A Day with Tobie Abad

I got to meet Tobie at Strategicon the last weekend, and had chatted with him online prior about Games on Demand. He came in as a Strategicon special guest, having designed games including A Single Moment, now put out by Nocturnal Media.

He had some days before heading home to the Philippines, and so we planned for some gaming, and for him to come check out Story Games Glendale.

Meeting at Game Empire

I drove out to meet Tobie at Pasadena's Game Empire in the afternoon. It's probably one of LA's better gaming stores, and has a pretty decent RPG section, mostly focused around D&D and Pathfinder stuff, but including decent (but sporadic) representation with some smaller press games. Although he got there shortly after opening, he missed grabbing a used copy of Dogs in the Vineyard by a few minute. We later pestered the guy carrying that around, but he wasn't willing to part with it. Bummer!

After looking about a bit, we decided to play a few games. I was more than happy to try out A Single Moment, so we sat down to play that.  

A Single Moment is a 2-player samurai themed RPG that Tobie wrote. I've recently played a game called Wind on the Path, which is similarly a 2-player samurai battle story game, but one that's very light in scope and theme and runs about 20-30 minutes, so I was eager to see how these two games compared.

A Single Moment

The game starts with two samurai meeting face to face, ready to commit this final act of conflict (all in media res and shit). It's great that it just sets the tone that there is really only one way this is going to end. And then most of the game is created using flashbacks to times and of moments where the samurai are friends, or possibly working together towards various ends, or betraying one or the other.

Elements I enjoyed included the use of cards that informed scenes and provided targets to hit for the story. This includes key character cards in which you can define such as the victim, or the coveted (which in some cases may be a person, but in our story was my family's old sword, which his family had stolen from us generations past). When the scene feels appropriate, you can introduce and mark off these elements in the story, which is a requirement to proceed further into the narrative and action.

Additionally, each scene you could either draw a virtue card (such as Honor or Respect), or use a virtue card that was static and informed the over-arching virtue of the entire story. These were great, as it meant that each scene had an underlying story cue that affected the mood of the scene, and how the players may act in it. 

Example cards used in the game.

Example cards used in the game.

Like many story games, we came in with a very thin understanding of our characters; a name, where we were for the fight, how long this has been leading up. Everything else came up through play, and it was a real joy to explore that, in spurts and starts. 

Our story ended up being one of a young teacher and an old student, old families fighting for power and a ancient sword, an arranged marriage gone foul, and vengeance extracted after the fight crippled the young samurai.  

A Single Moment probably ran us about an hour or so, but you could pretty easily set it up to play for a longer, more drawn out and complex session, if you desired. There were more story cues and moving pieces than the other simpler game (Wind on the Path), which made for a more nuanced story, and more of a story game experience. I would choose the simpler game for newbies or short time frames, but for a more authentic and deeper experience, A Single Moment shined.

A blurry pic from Game Empire playing A Single Moment

A blurry pic from Game Empire playing A Single Moment

Game Haus Cafe and Story Games Glendale

After A Single Moment at Game Empire, I was able to introduce Tobie to Battle Line, a favorite 2-player card game of mine. I forced him to come with me to REI for a return, and then we headed to Game Haus Cafe, the regular meeting place for Story Games Glendale. We played another 2-player game called Lost Cities, an old favorite.

Battle Line! I think this was the first game where Tobie destroyed me.

Battle Line! I think this was the first game where Tobie destroyed me.

David, my meetup partner, showed up a bit early. We use the pre-meet times for chit-chat, catchup, and general game geekery. Also, David showed me A Single Moment before I ever heard of Tobie, and already had the cards printed and laminated and all, so he got to geek out at meeting Tobie. Not long after, a new meetup member named Thomas showed up. He'd never played any role playing games.

We decided to split into two tables. David got to enjoy playing A Single Moment with Tobie, which I could see he desperately wanted to get the chance to do! I played the simpler Wind on the Path game with Thomas in parallel. Although I could tell Thomas was nervous about how to approach the game, he was great in getting into it and trying something that was obviously not in his comfort zone. He even felt bad for killing off my samurai. 

After that, we decided to play a session of The Quiet Year, a game Tobie had heard of but hadn't played before. After a quick go around the table, with everyone contributing an idea of where we were starting, we ended with a community self-contained in a large crater, possibly on some alien planet, with something like a crashed, hollowed-out spaceship for a community building. We played this using Lego bricks from Lego Creationary, but honestly I think we should probably have done it using the traditional map-based version that the game comes with. We did get to play the fleeting Quiet Year the whole way through, although the last bits were a little rushed to coincide with the cafe's closure.

A session of The Quiet Year

A session of The Quiet Year

A shrinking crater (charging cables), grundogs, underground tunnels where the Bad Water used to be, spires out of the sands, and the legacy of children toting guns from the grey twins.

A shrinking crater (charging cables), grundogs, underground tunnels where the Bad Water used to be, spires out of the sands, and the legacy of children toting guns from the grey twins.

The end of the night consisted of driving Tobie back to his relatives place, and fleeting late night conversations. All-in-all, great day with lots of gaming with good people!

An interview a few days prior

I just found this video interview of Tobie at the recently completed Gamex 2017, where he talks a bit about the game itself, as well as gaming culture in the Philippines. Note this was before we hung out on the day I write about, above, so he mentions game cafes, prior to experiencing the one we went to.

Interview about A Single Moment by IdeateTV host Lauren Pappas

Oh yes, and you can find out more about Tobie on his blog, called TAG Sessions, including writeups from Gamex 2017.

Strategicon Gamex 2017 - Monday

Normally, Monday is a bit of a short con day, mostly involving some shopping, checking out the game auction, and maybe a game with The Mook, who does an excellent outro for Strategicon. Often this is a short post I roll into Sunday. Not this time...

So, the daughter woke up and was really bummed out that she had missed the Werewolf and other late night activities, which is a big draw for someone who normally has a pretty strict bedtime.

We were just wandering around and ran into Tobias and Stephanie Bryant (of Threadbare RPG fame). He had a Star Wars Microscope-type story game he wanted to try out... we didn't have too much time, but thought we'd give it a try. We headed down to the Games on Demand area, and grabbed a table...

That's No Moon

GM: Tobias Strauss; Players: Stephanie Bryant, TobieAbad, Nova, and myself

Tobias (also known as Tobi, but I'll leave it as the full name so we're not confusing him with the other Tobie!), first did the opening crawl:

The Empire won the Battle of Yavin, crushing the rebellion with one fell swoop. The moon of Yavin IV, the secret rebel base there, and the entire revel leadership are now space dust.
The Jedi were also destroyed. Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, Anakin Skywalker's offspring, died in the battle. Yoda, in hiding on Dagobah, felt the disturbance in the Force and gave up hope.
There is no rebellion. There are no remaining Jedi. There is only fear.
The DEATH STAR, under the command of Grand Moff Tarkin, is now enjoying a victory lap, "addressing" planets that were sympathetic to the rebellion.
But with fear comes hope. The Force demands balance...

First he had us create world names on separate index cards. We each created one, ending up with: Zokbar III, Casis-7, Tobiotic VII and Tobiotic VIII, and the Planetoid of Dree. We drew random cards for the biosphere for each one (swamp, snowy, volcanic, jungle, city), and the government structure (crime lords, theocracy, tribal, monarchy, dictator). There was also another index card with the death star ominously pictured on it.

That sets the frame for the story, but now we dived into a specific planet: Zokbar III, the swampy planet ruled by crime lords. We collaborated on a few things, and decided it wasn't any Hutts, but instead some other competing faction.

We then each got an index card to create one character apiece. The task was simple and consisted of defining 3 things: A name, a role, and a secret.

And then it was free roleplay time! Very similar to a Scene in Microscope, you just start framing a scene and having at it. It was very free form, and what was great was how all the players brought in those totally Star Wars tropes of voices, character styles, and simplistic narrative. And then suddenly there is a moon coming over the horizon! (Tobias did this really well, by showing the death star picture he drew on one index card coming up over another one.)

Whether the individual characters survive or not is up to the players and the direction of the narrative. It's totally possible that some drama plays out and everyone just dies... or that some people jump into an escape ship and take flight just before the blast (again, totally Star Wars).

Also, for each planet in the narrative, there is a chance the death star will be destroyed. The only mechanic consists of rolling a d6 after each planet scene, so see who gets destroyed. The first planet has a 5 in 6 chance of blowing up (and there is inversely a 1 in 6 change of the death star biting it). The second planet goes 4 in 6 vs 2 in 6, and so on. Because there are five planets, there is the possibility that the death star survives the movie, and that the Sith win the day, and a follow-on movie would be required to see this through.

We had such little time to play this, but it's definitely easy to set up, easy to jump into, and easy to run. I'd definitely have this in the back pocket for an easy story game to play with Star Wars fans, or at any RPG meetup. I think I would house rule it that the probabilities are reduced slightly further, where the first planet will definitely die, the second has a 1 in 6 chance, and so on. That means the final planet still only has a 4 in 6 chance of winning. The stakes feel a little more grim, even though you will likely win sometime during the narrative.

From a distance you'd think we were playing Microscope!

From a distance you'd think we were playing Microscope!

Monday 10:15am: Dinosaur Princesses

Paleantologist (GM): Gina Ricker. Players: 4 kids (ages 8, 10, 11, 11)

Because of Nova's friend Anakin's birthday, I originally had decided I'd run a kids game for him, his 2 friends, and the daughter. HOWEVER, my friend Gina was open to running Dinosaur Princesses, a kids RPG I believe is being designed by Hamish Cameron.

Even though we've gamed together, I've never gotten to see Gina GM before, because she's just jumping back on to that particular horse. She was seriously fantastic, both as a GM in general, but also in being able to manage that table of kids. Two were super quiet, two were very loud and energetic. It took some serious skills to keep it flowing so smoothly, and I was very impressed.

The character sheets are dinosaur types (Tyranosaurus, Pteradactyl, etc.) and look like pages from a coloring book. There are a few fill-in blanks for name, role, and skills. It's all very open-ended, and up to the kids imaginations, which is an aspect I immediately respected and approved of.

Another aspect of the game is the drawing map. A huge roll of paper was rolled out across the table for everyone to draw on, and a colorful selection of markers was provided. Each kid got to draw their little home base, which ended up including a volcano, an adventurer university, and a waterfall paradise. And then the GM gets to start drawing things in the middle, that include all the various complications and adventure hooks, many of which are spawned from the minds of the kids playing.

Four corners of dinosaur homes, and a large island in the middle.

Four corners of dinosaur homes, and a large island in the middle.

A table filling up with complications and problems, including a crazy lava flow heading to the village, yikes!

A table filling up with complications and problems, including a crazy lava flow heading to the village, yikes!

I didn't get to see the mechanics in play too deeply, but basically the GM throws a bunch of dice that signify complications and problems, related to the number of issues the players have to overcome. The players then get to try and solve those issues using their creativity and the skills available to their character, and gets to add their own dice (up to 4 each) to whomever is attacking the problem. So, for example, if I come up with a creative idea and my character has Creative listed, I add a die. If I try to make a bucket as part of the plan, and that involved me using my flame thrower to melt metal in the process, add a die. If one of the other dinosaurs is Strong and uses that strength to press a bucket shape into the metal, add a die. Basically: however they can relate a skill to the problem, they get to add a die. (That's where the real creativity lies and pushes their troubleshooting boundaries!) 

Player dice ranging from 1-3 looked like complications to their problems, and 4-6 signified successes in overcoming GM issues / dice. I'll try to get more information on this later, as I was also running about, checking out of the hotel, and so on.

One of my favorite parts... Anakin built a dice tower with a spinner on it. Another player mentioned "dicescraper" as a pun (genius!) Gina took all this and ran with it, and Anakin drew a flying skyscraper, which ended up being a focus in them solving their issues.

One of my favorite parts... Anakin built a dice tower with a spinner on it. Another player mentioned "dicescraper" as a pun (genius!) Gina took all this and ran with it, and Anakin drew a flying skyscraper, which ended up being a focus in them solving their issues.

A closer look at the final map, with complications that arose, and crossed out as they were solved.

A closer look at the final map, with complications that arose, and crossed out as they were solved.

The game was awesome. It ended up running just around or under 3 hours, and the kids were engaged the entire time. I am so happy Gina ran this.

I'll also add that she advertised it, at the beginning, as "Dinosaur Princesses", and despite my hesitation that this would turn off the boys (and to maybe advertise it as gender neutral), I'm glad it was advertised how it was. Two of the boys made a comment or two in the beginning to the effect, and crossed out "sses" to make "Dinosaur Prince" on the sheet, and Gina also mentioned that the dinosaur's gender could be whatever you chose it to be. But I'm sort of leaning towards a game that doesn't apologize for the title, and just owns it. 

EDIT: Gina talked a bit about this on the Happy Jacks RPG Podcast (season 19, episode 11).

A great session!

A great session!

And out...

By game end it was just after 1pm, and after eating lunch with the kids and parents, we said some goodbyes, did a little wandering, and then headed home. All in all, a very successful con, and I can't wait for the next one... Strategicon Gateway 2017.

Strategicon Gamex 2017 - Sunday

Sunday 9am: Games on Demand and Wind on the Path

Bob and I woke up around 8:30am, had a quick brekkie, and headed down to setup GoD. I wasn't going to be able to play or run anything since I needed to get the daughter for con, but was there to help get people going. Turned out there was no need! Who wakes up that early on Sunday at Strategicon? No one! (MENTAL NOTE: The plan for next time: "Games on Demand: Sunday Brunch". We'll make it start at 11am for short-form games that end by 1pm.)

So, the two of us sat down and I ran us through Wind on the Path, a short 2-player samurai battle story game by Jonathan Lavallee, and featured in Codex - Iron, an RPG zine put out by the Gauntlet.

I had some samurai playsheets printed out, and a little Wind on the Path tracker helper I whipped up prior to con, and we went to it. I used my samurai Yashinoki that I had made for my initial game in the Gauntlet's slack samurai battles, and Bob put together his own samurai. We met at a bridge, which featured a fisherman and merchant dragging his wagon and taking a break. Before long we were up on the rocky bridge, exchange harsh words, intimidating stares, with a gusty wind, and then SLASH... we tied. Hmm... not really sure how to resolve that (a question for the game designer). We both were wounded, him across a forearm, me to the bone on my thigh. 

The game plays quickly. About 30 minutes if you are new to it. And the mechanics and movements really evoke a cool little narrative. It was great seeing someone else also enjoy it, and just reinforced that I'll be running this for Jackercon (Happy Jacks online RPG convention), as a sort of samurai league.

Playing Wind on the Path

Playing Wind on the Path

Sunday midday

Off to pick up the daughter from my wife's work on Sundays, and then back. Although the weekend started pretty cool (especially for LA at this time of Spring), it warmed up by Sunday, and we hit the pool for about an hour. It's something to plan for, as the hotel has one medium sized pool surrounded by 4 hot tubs, all of it outdoors on the 3rd floor in one of the atriums. 

After a little wandering we checked out the dealer room. The daughter used some of her hard earned cash to pick up a set of polyhedral dice in a sparkly deep blue that she liked (and bemoaned the high cost... that's a win in her learning the value of her money). I found a pair of ladies making custom dice bags. It was a pretty cool setup, as they had a selection of fabrics and a sewing maching, and could do a reversible dice bag for you on the spot (assuming you could come back to pick up a few hours later). They made me a bag with a gritty dungeon map on one side, and rainbow space invaders on the other. I'll try to remember to add their business details later when I remember where I put that business card.

We also played borrowed a game of Lotus from the game library, which is extensive at this game convention (you only need to let them hold on to your photo ID). We played a round at open gaming, but then it was time to prepare to run my Sunday afternoon kid game...

Sunday 2pm: Fallout Shelter RPG (KIDS ONLY!)

GM: Me; Players: 4 kids (ages 6, 8, 8, 8)

I setup this game cause the daughter has expressed more and more interest in RPGs at the con (although I can't get her to play at home yet... a quest for another time). She's played in this scenario a couple of times, both with kids and adults, and I knew she could handle all the mechanics and story elements. Two of the other kids had played RPGs before, but I could tell attention spans were of the somewhat short end. The 6-year old had never played before, and he seemed a little shy.

I immediately scrapped a few mechanical elements in the game (money economy, the mechanical end of combat in lieu of short narrative bits), and decided I'd shorten the scenario from the usual 4 hours, down below the planned 3 hours, to 2 hours with a very large break in the middle. This was a smart call, cause it held their attention perfectly. We did lots of quick cutting and simple questions, and very basic story.

They traveled the wasteland. They followed a strange vault dweller in, who tried to cook them in an oven. They went to the medbay and were apologized to by the vault's doctor, and pointed in the right direction to help the overseer. They fought off some mole rats chewing through the electricity, and then saved the overseer, and helped feel the molerats to his pet Deathclaw. The overseer gave them the key so they could leave the vault, and also access to the storage closer with all the rare armor and weapons they could carry (i.e. two each). 

Scenario-wise, I ran it a lot more like I would Golden Sky Stories, than how I usually run this game. Worked well considering the age range and attention spans. I consider that a success.

Weapon and Armor free-for-all; it was their reward from the overseer for saving him and his pet deathclaw.

Weapon and Armor free-for-all; it was their reward from the overseer for saving him and his pet deathclaw.

Showing off their hard earned loot on their character sheets.

Showing off their hard earned loot on their character sheets.

The rest of Sunday

We finished earlier than I had planned for, so we hit the dealer room again, I picked up my dice bag, and we eventually had dinner and hit the pool again. Before long it was 9:30 and the daughter wanted to "rest", but still wanted to hit a Werewolf versus Texans game scheduled for that evening. Our friends Cell and Chris would meet us there, and their son, who was having his 11th birthday at the con and has played in my RPGs in the past. Unfortunately, the daughter just passed out, and despite many attempts, I couldn't wake her up later. So it ended up being an "early" night (relatively speaking).

Strategicon Gamex 2017 - Saturday

Saturday 9am: Games on Demand and Atlas Reckoning

GM: Me for Atlas Reckoning, Players: James, Erik, Dayler

After breakfast, I make my way down to the Lower Lobby. This space, in the past, was just a thoroughfare between the main gaming hall / dealer rooms / RPGs on level 1 and 2, and the open gaming and organized play in the "dungeon". It was used primarily by the Werewolf and party game crew, until they were moved to other locations. Now it's our little space to run Games on Demand, and is perfectly situated: relatively quiet, but with lots of foot traffic that gets curious seeing my table of indie games.

Games on Demand gets a decent morning turnout, with about 2 tables worth of players. Morgan Ellis runs Inspectres (which I would love to play, but alas...), and I run Atlas Reckoning (AR). 

AR is Stras' work that is basically "Pacific Rim the story game", and still in beta; I've written about it more than a few times (check the old musty tomes...)  Apparently at this point I have a bit of a reputation for running it a little bit different than most. Instead of asking "what city are we defending?" and assuming a Pacific Rim story, I go more open-ended, and follow the players into all sorts of strange lands. Think Evangelion more than Pacific Rim.

I had 3 players, which means I'll be playing and facilitating (you need an even number of players for this game). Erik brings his friend Dayler, who has very little RPG experience, which of course isn't an issue.  We start talking about prospective settings, and before long we have an alternate past. It's the 1910's, and Earth's industrial revolution is starting to endanger the planet. The fey creatures of the world (elves, dwarves, fairies, whatever), which are probably responsible for most of our myths, and normally invisible to human eyes, have decided to defend mother Earth. Humans find cold iron defeats them, putting it in their weapons and bullets, but the fey start creating larger and larger defenders (which are the Behemoth's in this setting). The human response is to make huge coal and oil driven machinery (our Atlases). 

We are humanities last reserve, down in Antarctica (from which much of the ice has melted away). Barely into the setting someone brings up child labor at the time, and that's when things get really dark. Suddenly we have little children as "computers" and labor within our machinery (remember, no proper electronics at the time), and it got gruesome quickly. It wasn't long before we realized how much the "bad guys" we were in this setting.

We dived into the first Engagement (combat) and I decided we'd ratch up the deadly by fighting what should be 3rd sessions monsters. We fought a giant water elemental we called a Poseidon, and a spiky crystal urchin creature. It was a brutal fight, with lots of mech damage, and a bit drawn out, but the players enjoyed it. We didn't have time for the Downtime session, which is the fantastic part of this game where you normally get to explore the feels. However, we did get some flashbacks via trait recovery actions, which gave us a few hints of what that would look like.

I need to learn how to tighten up the speed so I can ensure that the players get both an Engagement and Downtime at a minimum, but at the same time I'm in love with all the interesting scenarios the players have explored when I've variously run this game.

A bonus: I later ran into Dayler (the one who had little RPG experience) and he came up just to say what a fabulous game it was, so that just made me super happy.

Atlas Reckoning... mid battle in a tough fight.

Atlas Reckoning... mid battle in a tough fight.

Saturday 2pm: Games on Demand and The Final Girl

Facilitator: Me; Players: Scooter (aka Martha), Candace, Julian, Paul, Julia

One of the best things about GoD this time around was how many new players we had, who hadn't really heard of these story games or indie RPGs. To wit: A group of kids relatively new to the convention scene showed up and were looking around at my long table (where I set up Fall of Magic and other lovely looking stuffs). I chatted them up, and turns out they were eyeing The Final Girl. A few of their crew and some other stragglers went over to play in Monster of the Week with Bob Quintero running, and another crew joined Brian (aka Weaselcreature) for an Iron Kingdoms scenario that he had brewing.

I decided to facilitate the game, instead of join, as 5 was a pretty good number, and I wanted them to have control of most of the narrative. During game I'd occasionally give examples of ways to role play, or ways to kick things off when they weren't sure or questioning, but otherwise, they mostly took the reigns and ran with it.

We first talked about movies and what sort of thing they were interested in, and before long we had an Eastern European remote village up in the mountains with a gothic cathedral and ruins and an old cemetery. With The Final Girl you decide the killer ahead of time (similar to watching Friday the 13th, or Aliens... you already know who the bad guy is), and they decided to go with demon possession. We discussed this a little bit, and one aspect they were open / interested in exploring was having other characters get possessed and do the killing (which meant the Killer for a specific scene could just start taking over characters temporarily, instead of having an external killer).

They came up with a great cast, including the town wench, the town drunk, the perverted priest, the alter boy (who's name was Sally), a vegan traveler, and many more. Most of the cast was from the village, which I thought worked pretty well. After the intro scenes, First Blood occurred, where all the "boring" characters (aka those that didn't get relationships established) get killed off in one scene. I thought it was great that the traveler, one of the only non-village characters, got killed off. The perverted priest made it far, and was the one who mostly got possessed to perform killings, or at least witnessed them, but in the end it was the town wench and the drunk who survived... and instead of having one final girl, we had the two ladies walk off into the sunset. We even envisioned a great poster for the sequel.

As you get with some of these table, Scooter was a doodler, so it was always fun to also see how her art progressed, and unfortunately I didn't get a shot of her crazy cool unicorn. She also said she may end up doing some character sketches... we'll see if that happens, but if so, I'd definitely post them back here!

The Final Girl

The Final Girl

Saturday 5pm: Bob runs another GoD slot with Dread!

By the time I was done, I knew that I needed a little bit of a break. The last convention I ran a middling session in between 2pm and 8pm, and ended up a bit fried. I had learned my lesson.

But kudos to Bob, who just kept on trucking! Another crew showed up around 5pm, and he ran a small Dread game for two. They were also new to these games, and from the feedback, had a blast. It sounded like a bit of a summer camp gone bad type scenario.

Saturday 7pm: Some Happy Jacks lovin'

During my break, I wandered a bit and did some socializing (always a nice pressure valve). I joined some of the Happy Jacks RPG crew and fans over at the bar for a few drinkies and random chats, and went over to see them setup for their live from the con 8pm podcast.

In retrospect, Bob and I have talked about scheduling GoD, and both being fans of the podcast, have decided that future conventions will have a 10pm - 2am GoD slot, which will allow us to go check out the podcast. I've been dreaming about doing late night gaming and building that critical mass for years.

Happy Jacks crew and fans, including Kimi, Will H, Jason, Weasel, two Tims, Dave, and more! (I'm in there somewhere)

Happy Jacks crew and fans, including Kimi, Will H, Jason, Weasel, two Tims, Dave, and more! (I'm in there somewhere)

Saturday 8pm: Games on Demand and Dread

GM: Me running Dread, Players: Stevie, Courtney, Tawny

Originally I was signed up for an 8pm game run by Sayler where he was doing a Dungeon World and The Sprawl mashup (which sounded amazing), but I ended up running in another GoD slot.

We had enough for three tables, with Morgan running Masks (even though he wanted to play in my Dread game... the sacrifices we make for the people), and Bob running another Monster of the Week session, this time including many of the crew that was in The Final Girl earlier, as well as some of his prior Monster of the Week players.

Me, I had some ladies who had expressed prior interest in GoD, but the timing kept not working... but they returned! And they were very interested in Dread. I ran a space horror adventure somewhat based on the "Only the Food" scenario I've written about earlier. I didn't have a copy of the scenario's questionnaires, so we went with index cards, and ad hoc'd the questions in person.

I also did this lovely thing where I pulled them aside and asked secret questions about each other, and then tied them back to the next person. For example, I asked Courtney (who was playing the Psych officer) what crime one of the other characters had committed, but tried to hide in her record. When I later questioned that player (Tawny), I asked her why she covered that up in her record, and what was the real story behind her police record. It was fun tying all these together, and also bring these situations up in game, where multiple players would get certain connotations. 

We ended up doing a good 3 hour session. And the ladies were very good with their jenga skills. In fact, we had an end coming, and I was certain one of them, in the final moments was about to bite it, but in fact they scraped through... and so we had a happy ending, with all three getting out in escape pods. (Epilogue: They get picked up some time later by a dirty rag-tag crew, with a "Welcome to the revolution..." A story for another time.)

At the top my Dread space crew, bottom left Morgan running Masks, bottom right Bob running Monster of the Week

At the top my Dread space crew, bottom left Morgan running Masks, bottom right Bob running Monster of the Week

I wandered a little to check out some other games running, and ran into Jim Pinto running Black Monk 4. The table included Tobie, Ben Woerner, and a few others, and yes, I was quite jealous. Looked fantastic.

I returned to GoD to perform some cleanup, and found Bob wrapping up his game. We had an excellent little chat with the players, and it was so cool to see how they were amazed that RPGs could be so different than their prior experience of D&D. Information was exchanged and hugs were had. The day ended on a very successful feeling note.

Strategicon Gamex 2017 - Friday

Lead up, and Thursday

I headed to the west side a day early to hang with old friends. A nice dinner at the new Sunnin Lebanese restaurant over in Santa Monica, and then off to visit Howie and Lisa, my traditional pre-con haunt. They recently had a son, who is now at the 5 months old mark, so daddy Howie wasn't coming to this con. But we got to see our friend Albert, visiting in the country, and play a game of Tigris and Euphrates!

Some Tigris and Euphrates action... I forgot how fun and elegant this game is. 

Some Tigris and Euphrates action... I forgot how fun and elegant this game is. 

Friday morning

After an early bedtime at 1:30am (seriously, pre-baby these guys would keep me up until 3 or 4am),  I got to hang out with little Bei, prior to the drive to the con.

This was the most relaxed I've ever been coming to this con. Why? No sign-up to do. Normally they let people pre-register for games up to the half-full mark, then allow in-person sign-ups (first come first serve) for the second half of the players. But this time around I was running a few games and just managing Games on Demand for the rest of con. Check in, said hi to some folks, and then...

Friday 2pm: Fallout Shelter (Lego and PbtA hack)

This was the lego-based game I ran many times in 2016, and a few times this year. I pulled it out for this convention, with a few planned tweaks. I had a great table which included Keith and Emily (who played in my Star Frontiers game back at Orccon this year) and their friend Steven, who I've met but not really gamed with before. 

One of the main things I changed about this setup was I tried to abbreviate the wasteland journey a little, to provide for more vault time (although I left enough so we had some narrative elements there, including a rad scorpion attack). The poor little vault dwellers took so little food with them, and the wasteland orphan even decided to bring power instead of water, so I knew that aspect would be - ahem - entertaining. They arrive at the vault on death's door, which added that extra little element of tension.

Another twist in this session was them getting captured at the vault door (instead of it hanging open, as I've done many times in the past), and having them wake up in the vault's depths. I wanted to try this method, as this would force them to explore more in-vault and require them to have an exit strategy. I didn't otherwise have much planned, so we just went with some vault dwellers performing experiments on unwilling subjects to turn them into ghouls, and an assistant in the form of Mister Handy.

One thing I had planned on doing was use a real-time countdown for resource use instead of a clock that I had to trigger myself. Some player feedback included that I was inconsistent about moving it and using it with players, and that's totally fair... I think the real-time clock would eliminate some of that issue. 

Carlos "Needles" Juarez, Vault Scientist

Carlos "Needles" Juarez, Vault Scientist

The Vault, mid exploration

The Vault, mid exploration

Friday 8pm: Games on Demand and Feng Shui 2

Friday night I planned to kick-off an initial RPG Games on Demand session. We've been expanding the number of these the last few Strategicons, and this con I was planning on having about 5 or so slots worth.

Ira pitched a few different things including Feng Shui 2 (a new version of a game meant to emulate Hong Kong action cinema). I pitched Atlas Reckoning (a Pacific Rim style story game). There was interest in both, but Feng Shui won out, and I joined in that game.

We did a "tower of death" type scenario, where the story would revolve around us going up a protected tower, getting something important, getting out. As far as the game system itself, it's not for me: Too crunchy mechanics which slow down the play and at times forced some players to sit out of the action due to how the shot clock worked. The parts I enjoyed the most was the collaborative world building around the characters, but most of that had nothing to do with the system, and everything to do with Ira, who has experience with that from PbtA and other games.

GM Ira and players Jerry, Brian and Desmond

GM Ira and players Jerry, Brian and Desmond

Friday midnight: Exit - The Abandoned Cabin

My roommate and fellow GoD muscle, Bob, came over towards the end of that game, after getting out of his scheduled game. We then went wandering and ran into Keith, Emily, and Steve from my Fallout game, and friend Tobie who was visiting all the way from the Philippines (to play, as well as showcase one of his games as a convention "guest of honor"). Keith had a little escape room in a box called Exit - The Abandoned Cabin. He said he heard really good things about this particular version (even though he'd played another one which was somewhat lackluster).

We found an empty room, and dug into it, and it was a bit of a blast. I expected some big ol' box, but it was tiny, which was initially disappointing. I mean, how can you fit an escape room is such a small package. We ripped it open and found a few decks of cards, a pamphlet rulebook / story description, and a few items like a color/clue-wheel.

You have a 2 hour time limit, although score best when you minimize your time. Turned out it was totally worth the time, and the puzzles definitely gave the same feels of an escape room (I've done about 3 of them in the past). It helps to have a crew, as often you just need a different view point to get a specific clue. There are some components that get "destroyed" during the game (cards get ripped, etc.) so this is meant to be a one-shot. This may be difficult for some to imagine, as the box costs $15, and that seems expensive for a one-shot... however, an escape room will easily run $30, $40 or more per person for a 1-hour experience, and here you are paying about $3 / person for a 1-2 hour experience (admittedly without the full escape room 3-D experience, but still). It's smart marketing, if nothing else, and I have no regrets (especially cause Keith paid for it!)

We did it in just under 53 minutes, but most of all, we all played very collaboratively and it just felt like everyone had their contributions to the game. The narrative itself was somewhat weak, but the sequence of clues was great.

Additionally, it was really interesting to see how the card mechanics worked to lead you through a greater meta-puzzle, and how it was built to mostly prevent you from getting lost and from cheating (which would've been VERY difficult due to the safeties they put in place).

Playing Exit

Playing Exit

Story Games Glendale - Praxis: Odin's Eye

Time for another SGG meetup. This time it was David, Mark, Kevin, and I. We talked about a few options, and decided to go with Praxis: Odin's Eye, a post world games production. It's a GM-less game by Jim Pinto, but a bit more focused than what you'd expect from a Fiasco game, which has a fairly open-ended start and up-front cost of setup. The scenario boils down to this: While orbiting an alien planet, the crew of Odin’s Eye intercepts a distress beacon of unknown origin, squawking from the planet’s surface.

When I've played Praxis with Jim, my memory is that very little world building discussion is performed prior to the game start. The characters do have a bit of World Building questions on the character sheets, but again, my memory is that we skim that fairly lightly.

I know that our group here has had problems when we haven't set a common framework in some games we've played (such as Fall of Magic) and decided to do a little bit of prior discussion to the game. I think it served us well.

We decided to go for a bit of a Roman Catholic feel... after the galactic empire fell and went through the dark ages, we are now part of the church's exploration arm, tasked with finding habitable worlds... and also converting those that already have inhabitants. Low number of alien species, and some light trans-humanism would be OK.

Praxis starts by having you pick from a number of character archetypes or playbooks (for example: Engineer, Pilot, Captain, etc.). After choosing one of the four given names, you start by drawing playing cards to randomly select some Objectives and Relationships with others at the table.

I chose the Ranger sheet, which is effectively the combat / security dude. I drew a club card for my Objective: "CYA (Cover Your Ass)". Kevin was playing Sloane the Biologist, to my left and drew a relationship with me, and I drew a spade for my relationship with David as Zed the Pilot: Guardian Angel. We decide that he and I have been through a bunch of missions together and I've saved his life more than a few times.

In other words, my character sheet was starting to look something like this:

I went with "Crow", and decided that Rangers were actually a very integral part of the core church hierarchy (and for simplicity, just used the archetype name "Rangers" as the name of the group in the church). Oh ya, and that they are actually gene spliced humans with various animals. I was actually part crow-bird thing, and part human. I liked the idea that it is customary for every exploratory crew from the church to have a Ranger on board, and that was I.

After an opening Vignette (action only, by a character) and Ensemble (a quick session with everyone present), we got into it and started taking turns directing. On your turn you choose a Scene type, and then mark that off your sheet. We had about 2 goes around the table, but the game ended rather abruptly. One of the end conditions is that a character marks off 4 Trepidation, and that was me! I started with 3 due to my special ability, and I just had some bad rolls trying to get things done. In retrospect we could've played a bit smarter to avoid that fate, but hey, live and learn.

The game also has Story Milestones, which are events that occur after a certain number of total milestones get checked off of character sheets. We didn't really get to explore that as the game went so very quickly, and we overlooked the first one, which is supposed to happen after 4 milestones are checked. (That said, I think only 6 milestones were checked in total before the game ended; I think the expected total should normally be closer to 10-12 or more.)

We still had a pretty good time getting into the story, but I think most of us felt a little cheated at how fast it went. Our crew got down to the planets surface. We ran into a quarantine, and some drama. But didn't really get to explore the beacon signal much. 

One of the main things I wanted to get out of this was some actual experience running the system, so that was definitely a positive.

POST-EDIT: Praxis has a number of alternative ending rule, which I didn't really understand or take advantage of during this game. One is called the Plot Twist, and it extends the game by giving the character who normally would trigger the endgame a few bonuses (a plot point and an extra power), and then allows further play until the second player triggers the end game. Although recommended for players who have experience with the system, it would've been put to perfect use in this session.

Dungeons and Dragons Junior

Meetups. I've had mixed luck, and like possibly many folks, I'm a part of a few that I've never attended. One of those is the Boyle Heights Dungeons and Dragons meetup. It's not terribly far from where I live, but they meetup on weekends, and weekends don't often work for me. But you know, I've kept it in my back pocket, just in case a Saturday opened up and I was looking for something to do.

And it's through the meetup that I got a notification for a sub-meetup in the same venue: D&D Junior. They have a great tagline ("The Family that slays together, stays together!"), and it's targeted for kids. I asked the daughter if she was interested, and we decided to give it a go.

It's held at Boyle Heights Art Conservatory, which has a number of after school programs for kids in the area, and also runs a number of workshops for adults and teens around art, neighborhood empowerment, and even a jujitsu class on Saturdays.

We can't make it every week, but we do when we can. We've been three times now, and the daughter's made a few friends, and even joined in the Minecraft programming class that they've got going just beforehand. 

Minecraft programming

Minecraft programming

The GM so far has been Myles, who has learned to play and run during their weekend adult games on Saturdays. And he is fantastic. Could use a bit more child management skills at the table, but his patience and dedication is exemplary! So far they've played a few introductory combat sessions, using some starter kid material that Wizards of the Coast puts out for D&D. They even get cool sticker awards at the end of each session.

Some of them have started to do some character generation, but Nova doesn't seem that into it. Honestly, she seems to mostly do it as a means of just hanging out with her friend there, so it's still to be determined if she's into the D&D sessions themselves. 

They've started to get a bit of a critical mass of kids in the last few times, with upwards of 8 at the table. It becomes a bit of a management issue, and so I volunteered to run a session of Golden Sky Stories for the younger ones next time, if they are interested and there were enough participants. We'll see how it goes!

A larger table during the second session...

A larger table during the second session...

First session, and the girls get some badges!

First session, and the girls get some badges!

Story Games Glendale - Dungeon World with Lyurk and Pyre's Tower

At the last SGG I ended up running a Dungeon World session. Half our members showed a little late, and I knew we didn't have very much in the way of time (3 hours at the top end). And hence, I wanted to run a "dungeon starter" of sorts that I put together... three simple questions.

Character gen

We created characters, ending up with:

  • Pollux the human fighter wielding a strange black axe, played by David.
  • Knock the pudgy elf wizard, culinary officianado, played by Mark.
  • Sibel the human druid, avatar of the blasted wasteland, dirty and bland, with cow skull helmet and vibrant green staff, played by Mead.

We created bonds: Pollux and Sibel both agreed that Knock looked like prey, and is soft and needs protecting. Knock believes that Pollux will play an important role in events to come, and that the scrawny Sibel is woefully undernourished. Pollux and Sibel have a blood pact, but Pollux worries that Sibel, knowledgeable of the upper earth, is not ready for dungeon survival.

Time to drop question #1, and see where they go with it...

Question 1

What rumor about the Scrimshaw Pass decided you on hiring Lyurk's band for protection?

The party had heard rumors of magic wards that could be confusing... and that the pass always takes something from those who try to pass through. And the valley they were travelling through consisted of many bones under the thin layer of fresh snow.

It was obvious to me that they thought highly of themselves, and didn't like the thought of needing Lyurk, so I quickly make Lyurk's band consist of a few scummy brigands... simple thug Assan, heavyset Lump, the cloaked and secretive Zir, and Lyurk's sister, Lah, with two curved wicked blades.

One thing I liked about this part of the session was that even though I was planning on just hitting the action in media res, we organically did a little flashback scene at the last towns tavern, where they hired Lyurk. He was obviously concerned about the money, of which the party had little, but despite this agreed to accompany them... it appeared that other motivations were in play. I love that the players just jumped into this scene, and then easily jumped out of it, back to the present.

Some keening arose from the hillside, and Lyurk's people ran to investigate. Sibel started pilfering through their things, and found a vial of red dust: Amber Sand, which they discerned was a sleeping substance that could be dissolved in food or water.

It was at this point that the party got attacked by what looked like skeleton wights. As it turned out, these were some sort of short humanoids wearing bone armor, and after some scratches and scuffs, they were dealt with. Just at the end of the combat, Lyurk's band returns claiming to have taken care of some more of these, over the ridge.

Question 2

Why do you now know that Lyurk is planning to have his band murder and rob you, even though he hasn't let this on?

I love these leading questions which move the story along. In this case it could be one of a hundred reasons, whether it's purely malice, simple robbery, or in this case the players settled on Lyurk having been hired by people who were out to get the party.

Knock, having culinary inclinations, sidles up to Lump (their cook, with a stew going) and tries slipping in the Amber Sands as "salt". Lump doesn't notice, but does offers a taste of the stew, which Knock fakes a slurp of, by inadvertently spilling and burning his shoulder. Before long Lyurk's crew is passed out.

The party take Lyurk's band's shoes and weapons, and toss them a mile out, as they head towards the pass. 

Question 3

What is Pyre's Tower, and what has driven you to it?

OK, this wasn't really my question #3; I hadn't finished it, but it was supposed to be something like this: What is the <some object>, and what has driven you to get it?  and What rumors have you heard about <some location>? Now that you see it, what does it look like? \

I went instead with a tower. Also, in game it came up that Sibel the wasteland druid was search for fire-starters and immolators, as one of them caused the destruction of his homeland, and he's an avatar out for retribution. I decided to call the structure Pyre's Tower, which sounds fire-y, and to have it inhabited by a fire wizard.

They were approaching it, but taking their time (and in the real world we were running out of that), so I just had a fire-enshrouded being appear near them in the growing night. They made a good feint, and Pollux was therefore able to sneak close, and plunge his axe into the sorcerers chest.


Unfortunately we couldn't do a real "roses and thorns" type thing at the end, since Game Haus Cafe was closing shop and we had to get out relatively quick. But everyone seemed to dig the adventure.

For me, the best part was that the entire session was planned around these three questions. Nothing else had been pre-planned to any degree. It all came from our minds as we went along, and that's some collaboration that I love to see.

7 Wonder's Duel world building test run

As my entry for the 200 Word RPG Challenge (which I wrote about previously) I created "HISTORY BUILDING WITH 7 WONDERS DUEL". It was my way of giving myself something fun to do while playing 7 Wonders Duel with the wife, but I haven't really tested it yet.

After lots of conversations prior to the start of our Story Games Glendale meetup, I co-opted David into playing it with me.

You start by defining your fledgling civilization. Mine was was:

  • Civilization: Saurian Empire
  • Capital: Liz'Kit
  • Leader: Tarsisus Bloodskin
  • Aspects: Dense jungles, equatorial weather, extreme variations of genes, biology-based technology

The game itself consists of taking turns building resources, structures, science improvements, and military conquests. You can win through might (taking the other players capital), through science (by building 6 different science symbols) or with victory points at the end of the game.

It looks roughly like this:

An example of 7 Wonders Duel (from the net... this wasn't our game specifically). You can see the types of cards: Brown resources, Green science, Yellow economic, Blue improvements, Red military, etc.

An example of 7 Wonders Duel (from the net... this wasn't our game specifically). You can see the types of cards: Brown resources, Green science, Yellow economic, Blue improvements, Red military, etc.

We didn't finish the game, but it was enough to get a feel for how (or if) this would work. Our history ended up looking like this, by the year number:

  • 0: (Initial event) Massive volcanic eruption has strong effect on regional weather patterns, and creates a tenuous land bridge between two continents
  • 3: (Build: Stone resource) Mass extinctions force Saurians to use non-biology technology; they learn how to work with stone.
  • 7: (Build: Stone Reserve) Etruscans enslave a race of mountain dwellers, securing a stone reserve.
  • 14: (Build: Clay resource) Saurians commit genocide on a human tribe and take their clay-working knowledge.
  • 22: (Build: Wood resource) Etruscans train and begin to uplift an ape species to log wood for them.
  • 23: (Build: Altar) Saurian priests state that sacrifice of humans is necessary to please the lizard gods in lieu of this non-bio tech use.
  • 25: (Build: Tavern) Etruscans discover a breed of poppy for its mind-altering properties.
  • 29: (Build: ?) Saurians take more human lands.
  • 32: (Build: Glass resource) Etruscans harness desert lightning to make glass.
  • 40: (Trade 2 coins to Build: Writing science) Saurians trade with the Heptosians, providing brick for paper, with which they begin to create a  prolific writing system.
  • 41: (Build: Theater) The Etruscan princess spurns the throne so as to build a theater to encourage her chosen art form.
  • 43: (Build: Wood resource) Saurians raid and steal uplifted apes, improving them and gaining wood working ability.
  • 45: (Build: Clay resource) Many apes run from the Saurians and bring back clay technology to the Etruscan kingdom.

And that's where we ended. I got the notion we were starting to get somewhat antagonistic, which is sort of the point. I think it's interesting to start on your side of the fence, and then slowly build with more oppositional stuff. We only got half-way through the first "age" of the three ages you play in the game. I got the impression that the second and third age would be fun with many direct skirmishes or outright wars. Also, in this test game there was little battle because no Red battle cards even showed up (which is unusual).

One aspect I was happy with was the speed at which it played. The whole point is to quickly build a sentence which describes the results of the year. This was partly due to me expecting to play it myself during a game with the wife, so it couldn't be time consuming. That said, you could easily spend more time fleshing out a more involved story, if that was your thing.

All in all, a successful test run!

Atlas Reckoning with the Gorp

My friend Howie and I go way back. Like 7th grade, which is a long time ago, now. When I told him about Atlas Reckoning (AR) a year back, he was eager. But when you have a baby, gaming becomes a cost you sometimes can't afford. But now at his kid's 6 month mark, we were able to make it happen.

We gathered 4 players: 2 with RPG experience (Howie and Sasha), 2 with very little (Sonia and Lien). We went through some world building and AR setup, and had enough time to do a combat.

The premise was Earth, after a Mars mission brought back the Gorp - a substance left behind by some extra-terrestrials. Unfortunately, that material has the power to terraform a planet by perverting the life forms, and after the initial human die-off, we find some survivors in two camps: those transformed and re-combined with other animals and such into Behemoths, and those that have gained the power to control the strange technology spin-offs (and Atlases) that scientists have created using Gorp technology.

We didn't have enough time to do the downtime sequence unfortunately, as that's a really great 50% of the game. That said, I really like how everyone started getting into their various character stories, even those without a lot of RPG background. 

At the end of session, you could already see Howie's mind turning around how he would change mechanics. Obviously he isn't skilled enough at knowing what the game is supposed to look like yet, but even so, he was leaning towards more sync-style guess-your-copilots-card type mechanics during combat, such as the mechanics you'd find in the card game Hanabi. 

I have since tried to schedule a follow-up session, but no go as of yet. For that, I am sad.

Some serious Atlas building going on

Some serious Atlas building going on

Newmexicon 2017

Getting to games

Newmexicon, an indie-ish RPG convention out of Albuquerque, has been on my radar for over a year. I first heard about it through my friend Stras, who recommended it for the caliber of games and players, and the intimacy. This was the year to check it out, and so I jumped in to fund the Kickstarter, which helped provide an extra hang-out room with snacks, as well as special guests, including Ken Hite.

I joined and posted on the Newmexicon G+ community, and got linked in with the Albuquerque RPG meetup group. Unfortunately I wasn't early enough to make the Thursday night meetup. That said, on the second flight I ran into a friendly... Sarah, who's played D&D. It became one of those excited, hour-long conversations about various RPGs, and she seemed sold. Sold enough that she actually showed up on Friday night to play at the con (although we didn't get to game together).

I checked in to the little Ramada Inn and started running into the folk, and made some new friends including Jonathon, Jason, Aaron, and others. No gaming, but I did get sleep, and that's important for setting up the adrenaline-powered lack-of-sleepathon that would follow.

Albuquerque Wanderings

The morning included the Ramada breakfast, simple but effective, and some little chats with Sarah and Joe (both who I later got to play with). Otherwise, everyone had plans, and I was getting antsy, so to quell that energy - or more likely find it an outlet - I went a-wandering: A 30 minute walk to a local cafe, then 4 thrift stores, a comic shop, and a Vietnamese restaurant.

I returned and got to chatting with Paul Beakley, a G+ friend who I now got to meet in person (a recurring theme of the weekend). We talked about gaming with kiddies (his is 5, mine is 8). I passed on my thrift store find of Loot, a kid game I've had a lot of success with.

The afternoon included getting to play Lanterns, a board game I'd heard good things about, with Joe and Mike. It felt similar to Splendor in scope and strategy and beauty (although the mechanics are quite different). The score made it a very close game that left me with the impression that small, well-thought out optimizations are the key to winning. However much like Splendor, you can play casually and still thoroughly enjoy the game. The three of us went to some thrift stores afterwards, aided by a vehicle, but didn't find much in the way of goods.

A few out-of-towners, including Stras and Morgan, showed up in time for a dinner at a local spot around the corner: Sadie's. It's got some local flavor, and I went for the bean-stuffed sopapillas with the green chile salsa that this part of New Mexico is apparently famous for. A hearty meal, to say the least.

A word on the muster, and pitching games

Newmexicon has historically been a small convention (~40 people), and has also gone with a very non-scheduled and ad hoc gaming model. Everyone will gather prior to a 4-hour game slot (the "muster"), and anyone willing to run games comes up to the front and gives a pitch. People then go play the game they are interested in. If there is too much interest in a specific game, there is a prioritization scheme, performed with a deck of cards. There is a rotating priority scheme (which involves fun stickers!), so you know going in that some time slots you will have a low priority, but you will have high priority in others.

I pretty consistently start conventions I go to by running a game. And I've got a few Lego prop-based RPGs that I've built over the years, and so...

Friday 8pm: Fallout Shelter RPG

GM: Me. Players: Stras, Nick, Kevin, and Paul.

I've run this a dozen times, mostly in 2016. I brought it here as I've found people get a kick out of it, and I like to show it off. Although it's based on a phone app game (Fallout Shelter), which is really a resource management game, I've built this RPG as a PbtA hack, and narrative is pretty much front and center.

The Ascenders included Stras as the feral-ish Rex the wasteland orphan, Paul as the lazy - er, leisurely - ex-overseer Fourthmeal, Kevin as Rasmussen the wasteland explorer, and Nick as a brave (and ultimately self sacrificing) Spikles the Descender immigrant.

Turns out I forgot to print out the little questionnaires for the "playbooks" for this game, but this ended up being a blessing in disguise. Instead of the traditional way I run this (everyone answers leading questions which inform me of why they are going to the other vault), I went with a two-phased approach to this game: I started the scenario with some leading questions that set a very basic scene, but as for what they were actually looking for or planning to get at the other vault... we answered those questions later, when they got there. Feedback later revealed that everyone thought that worked pretty well, and it's something I'll end up repeating the next time.

A picture of people taking pictures.

A picture of people taking pictures.

There were lots of pets, and by the end everyone had one! (That's a first.) These included Moneybags the Monkey, a rad scorpion, a molerat, and of course Charming, a head-hog (that's not a typo... he literally would live on Rex's head).

As has happened every time I've played this, the journey through the wasteland took a bit of time, and that meant less time in the vault itself (which is what much of the game is supposed to be about, right?), but everyone enjoyed that part of the game. It's really a problem of the restrictive amount of time that isn't easy to solve, without just having more time or multiple sessions.

Although this whole game is more a labor of love for the app and Lego, and mostly an experiment that isn't meant to go anywhere special (as in: I'm not planning to publish anything), it was awesome having Stras there, because I respect his level of game and mechanical insight, and need to follow up with him on his thoughts about how this game works. I write this mostly as a reminder for my self, especially considering I forgot to run a Roses and Thorns feedback part at the end (for good reasons: we were bumping on 12:30pm and the staff had to clean and close the room).

Another group of (mostly) vault survivors

Another group of (mostly) vault survivors

At this point my roommate, David from Story Games Glendale meetup, arrived from the airport, and we adjourned, and chatted until fairly late.

Saturday 9am: Spacewurm vs. Moonicorn

GM: Paul. Players: Joe, Brenden, Patrick and myself.

After a quick breakfast at the Owl Cafe with some of the prior days new friends (and a few more: Patrick, Jamal, Jeremiah), we got back just in time for the pitch-fest. Considering my card draw gave me a very low priority, I pitched a game. Fortunately it didn't pan out, and I jumped into a game run by Paul Beakley, which would have been my first choice anyways.

I had heard amazing things about Spacewurm vs. Moonicorn from Stras who played it the prior year, and in retrospect now, it was nothing short of epic in scope. It just exudes galaxy-scale conflict and larger-than-life personalities. We played with the "Quick Play Rules", which apparently includes much simplified sheets, which I would highly recommend for convention play (especially now, after looking at the full sheets!) Each playbook is self-contained, having the available moves for that character, and there are no shared moves. The narrative sort of writes itself.

Patrick played Spacewurm, in this case named Madax Mazar, or "The Most Great and Terrible", whose goal is to "conquer and rule". I played Moonicorn, in my case named Zenobia, who's diametrically opposed, with the goal to "promote freedom and challenge authority". Joe completed the love triangle by playing the Lover, the Marquesse Juliet. And Brenden the Star Vampire, the Baron Miles Vostoya.

Space Wurm chooses two sectors of society he controls, and Patrick took Interstellar transport and religion. We quickly settled on spaceships made of large, unintelligent space whales that are repurposed for transit. This made my decisions easy... I would work to promote the miniature bicycle versions, available to the proletariat... however because I don't have the means to production (breeding) of these things, I only have the one. Each character chooses a domain to control, and mine was cybernetics.

Before long we had Automata, the planet-sized computer AI, which was also my sibling. We had a history that included both Space Wurm and myself having lived for almost 1000 years. We had one very political Juliette, with interfamilial squabblings. A psychic communication via space vampire blood (taking the place of "The Spice" in this game). And a space vampire who was the son of Count Cylus Vostoya, which runs The Blood. Then of course there was the Imperial Throne, the Engineering Guild, and spies in various locations. And this was all prior to Paul injecting unknown threats.

One of the coolest aspects of the game (and something to steal for future sessions) was Paul's huge diagram that he created as we went along. This really grounded the scenario, and made it all easy to follow and digest (and gave it scale... I mean this was on a huge piece of presentation paper).

Paul's amazing handiwork

Paul's amazing handiwork

Although there was a large front-load for the game, as there often is with many PbtA and story games, it was not something I would've traded for more play-time. 

I've also taken a look at the full campaign playbooks, since the game, and its only reinforced that the quick play sheets are the way to go during con. Paul said it was his first time running with them, but he handled it so gracefully I couldn't really tell.

The universe in chaos, thanks to these guys.

The universe in chaos, thanks to these guys.

The game was followed by a quick walk to, and lunch at, Sonic with Paul, Patrick, Jamal, Jeremiah and others. I had low expectations, but the green chile burger was actually quite good, and the tater tots did the trick. Again, we got back just in time for the next time slot...

Saturday 2pm: Velvet Glove

GM: Sarah. Players: Nick, David, Ken, and myself.

This was the only time slot I didn't pitch a game. I had a decent priority card (a "4"), and I ended up barely getting into this game. Sarah Richardson wrote Velvet Glove, a PbtA game about girl gangs in the '70s.

There are a few restrictions inherent in the game, like that you play as characters that identify as girls. The 4 stats in the game are Brains, Heart, Muscle, and Pussy. Sarah did a good job making sure we're all comfortable with saying "pussy" from the get-go, an important task in a table full of dudes.

This is the "notebook" edition of the game, which just seems to mean: pared down for simple play. The playsheets are super simple to groc, and I love the aesthetic (with little kitties, flowers, and hearts scribbled around the place). 

We went with a mixed race, WOC gang in a small city (think St Louis, not NYC). I was Bahar the Newbie, a Filipina; dark skin often mistaken for latina or half-black; from a big city which makes people think she's "hardcore", but really just a private catholic school flunky; her mother outwardly blames her for the move, when in actuality it was her father's gay infidelity (ignored publicly) which caused it. Mmmm.... good old drama.

The case included Nick playing Ruby the Gearhead (who has a secret crush on me, and whom I'm trying to teach how to "get some"), David playing Romana the Maniac (she brought me into the gang, by having me run naked through the local roller rink), and Ken playing Rosalyn the sephardic Jew from Spain, and budding Lenenite philosopher revolutionary (who's also in my band). I don't want to undersell how great Ken was at this role... he's got the various knowledges and backgrounds and execute it flawlessly.

And we just launched into it. Rosalyn getting kicked out of class. Romantic drama in the classroom. Ruby's first kiss (with NPC Julie). Invitation to a raging party. Romana being hit on by the PE coach, and then scratching the shit out of his face. Rosalyn grabbing the car from shop and us all getting the hell out. Taking revenge on the PE coach by trashing his place and taking his dog and sex tapes, but getting caught by his girlfriend (our Algebra teacher), who knows about his under-18-student habit. And then threatening to rip her face off. Preparing for the festivities with a make-up session, and then a make-out session. Party at the roller rink, with gang fights ready to rumble. And of course Ruby getting slapped both by myself and Julie.

It was a blast. One of my favorite parts was the escalating Angst that the characters start to accrue, and how to let it out (mostly through violence). Too much Angst is bad, cause eventually you will get put away or be out of action... so you gotta use those outlets. That, and the fact that certain scenes actually had me uncomfortable, sometimes blushing, sometimes stammering. I mean, the characters got Angst, but I felt like as a player I got some good Angst as well, and it was a treat. Sarah was a rock star and didn't pull any punches.

After the game I got caught up in a whole new gang, including Phil (one of the con originals) and more. We went dive barring (at Billy's Pub, where none of us felt especially comfortable) and Vietnamese dinner at Huong Thao, which hit the spot. Again, we were running late coming back, but just in the nick of time for...

Saturday 8pm: Atlas Reckoning

Facilitator: Me. Players: John, Yoshi, Royce, and Kevin.

I'll admit it: I was a little nervous running Atlas Reckoning at a con, and with Stras in attendance. I mean, I've done it twice, and it's a story game, and you kind of know going into it that it will be a lovely collaborative venture... but still, I was playing with Yoshi (who'd played with Stras before) and John (who is basically Stras' test subject and has played 30 sessions of this game, if I'm not mistaken).

But you know the drill... that's all forgotten in about 5 minutes, and the game was a blast. The game is Atlases (mechs) vs Behemoths (kaiju) in a style similar to Pacific Rim. You need pairs of players cause there is going to be synch between the pilots. But that's where the similarities die.

It's a built-it-yourself world, and we decided to go more Escaflowne (magic-based battle robots) than realistic. Before long we had a flat-world on top of some huge spire, with a large magic-tech city at its center. Recently, the jaguar creatures came... climbing over the side of the world, and laying waste to towns and people at the edge of the world, first. Turns out they are digging up the huge magic rocks from which we derive our magic power. (And guess where the biggest cache of these are?)

Our Atlases? The magic golems we use for Arena fighting in the metropolis. The pilots? The wizards who harness that magical energy. But wait... why Atlases? Can't wizards just shoot fireballs at these creatures? Nope... they're immune to the magic, of course. So instead, we need to use magic to control the golems, and use it to shoot stone and wield huge, mundane weapons to damage the actual jaguar beasts.

We had a really cool diversity of characters, including Yoshi as the Survivor, Akemi Takabe from Star Valley in the outer rim (Callsign: "Oak"), Royce as the Hunter, spartan-like Asha (Callsign: "Stalker"), Kevin as the Redemption, tattooed warrior Ulric, and John as the Hotshot, Talsk Novarro of Lanllelon (Callsign: "Falcon") . Akemi and Asha were piloting the Vehement Hurricane, and Ulric and Talsk the Bouncing Earthquake.

We got a good battle going fighting a cougar-beastie that probably looked similar to the displacer beast in the old AD&D Monster Manual... teeth, extra tentacle limbs, and full of frenzy. After a few rounds of combat, they were able to take it down, with Talsk stealing the kill right from under Asha's nose. Everyone took a bit of Stress, which is the perfect setup for the Downtime phase.

We got play a few downtime scenes, which included a touching memorial tradition by Asha, joined by Akemi for a moment that had us all (quite literally) tearing up. After that there was time for another downtime scene at the arena, where these two golems were duking it out, and Asha and Akemi (maybe getting revenge for the kill-steal) taking down Talsk and Ulric, with Talsk petulantly storming out of the arena.

It was a great game, and unfortunately we just didn't have time for more. Having John in there helped with those gaps in my knowledge around some of the mechanics, but mostly it was just a brilliant table, and everyone brought it, story-wise.

AR pilots

AR pilots

Sunday 9am: Forget-Me-Not

Facilitator: Me. Other players: Ken, Renee, ?, and Sylvia.

After a quick meal in the lobby kitchen (overflowing with us nerds), I had an Ace in the hand... i.e. highest priority. I could get into ANY game I wanted. But, very few people were pitching games. Perhaps it was the end of con fatigue setting in?

I handed my Ace over to David, with the instructions that he bring back and run in LA whatever coolness he got into (Sunday Swords Without Master, as it turns out). Then I headed up to the pitching line: Forget-Me-Not, a Jim Pinto classic. It's a GMless game that runs like a stripped down, simplified Fiasco, and churns out a narrative not unlike Twin Peaks.

I ended up with Ken Hite, Renee, and a mom and daughter pair. The girl (Sylvia?) was pretty young (maybe 6th grade) and the game can be dark. We did the X-card conversation first and foremost (a tool that the mom and daughter hadn't heard about) and I ensured that we were on the same page regarding language and content, and to make sure we had our out in case things got hairy.

I ran it as a 5-player (although 4 is really the sweet spot), and it worked really well. Ken playing Ivan included spectacular Russian-accented jokes at the expense of Americans, and Renee did some amazing roles (especially as Erich Lang, the Vagabond). Mom and daughter really held their own as well, and by the end, we had a russian salting the ground with radioactive waste to turn the town into a dump, and a perverted logistic expert as the perpetrator of the murder.

One interesting thing we did (outside the scope of the rules) was murder one of the characters. It was scene appropriate, and I knew that it would also help us move the story along with the other characters in play. Haven't seen it happened before, but it definitely worked.

Ken mentioned, during the thorn segment of feedback, that it would've been nice to have more variety of scenes, and lo-and-behold, Forget-Me-Not: Murder Hobo already does that, with 5 total Thread cards with 3 uses each, instead of the 4 Threads with 4 uses in this game. Haven't play-tested it, but in theory it should work with that setup (simply add a Thread and use each Thread one less time each.)

Not trying to solve a murder

Not trying to solve a murder

And out...

Nick, the con head, was inviting everyone over to his place for post-con BBQ action, but unfortunately I had to catch my flight. I had enough time to scurry about and chat, and say goodbye to all the lovely people.

Kevin (also from LA, and whom I got to play with twice to boot), was also catching a flight, so we headed to the airport, grabbed a bite, and then I was really off on my own, as we had different flights. No one was chatty on the plane, so it was just a long ride home on two planes, with many gamer thoughts to keep me company.

What can I say? Can't recommend it enough. Great con, somewhat crappy hotel, but private game rooms that worked brilliantly. The crowd was A+, and the games I played were all outstanding. I'd go again in a heartbeat.

200 Word RPG Challenge 2017

The Challenge

For the last 2 years David Schirduan and Marshall Miller have been running the 200 Word RPG Challenge. In their own words: A 200 word limit encourages creativity and demands the very best of your editing and writing abilities.

The premise is that this stretches your mind muscles. Some aspects include only being able to use plain text, so that images and formatting are irrelevant to the exercise.

I entered last year with a very simple piece, and then was absolutely floored with the level of creativity brought on by other participants. It's only gotten better.

Interested in what entries might look like? Many folks are submitting drafts and discussing them up on the Google+ community page. Some of these are quite dark. For example, check out this little dark gem called Quarantine, by Sławomir Wójcik.

My entry this year

I decided to do something that I was planning to play anyways: A world-building exercise while playing 7 Wonders Duel (the 2-player game for 7 Wonders that I've been playing a bunch with the wife and daughter).

Last years they had entries both for standalone games, and also for "accompanying" / expansion type games. This year it's all combined. I fully expect it to do extremely poorly with the judges, because it's not really a standalone game, and expects knowledge of 7 Wonders Duel. But I'm really submitting it for those that may be able to use it, as I plan to. 

The full text is here on Google docs.

And you? Have you submitted? Link to your entry below, I WILL read it!

Danger Patrol at SGG

This last session of Story Games Glendale was a milestone. It was the first time neither David nor I were responsible for running a game... Huzzah!

It was just the three of us, which included Mead who brought Danger Patrol, a mini pulp-action RPG designed by John Harper. The game is in a sort of playtest-version, currently, and the pocket edition cheat-sheet didn't quite match the beta playtest material perfectly, but those are all minor details.

The premise is pretty simple, and given in the beta playtest material with this opening speech:

We’re going to play Danger Patrol, an action/adventure retro sci-fi game. The idea is to create the episodes of a 50s-style TV show in the vein of the old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials (with maybe a dash of the Venture Bros., Star Wars, and Indiana Jones).
You’re all going to play members of the elite Danger Patrol—special super-powered crime fighters who protect Rocket City from evil Stygian Adepts, the nefarious agents of the Crimson Republic, rampaging monsters set loose by mad scientists, and other crazy threats.

It feels very similar to rules-light variants on this theme, such as Lasers and Feelings. In fact, the selection of characters and archetypes feels extremely similar, except that you select both a style (Alien, Mystic, Robot) and a role (Agent, Detective, Explorer). The "stats" are effectively die types that get rolled (not dissimilar to Savage Worlds), but the stat names actually match the role-types, which can be a little confusing when you first look at your sheet. It all becomes clear when you see that the stat of Detective does detective-type stuff, and similar for the others. An exhaustive list of actions covered by that stat are listed on a reference sheet somewhere.

Mead was going to play as the GM, and David and I started with some character selection. I played Prince Blork, the Alien Detective (think a playboy Dralasite), and David played Lieutenant Mark Stephens, the Two-Fisted Flyboy (with jetpack and everything).

The premise was that Earth was destroyed in atomic fires, and humanity has mostly colonized the solar system. Although Rocket City is supposed to be a city on a planet like Mars, Mead wanted to go for more of the: Rocket City is actually a rocket city... which we had occasionally flying around the solar system as a sort of United Nations of sorts. Jupiter is the domain of the Crimson Republic, the CCCP / USSR of the story.

The game wants to play pulp, so we went for pulp:

Lt. Stephens is the hero of World War III, the battle which left the Earth in ruins, where we destroyed the fourth (fifth?) reich. Little does the rest of the world know that Lt. Stephens actually caused the atomic fallout, and feels the weight of destroying humanity's birthplace.

Prince Blork is a unique specimen that was created using DNA from the alien technology left behind by great civilizations long ago. Raised secretly by a research professor who filed paperwork so that Blork would be protected as a citizen (and not an experiment), Blork is a bit of a playboy / playgirl, but despite its ability to quickly forge social (and sexual) bonds, is also keenly aware of its displacement in society, and unknown greater purpose.

Prince Blork

Prince Blork

The game is very story-collaborative, and Mead was excellent at being a GM in the middle of that chaotic fray. Before much time, we were thrown into a great meeting / negotiation between Rocket City's mayor and the Crimson Republic's Grand Commander Zukov. The press was in great force, including the Daily Neutron (taglines: "Our News Has Weight" / "Info for the Atomic Masses").

The audience chamber, where we are also a part of, gets ambushed by the forces of Hitler Jr (who's head is obviously in a jar). The attack is staged by the Post-WW III Ganymedian Nazi Robots of the fifth reich. 

During certain times when actions are performed, and a player rolls a "danger" result (which happens often), the GM is then able to make a Threat Move. One of these is to Escalate the threat, and this happened very frequently in as our scene progressed. Each time, a new sticky note came out on the table, announcing further players and issues. It was like watching a snowball gain size. Before long we had Gunter Smitetrovich (Lt Capt of the Crimson Brigade), who I (Prince Blork) was having an affair with, but also suspected he may be a double-agent. Captain Musolof was his boss. We had Crimson Republic brigade, and troopers, and reinforcements. We had spaceships out of control and falling to the ground. Rocket City mayor's daughter (and Lt Stephens possible love interest) first in danger, and then in control but in danger of destroying negotiations with her calcium depriver gun. And disabled Rocket City emergency response vehicles. 

Danger Patrol threats hit the table, over and over again

Danger Patrol threats hit the table, over and over again

It was chaos, but the story certainly felt like the crazy that happens in comics, and despite some of the pulp, there was some feels and darkness, and it wasn't all just silly jokes. There were some game and mechanical aspects that reminded me a little of playing Fate. The same way Fate has aspects hit the table, Danger Patrol has a similar feel for complications being introduced that are more narrative than mechanical. That said, threats do have a mechanical component of "hits", which is to say how many success rolls are required to counteract them. In fact, counteracting lots of hits requires lots of die rolls. How do you get lots of dice? One way is by using character aspects, such as weapons and other abilities. The other way is by adding danger dice by introducing narrative complications... and this can both help you (if you roll well) or cause further complications (when you roll poorly).

We didn't get too much going other than this one large combat-type scene, but because of the way the game narratively flows, we were able to introduce all sorts of complications by adding additional story complexity in between events. For example, when introducing the crimson guards, I added an agent that I was having an affair with. This developed the story through what felt like little hints at events that had happened in the past, and made the story more complex and interesting.

All-in-all the three of us enjoyed the session (about 3 hours worth?). We did little epilogues, including another post-cuddles bed scene with Prince Blork and Gunter, where we see Gunter pretend to be sleeping, while sending encoded messages to some secret recipient.

It looks like it'd be easy to continue the story, and to add additional players into the narrative without much problem. It has a very serialized feel. We may return to this in future SGG sessions.

Our pulp face

Our pulp face

Dungeon World and Ape City

My friends Mark and Lucas came over for some Saturday night RPG-ing, and although we almost got waylaid by my wife and her desire to play board games, we successful adjourned to the dungeon.

Neither had played Dungeon World but have played a number of RPGs before, and both have played at Story Games Glendale. They were interested in chatting about the mechanics at first for a bit, so we spent probably 15 minutes talking about how PbtA games work, which felt a little unusual to me, as recent DW games have occurred at convention, and has been mostly a learn-as-you-go type scenario. 

We dived into character creation, and started with Aegor the Elven Druid of the Great Forests and the Blasted Wastelands (played by Mark), and Sparrow the Human Thief (played by Lucas). Through the bonds, we found that Aegor the Druid has heard from the spirits that Sparrow was being followed by a dark force, which we called The Dragoon. We decided that this inadvertently occurred when Sparrow walked over some hallowed group in the blasted wastes. Why is Aegor trying to help Sparrow? Well, it turns out that The Dragoon spirit is required for equilibrium in the wastelands, and until the situation can be fixed, this was causing havoc on that land. 

I decided to try a dungeon starter by Ray Otus, of the Gauntlet RPG community, called Ape City. (Get it as the free download at his patron site!) It has a bit of that Planet of the Apes feel, and like most dungeon starters I've dealt with, starts with a list of questions the players answer which also starts them in media res... in other words: in the shit.

Here are are some of the leading, starting questions include Ape City, and how we went about answering them. We answered some in the middle of character creation, going back and forth.

What did you lose when the apes caught you? One of the apes grabs a pendant worn by Aegor the Druid... a pendant from his mother.
Which of you has dreamed about this city before? What danger was the focal point of your visions? Sparrow dreamed of the city, and a dark shadow of Dragoon follows him there.
Why is it obvious that someone else ruled here before the apes? What can you guess about those predecessors from your observations? As they are dragged through the city, they pass an old mural showing the original rulers, a tall, think humanoid race. And in that mural was apes serving and working for them.
While being force-marched through the streets, you glimpse a figure on the walkways high above. What suggests another time or place? In this case I asked Aegor how old he is. He answers in the hundreds of years. (Great!) The question becomes, "what is the being wearing that you haven't seen in at least 300 years?" A jade headdress with gems, from material that is now quite rare.
Who or what do the apes fear? How do they show this fear? They are dragged through a square with a large statue of the original rulers. It looks scratched, but otherwise impervious to attempts to pull it down. The apes skirt it and become quite as they pass this part of the city.
What unique technology do the apes utilize that they don't understand? How do they display their ignorance? The door to the King Kuka's throne room uses an intricate keypad that the apes use hesitantly. They seem relieved that it works and they didn't do it incorrectly. Makes you wonder what it looks like when they fail.

The Druid tried to turn into a mouse to escape through the net. Rolled a miss. He turns into a mouse, but is quickly grabbed by the ape with his pendant, and carried along.

They meet the King and his retinue, and Aegor tries to intimidate the King. One thing I love about Ape City is the page of Moves, including this gem: "When you maintain eye contact with King
Kuka for too long, he charges you. Roll+Cha.
" Aegor stands firm, and King Kuka screams threateningly, but stops short. Some more positioning. King Kuka hits Aegor over the head. The PCs are imprisoned. 

Most of the rest of the scenario involved breaking out of prison, meeting Tarl the barbarian cell-mate, the Druid turning into a lemur monkey to find escape routes, and the Thief breaking his picks to open the gate. They launched a plan of escape by distracting the ape guards. They staged a prisoner riot and ran for the city exit. Chaotic combat ensued, and General Urgo kills Sparrow... and the Dragoon claims responsibility and is released from stalking the Thief. Tarl is able to take revenge on the General, but only as he also goes down, and Aegor turns into a jaguar and escapes through a gap in the soldiers.

Ape City was fun to run. I used only a fraction of the scenario itself, as it includes other interesting elements, including possible friendly apes, otherworldly creatures and portals, strange magic items, and a very large and nasty beast in an arena. The structure is very usable, and is reminiscent of all the things I love about Servants of the Cinder Queen (another DW module): great leading questions, impressions of the locale, threats to deal with - in DW fashion with simple instincts and moves - and some cool scenario moves and dangers / fronts. It definitely goes in the con-bag for future one shots!

Atlas Reckoning in fantasy land

OK, I've been slacking at keeping my journal updated, but hey, work and life and such. I'll get there. There's a D&D 5E campaign I started playing in, and more than a few Story Games Glendale meetups... I'll get to those eventually. But first...

Atlas Reckoning...

I've written about the game before, but it really does have something I really dig. A combination of that collaborative world building that happens at the start of many PbtA games, combined with battletech imagery, and giant monsters, and great archetype characters, and the flavor of so many animes. The last two story game meetups I've brought it at the ready, and this time I got to play it.

...with Dwarves, and Goblins, and Wizardly abominations

So, I've had the idea floating that it would be great having a fantasy flavored version of the game, and specifically with dwarves and goblins having to sync together to get things to work. Atlas Reckoning really supports pretty much any setting, as the world building is part of the game. That said, you'd have to do the normal tweaks with some of the technology names, but that's not so hard.

Amazingly enough, just a few months after this thought I found this lovely image on Ray Otus' Google plus stream (in regards to some of his Patreon goals), which sort of captures what I'm getting at:

Only my friend Harry showed up at the last Story Games Glendale meetup, and we spent the first half catching up and talking games and family.

Then we decided on trying Atlas Reckoning in this world. We decided to go for a diesel punk style setting with Dwarves and Goblins being old enemies in the underworld, but needing to work together due to very lethal, bizarre monsters invading their realm. Dwarves are the engineers and have creating large (dwarf-looking?) machinery, and Goblins are the less machine savvy of the two, but are able to harness arcane energies through giant slug-like creatures which they control through massage and mushrooms. I.e.: Dwarves create the robots and power them through diesel and coal-type technology, and Goblins control the armaments and power required to hurt the creatures that are threatening the realm.

It was just the two of us, so this would be a GM-less variant of the game, with the two characters:

  • Harry as The Hunter: Snagrunch (callsign: Jagen) from Birthing chamber 3 under the mountain.
  • Tomer as The Leader: Thurg Strongmead IX (callsign: Mead) from Dwarfhold of Antaris V.

Our Atlas was named Stalag-Might. We setup our initial traits separately, and the overlap was uncanny: Snagrunch with "Disgrace of the goblin queen", and Thurg with "The goblin queen Ragsu stabs my father, the Dwarven King". We both were ready to work together, but it was obvious that we prioritized our race above the other, and would relish the opportunity to destroy our old enemy if the opportunity came.

For the goal of the game, we decided on: Finding the wizards that are spawning these monstrous aberrations. In fact, as we started going down that path, we thought that elven wizards would be a perfect enemy. But we were also comfortable with this just being a theory that the dwarves and goblins had, but who knows where these things actually come from. I was picturing the old AD&D 1st edition Aboleth as a starting point for what these might look like:

Aboleth from 1st edition D&D

Aboleth from 1st edition D&D

Unfortunately we were running short on time and Game Haus was closing shortly, but we were able to quickly setup and mostly resolve an initial, easy combat. Basically enough to give us the thirst for more.

Both of us were very enthused to continue exploring this game. I'm still nowhere near fluent in the mechanics, but the newest 3.0 beta version of the rules aren't nearly as hard to grok as the initial variants. Until next time...

Strategicon Orccon 2017

A short re-cap of Strategicon Orccon 2017...

It started with an early Thursday of getting there. I ran into Dave and Kurt and we went a drinking at the bar. I was part of the Happy Jacks RPG podcast Drizztmas exchange, and as it turns out my "secret Drizzt" was Kurt, so I brought the gift along to the con. A box filled with various goodies, all wrapped in shredded old Dragon Magazines from my youth!

Merry Drizztmas, Kurt!

Merry Drizztmas, Kurt!

Dave, Kurt and I ended up playing Tokaido, the board game. It's a little game of journeying from Kyoto to Tokyo, bathing with monkeys, and the usual Japanese hijinks. A nice way of starting out the con. 

Friday 2pm: Masks (GM: Carl Rigney)

My friend Dennis talked up Carl a while back, and Masks is also the PbtA game I’ve most wanted to play (that I haven’t already), and that was that. Got to play with Jib and Gina and Ira (all Strategicon staples). Great GM, and great collaboration at the table. And I just love how this superheroes game just oozed teenage angst and attitude. And we all grew and learned... love games that end with me wanting to know what happens next, and a little sad I never get to explore this in campaign form. There must be some German word for that feeling.

Friday 8pm: "Distress on Life Liner 928", a Star Frontiers / Savage Worlds / Lego game (GM: Me)

This was my 2015 Lego game that I just pulled out of the closet. Haven’t even looked at it in over a year. Shit, it’s fun to run. I knew it runs long, so scheduled it for 8pm to 2am. We played over 6 hours and ended at around 2:30am. There was zero combat. I don’t even know why we had so much fun anymore – it’s a bit of a blur – but the players had great personality, and the role playing was just fun. 

Distress on LL928

Distress on LL928

Saturday 9am: Games on Demand, round one.

We've been trying to get Games on Demand to pick up some page at Strategicon. The premise is that people just show up, and we get games going. I've been to a few conventions now which have various ways of handling this, including "the donut" at Go Play NW, and various more organized / sign-up style versions at Big Bad Con. In our case, we're still not advertising it heavily, and just kind of doing it ad hoc.

I was impressed... over 15 people showed up in the morning. My friend Chris from the Gauntlet community ran Fiasco for a table, and Stu Venable (from Happy Jacks RPG podcast) was there to run the Swords and Wizardry and had 3 kids plus more. I spun up a few other Happy Jacks regulars (Bill, CA Dave , Kurt and wife Katie) with The Quiet Year (with Lego Creationary set, my favorite way to run this game). In parallel I was getting another table ready for Dread (they were doing the questionnaires). Bill had played before, so that worked out well and they were off and running shortly, and I went off to run Dread (it’s a scenario I borrowed and tweaked and wrote about back here on blog if you are interested in the materials). Due to the shorter timeframe, I don't think I really followed too much of the scenario as prior written, but I think everyone got the gist of what Dread is trying to do! And of course we ended with a good death, and unhappy endings for all the characters!

Some pics of GoD, round 1

Some pics of GoD, round 1

Saturday 2pm: Games on Demand, round two

A short break, and then more GoD for the afternoon slot. We had a good 10 folks including myself. I got one table started with Forget-Me-Not: Murder Hobo, a Jim Pinto game. After getting them going, I kept hearing them laugh behind me for the entire session, and that was heartening. In parallel, I had a table of players getting Dungeon World characters created, and I ran a dungeon starter for them (check those 1-2 page freebies online, they're by Marshall Miller) called "The Escape". Funny part was I used about 3 or 4 questions from the dungeon starter, and then never looked at it again. The players came up with some kooky-fun characters, and before long they defeated the zombie-horde sent by the elves to collect the bard’s overdue saxophone… all with a wizarding ritual based around the barbarian and his kama sutra belief system. I had such a fun time running this. 

Forget-Me-Not: Murder Hobo table

Forget-Me-Not: Murder Hobo table

My Dungeon World table

My Dungeon World table

Saturday 6pm: Games on Demand, round 2.5:

And then I was catching my breathe, and occasionally marketing the games and pimping GoD to random passerby’s, and suddenly I find myself running a Quiet Year with Lego for a couple who’ve never RPG’d (and two others), and that was fun. I started to burn out, had to clean up, and then had another game scheduled, so jumped out towards the end, but by then they had the flow and kept playing without me for the last 30 minutes or so. 

It went down mostly smoothly. There are some issues with GoD this time around (no reservation signs on the tables to keep off non-GoD gamers, con book confusion, and communication could be a little better), but I got to talk to Jim Sandoval who runs RPGs, and I have no doubts we’ll keep working it into something more seamless by next con.

The Quiet Year, with lego

The Quiet Year, with lego

Saturday 8pm: Apocalypse World with Sam Carter.

Sam comes up from San Diego and generally runs amazing Dread games. This con he was running lots of Call of Cthulhu, but also Apocalypse World. I’ve never played this seminal game of PbtA, and so I just couldn’t miss this. I played a Brainer (psychic weirdo), and hell was that a fun game. We were one fucked up set of individuals, and dealt with both the resurgence of the sun cult, and prevented radioactive military shells from destroying the vicinity, and despite some very strong misgivings, pretty much worked together. Oh ya, AND fixed a record player. Truly happy ending.

I did get to run into the Happy Jacks RPG podcast room on the way to the loo, and the HJ crew had me quickly jump up on the mic, so I guess I'm in that episode.

Sunday morn: Pick up the daughter.

Hit the pool. We were the only ones there, and basically everyone else missed out. Despite the earlier rain-magedon storm in LA, the weather was just overcast, and the pool was warm, and the jacuzzi extra excellent.

Sunday 2pm: Golden Sky Stories (GM: me)

This was my family-friendly game session as the game is “heart-warming role playing” at its finest. The daughter was playing, and although I like to limit the game to 4 or 5 max, I ended up with 7 players, including one 6-year old girl and similarly aged boy. I just couldn’t tell these kids "no" to joining us. Kudos to the kids, cause they stuck around for a 3 hour game, and it was a fun little session. Fortunately, Ira played (who’s run this before at con), cause he actually knows the mechanics, and I barely do. I had the story down, but he helped with a few times where we had to do actions, a foot race, and magic. Stuff to learn for sure, but mistakes are the best way, right? I was very happy with the scenario, which I called "The Kid from Abroad", and plan to write it up at some point.

Nova's little Golden Sky Stories token structure

Nova's little Golden Sky Stories token structure


The rest of the night was mostly wandering around, saying hi to folks, and then finding a little card game called Lotus that the daughter and I played in open gaming. Then off to “early” (11pm) bedtime.



Monday 9am: “Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow”, Bunnies and Burrows (GM: Mook)

The daughter was excited to play in this, as she’d also played in Mook’s Monday morning game the last con and had a great time. A friend’s son also came along for the ride, and despite his shyness, I talked to him afterwards and he said he loved it. Mook had a table of 6, including CA Dave. (No room for me, but I dug just watching the table flow, and the daughter get into it).

The daughter said she liked it more the last time, and I think it was hard for her to share a table with adults. That said, the adults were actually really cool about the kids, and constantly tried to include them, and ask them for guidance, and Mook was excellent. But the mix of the shy boy and the girl who didn't feel like sharing, probably didn't go as well as the last con from her view.

Sage and Lightning

Sage and Lightning

End of con

End of con means “Adventure Scavenger LARP”, where both the daughter and her friend ran around in empty rooms looking for crap. They found a few dice, a Cthulhu for 2016 pin, a plastic mini, and various trash. A successful hunt. And due to some miraculously good timing, I picked up the Car Wars Card Game for $6 just as we were passing by the game auction (another thing I highly recommend for those staying until Monday noon time).



And another Orccon comes to a close. 

Story Games Glendale: Atlas Reckoning (old beta)

OK, I'm writing this a few weeks after the fact. Blame sickness. And some laziness... er, distraction. In the name of Crypt of the Necrodancer (this is the most "video gaming" I've done since Fallout Shelter earlier last year).

Late December Story Games

Late December I met up David at Story Games Glendale,  and due to various holidays and such, it was just the two of us motivated individuals. We looked at a few options, and because I'd been trying to get this ready for some time, decided on Atlas Reckoning (link to the G+ community currently, as the game itself is still in beta and not available). I've played before at Go Play NW (prior blog here) with Stras Asimovic, one of the designers (let's be honest... he is the dude). 

Why Atlas Reckoning?

Why? The game is about giant mechs (Atlases) staving off humanities destruction from giant kaiju monsters (Behemoths). Like many story / narrative RPGs, the actual world and premise is designed at the table, and includes questions like "Why is it that giant mechs are the only answer?" This is lovely as it creates enough feasibility with the premise as the players will need, and like many PbtA games (which this is not, but you can see similarities) builds the player investment as well.

AND I want to run this game ASAP. Like maybe next month at Orccon here in Los Angeles. Hoping to get a playtest going prior to convention, and this was perfect. David has no qualms testing a game at the table and figuring it out as he goes, and it was just the two of us. And Atlas Reckoning can play GM-less, since the enemies work on a sort of simple algorithm.

The AR rundown

David and I started with the world building setup, and went with a small colony of 20,000 or so on a mining colony world out in space. The planet is low-gravity, and uses many large mining machines. David liked the idea of "we've dug too deep", and we went with that. Our mining has released some large native lifeform, which we're just starting to combat. Being mining, we have lots of explosives, and have now repurposed some mechs to serve as our protectors. Our colony lives in a large bubble, with some smaller adjacent bubbles and underground tunnels, but help is far away in space in time... so it's either protect ourselves from the kaiju, or be destroyed.

I love games where you do that yummy bit of world-building up front, to focus on a story you are motivated and excited to tell.

The next part of the game is choosing archetypes (similar to PbtA playsheets), and we ended up going with:

  • David as the Rookie, Bryan Smith, Callsign: Echo (from Olympus Mons, Mars)
  • Tomer as the Hotshot, Sluska Hollis, Callsign: Goldie (from Alteris V)

We filled in a few initial traits (Echo: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning", Goldie: "Make mother proud!") and then proceeded to make our mech: the Buxon Avenger. Named due to the large armor plating on the chest, it also is combined with a mono-molecular filament mining blade, a mine layer module (aka mining explosives), and missile swarm. These are the Atlas modules we chose, which all come with various combat advantages, mechanics-wise.

I also love that just prior to battle you use little vignettes to show what your character is doing, and looking like, and use those elements to try and get the (fake) audience a little insight into their personalities, without any long-winded backstories.

Then, it's straight into combat. We fought a small (category 1) Behemoth with spikes all over that was burrowing its way to our bubble city. We decided that command has given us additional instructions to not let the creature even enter the zone with our city, so as not to alert the mostly ignorant populace of the danger. We struggled through the mechanics a bit, but hiccuped our way through, and had fun playing what is simultaneously a card game with whatever narrative flavoring you want to impose on top of it.

We retired to back to the city, slightly damaged (both with character Stress as well as some Atlas scratches, and went into the game's Downtime mode. This is where you can recuperate some health and bonuses for the next combat, by performing little role playing scenes with some vaguely worded goals. We had a fun scene that involved love interests, pilot bonding, and rogue poker games, followed by alarms sounding to our character's hangovers.

Next battle we upped the stakes and brought in a category 2 Behemoth that had Teeth, Frenzy, and also a take-down trait of Retribution. We called this lovely thing the Gnasher. We got damaged a bit more heavily, but made it through the fight (maybe mostly because we didn't understand some of the rules), but all-in-all, a satisfying play.

Unfortunately, I found later that I was using an older beta version due to bad linking. This meant that many of our questions and criticisms about clunkiness with the rules were a little unfounded, as much has been cleaned up. That said, it did give me good insight and practice at playing (even an older version of) the system, and I'm hoping to have the rules down enough to do some more running of this in the very near future.

A little glimpse at mech vs kaiju

A little glimpse at mech vs kaiju

David and I; Rookie and Hotshot

David and I; Rookie and Hotshot



Story Games Glendale: Hearts Blazing

Another Story Games Glendale Wednesday meetup. It was David, Mark, Lucas, and myself, and after pitching a few games, we went with Hearts Blazing, a lovely little box I brought from a Kickstarter I funded a while back, by Games by Play Date.

The premise is that you collaboratively generate a fictional (sci-fi) setting together, and play what amounts to a season of binge watched drama, a la Battlestar Galactica or Firefly.

We started by setting some caretakers (bold terms = game terms) for different backdrops to the story. Mark started by effectively taking Technology & Ability by saying he envisioned space travel being performed by extremely rare psychics. As we fleshed this out, we ended up with space "ships" being amplifiers for a rare condition which allows some people to warp space and time, and effectively hope from world to world. This could take some time, but mostly days to weeks, and because the ability is so rare, we knew that governments and power brokers would do almost anything to control it. And hence a little bit of dystopia. We also went with a synch type mechanism, where a pilot needed to be trained to aim the ship, and the psychic (which we termed "warpers") as more of an engine for travel. The two needed to work together to pilot the vessel.

We chose our Archtypes, which included (David) Hugh, the Veteran and owner of our ship, (Mark) Bricks, the Engineer who manages the hardware, (Lucas) Ler the Ace pilot, and (me) Cloak the Rookie. 

From there we kept spiraling through Settings & HistoryOrganizationSupporting Cast (which included a sweetheart for Ler, named Aurora, who is the actual warper of the crew; Doc Dahab; Relay Dominic, who is our mysterious boss; and the Red Baron Dusk, who is Aurora's twin sister, who is also a warper, on the run and working for a shadow organization).

We played some more and made some great triangular relationships for most characters. Some had ailments taken care of by the Doc, some worked together in the past, some had jealousies or infatuations. Oh ya, and we're all pretty much smugglers, as having a warper is pretty restricted by large governmental bodies.

But then, how do we smuggle? And that's where we came up with "dampers". Basically my rookie is a new type of psychic which can cloak our ship from other warpers who try and intercept and control this mode of travel ("firewalls"), implemented by big gov't.

A little more, and we were ready to start with our pilot episode. We drew the pilot epsidoe card "Milk Run", and started with a good old smuggling run gone awry. We started straight in with klaxons blazing, and then later a flashback to "12 hours earlier" to start fleshing out the episode. It was fun talking about what the audience sees, and how to introduce them quickly and succinctly to concepts we had defined, without going too in depths. It quickly felt like we were writing a TV series, and I was pretty impressed with how well that came through.

Hearts Blazing, and our relationship chart.

Hearts Blazing, and our relationship chart.

Now, although the back of the box says "swift playing 1-2 hour RPG romp", and the instructions say "2-3 hours", it really felt like it'd fit better in a full 4 hour con slot. With little structure, it's easy for an episode to devolve a bit into finding where to go. Although a high bidder will be able to structure the Launch (premise) of an episode and controls the Wrap (goal / end), it is the Bridge which is the meat of the episode, and often precludes a bit of discussion and exploration. 

In theory you should play 8 episodes: a pilot, 5 mid-season, and 2 finales.  We got through three.

In theory you should play 8 episodes: a pilot, 5 mid-season, and 2 finales.  We got through three.

The best part of the game was the setup and first episodes. We really dug doing the world building part, and it was a fairly collaborative and exciting process. We additionally got a finale that really felt like we got to tie up the story fairly neatly, but left it wide open for season two.

Some of the down sides:

One issue is that the lack of concrete structure left me feeling like I had to do a lot of creative work, constantly, so around the 2 hour mark my brain was starting to get a little tired. 

Many of the cards used to "bid" for an episode provide ideas to run with for your character, but they aren't technically needed, and there isn't any mechanical motivation to use them. We discussed this after the game, and agreed that adding a mechanic there would have been nice, such as getting +1 points for each card you had bid and used, in relation to who "won" the episode (and therefore gets the rewards, keywords that are then later helpful in the epilogue at the end of the game.

I think it would be good to have some options for short-form play, such as how to really get the game going in a shorter slot by having fewer episodes. I mean, you could just cut down the number of episodes (which is what we did), but there appears to be a similar removal of Cliche cards that should be performed if this is done. I.e. you can break some mechanical aspects of the game, so some guidance would be appropriate.

Additionally, some more structure around the Bridge scenes, for new players, would be very useful. Such as setting the bridge as 3 (or so) sub-scenes, so that you can just role-play through it confidently. For example, in our first episode we had a Bridge which consisted of: 1. Get a delivery job from the boss, 2. Fly to Beta Origai Four, 3. Get the package, and 4. Head to Beta Origai Six, where we are waylaid. These were all very short little scenes, but by setting up what we wanted to do, roughly, we then had a blast role-playing quickly through it. Adjustments were made where necessary or ad hoc, but it really helped us first creating this loose structure because jumping into it.

All in all, I liked the game, and would definitely play it again, but I may add some tweaks when doing so to help facilitate play, especially with players who aren't familiar with the game.


Been a while

I originally started this thing / blog as a way to record my various thoughts around my exploration of the gaming hobby, and that goal hasn't change. Occasionally I can look back and enjoy seeing my thoughts on a topic. Or occasionally I run into someone who has an opinion or question on a matter, and instead of writing it all out again, I can point and say: "See there? Those are my thoughts!"

So, I'm happy with this little corner I have; it's doing what I want. And although I've been good about getting consistent with updating this place, the last month+ has been a little bit of a break. Was it the US election and post-election malaise? The fact that I haven't gotten much gaming going on? Don't know, but I'm still here, and still very much loving this junk.

So, this is posted a bit after the fact, but here's what's been happening for November...

Fiasco at Story Games Glendale (Nov 2)

Despite the fact that Fiasco is touted as a pretty seminal game in indie RPG and story game circles, I'd only played half a game once, over 3 years ago. It was great to finally get a chance to play a full game. 

We had 5 people total, so Dave helped facilitate. I came with my friend Lucas, and we got to play with Tim, a fellow gamer I had met at another meetup and who is starting to look more into story gaming.

It was a fun playthrough. We did a small-town thing reminiscent of Coen brothers style movies. It's not my favorite genre to play, and I always feel a bit of pressure working with real-world scenarios versus the fantasy/sci-fi genres. That said, we had a decent amount of role-playing type scenes, and a story emerged that ended on some very sad notes. 

2-player board games prior to Story Games Glendale (Nov 16)

This event was a bit of a wash, as no one showed (some with warning), but fortunately I planned to meet my bro-in-law Nigel there. 

So, first off, Game Haus Cafe has some killer sandwiches and food. They also appropriately name them all after various games. For example, this was the amazingly delicious Gyro Quest sandwich I ordered (get it... Gyro / Hero?)

We ended up trying a few 2-player games that I've been meaning to try, including Patchwork.

We tried Rise as well, which is a cute, abstract area-control type game. Not sure the longevity of the game (much like Hive) but it's definitely interesting enough and good as a 2-player filler.

Board games and The Final Girl at Story Games Glendale (Nov 30)

Met Nigel at Game Haus Cafe a bit early, and we did some more 2-player game explorations. We tried Odin's Ravens, which was a little simple, but again, could be a good enough filler as a two-player game. Probably not much replayability, but as someone who enjoys showing people new games, I'd probably get a bit of play from it. Very simple mechanics.

I've also learned to play 7 Wonders' 2-player game called 7 Wonders: Duel with my friend Kevin, and got to actually set it up and teach someone else how it works. I was getting worked points-wise, but eked out a victory with pure muscle, marching my soldiers into Nigel's civilization. If you like the concept of the Civilization video game franchise, this is like a miniature, super simplified 2-player board game version. In other words: fun.  We played a quick game of Patchwork, and that's when the folks showed up for Story Games. Nigel isn't as excited about the GM-less RPG stuff, so took off.

The Final Girl at Story Games Glendale (Nov 16)

We had some new folks show up! Nick was new to the meetup, and Mark, who showed up before and is a friend of Dave's, brought 2 newbies. With 6 people we weighed our options, and went with one large group for The Final Girl, a horror movie RPG meant to emulate slashers or horror movies. We had a good time with strange, supernatural, remote mountain town trying to murder us out-of-towners, along with everyone else. It was a great little intro game for new story gamers. We did fall into a little trap of allowing the Killer (the person who takes turn playing the murderer in the narrative) being a sort of GM, which isn't really in the spirit of the game so much, but even that is a learning experience for the players and a way to transition from one style of play to another.

Thanksgivings and such

So, other than those little events, I've been reading a bunch of RPG stuff in anticipation for running some games at Strategicon, and testing some games before then.

Specifically, I'm very excited about Stras Acimovic's Atlas Reckoning, a mech vs kaiju narrative card-based PbtA-style game (still in beta). I've read through the game, and plan to do some play-test battles with friend Howie, and daughter Nova. I've even put together some cut-down one-shot versions of the archetype playsheets which I'm hoping work a little easier in those situations (and also hoping it's up to Stras' muster).

Golden Sky Stories is another one I'd very much like to run, advertised as "a heartwarming, non-violent role-playing game that’s great fun for all ages". That and Fantasy Friends, the fantasy style version where you can play Aberrations and Slimes and such!

Otherwise, got to spend Thanksgiving up at the folks place, and even found out that a game cafe is opening up in their neighborhood! 

 The youngest of the nephews. Get them early!

 The youngest of the nephews. Get them early!

Holidays ahead!

Just came back from decorating the X-mas tree over at the in-laws house, which was fun, even with my Jewish background, and distaste for Christmas music in general. Nova always has a blast decorating the tree, and the family gathering in general is always great.

I will give you this RPG pro-tip... got extra dice? Glue them to a paperclip (glue gun) and you have excellent ornaments!

My little section of the X-mas tree at the in-law's place.

My little section of the X-mas tree at the in-law's place.

Getting played by the daughter

I don't usually write much about board games here, focusing more on RPGs, since that's a bit more of what I enjoy. The only time I've chosen a board game over an RPG at any recent convention was when my friend Andy was running his T.I.M.E. Pariah Missouri hack, and even then the game plays something like an RPG mystery. That said, we play lots of board games at home, since my wife and daughter are more into that, and it's such a great learning tool, without even feeling like you have to "learn".

Any who... was at Barnes and Noble with the daughter, playing a card game I recently acquired, called Iota. It looks like a cross between Set and Qwirkle, both games we've played a bunch, although not recently. Each card has 3 qualities: a number, a shape, and a color. Game play is about making rows and columns, Scrabble style, of cards that either match or are dissimilar in their various qualities. But the game isn't the purpose of this post...

A game of Iota

A game of Iota

So, we finish the game. The daughter is keeping track of the score on a sheet, which will involve a lot of tallying numbers. I head to the bathroom.

I come back, and she shows me that she's won: 105 to 39! What!? I mean, it felt like we were pretty even, so the shock was palpable.

That's when she flipped over her sheet, and showed the real score was 57 to 58. She had completely copied the entire tally score list, just to fake me out when I returned. It was so lovely. The highlight of my day.

Crazy kid...

Crazy kid...