Play Modena

This last week I’ve been away in Italy at Play Modena, Italy’s biggest gaming convention. I was invited by Narrattiva, who did the awesome Italian Ghostlight Edition of Lovecraftesque, and was at the convention as a guest. It was a pretty interesting experience and I’m going to give you the highlights.

First things first: how do you say “Modena”? This seems to be quite a difficult thing for English people. We get tempted to say “Moderna”, which is wrong. I’ve been studying Italian over the last year and it didn’t help at all. So: the word is pronounced “Moh – duh – nuh“, with a rhythm and emphasis similar to how you say “modelling”.

At the time of the convention Italy was suffering major rainfall and some of the worst flooding its ever had, right near to Modena, something I only started to become aware of as I travelled over. Modena itself seemed unscathed (and indeed fairly dry by British standards) but my hosts were coming from Forli, in the region most affected by the floods. This made life very difficult for them as their daily 1-hour commute became over 4 hours. The convention organisers very kindly put me up in a local hotel and I’m very glad they did because some of the Narrattiva team were surviving on 4 hours sleep a night. But although a gaming con is hardly the most important thing during a disaster like this (several people died), it did affect footfall and some events had to be cancelled. The Narrattiva team stoically (and rather impressively) got on with it and, on a wing and a prayer, managed to keep the show on the road.

Me with some of the Narrattiva team
The Narrattiva team were a very welcoming bunch.

My first day was setting up the stall before the convention. A different experience from what I’m used to – the Narrattiva team had a sort of Ikea-style build-it-yourself booth which initially seemed like madness but looked very good once built. Even if the chaos around the floods meant they needed to do things unconventionally – see the video below for what I mean!

My first takeaway from the convention, on day 2, was that Italian gaming publishers are very showy. We had holographic displays on our booth, showing off the products Narrattiva produce. Next door was a massive table carved to look like a game board. Down the way, an area made up to look like a prison cell you could play Heroquest in. Massive battlemaps big enough to walk on, a room-sized Rubiks cube, and much more. They made UK conventions look a little boring. I’m honestly not sure how much of this is important and effective marketing, and how much is just an arms race of showing off. It does look very cool though.

A gorgeous wooden table carved into a game board.
So cool.

At the convention my main activities were signing books and running games. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever signed so many books. I came in thinking Italy was the place in the world where our games are most popular and the convention confirmed it, with more copies of Lovecraftesque sold than we’d normally do at home. I was frequently approached by very enthusiastic fans who wanted to tell me how much they loved the game, and by designers whose games we have influenced. It was a bit like being a minor celebrity for the week, and that was rather lovely.

As for running games, the flooding meant that the printouts and other materials I had hoped to have never materialised. But luckily I came to the convention armed with a prototype set of cards for Lovecraftesque second edition. These proved invaluable and worked even better than they have during online playtesting. The cards made everything smoother and easier to explain, and the prompts helped to grease everyone’s creative wheels. This was so effective that we managed to play a speed run in 90 minutes, which I think is a record for me. (I think the ideal run time for Lovecraftesque is more like 3 hours, but it’s very easy to cut this down if you need to.)

Playing Lovecraftesque 2e at Play Modena
I display my uncanny ability to close my eyes at the wrong moment.

Narrattiva had set up a 24-person “massive game” of Lovecraftesque (would have been 50 person but for the floods), which was a first for me. 7 or 8 individual games of Lovecraftesque were linked together. The premise was that the main character on each gaming table was the beneficiary of the same will: each character inherited a different house and also an item (which was provided as a physical prop in a box we had to open). There was also a “telegram” system where we could send messages to other tables if we wanted to. In the event, my table did a fairly ordinary (i.e. good, fun) game of Lovecraftesque, without making much use of the props or the telegrams, but I liked the idea of it and there was a certain buzz about playing the game in a room full of other people doing it at the same time.

Indeed my second big takeaway from the convention was the focus on play. Every booth in the convention had its own play area, and many “booths” were nothing more than a set of play tables. Organised play was a standard part of having a booth, and booking a session to play with me personally was part of Narrattiva’s sales pitch for the event. Offering massive/mega-games was an important part of the show. In the UK trade halls are essentially nothing but giant retail areas; they might be next door to a big play area, and the companies involved might offer games, but it all feels a bit separate. Given that we’re all interesting in gaming, presumably, to play games, this now feels a little odd. On a related note I heard from the organisers that they do something called “Play on tour” where they set up gaming tables at other (non-gaming) events around the country, including for example local festivals and scientific conferences. I would love it if we did that here in the UK.

Of course, there was also delicious food. I ate the local gnocco fritto, a kind of fried dough served with cheese and cured meat. Naturally there was also wonderful pasta. I had local wine (fizzy red wine served cold – unusual but very nice) and delightful limoncello brought to the convention by a fan of Lovecraftesque. I made myself into a typical Englishman by constantly asking for “un piccolo po di latte freddo” with my tea.

With the convention being in a peripheral part of town I only saw the centre of Modena on the morning before my return flight, but the convention organisers very kindly drove me in to have a little stroll around before rushing off to the airport.

Gorgeous Italian cathedral
Modena cathedral is striking in white stone.

I want to thank everyone at Narrattiva, particularly Michele, Pietro and Filippo (who acted as my translator on various occasions), and Matteo and Marco from the convention team, for being such wonderful hosts and managing to make my stay friction-free despite all the problems. I had a fantastic time and I hope to return one day.

The UK Indie League

We’re a small group of indie tabletop roleplaying game publishers based in the UK.

Upcoming Events

We’ll be attending UK Games Expo 2024. We are at stall Stand 1-856. Drop by and visit!

We’ll also be at Dragonmeet 2024 – details TBC.

The League Membership

Biscuit Fund Games is the small press name for the creations of Chloe Montgomery and Alyssa Ridley, two trans women in their mid-20s working together to create exciting new roleplaying and tabletop games.

Black Armada Games, creators of games that unlock the creativity of your group, bring your favourite genres to life and give you feelings in your heart. We publish Wreck This Deck, Lovecraftesque, Bite Marks, Last Fleet and Flotsam: Adrift Amongst the Stars, along with many smaller games.

Certain Death is the publishing company of Chris Longhurst, writer and game designer behind Strike Force Omega, Pigsmoke, Bleak Spirit, Gods and Monsters, See Issue X, and more.

The Rolistes is the home of tabletop RPG fans across the Channel, the Pond and beyond. Kalum started this multimedia umbrella with several podcasts and streamed shows, before branching out into live events and now tabletop RPG publishing. His first step in game design is Paris Gondo – The Life-Saving Magic of Inventorying. The Rolistes also publishes translations, between French, English and Spanish, of small format roleplaying games including Shakespeare in Role and The Feather & the Butterfly.

Sinister Beard Games publishes tabletop RPGs for beautiful weirdos, including Quietus, the roleplaying game of melancholy horror, Night Reign, and the upcoming Extreme Meatpunks Forever. It’s run by Oli Jeffery, who’s been regretting the name every since he chose it.

Wordplay Games

Join the UK Indie RPG League!

Are you interested in selling games at UK conventions, but want to avoid the cost and loneliness of doing it by yourself? Then you’re going to be interested in this.

The UK Indie League is recruiting. We’re a group of friends who go to conventions together to sell our tabletop roleplaying games. We share convention costs, and we staff the stall together, so we have friendly company and can take breaks without abandoning the stall. It’s a chance to meet fans of our games and sell stuff to people who might otherwise not see it. Plus you get free entry to the conventions, which is nice.

We’re looking for new members. You’d join us at conventions, bring your stuff, and help us to sell our stuff and yours. You keep your share of the profits, and you pay a fair share of the stall costs based on how much space your products take up and how much you sell. You’d also need to cover your own transport and accommodation costs. It’s on a trial basis initially, because we need to know we like each other before we commit to something more long-term.

The next convention we’ve got coming up is UK Games Expo. It runs from Friday 29 to Sunday 31 May 2020 at the Birmingham NEC. If you’re not interested in UKGE, it’s still worth getting in touch, and we’ll consider you for future events, but right now we’re prioritising getting people who can help with that.

If that sounds good, we’d love to hear from you. We have to limit numbers to keep things manageable, so we can’t guarantee we’ll say yes, but we’ll look seriously at every application. Please fill in this Google Form to register your interest. We’re happy to talk about what’s involved in more detail, just drop us a line at indieleague(at)vapourspace[dot]net.