCs had (painfully) navigated the majority of the challenges and had a (shaky) plan for survival by that point.
My GMing was definitely hindered by a) not prepping and b) having an interesting mix of original Mothership character sheets but the new Mothership 1.0 rules! I would not recommend that approach, although it worked for the most part.
After the Leyline Press chaps had left, myself and Anna took things quieter and darker, with a combative journaling game called Lichdom.
Players collaboratively (or solo) build a world in which their dark sorcerer yearns to become an immortal Lich. Our world had been home to an extinct powerful race, who were then replaced with a war-like empire that itself was crumbling.
Anna and I took different routes, her sourcerer using the strength of the human political systems and pawns to ensnare power, whilst I hid under a cursed temple and built layers of eldritch depth through immersion in my own lonely bitterness.
Our game built to a fascinating climax, where our characters duelled, mine taking first advantage, but ultimately losing. Anna’s sourcerer stole an artefact of truth from me, the final key she needed to attempt the ritual for becoming a Lich. In a savage twist, the ritual only partially worked, not granting her immortality as she craved, and setting the stage for a repeat game, or the miserable, inexorable decline of both characters. Great stuff!
Lucky for None
Our final game of the trip was a stupid one that I wrote during the Retreat itself. Based on the silliness of the existence of a d13 (thirteen sided dice), everything runs on tables of 13, with horrible events happening every 13 minutes, and nasty side effects any time a character rolls a 13. It turns out that a d13 rolls in a weird, unpredictable way, fitting the tone of a horror-esque setting perfectly.
Our characters found themselves in the midst of a Robocop-style policing regime, complicated further by a cataclysmic demon attack hitting the village, flame-torched cars, a corrupt, possessed mayor’s wife, and a rift across the town, requiring players to jump a 30 metre hell-gap on travelling North or South. After managing to do so on a tractor, skateboard and a mobility scooter, their luck eluded them on the final jump, and both descended to the depths of hell. As a silly game, it worked surprisingly well, both with multiple players and for solo journalling!
That was it, really. We documented our time with a haunted in a wax seal in the Burnmoor Lodge guestbook (sort of), and headed down the mountain.
It was a good trip, and I enjoyed spending quality time with people, and playing more new games in 3 days than I usually manage in months. (I also definitely didn’t lose my car keys and totally didn’t spend 5 hours waiting for rescue in the Boot Inn at the bottom of the hill, nope). All in all, roll on next year!