Furnace rpg convention – review

Admiral Frax and I headed into the hills of Sheffield on Friday night for Furnace, a smallish (about 80 people) roleplaying convention focused exclusively on tabletop gaming.

We have been doing what we refer to as “the con”, a gathering of about two dozen of our friends for roleplaying purposes every year for about a decade, but this was the first proper convention we had attended. Furnace is a fairly intense affair – three gaming slots on the first day and two on the second, leaving the Sunday evening for everyone to race off home. This meant that the games were fast and focused, which was largely a good thing. Despite this, it didn’t feel rushed, and most of the games I played in found time for a coffee break or two.

I managed to play in four games using systems I’d never tried before, which was great for my new year resolution to try lots of new games, and all four were an excellent standard of both GMs and players. The venue was the Garrison Hotel in Sheffield, a former, uh, garrison on the north side of the city. The place is full of little nooks and crannies where gaming can happen in a relatively quiet environment (including some rather spiffy little jail cells which are just big enough for a decent sized tabletop and nicely separated off from the surrounding area, if slightly hard to extract yourself from when you want to go for a coffee break). It’s pretty labyrinthine, though by the end of the weekend we’d just about worked the place out. And the food is somewhat above mediocre, which is high praise when you consider how bad such venues can be. Also, their real ale menu is a big bonus.

Partway through there was a raffle in which, unprecedently, I won something – specifically, a copy of Apocalypse World. Yay! Frax also got given a free copy of Witch by the author, who I can only assume was so impressed by her enthusiasm for the game that he temporarily turned into Ebeneezer Scrooge at the end of a Christmas Carol. Looking forward to giving this game a try!

Frax and I were both nervous because it was our first con, because we knew absolutely nobody who was attending, and because we had both decided not only to GM but to run our own games (When the Dark is Gone and Disaster Strikes! respectively). We needn’t have worried – Furnace is very welcoming, and we both got players who threw themselves into our games, as well as quite a few interested bystanders asking about our games in the sidelines. The con seems to be quite a tight-knit community, where everyone knows everyone else, but we didn’t find it hard to strike up conversations with people and by the end we didn’t feel like we were outsiders at all.

Games-wise, I played:

Hot War, a d10-based throw-in-as-many-stats-as-you-can type game, in this case set in the “ashtrays in space” (as the GM evocatively described it) setting of the Heracles corporate spaceship. Hot War seemed like a decent system, though I found out later its real strength is faction-based conflict, something which didn’t really leap out at the time. I had a lot of fun playing my bigoted (anti-replicant) security chief and shooting many people in the face.

Trail of Cthulhu, the cthulhu version of Gumshoe, in this case set in the WWI Royal Flying Corps. Lots of fun shooting at German planes and wrangling demonic creatures. I like the way ToC avoids dice rolls when you don’t want them by paying points from skill pools to auto-pass, though remain slightly suspicious that these pools tend to run out partway through leaving you a bit stuck, unless the pacing is just right.

Age of Arthur, a FATE-based post-roman pre-arthurian dark ages Britain game (due to be released this December). I really enjoyed this setting, which blended Roman-esque feel with low fantasy, exactly the kind of fantasy setting I enjoy. AoA includes a mass combat system which allows generals to duel at the strategic level while individual heroes strike decisive blows at the tactical level – a nice balance. One to watch out for.

Wordplay, another grab-the-stats-that-apply game (d6-based this time), in this case set in a sort of post-apocalyptic setting where it started raining one day and never stopped. Oh, and there were angels. I really liked the idea of this setting and I always enjoy a good post-apocalyptic game, so this was always going to go well. My english Clint Eastwood-type gunslinger got to do a lot of, er, gunslinging, which was lots of fun.

Disaster Strikes!, which you can read about elsewhere on this site. We ran a zombie plague set in a British theme park, a rather over the top schlock action fest, which seemed to be enjoyed by all concerned. I’ll write up the new mechanic I was testing, the disaster pool, in another article.

All in all, a great time was had. I’d recommend Furnace to anyone looking for a con where you can rack in more tabletop gaming than you can shake a very big stick at, all in one weekend, and for the very reasonable price of £20 (plus accomodation). Especially reasonable if you receive over half the ticket price in free games.

Josh Fox

Rabalias grew up wanting to be a pirate. But a band of evil bureaucrats kidnapped him and forced him to work for The Man. Even so, Rabalias was patient and cunning. He escaped by gnawing his way through the walls of his prison and concealing the hole behind a picture of cthulhu. He fled to the coast, and stowed away on the Black Armada, where he worked his way up to the rank of Admiral.

2 thoughts to “Furnace rpg convention – review”

  1. It was a pleasure to meet you Josh and the free copy of Witch was a sign of us indie folks sticking together.

    Looking forward to rolling out some WTDIS down here on the south coast.

    Game on!


    1. Huzzah! Well, a copy of WTDIG is yours, also. If you run it, we’d love to get some feedback on how it went – I know Frax will be interested to know how it goes when the Therapist is neither her nor someone she spent an hour briefing in advance.

      Thanks for the Witch – have started reading it in my slow, ponderous way and looking forward to giving it a try at our monthly gaming do.



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