There is nothing quite like the exhilaration of a live performance. I discovered to my delight that there were several seminars, workshops and live events running alongside the tabletop gaming at the UK Games Expo, each one geeky in their own way and the majority of which were priced at an incredibly reasonable five pounds per person. Bargain!
Here’s Part One of my Live Events review for your viewing pleasure:
Deathtrap Dungeon – Seminar (Friday)
Way back in 1984, when mobile phones were the size of fridges and social media meant gathering at someone’s house to watch a VHS, an adventure gamebook hit the stands that introduced single-players to the fantasy world of Fang, where brave souls entered Baron Sukumvit’s “Trial of Champions” and battled the trap-filled and monster-infested labyrinth known as Deathtrap Dungeon. Creator Ian Livingstone was our guide, flipping through the pages and reading out his iconic words, and guest performer John Robertson was the intrepid adventurer, Baron Darrenson (everyone in The Dark Room is called Darren, apparently), rolling the dice that would influence his decision-making and ultimately lead to several gruesome deaths. Courtesy of his association with Deathtrap Dungeon, Robertson played up to the mock booing from the crowd with gusto – his show, The Dark Room, is loosely modelled on Livingstone’s book.
It was evident from the outset that he and Livingstone had chemistry: Robertson’s frenzied live performance complimented Livingstone’s quiet wit, with both men exchanging innuendoes about boreholes and slime-laden shafts, prompting Livingstone to question his thought-process when writing a story aimed at children. The audience had a laugh every time Robertson’s character suffered a painful end and he had to endure a chorus of “ya die, ya die, ya die” from The Dark Room fans in the audience; every time ‘son’ was added to the new character’s name (by the end of the seminar we were on Baron Darrenson-son-son-son-daughter, to keep things fair); and every time Livingstone lost his place in the book. Luckily, one group at the back were reading along and helpfully shouted out the page numbers to him. Livingstone blamed his momentary lapses on the lack of air-conditioning, which only kicked in at the very end during the final showdown between Baron Darrenson-son-son-son-daughter and the fighter known as Throm (played brilliantly by a volunteer from the audience).
The bout that brought the seminar to a close involved a rebellious Robertson ditching the dice and deciding his character’s fate with a game of Rock Paper Scissors. He lost, much to everyone’s delight and relief, allowing us to escape our own deathtrap dungeon and make for the fresh air. Had the venue been cooler in temperature I think this would have been my favourite performance of the entire Expo.
Bonus point: Boreholes (snigger snigger)
Damage taken: The infernal heat!
The Dark Room – Live Performance (Saturday)
After watching him participate in Deathtrap Dungeon I had to see the delightfully bonkers John Robertson do his own show. This live-action video game starts with the audience chanting “you awake to find yourself in a dark room…” – something that nearly didn’t happen thanks to technical issues – and Robertson, a dead ringer for Jareth the Goblin King if he were dressed like one of the WWE Road Warriors, is our terrifyingly sexy guide. The aim is for multiple players to get out of the darkness by finding a light switch. In order to find the light switch the players, all christened Darren for ease of memory and comedy value, must make choices to proceed to the next stage of the game. Sounds simple, right? Wrong!
Amongst the players hoping to make the right choices was a twelve year old who claimed to be best buddies with Joseph Stalin, and a man dressed in a bullet-proof vest carrying wads of US dollars in his pockets. To say this show attracts an eclectic crowd is an understatement. Though I didn’t go so far as to volunteer to be a ‘Darren’, I joined the crowd in shouting out options to the players where appropriate, using the prompts on a giant screen. Options include ‘go north’, ‘touch a wall’, ‘sleep’ and my favourite, ‘my little pony’.
Most of the joy of this game is not from the decision-making. It is Robertson and his child-like energy that saves this repetitive show from becoming tired. He establishes rapport with every player within seconds and has an answer to any heckle he receives, keeping him in firm control of the performance. When the lights finally come back on I found myself wishing I could have a little more time in his zany presence. (No mention of flamboyant potatoes?! – Robin)
Bonus point: Stalin’s best mate!
Damage taken: Technical teething problems
Live RPG Plus – Live Performance (Saturday)
The setting for this live performance was efficacious: a low-lit room with candles on the stage and Syrinscape’s crashing wave sound effect in the background conveyed the air of mystery in this special version of Call of Cthulhu, focusing on an investigation of mysterious occurrences on a North Sea oil rig. Syrinscape’s Benjamin Loomes filled the role of Games Master for a celebrity panel consisting of Munchkin and Dork Tower artist John Kovalic, Pathfinder’s Jason Bulmahn and Amanda Kunz, Call of Cthulhu’s Mike Mason and Knightmare Live’s Paul Flannery. The anticipation was palpable.
It is fair to say that the build-up was better than the actual game play. The audience were allowed to participate with smaller tasks, such as naming their weapon of choice for the mad scientist or giving the method to curing the strange disease afflicting the oil rig workers, but the decision-making was left solely to the panel members. At times the scenarios lacked pace and the visuals on the giant projection screen did not add anything to the gameplay – most of the time we were watching a cursor moving towards the next sound effect to be used, thus spoiling the element of surprise. That being said, the characters created by the panel were amusing and easy to root for, and their reactions were hilarious; in particular, Jason Bulmahn’s portrayal of a snooty, corporate representative; John Kovalic and Benjamin Loomes trying to outdo each other with terrible French and Welsh accents, and Paul Flannery’s suave yet simple-minded scientist giving his assessment of impending danger as ‘red means bad’.
The star of the show was undoubtedly the sound effects. Torrential rain, thunderclaps, monster roars…even a Wilhelm scream made it into the game. It successfully created tension and enhanced the story. It also made me want to check out Call of Cthulhu in more depth, which was amazing as I had previously never heard of the game. Now, I call that an RPG win.
Bonus point: Atmosphere!
Damage taken: PowerPoint fail
More to come in Part Two!
Helen Pain – Now, I call that an RPG win.
Follow Helen on Twitter @HelsyPain