LongCon (and the Silt Verses) in Review 2024

To coin the catchphrase of Scottish wrestling sensation, Joe Hendry, ‘say its name and I appear’ – LongCon is a very special event for me and one that is always straight in my diary when it happens. I believe I have been to all of the UK Garricon LongCons and GM’d each one. If you’ve read Pax Londinium, a good part of that book was conceived in the three year LongCon campaign based in a totally different version of magical London – it’s a great place to explore gaming ideas in a con environment like no other.

At LongCon, you commit to running a game for the entire weekend – essentially like a five slot standard Garricon. With a good head wind and pace management, you can get a grand mini-campaign into the weekend and feel out a system in a way that traditional convention one-shots do not allow. The concept was started in the US, imported by the inevitable John Dodd into the Garricon cycle, went dormant over Covid and has emerged again, phoenix-like, under the ever-youthful hands of Messrs Spearing and Mooney, purveyors of the finest northern convention experiences.

There are some potential downsides to the experience. Obviously, not everyone has the capacity to run a full weekend long game, especially as none of us are getting any younger. There can be some qualms about table allocation, in terms of compatibility – at a standard con you are only a couple of hours away from another game if your current one doesn’t go well, but at a LongCon, you’re stuck for your entire game. Additionally, there are some game choices that can add to the cognitive load of the players and GM – I have to admit that picking a ‘Carved from Brindlewood’ game for the weekend occasionally had me glancing at Simon, running AD&D and feeling slight pangs of jealousy!

So, why did I pick the Silt Verses then? Well, it has all of the things I love – folk horror, black comedy, urban fantasy, weird Gods, (im)moral choices and a great system that allows for investigation and empowers the PCs to be more competent than the players when it comes to ‘solving’ them! You can see my initial thoughts on the game here and listen to the audio drama here – you will not be disappointed. 

In the RPG, the PCs are all either criminal worshippers of false gods, or fallen worshippers of legal gods who have been made an offer they cannot refuse; join the Bureau and investigate runaway gods, or be a happy sacrifice for the good of Greater Glottage (the default setting). Our band of custodians were:

Arabella (played by Lara) – a devotee of the Waxen Scrivener, a tattoo artist with a tragic family history.

Anthony (played by Guy) – a follower of the Trawler Man, a folklorist with a tragic family history.

Gale, “That’s DR Ennis!” (played by Craig) – a sometimes follower of the Pox Martyr, a doctor with a strangely twisted past

Gerald (played by Declan) – a worshipper of the Saint Electric, a company man with, you guessed it, a strangely twisted family past

They played through three assignments, all linked by connections to different elements and the theme of uncontrolled capitalism.

In the first, they investigated drama at a river mouth where Young Jolly Junk, a garbage disposal god had grown uncontrollably due to ‘issues’ and was threatening to block the river and destroy the livelihood of the fishing community there. This ended in the fishing community being eaten, a child sacrificing her mother to silence the boat’s engines, a factory mogul being fitted up for pollution crimes and a dead secretary rammed in a filing cabinet. Good times…

In the second, they investigated the Skyward Sprawl, a god that had manifested in a luxury tower block, spreading a concrete rot into the city which drove people mad and forced them to join with the tower as it grew heavenward. The god was opposed by zealots of the Slag King, the god of buildings and well … It was a lot. Bodies falling down lift shafts, underground flesh pits, and a whimpering pleading angel sacrificed from one God to another. And lots of water…

Finally, they looked into a run down tenement block housing a psychotropic tea production facility where a verdant plant god had run amok. Again, there was all manner of weirdness including a killer earthworm, some very special ‘cookies and tea’, all manner of tendrils, a man-sized carnivorous plant and eventually a sweeping kudzu that enveloped them all … until ‘the authorities’ arrived to save the day.

The who? Well there had been signs that something wider was happening and this was the pay off. Without spoilers our custodians (I’m loath to call them heroes) infiltrated a hidden secret base and discovered a plan to create a super weapon using the Gods they had created. Facing absolute death, Anthony embraced his final destiny and unleashed the Wither Mark, flooding the entire valley and unleashing the angels of the Trawler Man to feed, whilst another – Gerald – ascended to his final form and powered the Hallowed Cage that trapped the proto-God until it could be ‘subdued’.

Arabella and Gale escaped!

In amongst this drama, there were two interstitial ‘journey’ series of scenes. The first and foremost was clips from ‘Who Wants To Be An Avatar’ – a game show where contestants show their devotion to their god in increasingly horrific ways – and dinner at ‘Uncle Crawdad’s’ where we all discovered that messy eating is the very worst horror in some people’s eyes. Ewww.

I always find it difficult to pick out individual moments of play, but there was one line that stopped the table – ‘Have you got a favourite appendage you don’t want to lose?’ – aside from that I really appreciate everyone’s willingness to lean heavily into the conceit of the setting. These are some grim players, and their willingness to narrate flashbacks about their painful childhoods, dead school friends and happily perished siblings was wonderful and worrying. That two of them managed to simultaneously spin out intertwining stories where one was the architect of the other’s pain was magnificent! There were also huge aspects of the game that were introduced through player narration (The Reed Whisperer, a god of seaside calm and tranquillity) which turned into some of the most horrific parts of the game.

In fact, a shout out to the players who instantly fell into line when that god’s follower used her power to take their voices. No-one tried to wriggle, or looked to their character sheet for a way out – they all played up to the terror of suddenly being rendered speechless, mouthing to each other like a bunch of fish. Magnificent play.

Did it all work? I think so, yes. As always with these games, some mechanics are hard to always facilitate. In the Silt Verses, it’s the conditions that characters possess – calling them out is important, but tracking them is work. Maintaining tone is important, and I think we managed it mostly, although it nudged towards the silly once or twice. That said, as one player pointed out, the distance between horror and comedy is a slight one. Another thing toi manage is mindset – because of the verse-writing aspect of the game (which knocks up your result by one step) outright failure is almost impossible. To balance that, each roll is preceded by a stake setting discussion (What are you afraid will happen? Here’s how it’ll be worse…). If you forget that step, it all falls apart a little. So you have to be quite disciplined – on a couple of occasions dice hit the table before that and I had to rewind proceedings to get everyone in line.

Overall, the Silt Verses delivered exactly as I expected and was resilient to being played at pace and with a fair bit of action alongside the investigation. We had four distinct stories told, and four assignments woven together. We also appreciated the benefits of LongCon. We stopped playing around 10pm so we could have a beer on Saturday night, started at 9.30 on Sunday morning and we were all finished by 4pm on Sunday. No slots means a lot more creative flexibility with timings and expectations.

LongCon was a welcome return of a great con, and The Silt Verses was an excellent choice. Rumour has it The Between will be being run next year and I get to play – hurrah!!

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