27 October 2019

THE KRAKEN 2019 Report

Hello happy taxpayers. This is my traditional post-Kraken report. Expect a long and detailed one as — believe it or not — there are still some poor souls who wonder whether they should go to THE KRAKEN. Of course, you should. As this report will show, this is the very best game vacation ~ con on this side of the Plateau of Leng.

Thursday 18 October

We travelled from Paris to the Schloss by car. ‘Why didn't you fly?’ Well, getting to Berlin from Paris by plane emits 97kg of carbon dioxide per person per leg. With four people in the car, we emit 32kg per person per leg. It's also cheaper and you get to marvel at the beautiful countryside (ha ha, just kidding, it was boring as hell).
Anyway we stopped at the Belgian-German border in a cheap motel on the motorway, and were ready to leave first thing in the morning on Friday.

the glorious Vaccamobile

Just a few words on how games are organised at THE KRAKEN. Usually what happens is that prospective GMs and boardgame enthusiasts advertise the game they are going to run on the con's website. This leaves attendees enough time to decide which games they are going to try and sign up to during Friday night's Sign-Up ceremony (more on this later...); it also leaves Fabian Küchler, the con's supremo and stationery zealot enough time to craft minuscule cards with the names of the games on them that will be used during the notorious Sign-Up blood bath.
Anyway, this year I had advertised two boardgames I'd run: Siebenbürgen and Last Faction Hero.
Siebenbürgen is a four-player boardgame that aims at retracing the history of Transylvania and of its peoples from the Crisis of theThird Century to the 2007 enlargement of the European Union. Each player guides the destiny of one of the four historical peoples who have inhabited Transylvania, and tries to reach an optimal geographical and cultural situation by the time the game ends.
Siebenbürgen is not a “wargame”, but it is not a simple boardgame either. It is best described as a card-driven strategic boardgame, much like Twilight Struggle and similar games made popular by GMT Games, and it takes about three to four hours to play.
Last Faction Hero is a simple, fast-paced boardgame that pits several famous Gloranthan heroes against each other at the time of the Hero Wars. The game can be played in teams of two, which is much more fun. Contrary to my previous game, this one is more like a ‘filler’ and can be played in about 40 to 45 minutes.
Last but not least, the game is beautifully illustrated by veteran Gloranthan illustrator Dario Corallo (he of the Gloranthan Classics, Tales of the Reaching Moon, and Tradetalk covers).

Friday 19 October

Friday evening

Despite my best efforts, and German motorways being what they are (Stau, Werke, Stau), we only got at the Schloss late in the evening. We registered and had the good surprise of finding out that there had been an addition to the Schloss– a nice cottage across the street. Contrary to the main Gästehaus, ‘Ilse Bilse’ (that's the name of the new house) has its own kitchen, living room, and even fireplace!

our neighbours

We had dinner at the Schloss, and I had a great chat about the merits of various beers with Irish, English and German friends.

why are they all so tall?

After dinner, there was the traditional Sign-Up mayhem, during which the conventiongoers storm the display panels holding the above-mentioned miniature cards with the available games. People who run a game get to sign one game before the fray but since I was chatting with friends I forgot to. D'oh!
Anyway, I placed myself skilfully before the fray and I managed to more or less get what I wanted to.
After the fight, me and my fellow travellers settled for a game of Siebenbürgen, my very own boardgame I have been refining for several years now (see above), and we decided to play in the living room of the cottage to take advantage of its quiet. As usual, I lost, but for the first time I didn't write a single line of players' feedback or comment: all the rules are fully satisfactory now. Quite pleased with the result!

Saturday 20 October

Saturday morning

Another characteristic of THE KRAKEN is the sheer amount of high-quality panels. It's quite a quandary every year between attending the panels or the games. Obviously the panels are visible on YouTube or available as chapbook transcripts after the con, but it's much more fulfilling to attend them in person. As a result, I went for the full monty, and attended all the panels except one (the first Sunday panel).

one of the best aspects of THE KRAKEN: catching up with old friends

First Panel: Big Rubble and Activating Your Sandbox Setting

Hosts: Jeff Richard and Robin D Laws

Pavis is the archetypal sandbox setting because it's actually like a box (a walled city) in the sand (the Plaines of Prax). First principle: Sandbox = Strong player agency.
The Big Rubble is really archetypal because the players are supposed to explore it and find their own trouble, not wait for the GM to shower it upon them.
A Sourcebook is a high-level description of an area.
An Adventure provides super detailed focus (flashlight) on a given area.
The Sandbox is halfway between the sourcebook and the adventure , e.g., in the Big Rubble the descriptions are actually quite vague, and only some places are really detailed (e.g., the Puzzle Canal).

For the new edition of the Big Rubble, Robin is trying to give more detail for some areas and also to provide adventure hooks not only for some locales but for everywhere, e.g., the PCs talk to the Mani tribe and this could develop into a relationship with the Mani tribe, or a mission for them, or whatever, and this because of a much more detailed description of the Mani tribe than in the old source material. And it's similar for Troll Town or the Garden.
In a nutshell, the new book will give material for the GM to be able to improvise adventures anywhere in the Rubble.
Also the idea is to make the sandbox dynamic, thanks to the current situation (the Hero Wars). The players modify the environment, and the environment is not static because of the wars around Pavis:
  • Argrath has taken over New Pavis and is preparing the takeover of Dragon Pass
  • The new life paths have the PCs interact with the movers and shakers of the region
  • Much more PC interaction with the past of the city
  • Praxians have much more of an influence on what happens
  • The old order has collapsed, but the new one is only starting to be enforced
  • Local allies will be necessary for the story arc (see below)
The new adventures contain moral dilemmas, etc. rather than mere looting. Second principle of the Sandbox: there is a story — it's just not railroady. The GM buries the plots and the players have to unearth them.
Story arc: the Eye of Wakboth is buried beneath the area and is about to be released.
Third principle of the Sandbox: the story elements are triggered by the players. Success in a given mini-adventure is not an end to itself: it is actually the trigger to an episode of the major story arc, e.g., the PCs go to Ogre Island and clear an area of Chaos... well, that might actually accelerate the release of the Eye of Wakboth!
The lore of the setting (the past history of the city) is also to be slowly discovered by the players — the book will feature lots of artefacts from the past ages, Plunder-style.

The Horror Lottery

Some games (those GM'ed by the panellists) are not available for sign up during the Sign Up ceremony. Instead, our names are put in a big hat, and the panellists draw their lucky players. My daughter is a lucky devil... she was drawn twice, and so she got to play with both Robin D Laws and Sandy Petersen. Me? Nothing. Groan.

Second Panel: Master Map Show and Tell

Host: Jeff Richard

Basically, Jeff came with lots of old and new maps of the Dragon Pass area. The old ones were from Greg Stafford's times, and the new ones are from Jeff's cabinet.
Obviously, the old maps are from back when Greg was preparing White Bear and Red Moon, which started as an interactive fantasy novel (which got rejected on the basis that ‘fantasy as a genre is dead’ [LOL]), and which ended up as a boardgame (the rest is history).
The scale of all the maps is 1cm = 4km; Greg used the same scale for all his maps. The climate and terrain are mostly based on California and the American Southwest. Jeff has been expanding Greg's maps of Dragon Pass, the Holy Country, and Prax at the same scale. Greg's way of creating maps was one A2 sheet of paper at a time, which explains why most political entities nicely correspond to an A2 sheet of paper! Looking at the maps, you realise Sartar is small and underpopulated but it sits right on the major trade route between the Lunar Empire and Esrolia and Prax.
The idea is to have the new maps ready for publication with the RuneQuest Campaign Book.

Third Panel: Investigative Role-Playing Masterclass

Hosts: Cat Tobin, Lynne Hardy & Robin D Laws

Robin starts by summarising the merits of the Gumshoe system, mostly by making a distinction between general skills and investigative skills. The latter basically ‘always succeed’ in a Gumshoe-powered game. The emphasis is on sorting out the information that the PCs have found, rather than finding the information itself. Plus lots of advice about using this approach with Call of Cthulhu, e.g., Library skill always succeeds for the clues, the roll is just to convince the librarian to let you in.
Lynne: Always think about having the information available in more than one place so if the investigators miss location A they can always find it in location B.
Cat: Clues must be prioritised. It's the really fundamental clues that must be made ‘moveable’ as Lynne says.
Lynne: Even if it is an illusion of Agency, it's still Agency.
Robin: Use red herrings to put the investigators back on track, e.g., if the werewolves are not the killers, have the investigators find the information that puts them back on track when they meet the werewolves.
The job of the GM is also to spur the investigators on — rather than have them think forever ‘should we do this or that’, instigate them to do it!
It's OK to instigate the investigators to do sensible things: they're supposed to be seasoned investigators, whereas the players aren't.
Lynne: Use the skills to help them: if an investigator has a high Architecture skill, tell them ‘you notice this and that’ automatically — again, no roll.

Saturday afternoon

Fourth Panel: The Great Yelmalio vs Elmal Debate

Hosts: Jeff Richard and Robin D Laws

This one was pretty funny. Jeff explained how Yelmalio was so much better than Elmal, and Robin was doing the opposite, with the attendance cheering and booing. Since I hate both Yelmalio and Elmal (I often play trolls or Darkness-worshipping humans), I quickly lost interest in the arguments that they used; I mostly followed the cheering and booing.

Fifth Panel: What's New with RuneQuest

Hosts: Jason Durall and Jeff Richard

Obviously the first thing out is the Rattling Wind, a free scenario out of the forthcoming RQ adventure anthology The Pegasus Plateau and Other Stories, a collection of low-barrier introductory scenarios. Next: the Smoking Ruins, a collection of more epic-level scenarios, which will include source material about Beast Valley and the South Wilds.
Why is it taking so long? Art art art art art art art art art art art...
There are lots of artist who can do vanilla fantasy or Cthulhoid art; there really aren't many artists who can draw Gloranthan art. And the latter also goes through several iterations.
The Cults book will be two or three books, including the Red Book of Magic (a compendium of all the RQ spells). The art is coming along beautifully but it's a lot of work.
The Starter Set will be a boxed set with four adventures (two of which are investigative scenarios) set in Sartar, and it will contain a fully-fledged Jonstown city guide with a cool map, similar to the Clearwine one. This should make the Starter Set super appealing, even to seasoned players.
Further on in the pipe: an Elder Races book with an emphasis on character generation (expanding on what is available in the Bestiary), and Gloranthan Voices-like content.
Other geographical source books in the pipe: Whitewall, Nochet, Pavis, Big Rubble, Troll Lands, all by various authors.
And obviously in parallel Jeff is super busy working on the RuneQuest Campaign Book and the RuneQuest GM Source Book with battle rules that will not be “wargaming” rules but rules about how your characters live through a battle, how they shine, how they are affected by it.

Saturday afternoon's panels

Gods War

No more panels for Saturday, so we started a five-player Gods War game with the following factions: Chaos, Sea, Darkness, Storm, and the Invisible God (moi). It was the first time I played in a game with the Chaos faction since the early playtests with Sandy, and I had forgotten how quickly it became a case of everyone against Chaos — which nicely allowed me to finish first, but just a single victory point ahead of Chaos. Overall, I think I prefer the games without the Chaos faction, as they are more open and there is much more diplomacy involved.

another Gods War game (not the one I played)

Saturday Evening

Played a very nice Call of Cthulhu game GM'd by Evil Gaz aka the Iron GM. I was Vanessa the Scientist, debunker extraordinaire of fraudulent mystics and faux mesmerisers! in the exciting occult-crazed London of Queen Victoria.

playing in Gewölbekeller

Since this is a Gloranthan blog (rather than a Call of Cthulhu one), I have asked Patrick, a player from my Paris RQ:G group, to share his experience of playing in a HeroQuest game with Ian Cooper on Saturday night. I think it's also interesting because they were playing Puppeteers and, except in 13th Age in Glorantha, I feel there hasn't been much material written about the mysterious Puppeteer Troupe.
Patrick was playing Orane Nowhere-Girl, a runaway girl, and the troupe was travelling to Alone for the Aldachuria, a festival sponsored by Harvar Ironfist with a grand prize of 200 gold Wheels (the story is set during the Lunar occupation, slightly after Temertain's assassination). The following is Orane's tale.
Our small troupe had a play titled “the Prince and the Sad Lady” in our repertoire, i.e., a play about prince Sarotar of Sartar and his wife Arkillia who was kidnapped by Esrolians — some say she left by her own volition, but we wanted to set the record straight by telling the truth. Sarotar tried to save his beloved wife, but both of them died in the ensuing fights. They had a daughter who survived them, called Marlesta, and who eventually became a Puppeteer.
At the beginning of our story, we have thus organised the very first shows for the ‘tournament’. We first lured kids with illusions and short sketches (I used my puppets Tat and Tol, emphasising the cute aspect of Yinkin). Then we tried to achieve the maximum success on the applauseometer during the city pageants. Our main opponents were Gerrard’s Men, another Puppeteer Troupe, who came to taunt and disturb us before our pageant. There was a lady amongst them, Arissa, who seemed to be able to talk with spirits, and who put my mother's pendant under my nose, the very one I'd ‘lost’ after a pageant in Boldhome where Gerrard’s Men were also present... Arissa says she can talk with my deceased mother. I am 18/19, and haven't talked with her or have had any news from her since I was 15 and ran away. So according to Arissa, she’s dead!

The following day, Gerrard’s Men's gig is a great success, the public is cheering, and we have to play just after them... I am playing Arkillia Sad Lady. I am happy in my palace in Boldhome, dancing and singing while I am waiting for my beloved prince to return. But instead some foreigners arrive, who dance in a circle around me, a circle that gets tighter and tighter, I feel oppressed... My song becomes a lament, my dance a contorsion. Strings appear, as from a puppeteer forcing his or her puppet to progress towards the back of the stage until I disappear in a last cry. Sarotar rushes in, flaming sword in hand. But it is too late. By the open window of the palace, he can see the fleeing scoundrels... Furious, grief-stricken, he dries his tears and follows in hot pursuit. The choir is silent. The public cheers loudly, it is a triumph. Gerrard’s Men try to play down the magnitude of their defeat by offering a free concert after the pageants. We also think about playing the show another time for free. But in the evening an official comes and meets us; he is the festival organiser and doesn't want us to compete against the official programme. So we give up, much to the discontent of the fans who came to see the free show... During the night, we can hear dogs howling (yes, dogs in Sartar) and swords clashing at the far end of the tent city in which all the artists are staying. When we get there, we can see the leader of Gerrard’s Men, Derryl, dead in his blood with a huge spear wound. Some Gagarthi, maybe associates of Harvar's who uses them as mercenaries, are wreaking havoc. In the confusion, we meet Arissa. The Gagarthi are hot on her trail but she says the dogs are not after her— they are after my mother's pendent... Panic-stricken, she gives the pendent back to me and flees in the night. We run away when a man and his alynx block our path. The shadow cat speaks. His name is Durnan, and the rebel with him is Gurnan. They are here to help us abscond. We decide we must trust them and follow them to a cellar in the city where we can talk. Durnan asks my uncle, Brogard, the leader of our Puppeteer Troupe, to tell me the truth. Uncle Brogard tells me I am Orane, daughter of Sorana, daughter of Marlesta, daughter of Arkillia Sad Lady... and Sarotar of the Sartar Dynasty. I am the last heir to the occupied kingdom with Kallyr who — according to Durnan — has alienated too many people to be able to still lead the rebellion. The whole festival was but a ploy to attract all the Puppeteer Troupes of the region and thus find me. Because it is Tokarse, Harvar's lieutenant, who killed my mother and trained his dogs to track her scent... Durnan asks me to join the rebels, and to lead them in their fight against the Lunars.

That's all quite of a sudden and quite too much for a girl lost in a cellar, an orphan denied of the bohemian lifestyle she'd always dreamed of. But a decison has to be made, and so I accept to leave with Gurnan and Durnan, and most of all I accept to attract Tokarse's Gagarthi after me, so that their men can ambush them and inflict upon them the loss they deserve. We surreptitiously leave the city, and a cloud is soon upon us. The Gagarthis walk in the air amidst a storm, their dogs pointing their nose towards us. We meet Durnan's band, who has prepared its ambush around a clearing. We take place in the clearing as if we were live bait, and start to draw upon our powers. Far in the woods, our illusionary doubles are anxiously waiting for us... The barking draws nearer. The Gagarthi are upon us. They raise their spears to charge... and we call upon Donandar to exchange our bodies with our illusionary doubles! The Gagarthi plunge their spears into our doubles and receive a shower of arrows from the ambushing rebels, who then charge and kill the wounded Gagarthi. We are not artists any longer. We are fugitives — and the first Puppeteers to prepare to fight against the most powerful empire in the world... But Truth shall be born from Illusion!

Sunday morning

Last Faction Hero

Missed the sixth panel (Calling Cthulhu with Lynne Hardy), played a four-player game of Last Faction Hero instead. Everybody concentrated against Harrek and his terrible double attack power, so the game was pretty soon down to a three-player confrontation between Cragspider (yours truly), Androgeus, and Jar-Eel. Since both Cragspider and Androgeus are immune to her charm, Jar-Eel was soon out too. The final confrontation was between Cragspider and Androgeus; I thought I was going to win (I had plenty of allies), but Topi's masterful use of the map meant that he won the day. And thus continued the established tradition of me never winning at my own games.

Seventh Panel: What The Only Old One Told Me

Host: Sandy Petersen

This panel was a kind of continuation of previous ‘secrets of Glorantha’ panels by the Only Old One, er, I mean Sandy Petersen, which are available as chapbooks by THE KRAKEN.
Honestly, a lot of what Sandy ‘revealed’ had already been said during previous secrets of Glorantha seminars, but his anecdotes are always pleasant to hear. Also, some of the following might be new (I was too lazy to check), so here you are:
  • There is only one single Blue Vadeli left, he is 13, and he is a good guy— for now.
  • There is a zone in Ralios where spells do not work because it is just above one of the ginormous iron chains the Dwarfs are building for their Plan for world dominance.
  • The Dorastor map in the Argan Argar Atlas is wrong because it is based on the map that was given to PCs during the in-house Chaosium campaign, and which was supposed to be misleading. Dorastor is actually 4 times larger. [Note: I have checked this one, and I can see it is already on pages 18-19 of the chapbook More Forgotten Secrets of Glorantha]
  • Ralzakark promotes only two cults in Dorastor: Chalana Arroy and Humakt, because they are illuminated and are not limited in their use of Rune magic.
  • Ralzakark is not the guy behind the threat told in Cults of Terror.
the real Dorastor

This was followed by a session of Q&A, during which I asked the following [of interest to my current RQ:G campaign]:
Q: Who wrote the petroglyphs in Chern Durel?
A: Nobody knows.
Well... if even Sandy doesn't know, I guess I can continue elaborating my own theories!

Eighth Panel: Dramatic Interaction Masterclass

Hosts: Cat Tobin and Robin D Laws

The aim of the masterclass was for us GMs to manage to master the interaction between characters that have conflicting goals, e.g., the thief says “Let's backstab the guy” while the paladin says “No, no! No way!”. In D&D, this usually doesn't lead anywhere. In the Drama System, this is managed by an economy of tokens (vague explanation at the end of this page).
A similar issue is when a player introduces an element in a narrative role-playing game that the other players do not like.
Consent is also a similar issue, as emphasised by the discussions around the use of the X-card. A mutually-agreed upon list of topics to be avoided can actually make a TTRPG session more intense because nobody is afraid of going as far or as deep as possible into the unlisted topics because obviously everyone is cool with them. The Character Relationship Map (example here), also from the Drama System, enables the GM to take advantage from the relationships the players have written down to come up with cool adventure ideas, e.g., in a fantasy game with a bizarre cast of characters the Character Relationship Map may explain why a Dragonewt, a Minotaur, a Trickster and an Ernaldan Priestess hang out together.
It also enables the GM to create missions that enrich these relationships rather than ‘go and fetch the MacGuffin’.
Also: there is intra-character tension that may lead to interesting inter-character tension.
Duty <-> Freedom
Altruism <-> Selfishness
e.g., a character's Duty vs Freedom where the character doesn't want to obey a given order whereas the other characters want to. Again, the GM must take advantage of this kind of situation.
A similar case is provided by Player Character <-> Sidekick, as it's cool to bring in other player characters into this relationship. 

Sunday morning's panels

Sunday afternoon

RuneQuest Mythic Iceland

Chaosium published Mythic Iceland (based on the Basic Role-Playing System) back in 2012. Pedro Ziviani has been working on a second edition for a long time, which will be based on the new RuneQuest. One cool thing of 2nd edition Mythic Iceland is that Ravens are a playable race, so Pedro GM'ed a Raven-only game for us!
It was deeply entrenched in Icelandic Mythology and felt like a fairy tale of sorts so it was exceedingly pleasing. I was just jealous that the other Ravens got all the shiny treasure at the end.
It was also a very enriching gaming experience: when you play a 2-hit point character in a gritty TTRPG like RuneQuest, you know your noncombat skills are going to be your best friends. Icelandic Ravens have a 'Prophecy' power: by spending 3 magic points, you receive a clue from the GM as a vison of the past or of the future. Since I also use Divination/Prophecy a lot in my RQ games, I really enjoyed this.

my Raven character sheet

During that time, my daughter was playing one of her lottery games!

Sunday evening

Contemporary Call of Cthulhu

I was Steph Martinelli, 25, a tall, strong brunette in today's Manchester. A lover of 'the Fast and the Furious', I had a ball when I hijacked a TfGM bus to go and save my best friend Tish from that spooky fellow.
I tell you— playing in the 2010s is much more fun than in the 1920s!

I hope you're jealous of my KRAKEN all-rolled-up

Sunday late evening

Share your treats

This was a new addition to THE KRAKEN: since people come from all over Europe, it was suggested they should bring a treat from their country to share with the other Krakeneers. Needless to say, I found Belgian cheese much more to my taste than Hobnobs (despite their association with TTRPGs).

a selection of northern European artery cloggers

a selection of French and Belgian cheeses

You had ONE job
By the way, sorry Runeblogger. I was supposed to ask Jeff about the rumours mentioned in my earlier blog post, but he had to leave on Saturday, and I couldn't talk with him!

German beer was in constant supply.

All the nice pictures are by Aliénor, Jean-Michel, Valentina. All the ugly ones are by yours truly.


  1. Thank you very much for your detailed report!!! 😉👍 I was eagerly expecting to read it! I would have liked to play your Gloranthan card game! 😍