Seattle Adventure 2017

To Seattle

Time for a family vacation! Like most travels we take as a group, we tend to love going in the middle of the school year. No crowds or lines, better weather (fall and spring), and you get to dodge truancy officers! This gets harder as the daughter gets older, but currently we can still occasionally swing it.

Why to Seattle? Well, GeekGirlCon 2017 was running, and something I've wanted to see for a while. I already wrote about it on this prior blog post, for details about that convention. But I will also write about other Seattle trip stuff separately, as we got some other gaming mixed in there separate from the convention itself.

The Pearl Jam poster wall at the airport.

The Pearl Jam poster wall at the airport.

The Tranums and Tranum Cafe

Friends Sarah and Ryan have lived up in Seattle area for many years now. Sarah and I grew up as neighbors, and reunite every few years or decades. When I've gone up for Go Play NW (the last 2 years), we've been hanging. Their daughter Ella is about the same age as our daughter, and have gotten along fabulously when they've hung out, and we knew that this family would figure prominently in the weekend.

An aspect I can't help enjoy is getting to be the one to re-introduce them to the world of games 2 years ago, and then come visiting to see the closet full of games. We skipped much sightseeing in lieu of lots of hangout time and gaming. Monday we went to "Tranum board game and cat cafe" as Ryan was free. A game he showed us was Villages of Valeria, enjoyable and one I'd gladly play again.

A game of Villages of Valeria

A game of Villages of Valeria

Blokus Trigon, one of the Blokus variants. It's actually quite a fun little version of the game. On the left you can see the amazingly delicious board game library they have amassed, mostly from thrift stores.

Blokus Trigon, one of the Blokus variants. It's actually quite a fun little version of the game. On the left you can see the amazingly delicious board game library they have amassed, mostly from thrift stores.

Playing Starving Artists at Queen Bee cafe

Playing Starving Artists at Queen Bee cafe

Ray Gun and Games

Another hangout opportunity included The Ray Gun Lounge, a local game shop that we've hung out at in prior visits. They have a good selection of pinball machines (including the Dungeons and Dragons one from the 80s) as well as some retro arcade games, and a game library you can freely borrow from. That and beer on tap! Friday included some hangout time there, although the girls ended up doing more video gaming than other stuff... at least it was loads of playing the Simpson arcade game. We did get to teach them how to play King of Tokyo, so that was a plus.

I also picked up "How to Host a Dungeon", a solo dungeon creating adventure by Tony Dowler. More about that another time!

The Quiet Season

On Friday night, as the girls were keeping themselves busy with play and reading, I was pleased that the adults wanted to do some story gaming. J, Ryan, Sarah and I played a little 2 hour session of The Quiet Year, getting through all of Spring a bit of Summer. Everyone dug the session, and it just reminded me what a nice little game it is, and how new-gamer friendly.

To mix it up for myself as a facilitator, I think next time I'll run The Deep Forest variant.

And out...

Thank you Seattle for the good times. Still didn't get to see lots of friends in that vicinity, but maybe the next time around!

A couple of Warrens

The Warren is a role-playing game about rabbits. No, not anthropomorphic rabbits with swords and rabbit wizards. Just rabbits. It's the Watership Down of RPGs. You are prey. And the world is trying to kill you.

I first got to play The Warren at Big Bad Con 2016 with The Grand Warren. My GM at the time was Colin Fahrion, and he has playtested and written a little companion setting for the game, called Apocalypse Warren, which combines a little more of Apocalypse World with The Warren... a little Mad Max flavor of Aussie outback and post apocalyptic mayhem.

Apocalypse Warren test run

So, I was actually planning to run The Watch for a few friends, but due to some mix-ups and a drop out, and my daughter joining us, we ended up doing this instead. Now, although I'd played once, and have reviewed things like the playbooks and such, I hadn't really read through the book. But how hard could running the game be, right? Fortunately, PbtA does make it a little easier than most games to wing it (but more on that, later).

What resulted was a bit of quest... 4 bunnies sent from Sweet Tree Valley to Bigly Noise, the human encampment, to get medicine. Medicine that publicly is for a rabbit struck by a car, but privately is really for the queen of the warren, dying from a cancer.

We had Waratah (special move: Tooth and Claw), Straw (special move: Squirmy) and litter-mate Lightning (special move: Swift Runner), and Midnight (special move: Seer) who has visions of the future.

They dodged a few hunting humans. They visited Luiz, the crazy rabbit who lived on her own, a waypoint on the journey to the town. And finally some domesticated dingo dogs, rats and medicine, and an epilogue which included the queen dying anyways. But Waratah, scarred but alive, eventually takes leadership of the warren.

Favorite quote of the game... each time the phrase "chaotic humans" or "crazy humans" was mentioned, Waratah would pipe up: "You can just say human".

Lessons learned: Have them roll Resist Panic (or just give Panic) more. Use the moves more frequently. Hard moves are great, but don't go immediately to scars without some setup, or it feels a bit too harsh (especially for the one rabbit who was the toughest!). Oh ya, and read the actual rules. There was a great special move on the "kids" character sheet called Littermate, which would've been excellent to use with Gina and Nova's characters, for example. Live and learn...

Jason, Gina, Morgan, Nova; survivors all. Those are tiny Lego rabbit avatars they're holding.

Jason, Gina, Morgan, Nova; survivors all. Those are tiny Lego rabbit avatars they're holding.

Kids Apocalypse Warren

So, prior to Strategicon, I had a few weeks, and somewhere in there I actually read the book. It was great working out all the things I hadn't done in the prior session, and it solidified how to improve.

At Gateway 2017 I setup a Kids Only Games on Demand session, and in that I ended up with two players, Nova and Finn. The Warren, being about rabbits, is not necessarily a kid friendly game, as the themes can go dark, and you are pretty vulnerable to severe injury and death, and are really somewhat limited in the normally easy go to option of "attack". The daughter I know well, and she likes things a little on the dark side, enjoying movies like Mad Max Fury Road and Aliens. Finn is a little older, but I've seen him at the con for a few years now, and he also seemed pretty clever and emotionally mature.

We went with the Apocalypse Warren (as the prior game I wrote about), but in asking them about their goals for the story, they wanted more of a "raid a trade caravan" feel. We had a cool little 2-3 hour session, with Finn playing Scarface (move: Not Scared of You), and Nova playing two rabbits: Lightning (move: Swift Runner) and Vision (move: Seer). Their leader, the Duchess, told them steal some seeds from plants the humans were growing in their glass house.

They tried to convince their owl friend (who hates the taste of rabbit) to assist, but she wouldn't have any of it (bad roll). Eventually, some of the rabbits were captured by humans driving through the desert, and the last rabbit was able to jump onto the truck and hide (some good rolls). Scarface was pretty clever and bit through the net holding them, but then decided to stay in there and wait for the opportune moment to escape. They took the ride and got to the human encampment, their goal, and fled, finding the rats, and negotiating a favorable deal with their leader.

Lessons learned: Don't use the pre-made map, draw it out at the table (this was Nova's feedback as she sat through both of these sessions).

Gauntlet Warren. In the Desert.

The most recent game was one I was much happier with, as far as results. I had signed up to play in The Gauntlet's series on The Warren. This was the second session, and they had done some world building and play the prior week using the Painted Desert play setting written by Marissa Kelly (found under World Playsets on the Bully Pulpit Games website). Similar to the Apocalypse Warren setting I wrote about above, each setting comes with custom questions about the warren, setting, relationships, and stakes, and includes custom moves, names, NPCs, predators, threats, and so on.

I was connecting simply to play, as one of four players, with the GM being Gerrit, a regular at The Gauntlet. I recently had the pleasure of playing with him, but unfortunately, Gerrit's internet broke due to a combination of Guatemala and rain and bad timing. About 15 minutes in, just after we'd created out characters and were about to start, the game looked like it might get cancelled. Gerrit suggested we could just have one of us run the game, and after a quick look around the room, I took the reigns. (I was the only one who had run the Warren before, so why not, right?)

Our four little bunnies: Viho, Brickle and Prickle, and foreigner Rubus

Our four little bunnies: Viho, Brickle and Prickle, and foreigner Rubus

A Warren fascist state

The game started with the death of Chief Suntail, a well regarded leader. Also, many rabbits from other warrens are currently joining, and the tunnels are starting to collapse (due to disorganization, or population, or some other means). The leadership vacuum is quickly filled by Blackburr, a strong and capable rabbit. But as it turns out, also a rabbit which wants to solidify power against those that would oppose him, and one that blames the foreigners for the current troubles.

The game quickly became dark, with Blackburr recruiting his Black Suns, rabbits who would mark their chest with a dark sun showing their allegiance. The PCs were called to support, and we fast-forwarded a few days to see the results on the warren. Little Brickle was saddened by the lack of all his pals, as he was always a social rabbit, and now many of the foreigners were no longer seen around. Viho was concerned about this power grab, but also seemed powerless to do much about it. And little Prickle was quick to join the Black Suns, thinking this all a fun game where he gets to boss around rabbits larger than himself. I've got to admit that the parallels between Prickle, and a misguided and simple-minded Hitler youth, were a bit rough to watch!

Before long they had some decisions to make. They were approached by Coriander, an old friend and storyteller they hadn't seen in days, warily wandering around the warren. Turns out he was sneaking out rabbits and guiding them to a new, secret Warren, where they could be safe. Coriander ran off, as the PCs were then approached by some Black Suns and called into court of the leader Blackburr, who assigned them the role of routing out spies in their midst.

After a few close calls with various encounters, and a playful moment where they were able to use the Relax move to assuage some Panic, we got to use the Innovate move. This is a special move in the Warren game, where rabbits can create a move, an action unheard of among rabbits. If they roll well, they do it and that move becomes something any rabbit can do (for good or ill). If they don't do it, well then, no rabbit can ever attempt that action again.

There was a recurring theme of bullying in the session, and so we ended up with the following:

"When you act like a bully to someone above your station, on a 10+, they will back down (at least temporarily). On a 7-9, they are not convinced, but you are able to make an opening.

They successfully bullied some Black Sun guards away from an entrance when trying to meet Coriander, and bolstered by their newfound confidence, were later were able to save Rubus who was about to get killed by a hawk. They journeyed to the new warren, but were split up during a bit of chaos.

Prickle and Viho follow Coriander to attempt to ask advice of a wise rabbit who lives on her own in the vicinity, a prior resident of the warren: Sage. They get attacked by a venomous snake when exploring the wrong cave entrance, and Viho is now at 3 scars for the session. (Each scar in the Warren means you lose one of your basic, or your character moves.) They find Sage, and ask for advice (and I got to use the custom move for the setting: Honoring Your Elders). My favorite was Brickle asking for advice on how to become a wise rabbit... with Sage saying she was just like him many years ago; simply listen to your heart, instead of following the orders of others.

Meanwhile, little Brickle lost Rubus after attempting to dig him a temporary shelter, but later found the new warren using his sense of scent. The new warren wasn't comfortable like the old, but he was reunited with many of his old friends, and he found Rubus there as well! In that final scene, Rubus nursed his injured hind legs, gives Brickle a conspiratory nod, whispering, "We've found all the spies."

Lessons learned: It's good to learn lessons! The prior "mistakes" (or regrets) when running the earlier Warren sessions set me up to feel comfortable running this game. I felt like we did a great job hitting many of the moves in interesting ways. I'm pretty happy with how we got to also hit a few world setting specific moves and threats, although next time I'd like to have noted down the PC moves, as I don't think I kept those in mind. Getting to run a grim Warren session was extra fun.

Also, there were many times when the Help move came up during the session, and this led to some great drama. The rabbits don't have many strengths, but one of them is definitely this ability to help each other eek out a bit of better positioning. I highly recommend letting that happen as often as possible.

Normally, I'd say epilogues are really great for one-shots, however because this is an ongoing series, and I don't know how much time will pass between this session and the next, the next-best thing to an epilogue was the various closing scenes for the PCs... one gets to the new Warren, but doesn't know if they will be ratted out, and the others find the sage and get some expert advice. It felt like a decent landing.

Strategicon Gateway 2017 Recap

OK, so normally I go into probably way too much depth in my con recaps. But I've been lazy about this stuff, and so I'm letting y'all off the hook...

Thursday evening

Headed over to the west-side for my traditional pre-con sleepover. Because friends Howie and Lisa now have little Bei-Hai, they were a little busy with the night routines, so I went to meetup some friends of the Happy Jacks persuasion over in El Segundo.

Gateway2017_01_HJDrinks.jpg

Played a little Monopoly Deal with Howie and Lisa late in the night (they've learned to optimize the game, but I still kicked some ass), and got to teach little Bei Hai a little gaming as well prior to the next day's con-going.

Gateway2017_01_BeiHai.JPG

Friday 2pm: The Sprawl with Hamish Cameron

This was probably my first time starting the con by not running a game in over 3 years. I was pretty stoked to get into Hamish's The Sprawl. He used to be a con regular when he lived in the LA area, but now is on the other coast. He also authored The Sprawl, a PbtA game about mission-based cyberpunk, and specifically this was a hack that it made it a little more Shadowrun-ish (i.e. cyberpunk + magic).

We started by defining some corporations, and had an interesting spread of characters. One aspect I was looking forward to was seeing the gathering of abstract resources (like "intel" and "gear") in preparation, and then watching it play out during the mission itself. All-in-all I had a great time by the end the game seemed within my grasps for running in the future. 

Friday 8pm: Mad Max Fury Road Dread

I had 5 players, including Morgan (who originally suggested that I run the thing). I was surprised by how many players had not seen Mad Max Fury Road, and in some cases, had not seen any Mad Max movies.

Each player had 2 characters, and they ended up being a band of bandits, looking to capture a trade convoy from the Algae farms. Mostly the game did what it was supposed to, audio blazing, and Jenga tower falling about 4 times.

I failed in the following ways (for future improvements):

  • I should've let the audio play as is, and allowed for more downtime. Instead I often replayed heavy-action tracks because I felt the action of a situation wasn't yet resolved, however that also meant the action dragged out a little too long and it became exhausting for both myself and some players.
  • Tone conversation: We should've had one. At least one player was making suggestions that weren't really in the tone of the game, partly due to unfamiliarity with the franchise. That's not always an issue, but at least some players were there to play Mad Max Fury Road in tone. We did get on track so it wasn't too dramatic.

Saturday 9am: GoD - Tales from the Loop

First off, it was great that I did a little sweep upstairs, as I found Hamish about to start a shceduled Dungeon World game, but only had 1 player show. I invited him down to Games on Demand, and we were able to get their table joined by a family of 3 (including a young girl), and so he had a good Dungeon World session run.

Hamish's Dungeon World table

Hamish's Dungeon World table

This is the first Strategicon Games on Demand session I've managed where I didn't have to run a game: Achievement unlocked! Enough GMs were there and the right amount of players... so I go to enjoy a game of Tales from the Loop, run by Bill Carter.

Bill had just run it at Gen Con a few weeks prior, and it was a cool little game. The setting is an alternate Earth roughly in the '80s, but with weird sci-fi transportation, robot mechs, and so forth. We are a scrappy group of kids dealing with strangeness (a la ET or Stranger Things), and in our case, were dealing with rogue robots, and someone trying to murder our little gang to prevent happenings in The Future.

Bill's had a great familiarity with the actual real-life city we were set in (I forgot which one, but you know... one of those New Mexico / Arizona cities with large gov't contractors). I wasn't super impressed with the system. I mean, it works and does what its supposed to do, but I'd almost prefer a PbtA system that's been tweaked to fit this narrative style. That said, the premise of the game is great (both familiar with common '80s touchstones, and strange with unusual otherworldly tweaks), and the art itself is absolutely gorgeous.

Tales from the Loop

Tales from the Loop

Separate from Games on Demand, there were some other hijinx going on... CA Dave and Hosier Rob were running a game (in a series of old shitty RPG systems) of: Dallas. As always, looked like a romp. They talk about it in the Happy Jacks podcast further down, if you are interested in that mayhem.

Dallas RPG; in the board room, of course.

Dallas RPG; in the board room, of course.

Saturday 2pm: GoD - Dungeon World

In the next GoD session we had games such as Dirty Secrets.

My table included some returning friends from last con's GoD, and some newbies (2 who play D&D regularly and one who doesn't even do that). Everyone was interested in Dungeon World, and I love me some DW. I ran my little one-shot scenario I've come to call The Scrimshaw Pass, and I was pretty happy with how it turned out. As always, I'm impressed with how easy it is to spotlight 5 players so consistently and regularly in the game. It really felt like everyone contributed immensely to the story. I could see in their reactions how they appreciated how the Dungeon World bonds mechanic really tied them all up in positive and negative ways prior to session start.

One of my favorite things about this session was that one of the players got to play a Bard - a character class she is not allowed to play in her home game - and how she made such great use of her. By the end we had a really cohesive party, and the round of epilogues tied it all up in a neat package. This was one of my favorite sessions of the game convention.

Me peaking for the selfie with the group, and some drawrings from the crowd.

Me peaking for the selfie with the group, and some drawrings from the crowd.

Simulaneously some other GoD games were running, and overall it just felt like another success... happy GMs and happy players. The below set of portraits was from one of the players of Hillfolk, run by Wade Rocket!

Groovy portraits from one of the Games on Demand

Groovy portraits from one of the Games on Demand

Saturday 8pm: Happy Jacks RPG Podcast

With my new powers in managing and scheduling Games on Demand, I was now able to push my Saturday night gaming later (the new "late night" GoD session started at 10pm), which means I could enjoy the live recording of the podcast! And so I did, hanging out with many friends, and digging the show. You'll find me in there somewhere around the 0:43 minute mark.

Saturday 10pm: GoD Late Night Edition - Psi*Run

For the late night session we had a decent turnout. I kicked off one crew of 5 running Forget-Me-Not (which is a GMless game), and they were pretty independent for the entire session (and were laughing out loud quite regularly as well!) Morgan ran some Inspecters, and we had a 3rd table which I can't remember...

I got to play again, and this time in Psi*Run, a game designed by Meguey Baker. The game is summarized pretty handily: "They took your life. You got away. They want you back. Run!" You wake up without memories, but with special powers, and someone or somethings are after you. A favorite part of the system is that you get to define four questions that can be answered about your character, however it may be your play-mates who get to answer them.

The four of us players had a wide array of characters, from 8 years old child to an old grandpa, and powers that included having the ability to connect to wifi, or having the entirety of wikipedia in their head. The game itself had many sweet interpersonal moments, but also exuded the feel of a the chase, as if you were replicants in Blade Runner, or a bit of Logan's Run. Like many fairly loose story games with simple structures, it started out somewhat vague and wandering, but by the end the story took on a cohesive quality that was great to observe. Great GM and fun group of players, and it was really cool to see the system in action.

Chris, one of the players, even mentioned that he's surprised that this system hasn't spawned a bunch of hacks in the same way that Apocalypse World has, and I can see how this system could do so. The mechanics definitely help lead the narrative in a manner that's not dissimilar to how PbtA games lead a narrative with player moves, playbooks, and GM agendas and principles.

I love the way the mechanics worked, where you decided things like whether or not you were using your Psi powers, or whether you were risking harm, and these would provide extra dice. How you spent those dice was up to you, but they had to go into the various categories on the sheet... which meant you would decide which things you succeeded or failed at depending on how good your rolls were. This gave you some limited control over the narrative by getting to answer certain questions, but gave the GM or other players the ability to control some aspects of the narrative. Very interesting mechanics.

The Psi*Run risk sheet

The Psi*Run risk sheet

Sunday morning

Slept in, had a breakfast, wandered for a bit, and then went to get the daughter. Coming back to the con, we hit the dealer room, and did the paint-and-take, a popular option for kids and adults.

The Paint-and-Take involves getting a free miniature, and access to paints and brushes. Gretchen in the background with the assists!

The Paint-and-Take involves getting a free miniature, and access to paints and brushes. Gretchen in the background with the assists!

Sunday 2pm: GoD - Kids' Edition

I have run games as "Kids only" and "Family Friendly" (two categories available at Strategicon) many times in the past, and have started to do so on the Sunday afternoons, so as my daughter can play in the game with other kids. Examples in the past being my Lego-based Fallout Shelter game, as well as Golden Sky Stories.

Being "in charge" of Games on Demand, I decided this time around to schedule a Kids' Edition. I was contacted by various GMs ahead of time, some with their own kids, who were interested in running, so I knew I'd have at least a bit of support as well, and had no idea how many kids would actually show up. As it turned out, we got a good dozen takers.

There were 3 teens who showed up, Charlie and Kurt (who I know from prior gaming and previous Strategicons) as well as Jason, a con newbie. I'm especially proud of the results here, because these 3 decided to play The Quiet Year (one had played once before), and because I was called to duty to GM another table, they ended up running it pretty much on their own. I kickstarted them, but hearing their laughter and enjoyment from a distant, and having them see that they could run a gaming table without adults, was golden for me.

The rest of the kids got split into three separate tables: A game of Hero Kids run by Bill, a game of Goobles and Goblins (main website might be down?) by Ryan, and a game of The Warren (specifically Apocalypse Warren) run by my own self. In at least one case two adults joined the kids. In all cases I asked, at each table at game end, if the kids think we should do this again, and got a resounding "YEAH!" each time.

Games on Demand: Kids Edition!

Games on Demand: Kids Edition!

Many of the kids appeared to get along well, and so some friendships were forged. After Games on Demand for kids, we hung out with a few of these little rapscallions, including playing a bit of Lotus and some other games from the Game Library.

Sunday evening: Werewolf with Kids (x2)

The daughter was hardcore looking forward to Werewolf at night. Last convention she passed out in the late evening and I couldn't wake her up for this traditional convention night game. She woke up in the morning furious at herself (and me) for missing it. She wasn't going to let that happen again.

Werewolf is a game about covert enemies in our midst, and trying to route them out (similar to games such as Mafia). The game convention has upwards of 30 people in one room playing such games, and generally late at night.

Turns out some of our previous friends from Games on Demand: Kids Edition were ready to play. Now, we're talking about 28 people in a room playing Werewolf. This game took 3 hours, and ended past midnight.

Voting for some death

Voting for some death

The kids (foreground) realizing Ann Marie was suspicious, and voting to take her out! (Yes, she was a werewolf.)

The kids (foreground) realizing Ann Marie was suspicious, and voting to take her out! (Yes, she was a werewolf.)

You'd think these little 8 or 9 year olds would be ready to sleep at that point. But no. Most of us got convinced by the kids, and dived into another game. Now, I was able to get out of the first one, but the daughter convinced me to play in the second. And yes, that one ended around 3:30am. I was impressed for two reasons: 1. the daughter made it through without passing out, and even payed attention until the very end. 2. I got to say an amazing power play where one of the werewolves pretended to be a Seer and everyone (myself included) bought it long enough to get rid of a whole heap of villagers. It was beautiful to behold, and I can see the attraction of the late-night Werewolf game.

Monday

The rest of Monday involved waking up relatively late, getting some breakfast from the upstairs lounge, and playing our LARP: Search for the Missing Crap. The daughter found a few dice, and otherwise did a circuit of the convention, and chatted up a few folks.

I ran into friend Andrew (aka lowkeyoh from the Happy Jacks forum) and he and the daughter played a few rounds at the computer game room, including some rounds of Mario Kart (something I'm not really acquainted with).

Mario Kart action in the little video game room.

Mario Kart action in the little video game room.

The final thing we did is watched a bit of the game auction, an entertaining little event that occurs on the Mondays. From there, we headed out and home.

Until next time!

Until next time!

Gauntlet Gaming in the Summer of '17

The Summer of '17

The title feels almost like a Bryan Adams song; enough so that I put Summer of '69 in the background. But seriously, I may one day look back on this summer, and remember it as the year I started gaming with the Gauntlet. 

Let's see... what games?

  • Breakers: (GM: Robert Ruthven) Playing mercenary looters on Earth with rift type events where alien (magical) worlds temporarily collide with our own.
  • Chaos Monks: (G: Andrew Shields) Shao-lin style craziness in a world of crab creatures and other strangeness.
  • The Watch: (GM: Michael X. Heiligenstein) Fighting the Shadow, a creeping force that is overtaking the clanlands and corrupting the men, leaving the rest of us to fight for our survival. My character: Lollec the Raven from clan Richti.
  • Stay Frosty (Death Force Doom): (GM: Tom McGrenery) Using a rules-light system for emulating stories like Aliens and Predator... but as storm troopers exploring a haunted Jedi temple on Hoth.
  • World of Dungeons (3+ sessions!): (GM: Tom McGrenery) Using this simplified OSR-ified Dungeon World hack to play OSR modules, I play Adjo, an exotic mercenary-of-sorts with high aspirations, in a close-knit group of adventuring misfits. We're currently playing B2: Keep on the Borderlands.
  • Cthulhu Dark: The History of Mercy Falls: (GM: Jason Cordova) A session in a series exploring the strange and mostly horrible history of this little isolated town in the northwest, in this case a strange "performance art" festival in the late '60s, using the recent (and refreshingly simple) Cthulhu Dark system.
  • Velvet Glove:  (GM: Rich Rogers) Being a member in the '70s girl gang of The Black Roses, playing as Mauli Greenwood - the newbie and a bit of an instigator - and rising tensions with the Crystal Crows and various boys.

All of these games have a level of participation and player presence which rivals many of the better convention games I've played in recent years. Everyone is trying to hit those notes of a good story, whether sad or glorious or slightly silly, in a manner which is collaborative in approach. Games are generally 3 hours, which means that side chit-chat is minimized during play. Everyone has great online-game decorum, knowing how to wait for their turn, which isn't difficult considering the caliber of GMs and games that involve quickly rotating spotlights, so you never feel like it's too long between your turn to contribute.

I can't recommend this community enough if you are into story and indie games and want to play some great online table-top role playing games. All the GMs play and run plenty of these games, and it's apparent that improving their craft is a high priority.

And to that end: Gauntlet Con!

Because the Gauntlet hit a Patreon stretch goal, the first Gauntlet Con will be running October 20-22, 2017.  Initial sign-ups are for Patreon members (as they're the reason the convention is running) but soon other community members should be able to sign up. The level of games here is unreal, to the level of conventions like Big Bad Con (which precedes this convention by a week).

The Gauntlet and The Watch

The Gauntlet

I haven't played in a game with The Gauntlet in while. The first time was The Final Girl back in 2016, and since then I got to play in a game of Breakers this year. But, now I've been a Patreon member of the Gauntlet that gives me some priority to get into online games, and so I took advantage and signed up for a few games in the coming months.

Preparing to play The Watch

The Watch is an RPG, designed by Anna Kreider Andrew Medeiros, which explores what happens when a dark force takes over members of the tribe, in this case males being specifically susceptible:

The Watch is a tabletop roleplaying game set in a “light fantasy” setting known as The Clanlands. It takes place during a dark and horrific war between the now-united ten clans who live there and an invading force, known only as The Shadow. 

The Shadow is a powerful and insidious enemy that is able to enter the minds of its opponents and slowly turn them to its side; twisting them into unnatural foes. For reasons unknown, The Shadow is able to more easily influence the minds of men, and has turned a great deal of the clan’s soldiers against itself.

I backed The Watch on Kickstarter, and have been looking forward to seeing it in play. Michael X. Heiligenstein, a fellow Gauntleteer, has been running it for The Gauntlet's online gaming community for a story arc planned for 7 sessions. Luckily, I got in on one of the games, as Yoshi, one of the regulars, planned on missing a session.

I got the quickstart material (released to KS backers until the game is completed), and chose a playbook that was so far not represented in the party, The RavenTo fear is to prove we are human. To overcome that fear is to know the minds of the gods. The Agenda? Be poetic and wise. Looking at the playbook I see elements of shamanism in the form of deity worship, performing rituals, delivering eulogies, and - interestingly - conversations and psychology. Before long I had my character: Lollec.

Although the playbook defines your position in your clan and facets of your personality and skills, you make a separate decision for which clan you are from. There are ten clans, including Sharn (hunter/gatherers), Dothas (mystics), Thedon (builders/masons), and Royshan (warriors).

I went with clan Richti (nomads). None of the other players had chosen that clan, and what's great about this game - like many PbtA games - is that the players define major elements of the clans. This would come up more during play, but I had some initial, loose thoughts:

I decided that Lollec would worship a god named Ta'al, whose domain was travel. Because I chose two Raven's moves of Divine Agent (worship of Ta'al) and Healthy Discourse (engage in philosophical, moral, or ethical debate), I decided that "travel" would be defined as both physical journey, as well as that which is mental and spiritual. 

I envisioned the Richti as nomadic, maybe somewhat looked down upon by most other clans. Maybe with a reputation almost as free-loaders. That said, the Richti see themselves as wanderers and keepers of the lore of the land, and with a mission to disseminate knowledge, thinking, and practices amongst the tribes... a way to loosely bind them together. Although the Richti themselves have elements (mostly philosophy on life) which makes them a somewhat cohesive group, they travel in smaller groups, which often live with, or beside, other communities for some time, providing services and help (at least in their opinions).

Lollec: The Raven

Lollec: The Raven

A large element of The Watch is the premise that males are particularly susceptible to the corrupting force which is The Shadow (which is itself very loosely defined, so I was curious what that would look like in play). When creating your character, you define your gender as one of the following: Trans Woman, Cis Woman, Genderqueer, Fluid, Non-binary.

In the real world I'm a Cis Hetero Male. I play a mix of male or female characters in general (probably with a majority being female, especially when I find it balances the character gender ratio at the table). I've rarely played a gay character, and never someone trans. There was some internal conversations I had with myself about whether or not I'd feel comfortable playing a trans character, given I have a few friends, but not sure that I'd do justice in empathizing with growing up in that position. I don't think any of that is particularly answered at this point.

In the end I decided that Lollec would identify as non-binary, having them not identify with either gender. I went with a pronoun choice of "they/them/theirs", partly because I myself haven't internalized that use in the real world.

I decided that Lollec would be in a relationship. In this case, since the setting is pretty agnostic as far as culture, I decided to have a family structure that consisted of a triad, with a male (Leera) and female (Tannar). Due to worship, I decided that Lollec has been on a journey, and has had to prioritize that mission, and therefore has not seen their partners in some time. This would also lend itself to some savory unknowns: What had happened to Leera, and has he succumbed to the Shadow? Is Tannar alive? Do they have any children, and if so, what had happened to them? Are their partners also Richti, or part of some other clan? (Again, the answer to that could be good fuel in the future, so it's left ambiguous.)

The Watch

All the above were initial thoughts on character generation the night before the game, so I had a framework for my character in mind. But now it was time to see what would happen when Lollec was thrown into the mix of session 5 in an already established story arc.

MXH (Michael), the GM, told me ahead of time that Rezzi and Rinic (2 PCs) were coming back from a mission that involved bring back separatists into the watch. Where did I fit in? Separatist for sure! But I already decided that I wasn't married to the separatist cause. We established pretty quickly that the journey I had been on had taken me past the borders of the clans, and it was during my return that The Shadow struck, and that I was still getting my bearings on the situation and the players in this conflict.

The players already had some great personalities, and you could see the bonds, as well as the conflicts, between the established characters. I quickly interjected myself as a sort of lurker in their scenes. Rezzi (The Bear, played by Mike) was quickly appearing to be the established leader, and Rinic (The Wolf, played by Horst) was the wildcard.

One of the Ties That Bind (i.e. character sheet bonds) I wanted to use was "I saw Rezzi in my dreams before I ever met them and am afraid to tell them." This made it easy to explain why I immediately started to gravitate towards these other characters, and the ongoing fiction made it easy to tap into this in a supernatural way. Another I used was "I have fond memories of the time spent with Rinic's clan." This worked well in establishing a scene where I began to hum a tune from Rinic's clan (the miners) to try and create a bond between us. It did help spur the conversation, but rolls went sour, feelings were hurt, and old wounds uncovered. But again: good drama and story came out of it.

At a later point I came in contact with Reva (The Eagle, played by Stephen), and our bond was a little more nefarious. The alliance between our clans was broken when The Shadow came. I decided this was something I had heard about (coming from my journey abroad) but would allow Reva to have strong thoughts about, and already give her a way to hold something against me.

I mention all these Ties That Bind because as a new player in the mix, they really made it very easy to establish quick narrative and flavorful connections with the rest of the party, especially given that I was new to the game and they were 5 sessions in. This isn't necessarily different from other PbtA games, however I did like that mix of bonds that are both personal (___ serves the gods faithfully, I trust them explicitly) and clan-related (The alliance between my clan and ___'s clan was destroyed by the Shadow) that flow through the choices.

In the narrative, Rinic and Rezzi come into the warrior camp that my people are also a part of. They ask for the separatists to join them. Rinic gets in a brutal clan conflict and goes overboard on the violence, but earns respect.

The Shadow's warriors make an appearance, and in this case they are the men of the clan, who are starting to take on mechanical and robot-esque features. This was something that MXH had started to establish in the game, and I can see how the build-up to any particular visualization of The Shadow could work really well in game. Similarly, woman effected by The Shadow take on a statuesque form, where they look "prettier" than in real life, but just sort of solidify. As a player, I'm coming a little late to the party, so it's a little quicker and less impactful for me, but I'm taking notes for when I get to run a session in the future!

The Shadow attacks, and Rezzi protects the separatist leader, but also loses his arm (mechanically in game he had reached the limit of harm, and to reduce it had to take a scarring wound). After the combat many of the separatists join the PC's group to join The Watch, and of course I am among them. We quickly join up with Reva.

We return to a Watch encampment, and are given a new mission... disrupt a force of The Shadow in a valley.

On a related note, this was probably the first PbtA game I've played with dedicated missions and mission moves. I know that games such as Night Witches does something similar, where there is a separate phase for downtime versus the action phase.

This definitely has quite a different momentum then games like Dungeon World, where actions are more on-going and embedded in the on-going narrative. Here, we actually stop, define who is planning to take which of the mission moves that are available (which appear to be: Watch Their BacksNavigate and StrategizeRecon and Lookout, and Take Point), and then roll all those to find out the outcome of the mission. Depending on how well you roll, you need to add complications, which have the effect of possibly killing off members of your party (NPCs), or people getting separated or captured, getting harmed, and so on.

Excerpt of Mission Moves from The Watch's Kickstarter sample

Excerpt of Mission Moves from The Watch's Kickstarter sample

This part of the game was done out of character, and we decided on where everyone would fit, and why. The rolls were made, and then we sort of got back into character and narrative, and made it all come together. It definitely worked, but I can see how the process may be jarring to some players used to more traditional games. It's also possible to run this more traditionally from a GM point of view, by having the mission narratively play out, and then have players roll when they trigger the mission moves, but this seems like it'd be difficult to pull off (and maybe not in the spirit of the game as written?)

I actually like the way our little vignettes and interludes happened after the rolls as we were establishing what happened, why, and how the complications arose. It felt much more like a story game with extremely loose scene framing rules, then any sort of traditional RPG, and I enjoyed it. Additionally, MXH, as the GM, definitely tied our decided role in the mission with the fiction, and we did describe in what way we took these tasks, planned our attack, or failed in our actions.

Post game and feedback

As with any of The Gauntlet games I've played in (three, so far), the players were fantastic, and table welcoming. I'm definitely planning to do more gaming in these circles, as the game and gamers are definitely in my wheelhouse.

The community has also taken to creating excellent Google spreadsheet type character sheets for easy online play, where you can see everyone's character conveniently in one place. Because of Google, you can all edit simultaneously, and see changes as they occur, which just makes the game run so much more efficiently. In this case, they had even created dice rolling buttons in the sheet, so a separate dice roller wasn't needed. Additionally, there were great spreadsheet tabs for NPCs, including names that were open for use, in case needed, and a map of the setting.

Overall, I really enjoyed the character dynamics of having a playbook / archetype and a clan. I love, as with most PbtA games, that we get to define the clans in game (and that they provide specific targeted questions for each clan to do so). I also like the thought that in game session #1, probably only a few clans are defined, and that the others come into play at later points in your campaign, as desired. This lets you continually flesh out the world without it being overwhelming at the start.

One criticism I felt coming was that the mission moves looked very static, and although they seem to capture the main elements you'd desire, and it was my first session and I enjoyed it, it seemed that the mission moves would become stale after approaching them for the fifth or sixth time. 

We discussed this element, and one feedback I had was that you'd think that mission moves and complications could be customized for the mission (just like creating custom moves in Dungeon World for specific shrines, or items, or companion classes). I'm not sure if this is the intention of a full game, or a pre-written campaign of sorts, but it seems like it'd work well. I wouldn't advocate that you'd do this for each mission per se... it seems that most missions would work well using the generic framework, and it'd be great to explore many of those complications provided over a couple of sessions. But I could see how some special missions, or missions that required only two individuals could possibly be tweaked for flavor.

Another element about this session was that we were all male players. Most of the characters were created as Cis women, although Rinic and I definitely shared a scene that tangentially involved our lack of identify as "female". Due to the nature of this game, it's definitely useful to ensure you have a table and space you feel comfortable playing in. I consider the X-card a necessity in any RPG gaming table, but would especially recommend it for any game that approaches sexuality as a major part of the setting.

A screenshot mid-game: players on left, characters in the magic spreadsheet on the right.

A screenshot mid-game: players on left, characters in the magic spreadsheet on the right.

Sacramento Gaming (Take: 4) - Indie RPG Night With Microscope

Independence Days

So, the Sacramento family visit continued with my brothers and the nephews, and then some fireworks on both the 3rd and the 4th.

On the third, El Dorado Hills has its Fireworks & Freedom Concert, which I'm guess they do one day early cause they can't compete with other, larger, local shows?

Regardless, went with the mom and the daughter, and other than doing 4 pull ups on the Marine's booth pull-up bar (after being pushed into it by the daughter), I was looking forward to checking out the booth for the Game Room Adventure Cafe. They set up a stand for advertising the escape room and board games, and selling various knick-knacks like dice and dolls. But best of all, they used the Labyrinth game I gave them as an attraction to get passer-bys to interact. Nova played that for about 20 minutes with Adriana.

The Game Room Adventure Cafe booth

The Game Room Adventure Cafe booth

The fireworks were totally decent, but the after-fireworks nightmare of getting home, and street closures, and traffic mayhem was quite unfortunate. The daughter cried due to fatigue and frustration.

The next day, the same three of us headed to Lake Tahoe. The mom gets a free invite most years with included hotel room, dinner, and spot on Tahoe Lake beachside to see the show. We went last year and I swear it was the best fireworks show I've seen in my life, so expectations were high.

Part of those expectations? When my mom goes to play slots, she give me and the daughter $20 to go play at the arcade! It was just as we had left it: Q-Bert, Ms. Pac Man, Galaga, Spy Hunter, Mario Brothers, and of course the coup-de-gras: Pac Man VS, the 4 player game. If you haven't played it, it's a blast, and plays something like this (if the Youtube link still stands). We even ran into another father-daughter pair, and played some epic Pacman VS games. One thing I noticed about this game, the music is outstanding. It slowly builds into a techno fueled fever pitch as you go through the game.

The fireworks? They ended up being astounding. They are also synchronized with lots of July 4 / America thematic songs, but also mixed with various pop tunes of the last years, and they used songs by Prince and David Bowie during the performance.

Highs and lows

Highs and lows

Another Indie RPG meetup

After all the fireworks shenanigans, there was just enough time to eek out another Wednesday night for an Indie RPG meetup, similar to the week prior. Again, I set up a meetup on the I Attack The Darkness meetup, and this time not only did Matthew and Brolyn show up, but we got two additional players: Alex and Rizwan.

We pitched a bunch of things, including a concept that Brolyn is working on which sounded really cool: Playing villagers that supply adventurers in a sort of selfish resource management game (however it felt a little too early to try it out just yet).

We ended up going with the classic Microscope. Only Matthew and myself had played this before, and I was really happy that we got Alex to join us, as he was just there for D&D action, and had never seen these games before.

In this session we put together "The Rise and Fall of Atlantis", and set up bookend with "Conflicts arise between humans and merpeople" and "The Human Rebellion". After doing the Bans and Adds we knew that dragons, spells, light sabers, space faring technology, and pirates were out; but slavery, political intrigue, krakens, and obtanium (as the source of power) were in.

We didn't have a huge amount of time (one player had about an hour) but we were able to get two goes around the table, with a first focus being Obtanium itself, and a second one being Political Intrigue. We got one good role playing scene. It was definitely enough so that everyone got a feel for the game.

There was one moment where Matthew had an idea for how the scene would end, and I added an idea, where instead I should have demonstrated the Push and Voting mechanics, but we discussed it later, and I'm hoping that I'll learn from this mistake for the next time.

Atlantians unite!

Atlantians unite!

Sacramento Gaming (Take: 3) - Indie RPG night with Atlas Reckoning

So, now that I was a temporary GM for the I Attack The Darkness meetup, I went to work creating an event for an "Indie RPG / Story Games" night at The Game Room Adventure Cafe. The event was only up for about 3 days, but I got 3 bites, so that's a start!

I showed up a bit early, as did some of the players. Brolyn just moved to the area from Ohio, and just happened to find the meetup as I was posting the event, so just great timing!

We did a few rounds of various things, including Carcassone, so I could show the cafe owner Matt how it works. Just as we were about to start, two new customers came in and joined us for a 5 player session. Turns out they're also in D&D and such, so we chatted much of gaming.

They left, but then Matthew, the other story games player showed up. We then started in on a King of Tokyo game just as two more new customers walked in (Annie and Tyler), and we got them to join us. A fun romp was had, and there were dice and claws flying. I was the first killed, but also had to take over for owner Matt's Space Pengiun, and therefore also won the game. Turns out Annie and Tyler are super in Star Wars RPG and Werewolf, so quickly were bought into the stores premise, and would be coming back another time.

Story gaming: Atlas Reckoning in the far future

When it finally came time to play, we waiting a bit for another meetup person, but she ended up being a no show. I went through my binder to pitch games, and it looked like Matthew had heard or played many of them. In fact, he even brought his copy of Fall of Magic to the meetup just in case!

The last game I pitched was Atlas Reckoning, which was at the end of the binder, and Brolyn's eyes just sort of lit up. He's a huge fan of similar anime, and Matthew was excited by the premise as well. As the game is still in beta, he hadn't heard of it and was curious.

We dived into it... world building was unusual. We ended up with a premise of humanity being sent out in various ships into space, but our colony is the only one we're still aware of. At this point, humans have been genetically modified so much that they're almost not recognizable, except for their overall shape. We had people with green hairless skin and glowing eyes, among many other varieties. The ship had been out in space for an unknown amount of time, slowly accumulating material and salvaging what it can from various star systems. In this game humanities last stand was Gaia, our floating community / vessel.

Atlases? They are the mechs we use for mining and foraging, having the shape they do because of its utility in a variety of environments we may find ourselves. Although the human pilots are purely organic in nature, we decided there are a few implants designed to better interact with our technology.

Behemoths? In this case they are a recent occurrence: a randomly appearing set of creatures from an alternative dimension who appear through rifts in space. Although the humans believe they are just appearing and causing havoc for little reason, we all decided that really it was us humans who've invaded their territory and are the nuisance.

How can we win? We decided that learning to understand and control the ability to produce these warp portals would be decisive in victory. If we can control the portals we can easily close them... or enter them and salvage what we can. We've already returned with behemoth parts and have started to use that to enhance our Atlases to better deal with the threats, and upgrade our sensors.

Creating the Atlas

Creating the Atlas

We had enough time for an engagement, and I threw them into the combat for session 3, which was a very tough combat. That said, they got to explore all sorts of things like Stress and Burnout and Recovery actions, which really helped them see different parts of the system, and play lots of roleplaying scenes and flashback story elements. I felt like the characters really started to come to life, and despite Brolyn's little experience with story games, he just felt very well suited to the style. Matthew already seemed to have the background to dive into such a game. I was in heaven.

We didn't get to really play a full Downtime set of scenes, but tied off the fight prematurely so they could see what it was like and enjoy a great little scene in the Medbay. It felt like they were able to see most of the components of the game, even in an abbreviated way.

We did a Roses and Thorns session afterwards for feedback, and the biggest detractor was the limited time we had. We talked about ways to tighten up the session (like reducing the world building, or preplanning the Behemoths, and so on), but we all agreed that some of those things were really enjoyable, and it was a real struggle to see how to do it differently. In the end we played a bit over 3 hours, so one issue was just the late start... a full 4 hour session wouldn't have felt quite so rushed in the end (although as has been my experience, it would have only contained a World Build + Engagement + Downtime... I still haven't figured out how to get all of it to work with an additional Engagement at the end).

Matthew was also very motivated to get something like this meetup happening on a more regular basis, and I couldn't be more pleased if he's successful. I'd love to come visit at a future time and join in!

Happy customers, I hope!

Happy customers, I hope!

Sacramento Gaming (Take: 2) - Dungeon World hijack

A quick one-on-one Dungeon World session

On Sunday night, I headed over to The Game Room Adventure Cafe in the evening to see what was happening. Adriana, one of the employees, was there, and the scene was pretty dead. We got to chatting about D&D, which she has played for about 6 months now, and was sort of enjoying. I say sort of, because we talked about all the fun, but also some of the things that could be drags in some games.

I offered to run her a quick Dungeon World session, and she took the bait. Before long, we had Quorra the Elf Bard, raised by humans with an unknown lineage. We jumped into it, and I used the questions from my Scrimshaw Pass questions (which I posted about previously). It's always fun playing a game with the same set of starter questions, but coming out with a different outcome based on the player's outlooks and interests! There was a tower with the last signs of her unknown mother, a mute packmule of a man who ends up being a wizard of sorts, and two suspicious hirelings who try to murder her for her money. We ended on a cliffhanger, and it was good.

The session was about an hour long, and in our discussion afterwards, it sounded like this hit many of the marks for what she wants out of an RPG. She's still relatively new to the RPG scene, but I like to dream that these are the seeds that'll make another GM out here, one day. (Especially given that Dungeon World is just so much easier to manage, not just as a new player, but as a GM.)

This was also one of my first times running a one-on-one session, and I gotta say: I love it! I might need to make more such things happen in the future. 

D&D Adventure League night

So, the Game Room Adventure Cafe has Tuesday and Thursday Dungeons and Dragons Adventure League nights on their calendar. Thursday is especially busy, and Tuesday a little less so. I headed on the Tuesday for the 6pm start time.

There were two tables of gamers. One was running a homebrew setting that sounded pretty interesting: High elves had taken over the world in a Nazi-esque fashion, and have been dumping other races down a "bottomless" pit to get rid of them. However, those races have been unknowingly creating a hodge-podge culture down there, and are now working to free themselves.

The other table was 4 high school kids, mostly having never played D&D before, who were there to check out the scene. Normally, one of the cafe owners would run a D&D game for them. However, I was happy to step up and volunteer to run a thing!

Dungeon World and the Scrimshaw Pass

I warned the kids that this wasn't D&D proper, but they were cool with whatever. So, they did pay the cafe the normal $5 fee to play in D&D Adventure League, but I sort of hijacked them into Dungeon World.

We did some character creation, and had:

  • Kim J.U. (played by Tyler?): A halfing Druid from the frozen north, out to cleanse the land of evil spirits
  • Maiev (played by Ojhan): A halfling thief who grew up on the city streets in the south, and who is the estranged brother of Kim
  • Anduin (played by Eddie): A human Cleric who grew up on the streets and was adopted by the goddess of charity and the downtrodden
  • Hamoud (played by Joey): A human Ranger from the forests with his eagle companion, Habibi.

Before we started, I took a look at Time Franzke's wonderful Things to Do In the First Session document (also linked at this reddit page). It highlights those elements to bring up in session so that the players get to use the moves associated with their character. As we were establishing bonds between the characters, I took some notes in preparation for the session:

A cheat sheet for the first session on an index card.

A cheat sheet for the first session on an index card.

This gave me a few milestones to try and hit during the adventure, and I was able to make most of them happen. (Even a few of the ones that look unchecked, above, we actually got to later, such as the Druid talking to some animals, the thief disabling a trap, the cleric communing with his god.)

It made me realize that I want to have a cheat sheet version of these I can just whip out into play during the game. I remember reading Tim's original document and thinking, "there is no way I'm going to remember all of this!" But in fact there isn't too much you need to remember, if you condense it into little bullets. So... this is a background project that I'll link to when I'm done!

As far as the adventure, I went with the Scrimshaw Pass again... I mean, why not? It's totally open ended, and again, it worked really well. Why did you hire Lyurk's gang to get you through the pass? The spirits that haunt the lands there. How did you find out they are going to murder you in their sleep? We see that one of them has tagit oil and is trying to poison us / My god has told me not to trust them / etc.

All in all, we had a great little 3-4 hour session, which included some good bonds and tensions, suspicious hirelings, another hireling which turned friend, bone golems in a disturbed graveyard, a friend turned ogre, and a fire wizard's tower.

We discussed how they dug it. They enjoyed aspects such as the pace, the system, how easy it was to pickup, their freedom of movement. We did have to wrap up the final fight fairly quickly, but it included an unexpected betrayal, where one of the PCs sided with the fire wizard in the tower.

I don't know that I've prepared them for playing D&D so much, but they do have a feel for RPGs and what they can provide, so with them good luck in their journeys!

A somewhat crappy photo at night in front of the cafe with my Dungeon World players.

A somewhat crappy photo at night in front of the cafe with my Dungeon World players.

Sacramento Gaming (Take: 1)

Been visiting my folks in Sacramento, and because they are relatively new to this city, it means I get to explore things as well (and with a full time babysitter taking care of the daughter!)

Downtown Sacramento and Big Brother Comics

I got explore near downtown Sacramento one day, and after hitting a few thrift stores, I visited Big Brother Comics. Store was great! Huge selection of comics, lots of eye candy around the shop (like an old gumball type machine full of pink muscles!), shelves full of all the current board games, and more than few RPGs (but only of the D&D / Pathfinder / Star Wars varieties). Only one dude was working there at the time, but he was pretty friendly, and knew exactly where to take me to find things. I'm not a big comic guy, but love the occasional graphic novel, and was itching to buy Jason Lutes' Berlin. They also got two rooms of tables in the back dedicated to gaming, and apparently get good card game (a la Magic) and RPG business.

Great Escape Games

After a random farmers market and a slew of additional thrift stores, I headed to Great Escape Games, which is about 10 minutes out of downtown Sac. God DAMN that's a great game store. They specialize in miniatures, board games, and RPGs, and have plenty of each of those. RPGs are my thing, and I was pleasantly surprised by their extensive selection, including some indie stuff, and picked up a copy of Blades in the Dark (the John Harper production for which I missed the Kickstarter).

The store has as much, or quite possibly more space dedicated just to gaming. The back of the shop is full of tables made for miniature warfare, tournaments, a room with 4 tables for RPGs, and another section for pick up games and board games. I saw a couple of D&D games going on, and another table was about to start a session of something Savage Worlds related, but they already were full. I ended up getting into a pickup game of Settlers of Catan with some local friendlies, and got my gaming fix.

I Attack the Darkness (Meetup)

In preparation to game in the area, knowing I'd be here for about two weeks, I reached out to some folks, and joined a few meetups. The most active one that looks like it hits most of the right marks is I Attack The Darkness. They're located in the San Francisco / Bay Area in general, but there appears to be a Sacramento faction of gamers lodged in there. They're also very D&D specific, but I suppose to be expected in most parts.

After my Catan game, I ran into one of the aforementioned D&D GMs, and struck up a conversation. Turns out this was Tamir, one of the organizers of the I Attack the Darkness meetup! I got to meet him and Selena, his partner who originally started the meetup. They originally created it to replace their RPG gaming group, and now a few years later they are nearing on 1,000 members in the meetup.

We did an informal interview so they'd feel comfortable with me GMing under their banner, as they are very much advocates in ensuring a safe table for meetup. This made me even more confident that the group was the right one to be a part of! By that time it was late and the store was closing, so we parted ways.

The Game Room Adventure Cafe

Last time we were here in El Dorado Hills, there was a sign for a game cafe that was to be opening up. Obviously we were excited. The Game Room Adventure Cafe is still in its early days, but you can see the love put into it. 

The two owners, Matt and Ben, are both very friendly and motivated. They've built an escape room which is evocative and well designed. Depending on the night, the escape room is either $25 or $30 / person, and that gives you an hour of timed madness.

The space is not very large, but houses a small kitchen which serves some simple hot food and great coffee, two large shelves of the newest board games (and D&D books), a large shelf which is the free-to-play game library, and four very large rectangular tables that can serve well for the space needed to play intense board games and RPGs. These tables could actually be split into 8 large square tables as needed.

Currently they don't charge to enter, except for certain events or when they are full. For example, Tuesday and Thursday nights are D&D Adventure League nights, and they charge $5 entry for those events. That said, they also give you a $5 discount on D&D related purchases after paying that entry, so you can easily recoup the charge by making a purchase.

A growing shelf of free-to-play games; I've been slowly contributing to it as I've visited various thrift stores in the area: Qwirkle, Rack-O, Jenga, Maya Madness, Apples to Apples, Carcassone...

A growing shelf of free-to-play games; I've been slowly contributing to it as I've visited various thrift stores in the area: Qwirkle, Rack-O, Jenga, Maya Madness, Apples to Apples, Carcassone...

Escape Room: "The Machine"

On one afternoon, me wife and I scheduled an escape room session at the Game Room Adventure Cafe. We brought my parents (not really looking forward to it) and my daughter (really looking forward to it). 

Although I've been to about 4 of these in the past, this one has a really interesting design I haven't seen before. The escape room starts by splitting your party into two separate rooms. You can communicate with each other over the wall, and as you might guess, you sometimes have to work together to figure out how to open the doors, which let you continue into the next room. In the last room, you all work together to try and escape.

The ambiance is great, and the puzzles are on par with other really good escape rooms I've done in the past. If you are a fan of such things, this is a good one! They've also programmed various settings using sophisticated electronics, so have a number of difficulty levels, and plan to introduce other modes (such as room vs. room modes), to extend the lifespan of the room, and helps with replay-ability.

We got through the first rooms and into the next, but then failed there. The daughter found the clue we needed to proceed, but we didn't have enough time. She's begging to go back again!

The Final Girl at SGG

So, we found out that we weren't "announcing" meetups for the recurring Story Games Glendale meetup, which obviously might have some impact on whether or not people are getting notified it's happening. This was the first time Mark had just done so, and we ended up with a well rounded group of 6 of us. 

One of the players who showed didn't even know about the meetup, but just happened to be hanging out at Game Haus, and saw that I put up the "Story Games Glendale" name text on my table. He came over and was asking about it, and was already familiar with many of the types of games, so we had another taker!

The Final Girl

After a few pitches, some of which sounded great, we went with The Final Girl for a few reasons. We barely had enough for 2 tables (and if we did split up, the pitched games wouldn't be optimum). Some of the pitched games were new-ish, so would need a bit of reading and work. And best of all: Many hadn't played The Final Girl before (and those of us who had were looking forward to it). 

I had a copy of John Atkinson's Horror Plot Generator, which helped us as we were otherwise being indecisive as a group. I had four of the players each secretly choose one word from each column, and then speaking it out loud: "Writer in Maine eaten by clown". In this case, our new player was mentioning that "clown" just wasn't going to do it for him, and felt like it was taking the game too "gonzo", and would cheapen the session. The player suggesting 'clown' wasn't married to it anyways, so we changed it to "mental patient". Using the X-card for tone FTW!

Writers' Conference in Maine, and the cannibal mental patient

We decided on a conference in a small motel near a lake up in the mountains. We each created two characters, and almost none of them explicitly said "writer" as the profession, which was a great start. Many were perspective, aspiring writers (as it turned out during play), one was at the wrong conference, and of course we had the very odd groundskeeper as well.

After some introduction scenes at the airport and the hotel, we got to First Blood. An newbie ambulance driver pulled up to take care of an injured person, and of course they just happened to have an insane asylum patient in the back of the van, as well. The game proceeded how it normally does, and people started dying left and right. 

A tweak for The Final Girl with large groups

One tweak I really enjoyed, and would recommend when you have more than 5 players: The Final Girl has Carnage rules for larger groups. In those rules, the Killer (director of Standard scenes) kills everyone but one character. In our case, with 6 players, this felt like it would cause the game to proceed too quickly (even though the Killer can choose how many characters are in a given scene).

In our case, we made it so that the Killer could choose ahead of time whether they would play the scene as a Standard scene (with the goal of killing one character), or a Carnage scene (with the goal of killing all but one character). This allowed us to easily tweak the pace based on our desires and how long we wanted the game to possibly last. It was just a little more control over pace that worked to our advantage in this case, and didn't complicate or change the game in any other way.

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:

Episode LXVI: THAT'S NO MOON
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.

Wrap-up

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!