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Gaelcon... Probably The Greatest Convention In The World

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Sunday

Sunday morning was pretty much like Saturday morning, except this time I dried myself with a towel instead of a bathmat. We had a morning game, so after breakfast, full Irish breakfast in the dining room for the guys, Pot Noodle in the bedroom for me, we set off for the convention centre.

Game 2 - The Albatross Crime Club

All three of the games I played were very good, but this was probably the best. As before, we split into two groups, Bog Boy and Mark, and me and Evil G. This was one of the few areas where the Gaelcon organisation didn't run smoothly, because there originally seemed to be a bit of confusion about how many players there were. Me and Evil G. ended up walking from the bar, which was where players initially gathered, and also where smoking games were held, to a room at the other end of the hotel where the non-smoking games were being run, back to the bar, and finally back to the other room.

But at all times there were people around telling us where to go, so we were never particularly worried that we were going to be left high-and-dry.

We'd picked this scenario, which was written by Steve Meaney, because of the intriguing writeup on the website:

Dear Reader,

Are you surprised to learn that the members of the crime club represent the intellectual elite of modern society? Why? Because every intelligent gentleman needs relief from the stress of daily life, and finds it by escaping into the thrilling realms of detection and adventure. By joining the Albatross Crime Club you get the benefits the most intoxicating kind of experiences, brought to you by the recognised experts.

Yours faithfully

The secretary.

The basic premise of the scenario is that the player characters are 19th century English gentlemen who'd formed a club called the Albatross Crime Club, to give them the thrills that were lacking from their everyday lives. Each gentleman had created a persona (or character if you will) to "roleplay", and each man took it in turn to create, with the aid of rented locations and hired actors, fake crimes for his friends to investigate.

When investigating, we could do so either as ourselves, or as our personas. My character was a newly ennobled Lord, still a little conscious of his previously humble status. His persona was that of an agent working to protect the crown from its enemies, who was currently investigating a group of Irish revolutionaries based in London.

What was great about the scenario, other than the roleplaying possibilities offered in playing upper-class English twits, was the way that the boundaries between reality and fiction started to blur.

The Crime Club had seven members, the six PCs, and an NPC, Algeron Montrose (I think that was his name) who'd created a persona called "Lord Goring". It was Algeron ("Algy") who was responsible for creating the current "crime" for us to investigate. The scenario started at the gentleman's club we belonged to, when we received a letter from Lord Goring.

It was basically a confession. First, it described how he'd become infatuated with a princess of the royal family who was now engaged to be married to a Swedish Prince. It then went on to declare that if he couldn't have her, nobody would.

Immediately after this, we received a visit from a policeman. He told us that a friend of ours, "Lord Goring", had been found floating dead in the Thames. He asked us various questions, and then told us that he was looking for a lower-class individual called "Tim the Brick".

Now I'm shit at any kind of investigation scenario, due to a total inability to remember or process facts, and I was about to demonstrate this once again.

Before we started play, we'd each taken it in turns to describe both our characters and their personas.

One of the players sitting opposite me (a rather cute redhead as it happens) had read out the details from her sheet, including her character name, and her persona name. Tim the Brick.

A fact that I'd forgotten.

She had then written out a nameplate for herself, with both her character and persona names written in neat block capitals about a centimetre high.

A nameplate that I'd neglected to read.

So when I - roleplaying my heart out - said: "Well... perhaps we ought to see if we can find this Tim the Brick fellow" she merely pointed at the nameplate in front of her.

And I felt a bit stupid.

(I decided at that point that the best way to roleplay my character was as upper-class stupid).

Myself and another PC then set off to the morgue that the copper had told us Lord Goring's body had been taken to. When we got there the working class oik in charge insisted that he had no Lord Goring. When we asked him who he did have, he said that the only body he currently had was one Algeron Montrose.

We went in to view the body, and lying on the slab was indeed was our friend Algy. Now in-character, and probably out-of-character come to that, I figured that Algy was playing the role of the dead Lord Goring, and that the morgue bloke had got confused and muffed his lines. So I decided to have a little fun with Algy, by poking him to see if he could continue playing dead.

"Nothing happens," said the GM.

Huh? "I'll poke him harder!" I say.

"Still nothing. He really is looking very pale."

"I'll check his pulse!"

"Nothing."

"I'll lift his head, and let it drop onto the table."

"It bounces a bit."

"Sorry... you're saying he's dead?"

"Yes."

"Dead dead."

"Yes."

"Not acting?"

"No."

This was indeed an unwelcome development. Meanwhile, Evil G. had been given an assignment of his own, to contact Lord Goring's father and inform him of the death of his son. Now all we knew about "Lord Goring" was that he was not originally of noble birth, but had been raised by the Princess's Uncle. (In fact, we'd been about 15 minutes late in starting, because we'd spent that time discussing both the British royal family and genealogy in an effort to figure out who the uncle was).

So this wasn't quite as simple an assignment as might at first sound. G's character decided that it might not be a simple assignment, but that was no reason not to handle it simply. So he got hold of a (real) directory of aristocrats, found an entry for a "Lord Goring" in it, looked up the details of said Lord Goring's father - and then went round to tell him that his son was dead.

The (real) old man was apparently quite distraught. Bit of a cock-up really.

As time went on, things started to get very confused. Everything that happened caused you to ask: "Did that really happen, or did it pretend happen?" One character even had to go to the East End to see if his opium den had really burnt down or pretend burnt down.

Eventually, we became convinced that a group were going to kidnap the Princess as her coach passed Charing Cross station on the way to her wedding. (My character was convinced that it was "Fenians" who were behind it all). So we all grabbed shotguns, and headed off to Charing Cross.

At this point I have a slight confession to make.

In-character, my character had become confused about what was real and what was fake.

Out-of-character, *I* had become confused about what was real and what was fake. Remember how we were playing characters who were themselves playing characters in a roleplaying game?

I'd forgotten about that.

So a few minutes later, when we saw a man with a gun at a window, I had my character bound up the stairs inside the building, kick the door down, and blow away the two armed men inside with a single blast from my shooter.

Later on in the convention I was commended for my roleplaying. But the truth is that I'd simply forgot the basic premise of the scenario. Still, it gave the other players a good laugh. In fact, I seem to recall that the GM was doubled up with laughter when I let loose with the shotgun.

To conclude, it was a very good scenario (Bog Boy and Mark also enjoyed their version of it), was very well GMed, and we were playing with a really good group of people.

Expert Barmen

After the game Me, G. and Mark headed off into Dublin for another walkaround, while Bog Boy stayed in for a snooze. Afterwards we ended up at a pub near the guesthouse, where I encountered - not for the first time - the skill and ability of the Irish barman.

Now when you approach the bar in an English pub, you have to wait a few minutes until the barman has served those who arrived ahead of you before you're asked what you want. But the barman in this pub asked me what I wanted straight away. I reeled off the three drinks we wanted, and then waited for a few minutes while he served several other groups of people. Then he looked at me, said "It was..." and correctly recited the drinks list I'd given him.

"I'm pretty impressed with how you can remember about three orders at once," I told him.

"Comes from growing up in a nation of alcoholics," he replied.

The Auction

By the time we arrived for the auction, the hall was mostly full, so we grabbed a table at the back - which was okay except for the fact that we were sitting near to four tossers who kept on loudly playing some kind of board game all the way through the auction. People were having to shout their bids to get past the noise these guys were making. At one point, just as the auctioneer was waiting for a crucial bid, and the whole hall was hushed, one of them jumped to his feet and screamed "yes!", having just made a crucial roll. That's the kind of tossers they were. Generally, I think it's a bad idea to be abusive about people, in case they read what I've written and feel bad, but in this case I don't care.

If you're reading this guys, you're tossers. Only English reserve and fear of making a scene prevented us from telling you that at the time, and I'm thinking now that perhaps we should have. They'd asked people to stop playing when the auction started, and if you wanted to carry on, you could have moved into the bar. There were lots of tables there. You were way out of order.

But enough of that.

We'd heard some pretty good things about the auction, and were eager to see if it was an insane as we'd been led to believe. It was late starting, so we were pretty hyped up by time Colm, the Convention Director (a.k.a. the bloke in charge) took the microphone. He started with a slide show on the projection screen to show where the money from last year's auction had gone to. Like most things at Gaelcon, this was pretty skillfully done. It wasn't overly sentimental, or emotionally blackmailing, but at the end his five-minute talk you had a bit a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye.

And then, the auction began, quietly at first, but building nicely. The auctioneers were Colm and a surprise (well it was a surprise to us) special guest, James Wallis.

(At the time, James was the boss of Hogshead Publishing, but since I wrote the first draft of this report, Hogshead have pulled out of the gaming industry. I'll just add a bit here to say good luck to James in his future endeavours, and thanks for all that he's done for our hobby.)

They were both very good at the job, with a line of funny patter and just enough chutzpah to keep things going. I particularly loved Colm's line of: "And remember folks, it's not real money, it's only euros!"

The first few items mostly went for between fifty and hundred euros. The first thing I can really remember was introduced by James Wallis. He spoke about a recent issue of Dork Tower which contained a celebrity games designer menu section, where various games designers had contributed their favourite recipe. James had contributed a pretty funny recipe for Wild Plum Jam, which bought us onto the current item:

A jar of wild plum jam, one of a limited edition of six. ("Because they're weren't many wild plums this year.")

I think it went for something like seventy euros. (Later in the evening the bloke who bought it - in a pretty cool move - said that anyone who turned up the next day with some bread or toast could have some of the jam).

There then followed a fair number of other items, most of which went for between one hundred and three hundred euros. By this point I was starting to get a bit nervous. You see, when we first heard about the auction, I decided we ought to donate something. I wanted something that was a cool, a bit unique, and had a link to Critical Miss. The thing I came up with was the alien in a bottle that I used to take the picture on my biography page:

This is a little Jonny having a snooze in our hotel room:

In a sense, the alien is Jonny Nexus. So I thought that this would be something a Critical Miss fan would find cool. We also threw in a limited edition (limited by the fact they cost us a tenner each) Critical Miss T-Shirt.

But now, watching the auction, I was starting to worried. The things being auctioned off were really good. Traders had donated bundles of merchandise, with each bundle having a total retail price of well over one hundred euros. There were signed things. Limited edition things. Quality things.

And we had a foetus in a bottle and a home-designed T-shirt. It looked a bit tatty by comparison.

I was just wishing it would come up, and we could get the embarrassment over. But of course, as is always the case, God was scheduling this auction, and he was scheduling it to cause me the maximum amount of grief and stress.

The first big item of the day to come up was a set of Magic the Gathering foils (I think that's what they were called). As far as I could make out from the description, a foil is a single sheet containing every single card in an expansion set. I think it is normally used in the proofing phase.

(Contact me at editor@criticalmiss.com if it turns out that you know what you're talking about and I don't).

This was a foil of the next expansion set to be released. The bidding started and quickly started to edge up. As well as the usual people at the front bidding, there was one bloke at the back, standing in a group, who was also bidding.

After a while, someone walked up to the front and whispered in Colm's ear. It turned out that this bloke was a representative from Wizards of the Coast. Colm then announced that Wizards had just added another foil, from the expansion set after next, to the item being auctioned.

Bidding continued, and the amount edged ever higher.

Then the bloke went up the front again. Wizards were now adding a third foil, from the expansion set after the one they had just added. (Since these sets weren't actually released, the people who won the auction would only get the foils when they were released - just in case you were wondering).

Still the bidding continued. By now we'd realised that the man at the back was bidding on behalf of the group around him, and by now we could see that they were hurting. Each time they upped their bid, the other person bedding would immediately raise by one hundred euros, and it would go back to them. They'd spend several minutes in anguished discussion, before raising another one hundred euros, only to have the bloke at the front immediately counter.

Finally, the bid was up to 1200 euros, and Colm was asking for 1300. The atmosphere was electric. By now, Colm was jokingly referring to them as the "consortium at the back" which in reality probably wasn't far off the mark, and added: "they're trying to work out a finance scheme". Then one of them began to walk up the aisle to the front.

Colm or James (I can't remember which) joked: "They're asking for details of the repayment schedule!"

Which it turned out was exactly what they were doing. (The answer was that they had two months to get the cash together). Answer got, and a couple of minutes discussion later, they upped their bid.

1300 euros.

And that was enough.

The atmosphere was really buzzing by this point. Colm announced that this was the largest single profit bid ever made at Gaelcon. Everyone was cheering and clapping, except for the consortium themselves who seemed rather shell-shocked. (And the tossers playing the board game).

Things were pretty much motoring after that.

A copy of Cyborg Commando came up, a game which we've got a bit of history with, and which James gleefully described as one of the worst roleplaying games ever written. (No disagreement here). That went for a fairly tidy sum.

Pretty soon after that, an item came up which James described as the worst cardgame ever written. His summing up went something like this:

Do you remember back in 1993 when Magic the Gathering was released, and we all thought: "This is incredible. This is like nothing we've ever seen before. And some people thought: This is a license to print money. We have to get involved. But we have to be first to market, so we have no time for things like... design."

Then he paused for a moment, before continuing:

Tell you what, let me read you the blurb off the back of the pack: "Play one of three clans: The stone clan. The paper clan. The knife clan." Yes it really is just rock-scissors-paper. But there's more. There is the "you win" card, and the "you lose" card. Personally, I'm trying to build a deck comprised entirely of "you lose" cards.

Don't believe me? Come on up and have a look.

At this point, a huge scrum of people converged on the "item". James still had the mike, so we were treated to a continuous murmur of "oohs", "urgghs" and "jaysuses". Then, in a moment so perfect it could have been scripted in a movie, there was a moment of silence, broken only by a soft Irish voice saying: "This is shite!"

Several items later James introduced an item he'd donated himself. It was a leather-bound limited edition of Realms of Sorcery, and he was at pains to explain what distinguished this from other leather-bound books. Most of these books, he informed us, were bound in "bonded leather", which is made up of lots of shitty little bits of leather offcut - the kind of offcuts that you end up with when making books like his goat-skin bound special edition.

After that went for a tidy sum, he introduced the next item, "a signed leather bound Raymond E. Feist novel... Mind you I think it's only bonded leather... Oh well!"

I think it went for a thousand euros plus.

By now, it was well past the scheduled 11:30 finish, but the hotel management told the con organisers to take as long as it needed, which was pretty good of them.

We still hadn't bid for anything at this point. It wasn't that we didn't want to. It wasn't that we didn't think it was for a good cause. It wasn't that we were cheap.

It was that we weren't insane.

I'd set myself a limit of 100 euros (65-70) which before things got going seemed like quite a lot of money. But by now, Colm or James would still be introducing an item, and people would already have their hands in the air with one, two or even three fingers showing, to indicate opening bids of one, two or three hundred euros.

Then something came up with failed to make the now typical advance to the three hundred euro threshold at something a tad under the speed of light. It was a set of two VIP tickets to Dragonmeet, a one-day London convention organised by a number of figures in the UK gaming industry, including James Wallis. The tickets offered entry to Dragonmeet, a Dragonmeet T-shirt, and a pass to the "exclusive" Dragonmeet organisers party to be held the next day.

I looked at Bog Boy, and he looked at me, we exchanged shrugs, and then bid 180 euros.

James blinked, looked toward us in some confusion, and said: "A hundred and eighty euros from... some bloke at the back..."

Bog Boy stood back up again and shouted: "We're gophering for you!"

Oh yes, did I forget to mention that? I'm a bit confused about what tense to use here, because these events happened at the end of October, I'm writing this around the middle of November, Dragonmeet is (was?) at the end of November, and you're probably reading this around January. Bollocks, I'm in charge, so I'm sticking with me time.

We were going to be gophering at Dragonmeet. We'd felt like helping out at a convention as foot soldiers, so we'd contacted James and asked if we could help.

Which made bidding for the tickets pretty stupid, which I guess was why we did it.

This time James recognised Bog Boy's voice. "It's Critical Miss! But you're already helping out. Which means that you get the T-shirt! You get the entry to the chill-out party! You're bidding a hundred and eighty euros... for my signature?"

And then someone outbid us.

In the end Colm, the convention director and auctioneer, ended up with them, so we will / did meet up with him at Dragonmeet. (Damn, this tense thing gets confusing).

There was then a sequence of two hundred to four hundred euro items, somewhere in the middle of which our stuff turned up. By now, I was totally shitting myself about what people were going to think. G. had tried to reassure me by telling me that he'd met some bloke in the bar who'd bought him a drink, and told him that he'd have bid for our stuff if he wasn't broke. But since this was the bloke who'd bid a hundred euros for some wild plum jam, had apparently blown several hundred euros more on various items, and was now - in G.'s words - "completely wankered" - that didn't reassure me too much.

But James and Colm did their best - although having to hurry because of the time pressures - to explain what it was. James read out the "authentication certificate" that I'd constructed from a printout of this and a blunt pencil, while Colm got someone to carry the embryo round the room to show everybody.

After a short bidding session, it went for two hundred euros. Thinking about it, this is actually a very nice sum for a home-designed t-shirt and a novelty ornament, but by the ridiculously inflated standards of that moment it seemed quite minor. But we'd scraped through without being humiliated.

(By the way, I'd be quite interested in hearing from whoever it was that bought it).

Around this time (around midnight) Bog Boy and G. announced that they were off in search of food. But Mark and Me decided to hang on. In the end, we were really glad we did, because the atmosphere over the last hour or so was great.

Things were now simmering nicely, but it was time for someone to turn the gas up and watch the hot milk bubble over the rim of the saucepan. That someone was James Wallis, and that milk was an 1913 American first edition of Little Wars by H.G. Wells, the first published wargame ever.

Bidding predictably escalated, and was then given a further turboboost when James threw in another H.G. Wells book from 1912, in which the geezer described his children playing something which apparently sounds awfully like a roleplaying game.

(I wish he'd written it down a bit more clearly. Would have saved us from all those Gygax Vs Arneson flame wars that intermittently rage across the Internet).

It finally went for three thousand euros, a truly insane sum of money that sent the hall into a standing ovation (except for the tossers playing the board game). James even gave the bloke who'd put in the winning bid a hug. It was that kind of moment.

After that, things were almost an anti-climax. The very next item was also donated by James Wallis. He explained that before Games Workshop (no I'm not going to hyperlink to them, I'm still upset about them cancelling Golden Heroes) produced White Dwarf, they'd produced another magazine. The first issue of this magazine was in fact the first thing ever published by Games Workshop (no I'm still not linking). If you're wondering why they changed the name to White Dwarf, it's because the earlier magazine was called Owl & Weasel, which is, well, crap.

But this was what was on offer. A signed (I think) copy of Owl & Weasel number one.

It went for a "mere" fifteen-hundred euros. Pah!

Things trundled towards the close from that point on, a succession of bids of upto five hundred euros. Actually, there were a few real bargains. One games shop were offering a forty percent discount on every thing you bought for a year, and it only went for something like four or five hundred euros, which sounds like a lot, but if you buy a lot of gaming materials you could actually make all of that back (unlike the bloke who blew two hundred euros on a T-shirt, a printout from a website and a novelty ornament of dubious taste).

Finally the last bid was made, and it was time to tot up how much money had been raised. While they were doing this, Mark and I got into conversation with an Irish girl and her boyfriend who'd been sitting on the adjacent table.

I am using the word "conversation" in its broadest meaning here, because for several minutes Mark and me weren't capable of much more than: "Shit... fuck... SHIT! FUCK!"

We were literally speechless. Eventually we managed to get beyond obscenities. I think I made some kind of remark about feeling like the French general who witnessed the charge of the Light Brigade ("It's magnificent... but it isn't war!") and we both made various remarks about how impressed we were with the generosity of Irish people. (I remember hearing when Live Aid was on that Ireland gave the most money per head of population).

The bloke was the person who'd bought the signed leather-bound Raymond E. Feist novel, which gave him, the girl, and Mark something to talk about. (I think my only input to the conversation was: "Who's Raymond E. Feist?").

Then they pointed at their various bags and asked if we could just look after them for a moment while they nipped off somewhere.

"Sure!" Mark said, then, pointing at the Feist book which the bloke was holding. "You can leave that as well, if you want."

The bloke just laughed and said something like: "No, no, it's alight."

A few minutes later Colm and James announced that they'd finished their totting up. Then, digit by digit, they typed the figures up on the screen.

Twenty-four thousand and something euros!

Twenty-four thousand. Not two thousand four hundred. Twenty four thousand. (For American readers, we're basically talking about twenty-five thousand dollars).

Or what might be termed a metric shitload of cash.

The hall went wild. It was an awesome experience and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

It was left to James to do the final winding-up speech. He was pretty emotional, as we all were, so he really went for it. I think it went something like:

"You guys are incredible. You guys are great. You run the best conventions in the world. I've been to conventions all over the world, and I keep on coming back here time and time again. And it's because of you guys, Irish gamers. You are the best gamers in the world... You guys rock!"

At this point the entire hall erupted in cheering, with the single exception of permanent cynic Mark, who merely remarked: "Does he normally play stadiums then?"