Newmexicon 2017

Getting to games

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

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

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

Albuquerque Wanderings

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

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

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

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

A word on the muster, and pitching games

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

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

Friday 8pm: Fallout Shelter RPG

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

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

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

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

A picture of people taking pictures.

A picture of people taking pictures.

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

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

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

Another group of (mostly) vault survivors

Another group of (mostly) vault survivors

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

Saturday 9am: Spacewurm vs. Moonicorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul's amazing handiwork

Paul's amazing handiwork

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

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

The universe in chaos, thanks to these guys.

The universe in chaos, thanks to these guys.

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

Saturday 2pm: Velvet Glove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 8pm: Atlas Reckoning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AR pilots

AR pilots

Sunday 9am: Forget-Me-Not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not trying to solve a murder

Not trying to solve a murder

And out...

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

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

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

200 Word RPG Challenge 2017

The Challenge

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

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

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

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

My entry this year

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

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

The full text is here on Google docs.

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

Danger Patrol at SGG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prince Blork

Prince Blork

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

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

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

Danger Patrol threats hit the table, over and over again

Danger Patrol threats hit the table, over and over again

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

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

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

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

Our pulp face

Our pulp face

Dungeon World and Ape City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atlas Reckoning in fantasy land

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

Atlas Reckoning...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aboleth from 1st edition D&D

Aboleth from 1st edition D&D

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

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

Strategicon Orccon 2017

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

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

Merry Drizztmas, Kurt!

Merry Drizztmas, Kurt!

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

Friday 2pm: Masks (GM: Carl Rigney)

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

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

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

Distress on LL928

Distress on LL928

Saturday 9am: Games on Demand, round one.

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

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

Some pics of GoD, round 1

Some pics of GoD, round 1

Saturday 2pm: Games on Demand, round two

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

Forget-Me-Not: Murder Hobo table

Forget-Me-Not: Murder Hobo table

My Dungeon World table

My Dungeon World table

Saturday 6pm: Games on Demand, round 2.5:

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

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

The Quiet Year, with lego

The Quiet Year, with lego

Saturday 8pm: Apocalypse World with Sam Carter.

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

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

Sunday morn: Pick up the daughter.

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

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

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

Nova's little Golden Sky Stories token structure

Nova's little Golden Sky Stories token structure

Lotus

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

Lotus

Lotus

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

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

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

Sage and Lightning

Sage and Lightning

End of con

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

Loot

Loot

And another Orccon comes to a close. 

Story Games Glendale: Atlas Reckoning (old beta)

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

Late December Story Games

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

Why Atlas Reckoning?

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

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

The AR rundown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A little glimpse at mech vs kaiju

A little glimpse at mech vs kaiju

David and I; Rookie and Hotshot

David and I; Rookie and Hotshot

 

 

Story Games Glendale: Hearts Blazing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hearts Blazing, and our relationship chart.

Hearts Blazing, and our relationship chart.

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

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

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

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

Some of the down sides:

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

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

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

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

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

November

Been a while

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

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

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

Fiasco at Story Games Glendale (Nov 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Final Girl at Story Games Glendale (Nov 16)

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

Thanksgivings and such

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

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

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

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

 The youngest of the nephews. Get them early!

 The youngest of the nephews. Get them early!

Holidays ahead!

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

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

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

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

Getting played by the daughter

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

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

A game of Iota

A game of Iota

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

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

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

Crazy kid...

Crazy kid...

Story Games Glendale: Roguish

A few days after Big Bad Con, and I knew a Story Game Glendale meeting was coming right up. Helps with the little downer that I was expecting coming from such a non-stop story high during the last weekend.

We met up at Game Haus Cafe again, which so far is working pretty well. The disadvantage is the cost, but man, those advantages: 1000 board games. Great tables. Good food and coffee. A decent environment regarding background volume.

I carpooled there with my fried Lucas. We chatted, and played two rounds of Lost Cities.

David showed up with a friend Mark, and we dived into it. Did a few pitches, and ended up going with Roguish, which I had played the prior weekend. This is a very rules light, story game that emulates the dungeon crawl of Rogue, the old ASCII game from the early '80s.

Things that worked well:

  • We used my little Lego head pieces of different colors as our avatars. (Don't forget the little head icon is exactly what your character looked like in Rogue... bonus!)
  • This matched the colored index cards we used for our characters, which made it super easy to identify who was who.
  • There was some confusion when people had gone their turn, and when they could or couldn't come to "aid" another... I got to use my customized spotlight cards (based on some others... I'll link to it when I find them!) Although these were made for other RPGs such as Dungeon World, I found these worked really well for this game.
  • Everyone was very open to the open-ended narrative structure (or I should really say non-structure) of the game, and brought cute little stories, conflicts, and individualized cards for the game.

What didn't work well:

  • The game is so very story-ish... I think most folks want a little mechanics there. Talking to Lucas on the way home, this was exactly the problem. Even if that mechanic was uber-light, and just let you track the 5 hit points you have, or something. In fact, this would more accurately emulate the original games, perhaps. 

Mark had to go, and it was getting late. We could've probably fit in something small, but decided to go with a game of Splendor instead. One of the advantages of Game Haus!

A game of roguish.

A game of roguish.

Four characters into the dungeon depths. 

Four characters into the dungeon depths. 

The final fight! Legendary Wicked Forks with their pair of rabid rats! Our friend the werefish bard getting some Air Piranha groupies. A character death. Epic ending.

The final fight! Legendary Wicked Forks with their pair of rabid rats! Our friend the werefish bard getting some Air Piranha groupies. A character death. Epic ending.

Big Bad Con 2016: Sunday and out

7am: The Wolf Pack

You read that right. 7am. It was not easy getting up that early. On Sunday. After gaming at full blast all weekend. But it was well worth it.

I've always felt that if there is going to be a physical exercise event at a game convention, I'm going to be a part of it. I ran at the Wolf Pack last year, and it was a serious struggle, but it was the first <insert any number here> K run I've ever done. I'm not in bad shape overall, but I've never been a runner. Like, ever. I started getting into a little bit of trail running in 2015, and actually found it enjoyable. That said, I never got very good, and I haven't run anything in 8 months. So, a little trepidation. Worst case I could walk, right?

There was less than a dozen of us. I was surprised to see Sean, to be honest... he looked worked the last night during our 3am conversation.

But out the door we went, and thanks to some awesome planning by our run leader, we had a very pleasant journey through quiet neighborhoods and a park, and so close to the hotel. Good going, Walnut Creek. And in the end, it was not nearly as physically tough for me as I had feared.

Wolf Pack 2016!

Wolf Pack 2016!

Many Pokemon lost their freedom on that run...

Many Pokemon lost their freedom on that run...

The gap (and no nap)

My original plan was to head back, and then nap, as I had nothing scheduled until 2pm.

That didn't happen. Everywhere I went I ended up getting waylaid by friendly folk, and in fact I sat there in my sweaty jogging gear for an hour, for the first conversation. Shower. More conversations. Dealer room. Discussions with Andi and Becky at the teen game room. Wander around. Brunch at the dining room / atrium hangout area, joined by Kristine. More conversations.

In a sense this was the nap I needed, as the energy just flowed into me. This was a recurring theme for me in this con.

Got to meet fellow Gauntleteer Brian Vo during my various wanderings. Turns out other Gauntlet members were in the area, to be discovered after the fact.

Got to meet fellow Gauntleteer Brian Vo during my various wanderings. Turns out other Gauntlet members were in the area, to be discovered after the fact.

Legend of the Elements: The Last Dowry

Of four games I've Kickstarted and wanted to play this weekend, this was the third. (The forth was Masks, but that'll have to wait to another time). Legend of the Elements is a PbtA game by Max Hervieux that emulates stories in the vein of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Andy has run this a few times, and it sounds like he likes to place the game in the timeframe of the 100 year war, where the Fire Kingdom is starting to push outwards and make claims to Earth Kingdom land, and a time when the Air benders and monks are being hunted.

  • GM: Andy Munich!
  • Kevin as ???, the Earthshaper
  • Doug as Gobo, the Spiritshaper
  • Mateo as ???, the Watershaper
  • Tomer as Refenja, the Scholar

The Last Dowry is one of the two scenarios provided with the base game. Being PbtA, the scenarios are very high-level, provide leading questions specific to different playbooks (i.e. characters archtypes) and no strict guidance on the journey or destinations. What this means is that I've read the scenario in the past, but had no idea what would happen as a player.

In my case I wanted to play a non-bender (or "shaper", as is used in the game, to avoid any legal entanglements). Although the game hinges around element benders (and includes a "spirit" bender / communicator as well), it provides just as many playbooks for other character types (the Monk, the Peasant, the Warrior, and so on). Because the other three players chose benders, this worked well with my choice.

I grabbed the Scholar, and went for a stocky individual who was an inventor type (inspired from my Friday night character, perhaps). This one playbook has a special mechanic called Material. Material is used in aiding certain moves, or creating inventions, although rolls are generally still needed. I liked that it frames a limited economy in session, so you have to portion it out, as in many mechanical constraints.

I also went for some bonds with other PCs that played into a narrative of an ailment which I had, which caused me to need to eat constantly, and allowed me to eat almost anything organic, despite no change in body type or sustenance. I love throwing in little LARP-lite mannerisms, and because I hadn't eaten yet, I decided to very, very slowly chew on my sandwich and snacks over the course of the session... the point being that every time the other players looked over at me, I wanted to be chewing.

As far as the game itself, Andy pulled this off so well. He nailed it as far as characterizations, and we had so many NPCs come in and out of the narrative that felt so authentically from that world. I think that really helped enable me to play up the style of humor and personality that I've associated with the Avatar story. Another aspect of the game system I like is that it doesn't force humor or trappings on the narrative, but allows you to easily associate those in the play-style.

Andy also uses audio heavily in some of his games, and this was my opportunity to gauge how he does it differently from myself. In his case, he doesn't use looping background audio, but instead had very poignant tracks that sound like they're straight out of the show (perhaps they are). He would play these 1-2 minutes tracks at key moments in the story, such as when we start a confrontation. It worked very well, and I may emulate this in some of my games.

Legend of the Elements Pro-tip: One element of the game I found hard to understand, during my initial read, was the system of Tags. These are narrative tags that are assigned to characters, NPCs, and locations ("environment tags"), and seemed to share some flavor with the FATE system, but I didn't see exactly how they'd work in game... especially as a character can get 3 tags before being "temporarily out of commission". (Note: There is no mechanical cause of death, unless the player desires that outcome). Andy made this really easy to understand, and play with, by pulling out his pool of story tags. Additionally, he had a whole set of printed pictures to represent locations and characters, and we could use those easily during the game.

The tags themselves began to make all the sense. You get hit by an acorn on the head? You get the Dazed tag. You're falling through the air? Falling. Swept up by a large eagle in mid-fall? Remove that Falling and Grabbed. Do some Earth bending and raise a wall to protect a hut? Add the Fortified tag to that location. Additionally, what you find is that to make certain moves specifically directed to a character or location, they must be tagged... which means you have a bit of setup in getting a tag on a villain, first. This provided some of the setup and narrative-esque machinations of FATE, but was a lot simpler and less mechanically based.

Tag pool, with tagged people and environments above.

Tag pool, with tagged people and environments above.

We wrapped up a little on the late side (about 4.5 hours for this session), but the story felt complete. Andy mentioned that he could have erred on the side of having less "village" story elements prior to the main course of the narrative, however we all agreed that the village really set the tone and scene so well. 

Mega-Dinner!

Once again down in the lobby, I found Andy as part of an organizational process by which 20 odd individuals were going out to dinner. I got tagged along.

Thanks mucho to Kristine for calling around and getting us a place that worked! We ended up at a Japanese and sushi restaurant that was super excellent. They had a large banquet room that basically just had us in it. Conversations flowed, as did some of only liquor (well, sake) that I drank all weekend. Got to meet Karen Twelves and hear a romantically geeky wedding proposal story... during a game of Parsely, for heaven's sake. How amazing.

Stras and I family-styled some delicious Sushi, and the conversation flowed, as it does. Thanks to Sean and Karen for sneaking out on us, in a pleasant way. Bastards.

More Legend

We returned to the hotel to find dozens of people on many tables and circles sharing in the post-con glow. Chatting, reliving, loving. I got into a nice circle with Andi and others, and realizing I didn't have a way to get back to Sacramento the next day, I even got an awesome offer from Jeremy to drive me back. Although his timing didn't work for me, he explained the Amtrak ride being pleasant experience, and so that decided the matter.

And then Stras runs up like an excited puppy, convincing Andy to run (another) Legend of the Elements game, with him and Morgan and whomever would be convinced. I waiting for them to get others, as my body and mind wanted to just chill.

But as it goes, I followed my heart. We found a little space, and set ourselves up. An amazingly fun little narrative ensued, with Andy running, Stras as Shu the Airbender (with very Ang-like personality), Morgan as a Fire nation Warrior deserter, and me continuing with the Refenja character from the prior game. Even more so than the prior game, we all embraced Avatar-inspired humor and interactions. Andy really brought it, with a cool mystery of who-done-burned-the-village, with nasty villain, and heart-wrenching ending. This could have easily been a great episode produced as a prequel for the series, and to me, that is a measure of the absolute success of our game.

But oh my lord were we wiped out towards the end...

Bookends

And it is with that, that I realize that Stras and Andy and I may have very well book-ended the con. We played in the Dread game Thursday evening, and then this final game that ran all Sunday night to the wee hours. Perhaps there were others playing, who can say. But I'm proud of this particular achievement.

Goodbyes, a Transit Journey, and Home

Dennis and I got up in the morning, still a buzz and chatting about the con, and what the future entails. We checked out, grabbed a ride to the BART station with the hotel shuttle, and then split our separate ways.

I then embarked on a very long, multi-staged mass transit journey, but damn if Jeremy was right. That Amtrak ride is nice. I got some family time with the parents, and then off to grab a flight back to L.A.

The highlight of the journey home, game-wise, was character generation for Golden Sky Stories with my 7-year old daughter on the flight home. She wrote this, unprompted, about her cat character (swoon!):

Hi. I'm a kitty. I'm black. I'm actually pure black. I'm super DARK! My name is Willow. What did you say? Oh, ya, I'm cute. I'm also very selfish. I'm 2 years old. It's hard for me to make friends with people, but nobody tells me what to do. I'm FREE. Yay! I can do everything I want. I'm very independent.
Toot toot! Until next time...

Toot toot! Until next time...

Final thanks

I've said it elsewhere, but it's worth saying again and again as many times as I can: Thank you to Sean Nittner and the entire Big Bad crew and volunteers and participants for making this such an amazing, supportive, and safe experience for everyone. I don't think I can recommend it highly enough. Although the convention and many of the people will be missed until the next time I can attend and connect, it serves as an inspiration for the places I will go and things I'll do. Cheers!

Big Bad Con 2016: Saturday

I woke up groggy after 2 nights of unsatisfying sleep... was it Sunday already? Sure felt like it... holy shit, it was only Saturday morning. That shot an injection of happy straight into my cranium.

World Wide Wrestling: Fall Fracas!

So, when planning for this convention, I was hoping to get in as many games that I've KickStarted, but haven't played, and especially didn't quite groc. Pretty much at the top of that list was World Wide Wrestling. Although on the surface it sounds like just an RPG about wrestling in a ring, it's really so much more. I had heard good things on a podcast or two, and it turned out to be all true.

  • GM: Noam Rosen
  • John Aegard as Sam Nostradamus, the Monster
  • Ben as Ray Locke, the Technician
  • Kris as Avery Adams, the Anti-Hero
  • Tomer as Super Novae, the Golden Boy (or Girl, in this case)

WWW, like most Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) games, starts with playsheets that lay out the common tropes of the setting. In this game, those represent the different types of wrestlers: The Technician, The Veteran, The High Flyer, and so on. In this case, you are the wrestler as a whole. There is your persona in the ring, and also your life outside the ring. These collide and conflict in interesting ways during the story, within yourself, and also with other players. Like all PbtA games, you create much of the "backstory" in the game itself, by answering choosing selections from the sheet (Hailing From: Los Angeles, California, and Entrance: Showy and Ostentatious), as well as answering various questions (Who's jealous of my rapid rise? Who did I debut with, and leave behind?)

Before long, you've got Heat with various players (at the table, as well as non-player characters), and that works to your advantage in the ring. 

One of the best parts is coming in with a very thin, half-baked idea, but watching it grow when interacting with everyone at the table. John, who sat across from me, came in as Sam Nostradamus, a burly dude with dark, mystic regalia. But before long, his story had turned into one of a wrestler who'd been through 5 incarnations, and may be on the chopping block if he doesn't get the audience excited.

I came in as Super Novae, a star loved by the audience. However, it turned out that I had a dark past as a villain duo, the Binary Stars... and that I'd switched sides in the ring, leaving my partner in the dust. In the background, she's returned as the (NPC) Pride, and I had Heat with her as well. She didn't make an appearance in this narrative because we wanted to concentrate on the players at the table, however in a home game, that can certainly happen, and cause drama.

I've heard in conversation that someone criticized the art. I can't fathom that level of blindness.

I've heard in conversation that someone criticized the art. I can't fathom that level of blindness.

Because we were playing a con game, we got 3 matches... two individual bouts, as well as a tag-team match. Naom, our GM, who plays "Creative", basically plans the bouts, and also the winners. This means the match is fixed, but us, as the players, didn't know who would win until towards the end of the match. And even then, there are ways to upset the balance, and have Creative change their mind and let the other wrestler win, if the crowd is in their favor, or otherwise. In the end, it's all about entertaining the audience.

Another excellent facet is that wrestlers choose to either be a Babyface (good guy) or Heel (bad guy). Each has slightly different additional powers in regards to a match. In our case we had Sam Nostradamus and Kris as Avery Adams as Heels, and Super Novae and Ben as Ray Locke as Babyfaces. This set up a spectacular final match between the lot of us!

This game was an absolute blast. Not all of us were wrestling aficionados, but you couldn't really tell, because it's so easy to go completely gonzo and get into it.

Exhibit 32b: Sam's spiraling career... from Sam Stone, to Glorious Sam, to Corporal Sam Victory, to Sam Steel the construction worker, and finally... to Sam Nostradamus. My nemesis.

Exhibit 32b: Sam's spiraling career... from Sam Stone, to Glorious Sam, to Corporal Sam Victory, to Sam Steel the construction worker, and finally... to Sam Nostradamus. My nemesis.

In the end, the game just kept you feeling like you wanted more. And from what I've heard this really shines as an on-going campaign where you play a few "seasons". Wrestlers may get fired or retire out, or get injured to a point where they can no longer go on efficiently. And you can bring in new stars to fill their absence.

What more can I say? Favorite game of the con. And props to Noam for helping us be awesome by being an awesome Creative.

The ring. Picture by Brian Kwa.

The ring. Picture by Brian Kwa.

Lunch at Pinky's Pizza

I caught up with Andy and Dennis, and we didn't have much time before Dennis' 2pm game, but we decided to run over to Pinky's Pizza Parlor. Not too far, but Andy had a car, so that helped cut down the time. Food was mediocre, but not bad, and we were even joined for a quick chat by Noah (who turns out is from The Gauntlet community, for which I sometimes get to play in online games).

Ad hoc: Cheat Your Own Adventure

After the morning session ending at 1pm, I had a big gap until 8pm. I think it's vital planning for some down time, to get refreshed. I find more often than not, it ends up being a chatty talk-fest with groups of like-minded individuals, or ad hoc gaming. Or both combined.

So, before long, I find myself convincing a nice big table filled with Andy, Kristine, Andy, Mateo (from last nights game), and Vivian from Sac-town (yay! we got to game!) and more for a little quick thing I found online, that I've been wanting to try.

Cheat Your Own Adventure is a little game written by Shane Mclean, which emulates a Choose Your Own Adventure book in the best way possible. It's a little GM-less game, where you take turns narrating a scene, and 3 other people create possible choices for your character. The narrator chooses one of the possible choices, and then you determine if its a positive outcome, or a horrible death. If the choice is good, than the author of the choice gets to be the next narrator.

If the choice is bad, then the author gets to narrate the death. But lo! As in days of youth, you had your finger bookmarking that last crossroad... and the narrator gets to go back and choose one of the other 2 paths. And that one will always succeed. And on you go.

The path gets more and more difficult, but you will always succeed down the second path, so there will be a happy ending, eventually. And the game itself? Riotous good fun, and very collaborative.

Andy started us off with his little setting: "You are on a field trip with your class at the Natural History Museum, and fall asleep on a bench. You wake up to find it dark, you are by yourself, and the museum is locked." The title of the book? "The Field Trip... Through Time!" We had a shrinking Obelisk, an Egyptian slave driver / taxi driver, and a universe rending rip in time, among other things.

This game is a blast. 

Ad hoc: Roguish

I'd been hoping to game with Tre, who I hadn't seen since last years con, except online. In fact, we played in a little Fall of Magic session a few weeks back on Google Hangouts. He got into a Games on Demand (GoD) session that we didn't, but fortunately met up with him a little down the track. We were joined by two others, and found a table in the little teen gaming hall, that was mostly open.

Andy volunteered to run roguish, a free little game by Evan Silberman that emulates a little dungeon crawl (a la ASCII video game Rogue from the early 80's). In this case, however, the rooms, monsters, and treasures are crowd-sourced from the players, shuffled, and help create a little GM-less narrative game (sans mechanics).

Every few rooms you find one with a set of stairs, and you dive deeper into the dungeon. In our case we decided on a setting with science-fantasy steam punk, in a floating boulder of a dungeon. I had a couple of Lego space heads we used as character markers, and we were off delving.

It's a silly little game, and has next-to-no mechanics, but plays pretty quick (~1 hour or so), and we all had a great time. Definitely in the read-to-play pocket for the future! The best part is seeing all the silly and weird that your fellow players have created, as you go along. Also, Andy was a big fan of ensuring that even after we finished, with monster and treasure cards to spare, we went through and examined them all, as that's always worth a few chuckles.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles...

I gotta send a shout out to my wife, Jennifer, who in the meantime was painting with a bay area artist on an electric box in Glendale! She's over on the right side (and found on instagram as @jgurantz). The bay area artist is Margeau B (on the left). I don't usually say "woot", but WOOT!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled blog...

The Grand Warren

Another of the games I've Kickstarted, couldn't quite grok, and really really really wanted to play. It was at the top of my list, next to World Wide Wrestling. The fact that the caliber of GMs was super high as well (Jason Morningstar, Steve Segedy, Colin Fahrion, and Jesse Coombs)... bonus.

We’ll play The Warren in epic mode, as four groups of rabbits cooperate (and compete!) across four different tables simultaneously. The threats will be relentless, the adventure will be epic, and the Black Rabbit will always be at your paw.

I sat down at a random table, and it slowly came together:

  • GM: Colin Fahrion
  • Albert Kong, as ???, our doctor and herbologist, Composed
  • Kim Farrell, as Tkon'e (Blackberry), Marked by the Black Rabbit
  • Julie Southworth as Syewen (Power Song), Dominant
  • Tomer as Senalisen (Quick Water), the Swift Runner

As it turns out, each table was a separate warren (aka territory) on an island. We each have our quadrant, and comprised of the Salmon, Elk, Orca, and Red Birch (I know I got that tree wrong) tribes. Almost immediately, we created our characters in true PbtA style, answering various questions, and having some interactions with each other. Additionally, we were also answering questions that defined our factions.

And then there was the little stuffed rabbit doll on the table. Each warren had a figure who traveled to other warrens to deliver messages, ultimatums, and just communicate in general. You see, traveling from warren to warren would be close to impossible for any of us, unless we were thrown out of our warren... and even then the journey would be highly dangerous.

Our rabbit was the matriarch of the island, which also meant that we had the warren in "control". As it turns out, we ended up being very isolationist, and in fact kick out any rabbits that breed with other tribes. That contributes to our shrinking numbers.

What was cool was when we stopped for a few moments to listen to everyone introduce their tribes. All of a sudden we find out the Orca clan is completely blood thirsty, and has an initiation rite that includes swimming to a small island and back... basically the Spartans of the group. Other tribes had similar, quite different, personalities.

Colin setting the tone, just prior or after Jason did his great X-card spiel. Picture by Brian Kwa.

Colin setting the tone, just prior or after Jason did his great X-card spiel. Picture by Brian Kwa.

And despite us initially diving into the conflicts and issues within the rabbit communities, very quickly it because apparent that there was another larger issue... the Humans. They had been coming to the island seasonally, but now were establishing a permanent residence. And they brought hunting dogs.

Within the first five minutes of play, Jason Morningstar comes over to borrow a new playsheet from our GM, Colin. He'd killed his first PC. I think we all just stared like deer in the headlights, feeling quite vulnerable.

This game was so great. At first I had the desire to visit other tables, and in fact my character was a bit of an explorer, at least around our warren. However in retrospect I really like what they did here. The stuffed rabbit dolls did travel around with messages, ultimatums, and news and tidings, and that in turn informed our (warped) view of the world. 

One aspect of the system I really enjoyed was the Innovate move: When you do something unheard of, imagine what your actions would look like as a move. Basically, we could craft our own moves. At one point in the narrative, one of us spoke for the First Rabbit, a spirit / rabbit god, of sorts. Because of this, Colin had us roll for the move, and because we were successful, we now had the Speaking for the First Rabbit move. We just invented religion.

You can see the map, split into the 4 quadrants for the 4 warrens.

You can see the map, split into the 4 quadrants for the 4 warrens.

As time went on, things got to a head, and the last 20 minutes was pure chaos. Rabbit warrens were having a war, and we later found out that half the island was on fire due to another Innovate move by another warren.

We split our clan in two, and one joined the Orca in the south, and one went to a remove little area. Poor Tkon'e was our injured and pregnant rabbit, and was carried off by a hunting dog, to everyone's horror... but her special power had always been Marked by the Black Rabbit: When others presume you dead, you’re not. Return, injured but alive, at some later time—with an incredible story. Then cross off this move. She comes back months later, with the 4 scars she earned earlier in the story, and with a litter of little bunnies. An epic win.

Overall, the game itself is great. Playing prey is daunting, as you have almost no ability to fight back. There is a panic track, which is brutal. And getting injured means you scratch off a basic move, which severely handicaps your rabbit. Captures the feelings really well.

The execution of this particular con game was stellar. It was a great balance of being able to play a standard game, but with an larger mega-game going on, that everyone felt a part of. Superb.

Late night ramblings

Fatigue be damned. The next 3 hours or so was filled with running into random lovely people and just having gaming and nerd conversations, as well as talks about the con itself and its excellent support of the community and safety. Highlights always include Andi (from Seattle!), Gavin and others, a discussion on Dread with David Kizzia and Andy, and a group of us being able to lend a helping ear for Sean to vent to.

Looks like 3-4 hours of sleep left until the Wolf Pack 5K run! Wait... what?

Big Bad Con 2016: Friday

Game arrives!

So, I left my Lego box at the cafe in Burbank airport on the way up to the bay area, back on Wednesday morning. Security confiscated it (and of course security is located outside the terminal), and I found out during the boarding process of our plane. Super suckie.

I was stressing on the flight, since I think the game shines with the Lego props, but thought of a few alternatives: maybe Dread it up? Fortunately, the lost-and-found lady at Burbank was dope, and helped me out by Fedex-ing the game box to the hotel. It arrived Friday morning, and I was set to go!

Registration

Last year I was impressed by the the con badges at registration. They included your name on the front, and optional twitter tag (or whatever), but also had your scheduled games listed on the back, including times and room numbers. I consistently heard people marveling at that magic. They also give you little buttons based on all sorts of things like if you pledged to the KickStarter (which helped fund private rooms for all games!) and if you are a GM.

They added pronoun stickers, which I think is awesome in being able to get everyone comfortable about gender associations for their conversation partners. And there are always a bottomless well of conversations, in my experience.

And then they took it to the next level: Playbooks. They created little playbooks to gamify social interactions at the con. You could choose one of them from Mage, Explorer, Ambassador, and Rogue, initially. Each of these had some basic principles on the front, and then a list of goals on the back. Whenever you complete one of these, you Mark XP! Mark 5 XP, and level up at the registration desk by getting the button, and choose another playbook. When you completed the 4 basic playbooks, they had advanced playbooks! You can see the Wolf in my image (there was also Little Red), however I was never able to complete those for the button... they included goals such as "clean up a room you see that has been left a mess" and "feed a staff member that is too busy to get food". All very optional, but oh so fun. Even if you didn't really get into it, it was just a brilliantly executed little piece of gamer-love.

Badges, buttons, playsheets, and more!

Badges, buttons, playsheets, and more!

In addition to all that, there are also amazing donation events, such as the Tell Me About Your Character booth, which raises money for Doctors without Borders:

Nathan wants you! Photo by Brian Kwa.

Nathan wants you! Photo by Brian Kwa.

Lunch: Ramen Hiroshi

Andy came out from SF, and drove Dennis and I to Ramen Hiroshi, in the downtown Walnut Creek area. Most restaurants would be a fair walk from the hotel (not really a problem normally, but difficult if you have a limited window between games).

We enjoyed a few bowls of ramen. Their standard Hiroshi ramen was delicious, and even comes with a free little side of Chicken Karaage. Good conversations, and then back...

A brief viewing of Ghost Court

I was walking about, and happened by the room where Ghost Court was in session. Just stuck around to watch one session in play (it happened to be Ross Cowman as a human on the stand), and it was pretty hilarious. I didn't play, but I mention this because it looked quite popular, and it's in KickStarter mode now (see link above), and I regret not having a go. But in all fairness, I was going to start my game...

Ghost Court in session!

Ghost Court in session!

Fallout Shelter RPG

My PbtA hack for the Fallout Shelter phone game, written about elsewhere and in my various blog posts, was first on my list. Originally I was going to run this for normal con-goers, but Sean asked if I could do it for the teen track. April was a non-teen who wanted in, and waited on signing up for this slot, and was therefore able to secure a place. I'm honored she joined us!

  • GM: me!
  • Bayan as Em Peached, the Ex-Overseer
  • Leo as Elizbeth, the Wasteland Explorer
  • Leo's cousin (name?) as Professor Gregor, the Scientist
  • April as Indi-Go (?), the Food Engineer

A good little session. Bayan and Leo were the two 13-year olds, and uber enthusiastic. I was pleasantly surprised with Bayan's unrelenting pun-fest with character names, including his own character, Em Peached Nuca Mer the Immigrant (bonus for getting Nuka in there!), and Bruce Wane the Wasteland Orphan. I regret not talking in a low, growly voice as the orphan, in retrospect. Also, he wore his Vault 111 hoodie, and brought a little man bomb that made explosion sounds. 

In the end, April's Indi-go was able to complete her mission and make it back to her vault. Bayan's Em Peached did get back, starved and dehydrated, and was promptly thrown in prison. The others died horrible deaths. So: success!

Most of my crew! Unfortunately April had already left before picture time. Notice Bayan's "little man" bomb sitting at the bottom left.

Most of my crew! Unfortunately April had already left before picture time. Notice Bayan's "little man" bomb sitting at the bottom left.

Dinner?

I can't remember now, but I did eat. Maybe I'll edit later when memory returns. But I will say that BBC makes it a point to tell con-goers to follow the 3-2-1 rule, and I will reiterate it now:

3-2-1. In the excitement of gaming it is easy to forget some of the basics. The 3-2-1 con rule is a reminder to get a minimum of 3 hours of sleep, 2 meals, and 1 shower each day.
 

Paradise

I love signing up for game systems I haven't played, or even heard of. This was one of the latter, and I don't regret it. It was listed with:

You’ve traveled long and far to find it. The last haven this side of the Mississippi. They said it’d be safe. They said it lived up to the name. They said it was perfect. But right now, Paradise just looks like a dump.
War Stories is an RPG all about telling stories and surviving to see another day in an apocalyptic world. Players will take turns sharing a tale of harrowing adventure from their past, all while an impending threat encroaches upon their safety.

The GM was Alexis, who turns out is from LA. (Represent!) Played with Matteo and Brian and one other (name redacted). The setting was about 75 years after the "incident".

I created my character as young Novinski the Wizid, a little wizard / wiz-kid, grown up learning fixing things from her mom. And now orphaned and travelling the wild. What I loved, however, was the "Knacks" in this system... the whole character was defined by a few phrases, and also a list of skills. The list is still in beta mode, but I really dug options such as "Fixing stuff" and "Swindling". Some options have asterix, which implies that they are more complex in this post-apoc world, and therefore more expensive to purchase:

The War Stories character sheet

The War Stories character sheet

The game ran in 2 sections, which I thought was really interesting... an initial round-table, narrative vignette / story-telling part, where we each took turns describing our character in a scene. These scenes also are used by each player to add canon to the story, as desired. This felt very similar to some GM-less games I've played, including those from postworldgames.

After this initial section, we then become a more traditional GM-based game, where Alexis brought us into a scene where all the characters were mostly assumed to know each other (or just get to know each other). It's a little loose, and I think that transition could be a little more structured (e.g. with bond-developing questions you see in PbtA games).

From there it was more of a traditional GM-based RPG, however the mechanics were very narrative friendly, as you could really do anything, however your chances were just remarkably better with skills you had. It sounds like the mechanics are bit in flux with the system, but I actually thought they worked pretty well (d6 for non-proficient rolls, d6+d8 for proficient rolls, requiring a 5+ to succeed, if I remember correctly).

The story itself was fun... no spoilers, but I felt like Alexis did a great job evoking the post-apoc setting. It felt dusty and dirty, and the little village we were a part of felt well fleshed out. I felt the ambiance as wandering through the villages of Fallout and Fallout 2 (but that's me).

Alexis did have music, and I supplied my bluetooth speaker, which I was carrying around, but I don't think the audio itself was that audible. When it was, it didn't add too much to the game.

We did do a good post-wrapup session, but I think I forgot to mention audio feedback. One player mentioned he'd like stats for the characters, but I dissented, saying that many games do stat+skill, and I really liked how this one felt different, and felt like it was in sync with the narrative basis of the game. 

Paradise with Brian, Bill, Mateo, and Alexis.

Paradise with Brian, Bill, Mateo, and Alexis.

Big Bad Con 2016: Thursday

Heading Back to the Bay Area

I lived up in SF for almost 8 years, so always love an excuse to get up there. On the plus side I got to fly up with my daughter, visit my brother and his lovely family, see the cousins hang out for mucho tiempo, and see my parents. The down side was not getting to see San Francisco at all, or the friends who reside within it.

Cousins! <3

Cousins! <3

Thursday rolled around, and I made a hasty afternoon exit to a slow, mass-transit crawl up to Walnut Creek. OK, it wasn't that bad. It was really just the standing on the very slow Dumbarton Bridge "express" bus that was lame. It did give me a chance to see the new Rogue One trailer (thanks Morgan!), so not all bad.

The Walnut Creek Marriott

Big Bad Con 2015, the only prior one I've attended, was in Oakland. I remember the hotel being easy to navigate, and with a decent bar. Apparently they bolted down the beds in the rooms, which prevents being able to have private game rooms. That's a show stopper. So...

BBC 2016 was in the Walnut Creek Marriott. I found it a couple of notches up the scale. The rooms were very nice, with hardwood / laminate flooring (much preferable to old carpet nastiness). I checked in to find that my particular room had a window that was intersected in half by the sloping roof. Odd. But that allowed me to see the weather outside, as well as look inside the hotel down at the lobby and dining room below! I spied some gamers ripe for the picking, and getting over some initial vertigo and introversion, I took the plunge.

I stepped up and said my initial hello "Gamers?", and also under the pretext of being hungry, and "how's the grub?" But pretext wasn't needed. It was like stepping into a hug. Suddenly I'm sitting with 6, then 8, then 10, then a dozen individuals, as more little particles came walking into the hotel and gravity worked its magic. Amazingly, I almost immediately got to run into Andy from Seattle. I also got to the lovely wife Kristine, which I hadn't previously met.

Gamers spotted in their natural habitat, with their strange modes of communication. I'm at home.

Gamers spotted in their natural habitat, with their strange modes of communication. I'm at home.

A Dread session

And then Jay, a member of our circle, pretty much mandates some ad hoc gaming! Before I know it, I'm signing up to run a game of Dread. A beam of sunshine named Stras walks in (we've gamed at Go Play NW), and before long, six of us are down in a lower lobby floor, in a dark corner, and I'm running that Dread scenario I wrote about not long ago. Included:

  • GM: me! And as NPC Tarna (Electronics / Sensors), who died in the first minute
  • Stras as Pyotr Romanov (EV Repair / Gravitonics)
  • Jay as Abydos (Heating / Mechanics)
  • Bananachan as Charlie from the Moon (H20 / Waste Disposal)
  • Kristine as Sassafras Jones (Hazmat / Team Psych)
  • Andy as Frunda 41/101 (Power / Radiation)

The last time I ran this I had a 3 hour time limit; This time we played around 4+, ending at a cool past-midnight. The hotel room scenery was good and abandoned, and it's amazing how well the hotel's quiet easy listening meshed with the creepy background audio I was playing.

Everyone seemed to have a good time, and the ambiance worked. I've got mad respect for Stras and Andi (having played with both before) and will freely admit, a little nervous to run for them. But that lasts for a few nanoseconds before diving in, and fortunately gets all forgotten in the moment. The players kept me on my toes with all sorts of technical know-how, physics (or pseudo-physics) knowledge, and things I didn't anticipate. I.e. good fun. We had a very unstable tower at the end, and Stras pushed it over for a little epic save, stabbing more than a few baddies with screwdrivers and shivs. Andi and Stras' characters had a touching moment on the comms before succumbing. The rest made it out, barely, and on to darker futures.

Banana-chan doing what needs to be done.

Banana-chan doing what needs to be done.

My roommate / friend Dennis showed up somewhere towards the end, with his friend Andy from SF (there will be many "andies" in this BBC narrative), and after some post-game chatting with the group, we three ended up chatting until pretty late up in the room, as you do.

All with plenty of time (5 hours?) to sleep and get back to gaming. Unfortunately the excitement bug got me, and it felt more like I was laying in bed for hours on end, but I'm sure some sleep must've been in there somewhere. Right?

A first Story Games Glendale, and Forget-Me-Not Murder Hoboes

Story Games Glendale

So, there is a group up in the Pacific Northwest called Story Game Seattle. My little interactions with this group has mainly been around attending the Go Play NW convention, in Seattle, for the last two years. I know a few well-known game developers (in indie RPG game circles) are from around there or have played in that circle, including Ben Robbins (of Microscope fame). In fact, Ben appears to have a strong hand in much of the weekly games happening and general atmosphere up there. For a little information on what that "looks" like, see the Story Games Seattle FAQ.

I was considering starting something like this in my area, but ended up finding The Art of Story Through Gaming meetup here in LA, and that seemed to do the trick for this year. I've hosted some Indie RPG nights, where we explore both GM-based and GM-less games. However, the meetup itself seemed to have gone quite regarding maintenance, and that reduced my confidence that it'd be around for much longer.

And as I was considering starting up my own meetup, *KABOOM* I get a notification about a new meetup called "Story Games Glendale". Not only a story games meetup, not only based on some of the guidelines from the original Seattle version, but also happens to be in my little corner of this great big trafficy city!?

Turns out a fellow named David has been running games such as these for co-workers for months now, and happens to live and work in Glendale.

First meetup at Game Haus Cafe

Our first meetup was on Oct 4, at our local Game Haus Cafe in Glendale. We've looked into the possibilities of Game Empire (in Pasadena) and Emerald Knights (in Burbank) as possible venues as well, however these locations already have many game and table reservations already.

After meeting up David, Caleb, and Tracy, as well as introducing Harry from my past meetups, we pitched a few games, and ended up taking on Forget-Me-Not: Murder Hoboes (by postworldgames and Jim Pinto). This particular game isn't released yet, but Harry and I had already played the original Forget-Me-Not recently, so wanted something a little different.

I have to admit we probably didn't follow the game exactly by the rules, due to my knowledge of how to run it with 4 people, but not 5. We started with the number of players you'd expect for a 4-player game but we were playing with 4 characters in a scene (instead of 3, the correct number). This meant we were blowing through the character phrases faster than expected, and so later in the game I slowed this down. We took it down to 3 people per scene, with the odd-man-out being assigned an optional NPC role that didn't match any of the characters (a monster, the bartender, so on). 

We had a good time. People appeared to mostly enjoy the free-form nature. We did a round of Roses and Thorns, and much of the negative feedback had to do with not getting to explore many characters deeply (which isn't the purpose of the game, really).

Harry has played a few GM-less games now where there is no attachment to a single character, and was curious if that is just a thing with GM-less games. My answer: not necessarily. Some GM-less games are based around exploring a community, or history, and so there is definitely less exploration of specific personalities, however there are some which do (such as Protocol or Praxis by Jim Pinto, or Kingdom by Ben Robins, or even Downfall by Caroline Hobbs). Perhaps I'll try getting one of these running soon.

The game was a little on the short side (~2 hours). But I suppose that's the advantage of being in a game cafe with 1,000 games on the shelves. So although Caleb had to go, and the rest of us played a round of Splendor, before heading out.

Forget-Me-Not: Murder Hoboes (beta version with temporary art)

Forget-Me-Not: Murder Hoboes (beta version with temporary art)

David, Harry, Tracy, Caleb, myself

David, Harry, Tracy, Caleb, myself

Dread: Only the Food and Aliens

(TL;DR? Just need the files themselves? Skip to the bottom for Copies on Dropbox.)

Some friends were planning to watch a midnight showing of Aliens, at the local Santa Monica Nuart theater. What better time to run a game of...

Dread and the Only the Food scenario

Dread is a role-playing game by Epidiah Ravachol, which uses Jenga as its mechanic, and a questionnaire as character generation. I've played it many times at prior Strategicons, however have only run it myself in a hacked form: the Mad Max Fury Road Dread game.

Needless to say, the Mad Max version is very high paced, whereas a normal game of Dread has got a slow build up. I was definitely worried I wouldn't be able to pull it off, or at least lack confidence in my capacity to do so.

Only the Food is a scenario for Dread, written by David Schirduan, available off his website, which is a sci-fi horror adventure. I found it when looking for simple Dread scenarios to run, and it felt about right.

Preparation: Setting

In preparing to run the game, I found that the scenario itself was great, however I wanted to add some more flavor, and it wasn't organized in a manner that I could use off-the-cuff.

In a conversation with my friend Howie, one thing we quickly agreed upon was that the players should not be told about the history of the game world in the way the scenario describes. In the actual write-up, it mentions that the AIs win over humans, and mostly use them as tools. We figured it'd be much better to make it sound like the AIs were benevolent savior types, and give it more of a Paranoia vibe.

Preparation: Cheat Sheet

My first step in preparing to run it was to break down the scenario, and then put together a cheat-sheet that I could use. I'm a big fan of bullet lists with short phrases that remind me of what I need to know. The scenario as written by David was comprehensive enough (and definitely without too much information), however it fit over 5-6 pages, and would be difficult to use during game time. Hence I ended up with something that fit on a page. It looks roughly like this (with very minimal spoilers here): 

The first few parts of the cheat sheet.

The first few parts of the cheat sheet.

Each "scene" of the scenario is self-contained, and has a bullet list of things to remember, or obstacles that will occur. The obstacles give some guidelines on the types of obstacles that might be encountered, and even the number of block pulls. Keep in mind these are rough guidelines to help understand the pacing of the adventure, but you can easily veer from the path if you feel comfortable. 

Preparation: AI Speeches

The "AI speeches" mentioned on the cheat sheet, refers to those times when the ship's Artificial Intelligence communicates with the characters. I transcribed these onto a separate pieces of paper that I could then cut into separate speeches, and hand to the players. Although I knew I could read them out loud, or play them on audio files (as you'll see I do, below), it's nice to have it written out in case players have a hard time hearing you or the audio, or simply want clarification on what was said.

Example of the AI speeches, transcribed.

Example of the AI speeches, transcribed.

Preparation: Character Sheets (EMS Personnel Forms)

I liked the questionnaires, however the ones that David provided were simply a bunch of questions on a sheet. I wanted them to have more visual flavor, and decided to give them more of a application / employee form type of vibe. I ended up going with a look something like this (with separate sections, highlighted roles for easier visibility when choosing your character, and some font choices meant to provide some flavor). In addition to the "What is your designation number?" question from the original form, I added a "Gender #" field (nothing is done to define what this means), and both the character's physical age (how old they appear) as well as their calendar age (how long since the year they were born, as time changes strangely when dealing with cryo-stasis). 

Here is what the top of the final form looks like:

The top of an EMS personnel form.

The top of an EMS personnel form.

The six character choices all consist of a top "Worker Information" section, a Questionnaire with 3 very simple questions (you can see the first one, above in the example), and then a Private Information section with 3 additional questions. I changed some of the questions slightly from Dave's originals, and specifically had at least one question about general distrust for the AIs, in general. 

Preparation: Audio and Recorded AI Speeches

I am a big fan of audio in my sessions. For this game, this comprised of 2 different sets of audio files.

The first set of audio tracks were the AI speeches. To create these, I used the Text2Speech website, because it allows you to freely download an MP3 file which corresponds to this audio. I wasn't a huge fan of the unmodified speech, as the speed is a little too fast:

I then take the MP3 file, and make some small tweaks to it using Audacity (which is free audio editing software). I used the Effect menu in Audacity to both Change Speed (to make it a little slower) as well as add Reverb (which makes it sound like audio coming from speakers and echoing in the ship.

Screenshot of Audacity, showing the Effects menu.

Screenshot of Audacity, showing the Effects menu.

Here is the final result, of which I'm quite proud:

The second set of audio tracks are related to the background music, which plays in a loop in specific areas. Each room, or travelling sequence, had a different audio track associated with it. Almost all of the tracks are from Plate Mail Games, however there were two tracks from DJ Spooky's Songs of a Dead Dreamer. You can purchase them from those sites, respectively

Here's a list of the audio tracks, as I've organized them:

My audio playlist for Only The Food. Purchase songs from Plate Mail Games or DJ Spooky

My audio playlist for Only The Food. Purchase songs from Plate Mail Games or DJ Spooky

The best part is that my sound board app can play the music loops at the same time as the AI speeches. The way they layer is awesome.

Preparation: Ship Compartments / Map

Again, in preparation, I started to become concerned that the players would get confused if I told them where they were in the ship, but without visuals. I mean, you can just play this "in the mind's eye", however I could already see myself having to explain again and again where things were in relation to each other. Especially since there were more than a few rooms.

So, I decided to go for a modular, simple design for rooms and hallways. This allowed me to print them, put them out piece-meal (one at a time), and also customize them if I wanted to change things during the scenario. In the end I used Microsoft Word tables to create simple room designs, which I could lay out on the table as the players moved around the ship:

Rooms

Rooms

EDIT: I just found these sci-fi tiles, which are pretty cool as well!

Running Only the Food

Well, writing all that makes me realize how much work actually went into it, given it was a scenario that was already written. However, what can I say. It's some of the prep that I actually enjoy, and that I believe the players would find fun and immersive. So how did it go?

I had 4 players. 3 are relatively seasoned, all having played Dread before (at least once, if not more). One was an RPG newbie.

  • Howard as Fred "Brown" (O2/H2O)
  • Sasha as Thoron (Electronics/Sensors)
  • Thong as Kaylee (Heat/Mechanics)
  • Sinh as Wilbur Hatchett (Hazmat/Psych)

We didn't have an unlimited window, and in fact had a pretty strict 3-hour time limit (due to the movie we were going to later). I felt like the pacing was very good, starting slow and building, which is what Dread is supposed to do. And although I ended up removing a scene or two at the end, we had a roughly satisfactory conclusion, with two character deaths through Jenga (one dropped the tower, the other sacrificed himself), and one character just making a weird end-game decision which caused me to epilogue him going out an airlock. The final character "won", by getting the 10% raise and getting back into the cryo-pod.

One of my favorite aspects and memories of the game was using a few player-generated events into the scenario. I also felt like the little touches I added did make the game run smoother, including the little ship compartment cut-outs.

I was able to do a little "roses and thorns" at the end with a few of the players. All in all, everyone loved the game. The newbie player said he thought it was a little on the long side, but he's also admitted to not being used to role-playing games, so wasn't sure if 3 hours was normal. Everyone loved the music and though it added a lot to the scenario.

I do have a suggestion on the additional character sheets that aren't chosen by the character. I would use those as NPCs, and as soon as the players have selected their characters, I would create names and define the remaining characters of their "team". This allows the PCs to create some bonds with some of these NPCs (as some of the questions allude to other members of the team). This works brilliantly in having one of the NPCs be a character that is killed by defective or destroyed cryo-pod. And makes them excellent cannon fodder for attacks and collateral damage.

Copies on Dropbox

And just in case you want these for your own use, here's the files:

Casualty through sacrifice.

Casualty through sacrifice.

The Gauntlet meetup: Online session of The Final Girl

The Gauntlet

The Gauntlet is a great little indie RPG community you can find in the land of Google plus. They've got a couple of great podcasts out there, including Discern Realities (a Dungeon World RPG podcast) and +1 Forward (a Powered by the Apocalypse RPG podcast), as well as a few others.

One aspect I love about this community is that they are actively promoting and running games online. I mean, constantly. And they try all sorts of independent press RPGs (not just Apocalypse World based stuff), which is just up my alley.

The Final Girl RPG

The Final Girl is a role playing game by Bret Gillan of Gas Mask Games. In their own words:

The Final Girl is a horror movie roleplaying game meant to emulate slashers or any other horror movie where the characters are picked off one by one until only one survivor remains to confront the killer.

It's a GM-less game, which means no one is running the overall story. Instead each player takes turns setting scenes, or playing various characters in the story. Sometimes the scene directory also plays the killer, whatever that is.

This game was being run by David LaFreniere, one of the Discern Realities hosts, and was played by myself and another named Tim. First, we started with a basic premise. We ended up deciding on a Bass fishing competition, the Granite Lake Fish Off, happening up in the remote, high-elevation mountains. The killer? Some good ol' Cthulhu style fishies, not to be confused with Bass:

We started by defining 12 characters in the story. You take turns defining characters, so each of us got to create 4. We had a few competitors in the tournament, a wanna-be news anchor, the sweaty camera man (who is always eating hot dogs), a slick sales rep, a competent local sheriff, a buxom trophy queen, a paranoid cat, and the passionate conversationalist. Sounds like a great line-up!

The Google Doc we used to record our characters from the movie.

The Google Doc we used to record our characters from the movie.

It was a cool little game. Very open ended as far as the theme and character generation. The scene creation and assignments felt very similar to Forget-Me-Not, one of my favorite easy-to-play RPGs (that I've written of previously). Similar to that game, no player has any ownership of specific characters, so we all get a chance to play any variety of the roles involved.

The first few scenes set some relationships (important in character survivability), and then there is a massive die-off as the killer gets going. As the game starts getting into second gear, every scene involves 2 or more people, with generally about one survivor, as people get picked off one or more at a time!

Hence the title: The Final Girl. The point is seeing who lives to the end, if anyone at all. Doesn't have to be a girl, and in our case it wasn't. It was the conservationalist Mikolas Jampot. And this is what was brilliant, was the ending character gets decided for you through luck, cards, and tragedy. One player gets to narrate the ending; the player who had more of their characters killed off during play. As you can see in the above table, Tim was killed off 5 times (we left our player colors on those characters that died off while we were playing them).

In this case Tim gave us a beautiful end, where Mikolas goes out to thank the creatures from the bottom of the lake in helping him preserve nature by killing off all the humans. It was glorious.

All in all, I highly recommend the game. It was very free-form, and provided us a campy horror movie. That said, I can see how you could do something more suspenseful, like an Aliens, or even a Funnel-style fantasy game (similar to Dungeon Crawl Classics funnel). If I was playing with completely new players, I might lean towards Forget-Me-Not, as this provides a little more guidance, and less pressure to be "creative". But all-in-all, good fun.

ASTG meetup: The Quiet Year with Lego

Ran another fleeting Quiet Year session with four of us in total: myself, Aaron, Harry, and our newcomer: Tim. We decided on that one since half of us hadn't played it before, none of them had played with Lego, and Tim was coming in cold to RPGs (first time in decades) so asked for something light.

This fit the bill. We played a tribe dealing with an incoming ice age, bones from giant ancestors, cliff watchers with deadly mushroom that made for chemical warefare, and some very giant sunflowers.

ASTG meetup: Fallout Shelter RPG

Another Art of Story Through Gaming meetup. This time for my Fallout Shelter RPG. Four entered, most lived to tell about it. Including:

  • Harry as Major Jones, the Ex-Overseer
  • Charlie as Carl Davidson, the Wasteland Explorer
  • Wale as Bucket, the Immigrant (the first time anyone has chosen this role in all the times I've run this!)
  • Nova as Nova, the Scientist

Harry and Charlie have played in my prior games (Charlie was probably 11 years old the first time with my Lego dungeon crawl). Everyone had played in my Star Frontiers game last year as well. I was also excited that Wale made it, because I have a lot of respect for her as a player and gaming collaborator, and wanted to get her thoughts on this game. And this was Nova's 3rd time playing!

Basically we ran about 4 hours, or just over. There were a few changes I wanted to make prior to the game, per suggestions from my last table at Gateway convention, but just didn't have the time.

That said, the pace was decent, and although I had that GM feeling that things aren't nearly where I want them to be, the players were happy. I got some good constructive feedback as well, including to make the questions on the character sheets more relevant. I.e. I should reduce them so that as a GM I can actually make use of the fewer answers, instead of getting overwhelmed by too much information for this already heavy game and system. At least that's my interpretation. 

Mainly thought, had a great lunch with these people, a very pleasant game session where everyone participated equally and together, even when they were playing against each other, and Major Jones even sacrificed himself at the end for the sake of the party.

Wale, Harry, Charlie, Nova... most survived.

Wale, Harry, Charlie, Nova... most survived.

I've got a few tweaks before bringing it up to Big Bad Con in October, where I'm running it as part of the "teen" track.

And speaking of which, Harry and I made sure to register for our first two games for BBC at noon, while everyone was eating. The excitement is palpable... that is an event I am very much looking forward to.