Dialect online and in person

Dialect with The Gauntlet: The Heart of the River

My friend Gerrit posted to run Dialect for The Gauntlet online gaming community, probably back in January or February (they normally schedule 1-2 months out), and I jumped on that. Fortunately I was still able to play by the time the game rolled around in mid March.

Dialect is a game about an isolated community, their language, and what it means for that language to be lost. In this game, you’ll tell the story of the Isolation by building their language. New words will come from the fundamental aspects of the community: who they are, what they believe in, and how they respond to a changing world.

I had backed the Kickstarter based on the premise, but also having heard some great stories about the two authors' (Kathryn Hymes and Hakan Seyalıoğlu) prior game, Sign. Otherwise, I hadn't looked into it at all, and went into the game knowing little about the rules. Fortunately The Gauntlet uses a very "open table" style of play, which allows anyone into a table, and has no expectations on you knowing the rules ahead of time (and plays games that lean into those needs).

I already expected a great caliber of players (thank you Gauntlet), but I was impressed with the game itself.  The setup is simple, but meaty and fostered some good collaboration. You start by choosing a Backdrop, one of four settings that the game comes with: A mars colony cut off from communication with Earth. Or a bunch of scoundrels hiding in plain sight.

We chose The Compound: We’re 200 strong, not interested in where the world is going, and have built a compound, and are now completely independent from the world. 20 years have gone by. We started back in the '80s. The US started to wage its drug war. We are in Columbia, locals, mostly indigenous, but disconnected from the land (possibly for generations), we now live in the city, and are fed up with those in power that deal in drugs and violence. We've fled to the jungle, and colonized a small island floating in the middle of a large, flowing river.

The game play revolves around Aspects, of which you will have three. A set of two leading questions provides us with the means to define two of the Aspects, but one Aspect is completely free choice. All of these are answered collaboratively by the group. We ended with these three Aspects:

  1. What about who we are made the Compound a necessity?  We freed ourselves from the terror of the drug war.
  2. What special property about the Compound keeps us secure?  The river runs around us.
  3. Free aspect?  The return to our ancestral homelands.

Character generation is a choice from archetype character cards. What's fascinating is that your character card also is tied to the Aspects in some manner, for example I chose the Artist:

 A Dialect character card

A Dialect character card

I shunned #1 (the past), and identified with the river, but especially with my "muse", returning to our homelands. I was Jaji, a singer, and somewhat charismatic, providing home when needed, and giving us a narrative as a people. But I also was a bit of a layabout, not really helping when it comes to the real day-to-day needs, and had gained a strong reputation for this over the years.

We had Aziza (she/her, Gerrit) our gardener and spice and color maker, Primitivo (he/him, Paul) our scrounger of resources, with an antagonistic relationship with the river that takes away much of what we need, and Ani'bal (he/him, Brian) our healer of bodies and minds, with occasionally outbursts and a tendency to drink, and who occasionally misses the world.

The game then goes into Age 1. In our game, we just had a huge pile of cards, and chose what we wanted out of it. I'd learn later that if you play rules as written (RAW), then in fact you should draw a hand of three cards each, and select one from your hand. But our method worked perfectly fine here.

The cards are words to be created. For example, creating an expletive, or a word that means "worry". Although we take turns choosing the word to create, the creation is a collaborative process as well, which was excellent. Sometimes you have a good thought on the sound, or a concept, but your teammates are there to help flesh out the other details, or help guide the process. In the end, if it's your turn, you have final authority, but collaboration is the name of the game.

After talking about and formalizing the word (which takes about 5 minutes or more), then you create a scene, where the characters get to use that word. A little scene prompt at the bottom of the card helps if you need an idea of where to start. My favorite part of this process is seeing the evolution over a number of scenes, as there is a cascade effect, where you start to use earlier words more and more in later scenes, just as a side effect of the building of this language.

If this sounds a little intimidating, I'd say building language sounds bigger than you are responsible for here. You are building words, but most of your language is entirely the same as normal, so there is no need to feel pressure, but with all the advantages of getting to see the wonder and creativity.

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We got to play far enough so as to finish the first Age, so that everyone created a word. However we had to tie up the session there. My compatriots continued a later session, but I had to miss that, unfortunately.

(I'm going to start stealing from my friend Sid and occasionally using "Stars and Wishes"; things that were highlights, and things I would like to change.)

Stars

  • Gerrit's setup using Google documents with image of the cards was really well done and made the game run with ease online.
  • The chemistry between our characters was really fun to see unfold.
  • We took some care to make a real-life situation not feel silly or trope-filled.
  • Paul's word choice was for Death, and it was my favorite segment of the game, as we worked together to create Tzon, and the scene was magical and intense. I sometimes still get teary eyed thinking about it.

Wishes

  • I wish I could've play the second session.
  • I would want the game to run as a one-shot. (As I found out later, it can fit in a 4-hour slot, but that's in person. I wouldn't try to speed it up for online play, as the slow intentionality is important. My recommendation: If you run online, break it up into two sessions, but try to do so with as short a break as possible in between).

The game was recorded, so here's a recording of the first session:

Sacramento

Before moving on to another session of Dialect, in which I ran the thing, first, a little of Sacramento. Visiting the family, taking the daughter to an afternoon of retro video game action (two arcade cabinets in one restaurant that each had about 60+ retro games on them!!), and finding an old puzzle for $2 at a thrift store.

 Hitting the arcade! She played lots of Donkey Kong Junior and Donkey Kong. I showed her 1942, 1943, and a spattering of others...

Hitting the arcade! She played lots of Donkey Kong Junior and Donkey Kong. I showed her 1942, 1943, and a spattering of others...

 Busy puzzling with the brothers and nephews

Busy puzzling with the brothers and nephews

 Only 3 missing pieces, not bad! None of those were even vital.

Only 3 missing pieces, not bad! None of those were even vital.

Dialect in person: The Iron Reign's Lastride

So then, I'm up in Sacramento visiting the family (who'll play board games, but RPGs not so much). That means I also gotta get out and gaming, and so got in touch with a few of my Sacramento peeps. Matthew and I met when I tried running a "story games" type meetup up there the prior year, and was down to play. We ended up meeting at his place, and he invited his friend Yuri (who'd played some RPGs, but story games not much).

Now, normally I lean more towards fantasy and sci-fi, even when playing serious games, because I feel like there's less restriction on being able to create or play in the setting. However, in talking with Matthew and Yuri, we went more historical fiction. In the past I was a bit averse to this (and still have an internal reaction as such!) but I've had so many good RPG experiences that are set as historical fiction recently, that I didn't say anything to the contrary. And I'm glad we played in the setting we did.

We chose the Thieves' Cant Background: The most important tools for the dozen members of our crew are not our weapons but our language. We speak in code, disguised as pleasantries and idle chatter as we move among our targets.

In creating our setting, we settled on Germany, early 1800's, the early budding of the industrial era. Germany is still a bunch of kingdoms, with some consolidation going on. We decided on the made-up city of Salzberg, on the Baltic sea, north Germany. It has a strong ship-building industry.

We are The Iron Reign, a few places away from a royal seat in a kingdom which has been engulfed by another kingdom. We are horse "thieves", trading in only the purest of German pure-bred horse breeds, whereas our rivals, the "Open Hand", believe a horse is a horse. Heathens.

Our Aspects:

  1. Our job: Procure horses, by any means
  2. Eyes on us (what provides us cover): The fairgrounds, a mix of cultures and trade, dominated at times by the Roma.
  3. Free aspect: Preserve the line; we are from a noble line, and need to regain our seat of power.

We had "Lady Iron Reign" (a royal title, or a stage name?) Isolda, the closest in line to a royal seat that is no more, an adrenaline junkie. Richard von Eisenhuf "Ritterhard", a true knight, and protector of the line and honor. And Adolar, known as "Books", who is a bastard of the royal line, a mix of the royal house and Roma blood, who is self-educated and smart, and also swims in the sea of knowledge that is the fairgrounds.

I played this game closer to RAW (rules as written), and we drew a hand of cards for character choices, and then later each a hand of cards for words (3 from the first age). After you play a first age card, you draw a new card from the second age. This means in the next round of play, you'll have 2 first age cards, and 1 second age card to chose from and play. It was very interesting to see how second and third age cards differ. In the first age it's mostly about making words. In the later ages it's also about more complex word concepts, or situations around words, such as the government mandating their use, or deprecation.

One example word we defined was Prox, which we decided originally came from a longer chemical word, which was part of our mix that subdues horses. Now it's comes to mean "an important resource" or an "important part of the plan"; and eventually we found ourselves using it as "cool" or "good".

Another great one was Lastride. Our knight had gotten old, and was on his death bed, and decided to bring back an older tradition that was no longer being kept. He was held up on his horse (he couldn't ride on his own anymore), and placed in a fake field of battle with friends. And they stabbed him, so that he could die honorably in battle, in his "lastride".

We played almost a 4 hour session. I'm finding that it seems to fall into 3 equal sized chunks: game setup, the first age, and the rest of the game. The second and third age sort of snowball a little bit, and that may be due to getting familiar with the game by that point, or maybe we just rushed some of those scenes more than expected.

Stars:

  • Although it's important to stand up for what you want to see in a game as a GM, just as a player, I'm very happy I let Matthew and Yuri guide the basic premise for the setting, because I again enjoyed a historical fiction game!
  • The scene after Ritterhard was killed in his Lastride, had the Lady Iron Reign lead a charge in a war that was brewing, and all the soldiers stood up and chanted "to the lastride!" despite the fact that they had no horses and were just foot soldiers. I loved how the word really felt like it came to it's own, and no longer needed to be true to its original meaning. It felt like what the game is meant to do!
  • About 2/3 through the game, and I did some checkins to make sure everyone was still in for the long haul (~ 4 hours), and I was feeling a little worn down, but thanks to Matthew and Yuri for carrying it to the end! I felt really satisfied with the game when it ended.
  • I was really happy to get the game to conclusion, both because it felt complete, but also because I now know that it belongs in a 4 hour con slot (don't try a 3 hour slot unless you set expectations that it's only to show how it works, or rush some aspects, which I wouldn't recommend).

Wishes:

  • I don't think I've read all the rules, but I definitely recommend being a little lose with some of the scene framing (such as not necessarily having only our characters be a main protagonist in the scene, if it feels forces). We had one scene were it made more sense to see children on the street say the word as our older main character watched. We had scenes after one of the characters, Ritterhard, had already died.
  • Although games are probably quite variable in timeframe, it'd be interesting to know what the expected times for the different phases of the game are (and it'd be cool if the rules mention this).
 The table with concentric circles heading towards the center.

The table with concentric circles heading towards the center.

 Our story, with Matthew, Yuri and myself

Our story, with Matthew, Yuri and myself

CONlorado 2018: Sunday (Deep Forest, Scum and Villainy, Underwater People)

The Deep Forest, with Lego (morning)

I woke up as late as I could, took a Lyft to the YWCA, and met up with Paul, Madjay, and Michael, for a game of The Deep Forest. Michael had played before, Madjay had played The Quiet Year, and Paul hadn't played any of that jazz. The Deep Forest is a hack of the original map-making game about a post-apocalyptic community, and is instead about a bunch of monsters trying to rebuild after the humans have trashed their lands.

Our scenario was an island, where human super-wizards had come and started to colonize with their magics and sorcery, got part-way done, and then left. We had a little abandoned magic metropolis. We had a magic portal that leads to another world. We had a few outposts they had scattered around.

We created some monsters: A giant sea kraken that was hanging out near the city port. A group of wraiths who lived in the Well of Souls. A group of gnomes under the big mountain (with one of them "corrupted" by the outside, and therefore our emissary). Judy, a gelatinous cube clear-cutting a patch of forest.

Part of the game involves creating Taboos (things the humans left behind that we avoid), but also Adopted things that we've taken on for use. We Adopted the human food: a pen in the city center that magically generates flora and fauna of various types. We try to avoid the Eyes of Loving Safety (which float around all over the island, watching), Common Language (we don't know how to read their stuff), and Wands of Arcane Energy (like dangerous landmines! there's still an eternally burning chunk of forest from the last one we tried to use; the remains of a prior monster included).

From there, we started drawing cards and playing. Before long we had a tribe of bugbears invading through the magic portal. We established a small tribe of goblins, who were helping them build a road into the metropolis. That is, until they started eating some of the goblins. The gnomes and goblins didn't get along (as we found through various "discussions") but then suddenly an alliance was made, as the bugbears became more territorial. A giant scorpion thing came out of the ground at one point. Another failed attempt to use a wand resulting in a skyscraper burning. A discovery that the Kraken was eating 90% of our food. The gnomes working on an aqueduct of sorts. The Kraken sabotaging that project by making a dam. A wall around the gnomes as they all "corrupt" themselves with the outside, in an attempt to stave the bugbear invasion. And then the ominous bone golems appearing from the old ruins... as it turns out: our doom as the humans were remotely watching and then taking back control of our world (with the bugbears as their helpers).

Normally the game is played with a map, but we played with my Lego Creationary set (an idea I've written about before, and executed a number of times). It doesn't come out too great in pictures, but man is it nice in person... colorful, 3-D map, and so tactile.

Now, we played "the fleeting year", which is to say we removed some cards to ensure we had a faster game... but I still never find we finish in the established timeframe. Maybe I'm not keeping the pace fast enough, but  still. One thing that Michael suggested during gameplay, as we reached towards the end of session, was a tweak I'm going to incorporate from now on: Instead of ending abruptly somewhere in the middle of the game (if we run out of time), doing a fast forward and taking some cards from Autumn and Winter, to give a more satisfying ending. In our case we chose one card from Autumn and one from Winter, and then ended the game with the King of Spades.

I think it would be nice to explore the change in mood a little more significantly. Thing is, it's also important to really establish the setting with the first season as well. Maybe some spread of a nearly full Spring, 1-2 rounds of Summer, and then 1 round of Autumn and Winter for each player. This might provide a more rounded out experience, that you can fit into a 3 hour session more easily.

 A scene from our game

A scene from our game

 I really dug Michael's tweak of rushing those final seasons!

I really dug Michael's tweak of rushing those final seasons!

 Players of a monster island.

Players of a monster island.

Lunch at The Post

From there we were joined by Kit (another one I didn't get to game with, but at least we shared some chatty lovin'), and some of us headed to The Post Brewing Co, and the food was delicious; I ordered a very big breakfast for lunch (which worked, as I only had a weak bowl of cereal earlier). Additionally, at this point I was smart enough to order a flight of beers, which I shared with Paul, so we were able to try a bunch of different flavors. And there was some DJ spinning great funky beats while we were there, so bonus!

Scum and Villainy (afternoon)

Ok. Seriously running on fumes here. But... need... more... gaming. I didn't get to play with John yet, and he was running this beauty, also a game I have never played but have heard good things about. Scum and Villainy is a game about a crew of a spaceship trying to keep flying and make ends meet while bending the iron fisted rule of the Galactic Hegemony

Again, we're talking another game that is "Forged in the Dark", so the complexities of the game system (which aren't that huge, but definitely the next level up from PbtA games), had me at a disadvantage. I took the easy route... I wouldn't try to really grok the system too hard. And fortunately the table and the GM made that easy for me.

But what happened next took me by surprise: I got to play a fucken Dralasite! Turns out you can play a "Xeno", an alien. So I made a Dralasite mechanic. I can't convey how happy this made me. I barely ever got to play Star Frontiers as a kid, as I was mostly running it for others. I loved the game so much that I've made a whole scenario about it in recent years, just so I could relive that magic, but even then, that's me as a GM. But now I got to play a Dralasite. Seriously. So happy.

We had Lito Thorn, "Zenith", our Speaker (played by Paul), Ratan Levanchy, "Vandal", our Scoundrel (played by Morgan), Orrin Bartok, "Karma", our Stitch / Medic (played by Jeff?), and Aria Gyle, "Elbows", our Muscle (played by Michael).

We started by creating a shared ship, which was the glue that held this team together, but then immediately found ourselves in a scenario (in media res) where we were in a prison! The first step: breaking the hell out. I got to use my slow shapeshifting powers, which obviously gave me some serious joy. We quickly acquired some decent Stress among the crew throughout our escapades, and then perform some downtime scenes. I would almost say that I was starting to get the mechanics of the game, but that would mostly be a lie. I was brain-friend by this point in the weekend. 

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Also, if you know Paul Beakley on the G+, he has a thread about the con, and there's little bits about these last two games in there (among many other writeups). Go check it out!

Dinner at West Flanders Brewing

Headed out to get grub, and we (Cate, John, and many others) ended up at West Flanders Brewing Company. I was trying to be good to my body at this point, and ordered a beet-arugula salad. But that wouldn't exactly be accurate, as we were all sharing so many fried and delicious appetizers, that I really had quite a large and heavy meal. Fortunately I didn't force myself to also eat an entree, as I'd been overeating most of the weekend.

LARPs! (evening)

The last sessions were fortunately ones which required me to move around. I don't think I would've lasted sitting down at a table at this point. I didn't get much sleep the night before I left for the con, so by now it was 4 days in a row with minuscule sleep.

Underwater People

The first game I played was a playtest brought over by Alex for Bully Pulpit, called Underwater People. Basically we were all related to the water (in some way, mer-people, or weird sea creaturs, or even an ocean, itself), and we were going to a support group for sea-things. I was the secretary of the group, a sea slug that used to date Elon Musk, but was dumped after he stole my magic moon pelt, and launched it in a car that's circling the earth. That's OK, I've moved on and was dating someone new.

Our president was Sean, playing a human that was pretending to be a sea creature (without any of us knowing it). We had some strange characters, such as the Pacific Ocean (Jerry), and a siren (Krin). Venn and Cate were also in it, and everyone was so... baffling? We didn't really know who each other were, until you started talking. Just like at a real support group. We had hidden cards which described what people needed or wanted (to be listened to, to be pitied, etc.) and if it wanted to emulate some of the possibly strange and tentatively emotional interactions of a support group, well it certainly succeeded!

You play until someone leaves, and just over an hour in, that's what happened as our (human) president and the siren went off to, well, hang out, as it were. I don't play many LARP-type things, but have been doing more since last year, and it's definitely a nice mix at a con. I'm currently happy with about 1-2 of these for each large set of RPGs I play.

There was one other fantastic piece, which if you are good, I may tell you about one day. Yes, I tease you!

All night boat ride to Valhalla

Back to the Big House, and the slow process of saying goodbyes to so many beautiful people. And then packing. And then realizing that I had to leave to the airport at about 4am, and sleeping before then was a loosing battle. So I just stayed up all night, and we hung out on the love couch, or around the kitchen table. I got to spend the most time I had thus far with Stras, with I didn't even get to game with the entire weekend! (what!?)

Towards the end Andy (who was also my roommate through this process) went off, and came back with a bunch of Shaktilove books, which will be the titles for the games we'll be pitching and playing the next time: The Polarity Process, The Cosmic Serpent, Fierce Medicine, Champions for Peace, The Higher Taste, and of course Psycho-Cybernetics 2000. Stay turned for these marvelous games in coming years.

To all the lovely people I got to hang out with this weekend, much much love, and thanks for making such a welcoming and pleasant and superior-fun experience. Peace!

 Jumping ship...

Jumping ship...

 Until next time...

Until next time...

CONlorado 2018: Saturday (Urban Shadows, The Final Wife, Girl By Moonlight)

But... there was a "game" post up on the whiteboard by Krin, for Thrift Store shopping! I really wanted to go with them, but... but... Urban Shadows. And Madjay. My RPG side won this battle, this day. There is still part of me that is sad about missing thrift store shopping with another lover of the genre.

Urban Shadows (morning slot)

I've heard good things about this particular game, Urban Shadows being: an urban fantasy roleplaying game where you’ll play characters struggling to survive in a dark urban environment drowning in supernatural politics. I'd never played. And I've heard good things about Madjay as a GM, so had to jump into this opportunity. Also, this was the elevator pitch on the sign up sheet: "Buffy meets the Wire set in New Orleans". I mean, come on.

Players included Dylan, Michael, and Morgan. We created an interesting set of characters, all humans. The game revolves around factions, groups that represent communities of mortal and supernatural creatures: Mortality, Power, Night and Wild.  Our group? Two of us were Power (an Oracle and a Wizard), two of us Mortality (the Hunter - or was it the Veteran? - and the Aware).

I played the Oracle, her name Kami, a half-Japanese half-Filipino street rat punk, been around for a few years, smoking lots of weed to deal with the visions and bad dreams. My powers: foretelling, psychometry (reading objects), reading surface thoughts of people, and so on. My first step was to upgrade my gear from "crappy car" to an "awesome bicycle".

We had Cole our Aware (played by Michael), who didn't know the powerful lineage he was from. We had Vivian our Wizard (played by Dylan) casting spells with magic scrawlings burning on cigarettes. And we had Bianca our badass Hunter (played by Morgan), also somewhat Filipino (and we got to exchange quips and throw some very elementary Tagalog around during the session).

Madjay started by introducing a character by the name of The Owl, someone we may be associated with who runs trade in magics and the like. We all created some bonds with each other and with The Owl. We rock up to home base of the mortals trying to take back this town from the supernaturals (a home base and an organization that many of us have worked for, to some extent or another), and find the front door busted open. Dead bodies. A possessed operative. Some violence.

We had some interludes and "downtime" type scenes, some attempts to investigate the goings on, and then the session ended with a good confrontation at the base of The Owl, an old cathedral of sorts.

Madjay kept this session tight and moving. We had 3 hours, and I've heard - since this time - that running Urban Shadows in a one shot is difficult to pull off. But it felt seamless. 

 Thanks for photo, Madjay!

Thanks for photo, Madjay!

Ramen

Stras was around to take us to yet another local joint. This time we headed to a ramen place called Sushi Zanmai (normally a sushi joint, but only serves ramen at certain days and hours). Good eats and good times. I love that almost every meal I got to meet some new folks, or hang out with the old homies I don't get to see often enough.

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Werebear: The Final Wife (afternoon)

So, a bunch of us found ourselves gameless in the afternoon. There were the seven of us: myself and Alex and Nadja and Andi and Andy and Andrew and Morgan. We pitched a few things, but 7 doesn't lend itself to just any game. I mentioned The Final Girl, and it turned out no one had played before. There was some trepidation, and I mentioned that the game could go gonzo, but I'd love to see it played in a thoughtful or more serious way, if people were up for it.

We went for it. We grabbed a room, and ended up: The wives in a polygamous family are heading up to a resort in the Canadian Rockies to meet up with their husband, who they don't know has been killed by a Were-bear (like, a person who could turn into a large grizzly monster). My favorite part of this process however was not the result, but how we got there. There were discussions about what tropes would be disrespectful, or just silly, and we tended towards avoiding some of that. The most important part though was that everyone was listened to, and therefore was bought into the story.

We had everyone create 2 characters a piece, and ended up with:

The wives:

  • Nicole, the first wife and a true believer
  • Constance, the innocent wife
  • Tyreen, the wife who solves everything with food
  • Bernice, the eldest wife
  • See-yung (aka Sally), the wife with quiet intensity, new to North America

The folks working at the resort and lodge:

  • Roger, the friendly resort manager
  • Marsha McClean, the butch groundskeeper
  • Kathy, mother of two, owns the general store
  • Piper, the sanguine resort maintenance person
  • Sarah, the housekeeper with dark circles under her eyes
  • Jack [she/her], the resigned cook
  • Jean-Paul, the old hermit of the woods
  • Hank, the bro-y ski instructor

During the three introduction scenes I already felt we had something really good brewing. Nicole (the first wife) was already set up as a matriarch that everyone else seemed averse to. See-yung started as quirky, maybe, but with a little bit of attitude. And the first scene between the resort staff - taking and dealing with a phone call about the missing husband - set a good mix of incompetence and apathy, and with Jean-Paul quitting and storming off into the woods. 

We decided each scene would have 3-4 players in it, which left the rest of us few folks to be the audience in the cheap seats in the theater. Even this added some good punch occasionally.

First blood was at the grocery store, Constance and Tyreen (both wives) going down, as did Kathy and Sarah. Kathy grabbed her shotgun, and to be fair, Sarah did a bad-ass move of snapping a broom in half against a shelf to face the werebear, but all for naught. What really drove the scene was the Jaws and Alien effect... we would only get little teasing views of the beast: the reflection in the refrigerator glass door; a quick shot of a claw; a split-second view of large silhouette. And of course a pineapple can rolling on the floor.

The scenes progressed one-by-one as we took turns playing the killer. We lost various people, with survivors occasionally running into the dark woods. Morgan played the werebear in such an amazing way as it crawled, sniffing, around the wives' cabin. We had a great scene with Hank pissing off the second story balcony of the lodge, as the trees went down one by one, and then a vicious and sad encounter as Marsha falls, saving her love Jack from death. See-yung runs through the woods and finds a cabin, banging on the door, to find Bernice and a shirtless Jean-Paul; after which we had an amazing moment of guns and armaments and a chase with a pickup truck and subsequent crash. And Bernice sacrificing herself to allow See-yung an escape.

A the final moments we see a return of the resort manager Roger, clueless, on his little gold cart, as he runs into both Jack and See-yung. At one point the werebear, chasing Jack and Roger, has See-yung in its large maw. There is a river and a rope bridge that the two try to run across, but it becomes their doom as the werebear gets up on both feet, and rips the bridge out from under them. And that's when See-yung gets up from the ground, swaying, silhouette showing in the moonlight. And little pin falls to the ground as she throws a grenade rolling towards the creature. Like a pineapple can. A huge explosion blasting in See-yung's face. And darkness.

Honestly, it was the best game of The Final Girl I've ever played. There was something about how everyone was tentative at first, but became trusting based on our conversations, and just brought it. We had a few ideas that were nixed based on X-card style "nays", even someone nixing their own idea. And the intentionality was just excellent. When people felt low or winded, we didn't force them to play in the scene or play as a the director/killer, we just found the next person in line who wanted to be in the scene. It just really felt like we were all taking care of each other in many ways, and the result was fabulous. In retrospect, it was probably the highlight of my weekend.

 The writers room for Werebear: The Final Wife

The writers room for Werebear: The Final Wife

Side note: Post-game, due to prior discussions, Andi had brought some crafts... in this case a coloring book and crayons! I really needed to unwind a bit and go into a quite mode for a few, and so flipped open the book to the first page. Starting back at me: a vicious bear. And hence, below...

 The Final Wife - unofficial movie poster

The Final Wife - unofficial movie poster

Girl by Moonlight (evening)

After a relatively large meal, the blood rushing away from my head, with too little sleep over many nights, it was on to the next game. I mention this, because we were about to dive into some very cerebral territory, for two reasons: 1. This game is "Forged in the Dark"; which is to say, based on the relatively crunchy Blades in the Dark system. 2. Led by Nadja, we needed to process the overly hippie-weirdness that is plastered all over our AirBnB, and we ended up with a theme that required some amount of brain work. Both of these together ended up leading to an amazingly good session (especially after we struggled past our tiredness and into giddiness).

Girl by Moonlight is written by Andrew Gillis (who was also our GM), and is about magic girls (a la Sailor Moon). We ran with a specific playtest Series Playbook called In Darkest Night, which had a somewhat dark theme. We lived on a world where the rotting body of an ancient god was slowly covering the surface. It's agenda? Madness. How has our city-society survived? Partly by encapsulating Shaktilove (lowercase) by focusing only on the positive and "yes", and disallowing the expression of negative emotion. We ended up being the avatars of these perceived "profane" actions, like expressing fury, envy, despair and self-doubt. Oh yah, and our "daytime" personas worked in an internment camp for those affected by negative feelings, which we were there to suppress. Yep, somewhat dark.

We had Vantablack (codename Opal), avatar of despair, played by Nadja. There was Sunrise Starbeam (codename Fury), avatar of anger, played by April. Veridian (codename Seafoam... or maybe vice versa?), avatar of envy, played by Eric. And Nora (codename Sanguine), avatar of self-doubt, played by me. The playbooks also had some interesting dynamics. For example I was also a time traveler, and had come from the distant past, when our society and world were in a much better place. And it turns out I had known Opal's distant ancestor, who was my sister's lover.

The scenes we played were strange, and intense, and there was so much conflict between our characters... it was really enticing. But I think all of our brains were working at a slower pace than normal, and we ended up not get to do what would normally be a full session. I think Andrew was a little down by that, but honestly, the session was still soooo good. I have no regrets. And we got to work through some shaktihate.

 A happy bunch. Like shaktilove happy. (Note: per prior game, you can see the start of the werebear poster on the table)

A happy bunch. Like shaktilove happy. (Note: per prior game, you can see the start of the werebear poster on the table)

From there it was back to The Big House, more coloring and hanging out. More love boat. And me eeking out as much sleep as I could, but still getting to the YWCA in time for Sunday's morning game.

CONlorado 2018: Friday (Inheritance, Love Each Other)

Inheritance (morning)

Paul Beakley wanted to run some Inheritance. We barely squeaked in the right number of players. (It's a LARP that plays with 9. Only 9. No more. No less.) The premise: 

Ten years ago, Daxo murdered his beloved older brother, Baldr. Exiled by his father for his crime, he’s spent a long decade wandering. But now he’s heard that his dear grandfather has died, and he’s returned home to claim his inheritance.

We played the hodge podge of people involved in the funeral and drama. We grabbed the YWCA's bigger board room, and went to it. The game is LARP which has us act out all sorts of scenes, occasionally with most of characters there, but often between 2 or 3 people alone. In theory this could happen in tandem, without all of us seeing each others scenes, but the facilitator (in this case Paul), could get everyone to stop and pay attention if something important was going on. 

As it turned out, there was lots of important things going on all the time, and I'm super happy that our focus was often on each other. It was like watching a play, most of the time. Well, when you weren't in the play itself. There were scenes both hilarious, and scheming, and heart-wrenching.

I played Gefjon, the seer. Honestly, I was a little lost at times, not knowing much about Viking things, but the game mostly leads you into knowing what you need to know, but there was a lot to digest in a short time (and keeping in mind that the morning was a 3 hour slot, so we had to play tight).

After the game was over, you get to know a bunch of spoilers around many of the characters and their goals and backgrounds. It made me think that the game might not have replay-ability, but in fact the majority of the players had played at least once, if not a number of times, so I may be totally wrong there.

Once again Sean did a AP report, so I don't have to write much! Freedom!

 Everyone preparing by reading their little playbooks

Everyone preparing by reading their little playbooks

 Final scenes... a priest and a mother, dead. A brother, poisoned. A father negotiating with a prospective daughter-in-law (or more?)

Final scenes... a priest and a mother, dead. A brother, poisoned. A father negotiating with a prospective daughter-in-law (or more?)

Lunch

Lunch was at the Lazy Dog Sports Bar & Grill with Alex, Andy and others. It was a chilled out affair, as were many of the outings. Lots of gluten free options for some of our members, and pretty decent grub. Because of the crazy elevation at Boulder, we were recommended not to drink alcohol to quickly. Kind of sucks when they serve full sized pints. We'd learn... eventually I'd split beer flights, or beer pints, or glasses of wine with my various compatriots.

Love Each Other (afternoon)

The next game was a playtest written by Venn Sage Wylde, including players Sean, Nadja, and April:

Queer apocalyptic story game about love and community formation in a world that reflects the vulnerable, broken, and breaking worlds of the characters we create. Will they love each other, overcome their fears, and connect? Will the community survive while the whole world falls apart? How will these characters be remembered?

Once again we have a Sean AP report! He concentrates mostly on the games mechanics and does some roses and thorns. I agree on some counts, such as the mechanics being much to mentally grasp as the tech trees started to open up. A simplified cheat sheet may assist, or something which pared down some of the rules perhaps. A way to get into the meat of the story without as much restrictions in movement?

But either way, instead I'll mention a little of the beautiful narrative that came out of this beautiful game. All characters use a they/them pronoun by default, and we created a few genders at the beginning. We had pooka and goblinanemone, and noodle, among others. These would become a deck that would be shuffled and drawn, each time a recurring character would appear in the story (and thereby define their gender). Each had a simple definition, such as "navigating through and around other genders, watching", or "create and leave gifts for other, not looking for thanks or recognition".

We had a world of rising waters, and a grey goo that was threatening to overwhelm us all. Big Pink, which was the last dry space before the floods. Hodge Podge, the island of junk and debris floating in the ocean, where safety is now in short supply. Bly's Hall, and Chevron Skeleton where Ram's Raiders - our unfriendly neighbors - hail from, and where they're all out of food. There was Nono and Jaji, two refugees from the Floaters of Hodge Podge; Penny our little scientist with the weary face and shaky hands; Zin with the wiry frame and darting eyes.

The game had both world building, map making, and character generation all spread through in little bite sized pieces as we went round and round, and then scenes of various types of desperation. But as we wrapped up, we ended on a happy note. Penny and Jaji ended up bonded by skills, working together to prevent the grey goo from spreading. Nono found inspiration from Jaji, and reclaimed their name, once a series of words said to make them go away, to words used to prevent others from bashfully refusing help.

But my absolute favorite scenes were those with Zin (played by Nadja) pestering Penny (played by April) out on the Hodge Podge. I was in tears of joy.

 Our little water world...

Our little water world...

 Yes, we loved each other.

Yes, we loved each other.

Indian dinner at Tiffins

Stras, Andy, Nadja and I headed to an Indian joint that was around the corner from Stras' place, Tiffins, and it was lovely. Got to check out Stras' place afterwards, and got to meet some cats and bunnies.

 Delicioso... we ordered way too much, which worked out  really  well for breakfast the next day.

Delicioso... we ordered way too much, which worked out really well for breakfast the next day.

 The man next to the seminal poster. 

The man next to the seminal poster. 

Scotch party

Then it was off to be dropped back at the Big House, for a little scotch tasting party. We also at some point moved the couches together and created a sort of love boat.

That's possibly when the overwhelming feelings of dread started to sink in, in the house of Shaktilove (lowercase). You can see an innocent looking chalkboard in the background, which proclaims Love and Trust, and never say No, and other words that start to nefariously sink into your soul.

But other than that, all good fun!

 My stalwart companion on a maiden love boat journey... one of many.

My stalwart companion on a maiden love boat journey... one of many.

 Gracious scotch hosts, John and Cate!

Gracious scotch hosts, John and Cate!

CONlorado 2018: Thursday (Star Crossed, The Queen's Receipts)

House con

I was invited to CONlo (abbreviation approved), run by some friends in Boulder. Stras and John have been running this show for a few years with extremely small numbers, but this year Andi was invited to take some reigns, and it got just a wee bit bigger. (And that includes me, yay!)

Conlo2018_Logo.jpg

Plane Tension

I took a direct flight out of Burbank. Fortunately my friend Sean also thought he was taking a direct flight (incorrectly), and grabbed me on the way. Props for getting all those dirty looks saving me an exit aisle seat during boarding. Well worth it, as we got to chit-chat, but more importantly, eventually got to the work at hand: a game of Star Crossed (Alex Robert's 2-player game of forbidden love, and Jenga).

Because of Andi's excellent organizational work, we were able to converse about the idea of playing this game on the plane. It started as a bit of a joke, and also some talk about how smart it would be to play a scenario with a sky marshal and a terrorist on a plane. (Answer: not smart.) But because of this planning, I specifically brought a miniature "block tower" that I'd found for $0.79 at a thrift store.

Here is Sean's actual play report, which does a good job in giving you the low down. So good, I'm gonna do a straight-up rip, and quote him directly (just in case the link breaks at a later point):

We played Jaime, the idealistic son of a dictator of a small island, and Marco, the house butler that served in the war with the now-dictator and took a bullet for him. Knowing that we were about to wage yet another war, in the middle of the night Jaime convinced Marco to steal his father’s greatest weapon (works left unsaid we because we were flying, but the implication was that it was a WMD) and fly away in the night.

Marco had been the man to see Jaime’s education and his upbringing. While most of the people on the island, including and especially the dictator were expressive and rash, Marco was patient (that’s one of the things that made him so attractive) and reserved. His attention to detail, especially his perfectly trimmed beard were all signs of his control and thoughtfulness. In fact, many years ago Jaime learned to shave from Marco and tried to model the perfect precision that he used when drawing the razor across his skin. Marco was Jaime’s godfather. He was also totally hot for him.

Jaime, in his mid thirties, was erudite, privileged, and idealistic. Though he often argued with his father, he had know idea the extent to which the despot oppressed both the people of his island and threatened his neighbors. Brash like his father, when he learned of the dictators plans, he found the only man he could trust not to betray him (and that could fly the small plane they escaped in) and set off with him to deliver the dangerous cargo to his father’s enemies. He needed to prove this was a mission about political ideas. He needed to prove he wasn’t just flying away to be with Marco!

Pilot and Co-Pilot sat side by side (as Tomes and I did on the plane) and flew from the dictator’s island. They wanted each other but their beliefs and the need to safely pilot the plane trough a deadly course held them apart!

That summarizes it pretty well. He forgot to mention things like how the word "crash" and "WMD" would come up, and how we'd have to quickly tweak all that to ensure we made the rest of our journey unscathed. We joked about passing X-cards around to our neighbors. Honestly, having to be that cognizant of what words we were using added a second level of intensity and tension to the game.

Conlo2018_0308_CarryOn.png

Airport shuttles to Italy-food

We met at the Super Shuttle desk as Andy did us the solid of organizing one shuttle for the 6 of us that landed roughly the same time. We headed on to the YWCA, after passing the evil incarnate which is Blucifer, on the way in.

From there is was on to Pearl St, which is 2 blocks away from the YWCA, and houses the majority of food that was consumed on this journey. We hit Sforno, an Italian joint which was completely devoid of people at that early afternoon hour, and had a delicious family style feast.

Edit: I forgot that Nadja was debuting her show (she is the Talent Manager!) called "Stream On", a reality show that's pretty much the Twitch version of Survivor. So we got to actively see parts of it during our din-din.

The YWCA

Our gaming home for the next days would be the YWCA in Boulder. It's amazing what a great location this turned out to be: custom keycode so we could get in anytime, a couple of conference rooms, miniature kitchenette, proximity to tons of food options, and supporting a great organization. Everything was so seamless that it just makes me want to run a house con like this around my home.

The Whiteboard Schedule

Being such a small convention, of about 25 people, I got to see yet another way that games on demand and scheduling can happen. We'd just fill these out little game signup sheets, and tape them to the game time slots they'd created on the white board (three slots a day: 3 hour morning slot, 4 hour afternoon slot, 4 hour evening slot). The only oversight was leaving a spot for players to sign up, but that was quickly rectified.

 An example of a signup sheet.

An example of a signup sheet.

The Big House

Andi and crew planned accommodations for the majority of us foreigners around two AirBnBs, colloquially called The Big House, and The Little House. I was in the former with about a dozen or more of us. It worked out surprisingly well. It wasn't too close to the YWCA, but was a quick $6+ Lyft ride, or a 20+ minute walk (which I did at least 4 times).

Atrocities: The Queen's Receipts

Back to the Y for gaming. First thing I signed up for was Alex Robert's pitch for "Unnamed Game Playtest". The description: "You are a Queen's retinue on a perilous journey. Answer a deck of question cards to find out who you are and how you really feel about the Queen." I'm in. Players included Sean, Eric, Nadja, Andy, myself, and Alex.

The premise was that the Queen chose us because she knows we love her. Who are we? Why are we doing this? What's our relationship to the queen and each other? This is a game where your character gets formed in the journey, much like Fall of Magic or Protocol, however there you at least start with a name and a title or something... here you start with an empty canvas.

A deck of cards. That's it. They get drawn, one by one, one person taking a turn at a time, and you just answer the question. That's all. But holy shit was that game intensely good.

Again, Sean does one of his Actual Play reports. (Which just makes me wonder if I should always play with Sean not just because he's amazingly good fun to play with and a generous co-player, but because then I no longer have to blog about my games, he just does it for me!)

I was the bodyguard. The Queen had cut out my tongue, or more accurately: she'd had her last bodyguard do it, before that bodyguard slit her own throat. I took on the role. I was from a foreign land, brought over as an emissary, but also a spy. The Queen was onto me. And she had my sister in the jail beneath the castle. (There's a word for that, right, Andy?) And she'd let my sister live, as long as I served. If I betrayed her? Well, I had no choice.

One of the fantastic mechanics was the ability to "pass", if you didn't want to answer a question. Or if you wanted to possibly see the next character do so. Of course they could pass too. Everyone could. And if the question got around the table? You just discard and move on. Worked really well for various reasons (safety, narrative flow, and more).

Seriously though, you can just play this game for an hour, or more, depending on how many cards you want to play. Standing in line? Play an RPG. Driving for an hour in traffic with a few friends? Play an RPG. I want this.

 Some of the various Queen's Receipts

Some of the various Queen's Receipts

Late night ramblings: Part one of many

And then it became the first of many, many nights, of late night hanging out and talking, and staying up way too late. The first of 4 days of too little sleep, and too much adrenaline. Can't complain, so much love.

Orccon 2018: Sunday+Monday - Lean Coffee with RPG designers, Games on Demand Kids Edition, Werewolf, and out

Games on Demand - Half Baked Breakfast and Lean Coffee (8:30am-10am)

So. Prior to this con I set up a Slack channel for Strategicon RPG Games on Demand. The purpose was to facilitate some pre-con communication around this part of the convention, maybe get some more visibility into what people wanted to run or play. Fortunately, it's sort of worked out, and there's been some decent (if very budding and slight) traffic on it. And from those conversations...

Stephanie Bryant suggested maybe a design-focused part of Games on Demand, where maybe some designers can get together and discuss, troubleshoot, etc. Maybe even get some game playtesting going. And hence was born Half-Baked Breakfast. I've learned to avoid Sunday morning as Bob and I found that we were the only ones showing up, however, here we're talking about some more serious motivation.

Stephanie and a few showed up at 8:30am, and some of us a little bit later. I rolled down there about 8:45am. She'd already started a cool little thing by the name of lean coffee. Apparently this is "a structured, but agenda-less meeting. Participants gather, build an agenda, and begin talking. Conversations are directed and productive because the agenda for the meeting was democratically generated." Everyone generates questions, votes on one or more that they are interested in discussing, and a very simple but effective time-tracking system is in place to try and target as many topics as possible.

It was pretty fascinating to see, looked very simple to produce and run, and appeared to create some solid results. This will become a staple of GoD's to come, and perhaps even scheduled in the con book!

 A meeting of the minds...

A meeting of the minds...

 Lean Coffee in action!

Lean Coffee in action!

I'm Afraid of You playtest (9-10am)

After the lean coffee was over, most people took off, but Chris had a copy of a short-form narrative 2-player game he'd put together, and Bob and I took it for a test-run with Chris' help facilitating. It's called I'm Afraid of You, and is about two characters in opposition: "One a monster that must be appeased. The other a victim who has what the monster wants." The mechanics are super simple card draws from a poker deck, and the success and failures are interpreted and the narrative just plows forward for as long as the players desire.

I suggested a scenario that had to do with human colonists who've landed on a planet, and been mostly wiped out by the indigenous population. The monster was one of these local creatures, and the victim was a young boy who is the sole survivor and has been in the forest for about a month. Bob played the monster, and imagined them as sort of like Predator, but without the tech... a hunter type creature. The kid had what the monster wants: a homing beacon which would likely bring a rescue mission. From there we had taboo lands, little creature pets, and a dramatic showdown.

The part which I loved about this game was that the scenes felt like they developed fluidly, and the feels just sort of crept up on you. It reminded me a little bit of playing Alex Roberts' Tension (which I wrote about somewhere here).

Curious what it looks like? I ended up playing it with friend David LaFreniere in the Gauntlet a week later in an ad hoc game. Here's the recording, which plays out in about 40 minutes:

Picking up the daughter

Next on the agenda? Get the daughter. We played a bit of catch with a tennis ball and velcro catching mitts (no pool this time), and then met up with some friends from cons past, and friends new to the con (welcome Thong and Lucia!)

We did a little bit of miniature painting at the paint-and-take, and then hit the dealer room (another big draw). They're favorite spot is Michael Mirth's booth, which is set up as a sort of kiddie wonderland.

 Shopping!

Shopping!

After a little wandering around, I wanted to grab a bite from the room, and we had some time, so we took everyone up to the room (which is also next to the pool) for the kids to get out some of their vast amounts of energy.

 The jumping-all-over-the-beds game. Not in the convention book.

The jumping-all-over-the-beds game. Not in the convention book.

Games on Demand - Kids Edition (2-4pm)

Next it was time for Games on Demand for kids. There was a bit of a kerfuffle with the rooms, however I'll readily take some blame for dropping the ball on being organized, combined with some convention mixup. Also the fact that this is the largest of their conventions ever (they broke 2,500 people), and our space was being infringed upon by other areas. We did find a good room to play in, though, so all's well...

There were about 11 kids. I had one or two GM's in the wings, but the games that sold were Goobles and Goblins which Ryan ran for 4 kids, and me running The Deep Forest for a group of 7.

 Ryan running Goobles and Goblins. These kids were  excited  by the game, every time I looked over!

Ryan running Goobles and Goblins. These kids were excited by the game, every time I looked over!

I was really looking forward to running The Deep Forest. It's a variant of The Quiet Year, which is one of my favorites of the GM-less variety: a map-making game that's very collaboratively driven, and great for newbies and experienced players alike. In the Deep Forest, you play a group of monsters who have reclaimed their territory from the invading humans. They have some time to rebuild, however the game ends when the humans come back (perhaps with dire consequences).

The creativity of the kids was always great to behold. We had penguin warriors, and gaseous clouds with illusion power, an elf queen riding a griffon, a thingamabob, a strange caterpillar monster, and a little bunny so cute it could mesmerize humans into doing what it wanted.

The game plays in seasons, each contains in a suit of cards. Because there were 7 players, I did one round of cards as one season, which was the perfect amount of time prior to taking a break. Normally each player gets a choice to answer 1 of 2 questions, but I simplified this to just asking them one of the questions.

I made a few other modifications to the game:

  • I let the kids own their monster (Even though each player creates a monster, the monsters normally aren't owned by any individual. However, I figured there may be some tension in this scenario. It worked out well.)
  • I stretched my kid-management skills, using moments to close our eyes to imagine things, or close our eyes to vote on how many weeks projects would take (to reduce peer pressure).
  • The kids wanted to have the monsters win in the end of the game (after I told them it normally has a sad ending), and so I told them that if they played collaboratively by listening to each other and using each others ideas to build upon, then they could win.
  • I made sure that there were fairly strict limits on their drawing area. This really helped ensure a level of fairness around the table. I think some of them appreciated that structure both as far as being able to set expectations for themselves, as well as ensure that others didn't get to draw more than them.

Discovering new things was popular. Projects weren't very popular, but came up mostly through questions. In the second season some of the kids started getting interested in starting projects. At one point we had 3 going on the map at once.

Discussions weren't popular at all. In retrospect I should've used this action more like the basic game where it's more free form (The Deep Forest has a modified version). Also, in the future I'd make discussion occur as an extra action, instead of one used by the players. For example after each season, or after a very serious event (such as in our case when someone found a hidden village of humans, *gasp*!)

All in all, I felt it went very well, and importantly, I'd run it again in a heartbeat. But after 2.5 hours of gaming, I was exhausted.

 One of my favorite parts of the game... 7 kids drawing monsters, in silence.

One of my favorite parts of the game... 7 kids drawing monsters, in silence.

 Nova's awesome penguin warrior, Tala.

Nova's awesome penguin warrior, Tala.

 The Deep Forest crew with their map of caves and underground lakes, sunken ships, mysterious footprints, caches of weapons, berry bushes, and glowing rock formations.

The Deep Forest crew with their map of caves and underground lakes, sunken ships, mysterious footprints, caches of weapons, berry bushes, and glowing rock formations.

Afternoon hanging out (Sunday eve)

The next hours included some general hanging out. We spotted PST Improv doing their thing. Nova and I have checked them out before, and took many of the kids and families from Games on Demand to go have a view. The improv crew sources words and inspirations from the crowd, and our kids were happy to oblige them (especially with the word "cow", over and over again).

 PST Improv (Photo credit:  Jesse Watrous Photography & Media )

PST Improv (Photo credit: Jesse Watrous Photography & Media)

We also hit the game library (where you can rent one of hundreds of games) and the Open Gaming area down in the lower lobby. I showed some of the kids how to play Lotus (which I picked up in the virtual flea market), and Ann-Marie played Catan Junior with a few of them.

 Playing some board and card games with the kids (Photo credit:  Jesse Watrous Photography & Media )

Playing some board and card games with the kids (Photo credit: Jesse Watrous Photography & Media)

Werewolf (Sunday 9pm-3am)

This is one of the big draws for the kids. We ended up being in the room full of teens. Apparently some werewolf aficionados aren't as into these games, as there is a reputation for using weird roles in the games (and the teens mostly act like teens, and when there is a lot of 'em... hoo boy).

But, that said, the roles are interesting and we always learn new facets of the game. And once the game gets going, the teens get seriously into it, and seriously fun. The first game went from around 9am to maybe midnight. Lucia was new to the game, and was one of the last 3 players! (And unfortunately the she and the villagers lost due to a silly decision on the part of the other player.)

Of course some of the kids wanted to have another go, and so round 2 commenced, ending before 3am (so a fairly "quick" game). I could only take so much though, and left the kids with Jim and mostly hung out and chatted with various RPG friends.

 Oh, the lovely couple attempting to murder each other!

Oh, the lovely couple attempting to murder each other!

Monday morning

Had access to the upstairs breakfast lounge, something Nova enjoys a lot, so we did breakfast before they shut down (barely).

The rest of the con involved wandering around a bit, playing the "scavenger hunt game" during which we found a few dice around the convention floors, and the kids running around playing tag and such. At one point I showed Ann-Marie and family and daughter how to play Lotus.

 Lotus... such a pretty game.

Lotus... such a pretty game.

And with that, the con comes to a close... this time with possibly more regulars for next time!

Orccon 2018: Saturday with Autumn of the Ancients, Monster of the Week, Happy Jacks RPG Podcast, and The Final Girl

Games on Demand

Ah, Saturday. Time to kick off Games on Demand! This is the part of the con that I'm currently responsible for, and where we get together and pitch games, and it's all very ad hoc.

First off, one success of this con was sourcing players at Games on Demand who were interested in various scheduled games that were short players. We donated 6 players to 3 different games (from memory: Traveler, Jinkies, and Wild Talents; maybe Demigods?)... I say "donated" but really we just pitched those games along with the rest and players chose them. So: bringing players where they were needed... huzzah!

For the morning 9am session, we had a dozen people, including some recurring friends of GoD, as well as some newbies. Four went over to JiB who was running his Bad Streets (gritty cop drama of the '70s PbtA game), and a few went over to Golden Sky Stories as run by Ira. But me, I got a few people to play...

Autumn of the Ancients (Saturday 9am-noon)

My friend Kevin Marshall brought Dan, and together with my compatriot Bob Q. we played Autumn of the Ancients. The game is basically a Fall of Magic hack, but in space. The little intro story should be familiar if you've played the original:

Ancient Technology is dying, and the Liminal along with it. We travel together to The Foundry, the Liminal's homeworld, where Ancient Tech was born.

Of course, just like the original Fall of Magic with the "Magus", the Liminal is undefined. My experience with this game has taught me that a middle ground between 'completely undefined' and 'a discussed and agreed upon known entity' is useful, so we're all on roughly the same page starting out, or at least close. We decided to go with my method of "rumors". Each of us talked about one rumor we'd heard about the Liminal. This gives us a starting framework that is still completely loose and open to interpretation and changes.

So, the current version of the game comes with an amazing space map that is lovely. I will readily admit that using the map provided, on an iPad or some tablet, zooming into each location, would be very evocative and thematic. That said, I couldn't print it out large enough to be visible (and don't have a reasonable tablet), so instead took it upon myself to print each location on 3x5 index cards that I could easily pack and bring and play with. And they worked exceedingly well.

 The current version of the Autumn of the Ancients map, as of this writing.

The current version of the Autumn of the Ancients map, as of this writing.

Characters included Dwi the Indigene of Libery's Landing (me), Nebo the Specimen of Eco-Station 1, Wolf the Exile of the Capital (Dan), and Alex the Professor of the Aureate Federation (Kevin). 

I'll say this: If you like what Fall of Magic does, you will not be disappointed here. You can easily get a similar sweeping and emotion-filled narrative. We had great flashback moments of conflict and genocide, silly scenes of wonder and also over-the-top professor diatribes, bitterness-filled meetings with an old assistant whose studies were spurned, and emotional scenes with our lovely uplifted specimen both filled with wonder, and innocence lost.

We played a good 3+ hour session, and decided to call it there. I'd happily play this over multiple sessions (and as of this writing I've placed it up on the Gauntlet calendar to run in April).

Feedback: I think the game is pretty solid as written. Playing on a map is difficult unless you are well prepared, but on a tablet with zoom-in and out capability would be great and thematic for the space theme. That said, I printed it on index cards and that worked very well; so well and portable I am considering doing this for Fall of Magic itself. One negative criticism was that many of the flavor text / story cues for locations were repetitive with "The hospitality of the ____." Although of course you can interpret "hospitality" to mean many things, positive and negative, I would prefer to see some variety in these.

 Playing Autumn of the Ancients on cards

Playing Autumn of the Ancients on cards

 A few of the games running in the morning, including Bad Streets and Golden Sky Stories

A few of the games running in the morning, including Bad Streets and Golden Sky Stories

We finished a little early, which allowed me to complete some of my Strategicon math trade game trades, and also quickly check out the dealer room. I'm glad to see that the indie RPG dude is back and selling all sorts of great games, and I even hung around the booth for a few moments talking up some of these to random buyers.

Lunch with mates

Headed to the room with a few friends from below, ate some bring-it-yourself food, and took one of those nice, short social breaks.

Games on Demand - Monster of the Week (Saturday 2-6pm)

Our second session of GoD had a few folks go up to scheduled games, and a table of Dirty Secrets run by Ira (which uses a really interesting mechanic of one player and everyone else being GMs). I, however, got to play in Monster of the Week, as run by Bob Q! He's run sessions before for Games on Demand, and some of the players of these prior sessions, such as Unique and Even, were playing in this one. This was my first time playing this game, and I've heard Bob run good sessions of it, so I was looking forward to this (and wasn't disappointed):

Most people don’t believe in monsters, but you know the truth. They’re real, and it’s your task to bring them down. This revised edition of Monster of the Week brings that adventure to life.

We had a pretty eclectic group of monster hunters, but interestingly enough, all four of us chose strong magic-wielders. The magic-type stat for this game is called Weird, and all of us had a +2 or +3 in that stat. This definitely flavored the session strongly, and in a way that I think we all enjoyed.

I created Aboud, a half-Ethiopian half-Spanish Jew, but from a strange orthodox sect called Solomon's Key that follows the "real" form of the Kabbalah and wields magic. The sect is strict in laws, and is weary against outsiders and especially "abominations", such as Unique's character, a Succubus. This invited some good tension, and some interesting ways in which the story played out.

The overall adventure was one in the Pacific Northwest (thanks Unique!), and so we ended up with some first nations skinchanger type creature, someone filled with hate so deep that harm to many innocent bystanders was just par for the course.

There was a lot of us going in all sorts of different tangents and directions at the start, not waiting for one another and diving into different hijinx, but as the story went on we started to pull together and some good inter-character drama unfolded, and bonds seemed to tighten. Would've been fun to see where this team would've gone as a campaign.

Super-props to Even who ran character Jae-Chill, a youtube streamer and social media nut with a large following (many of which are part of an arcane user streaming network). He evoked this character sooo well, it was extremely entertaining. Best part of the scenario was that we all worked really well together, and it felt like a good synergy and combination of drama and heroics.

After the game there were some others who were diving into yet another ad hoc game, but I knew I was hitting some energy limits. I am proud that I was able to pull myself away, go up to the room and nap, and then eat some grub before coming back down to find them ending their session.

The Happy Jacks RPG Podcast - Live at Orccon 2018 (Saturday 8-10pm)

From there, I went to check out the live recording of the Happy Jacks RPG Podcast. They do this almost every Strategicon (sometimes missing Gamex due to the Renaissance Faire, although sometimes making that date as well).

The next 2 hours included the usual chit-chatting about games, including up on the mic. I got some props for Ten Candles, and gave some props to games such as Bedlam Hall and A Game of Throne Acquisition. The event gets blurry a bit later on due to alcohol imbibing habits. And then around 10pm, it was time to head down to the last event of the eve.

 Some pre-show hanging out and drinking of definitely non-alcoholic beverages

Some pre-show hanging out and drinking of definitely non-alcoholic beverages

 The panel!

The panel!

Want to suffer through the chaos? Here you go!

The Final Girl and Games on Demand Late Night Edition (10pm-1am)

Post-podcast it's time for our late night jam. In the past I've run Dread, and Bob's run Monster of the Week, and lean towards other good creepy stuff. In this meetup my friend Sasha from the Story Games Glendale meetup showed up with their own game-in-testing! They ran a table of three, including friend Chris Shorb; can't wait to try it.

My friend Howie showed up after over a year of missing the con (dang children!), and because the rest of the audience didn't volunteer to run something, and because getting a closed room for another run of Ten Candles was an impossibility on a Saturday night, I went with a good standby for a large group of 7 players: The Final Girl.

The Final Girl emulates a slasher flick, and we did some random card draws to see what the fates would try to suggest as a scenario, but they were all weak-sauce. So instead I pitched a scenario which combines two pre-canned ones from the game: "It is opening night of a romance movie about vampires. The characters are all vampires coming to see the premiere, but who are being hunted by a human vampire hunter!"

We made a bunch of characters, and did a few intro scenes. As always one thing I love about the game is having different players play the same characters over different scenes, and seeing how disparate the characterizations are. I was the culprit of one of these, running one of the ancient vampires in a weird slapstick way. Everyone later called that character the Mr. Bean of vampires, which was kind of hilarious, especially as I was just being silly because I didn't know what else to do in that scene.

Oddly enough, our Final Girl was not a vampire, but in fact our human universal blood donor (who gets bitten just before the end, with sunlight streaming into the theater and killing off some of our final characters). He wakes up a few days later, and the story continues.

Off to some late-night sleep, in preparation for getting the daughter the next day (and some early morning GoD loving I didn't expect).

Gauntlet: The Rebel Few

Rich Rogers is one of the Gauntlet's staple GMs, running a ton of different games, storylines, and systems, and with a gusto that makes me want to be a better advocate for "the hobby". One recent recurring set of games he's running is Star Wars Saturdays, where he has an open table playing different systems and stories that are Star Wars adjacent.

I got to play in 2 sessions over 2 Saturdays of The Rebel Few:

Hop in a starfighter, join a squadron of fellow pilots, and fly as members of the Rebel Alliance against impossible odds and the tyranny of the Galactic Empire... 

The game system Rich was using was The Few RPG, a game about World War 2 fighter pilots during the Battle of Britain. Except in this case we'd be playing X-wing pilots.

First session

The first session started with a bit of character generation. For most of these games I come in with nothing in mind, and like to be inspired by the table and other players. This game was no different. We ended up with a group of 5 pilots, with only one being the token human. This included a Bothan (lion-looking dudes), a Sullustan (like the guy who flies with Lando in the Millennium Falcon), a Nautolan (you see him as one of the many jedi who gets cut down in the early episodes), and me: Sorguc Le. Sorguc is a Mon Calamari (like General Akbar), and in fact is one of his many 100's of children (in my made-up head cannon). She's the only kid to not grow out of being blood-thirsty, and so has become a Rebel pilot. Also, Akbar isn't a general yet, since we're playing around the time of Rogue One.

 Our cast of characters

Our cast of characters

We start after being briefed with our mission. Being an RPG with a very specific focus (fighter piloting), the route is fairly narrow. We're gonna be given a mission and we're gonna shoot down some Tie Fighters, or die trying. But, before we do so, we did a little bit of scene framing around the base, to establish some of our characters. We have a career pilot, a swoop biker gang leader, a Jedi smuggler, and youngster from a family of performers, and got to see some little vignettes and role playing scenes prior to getting into the "action".

The game itself is fairly simple. Trying to shoot down another pilot is relatively hard (roll 3d6 + your piloting stat, which is probably 2 or 3, and roll a 16+). That said, there is some tactics you can use, like building Advantage (to get a bonus to your roll), or flying on the wing of another pilot (to provide them better defense). The first battle was really about us learning how these different rules work and interacted. Much like the Star Wars Miniature game, it was a lot more fun that I would initially think. I'm not much into war games, but the action and moves are quick enough for you to get a feel for fast-pace battle. Before long we'd obliterated our target with some photon torpedoes (I think that's right... I'm not really a Star Wars expert), and fly back to base without any casualties.

Personally, I love having good background audio playing during games, and was happy to easily find free Star Wars battle music out there that did the trick. Many of us agreed that having that play during the combat really enhanced the experience (just the first track makes you dive head first into the scene!)

We didn't have enough time to do the downtime phase of the game, where we get to do some roleplaying back at the base, which is unfortunate since that's super fun (especially after doing over an hour of combat simulator), but we'd end up saving this for the beginning of the next session (and I was to play in that one as well)...

Gauntlet_20180203_TheRebelFewBattle.jpg

Second session

I don't often get to play in more than one session in a Gauntlet series, so this was a real pleasure. We went straight into the downtime / base scenes, where each of us pitched and ran a little role playing, in between combats.

For my choice, I decided we needed a Y-cert Vibrokey (some made up Star Wars sounding shit) from someone in the vicinity. Blaise joined me with character Borsk Ov'Ar, and Rich ran with it, and suddenly we were visiting a mafia-style Hutt to negotiate. Of course it turns out this Hutt has one of my compatriots, a Mon Calamari engineer, as a slave / prisoner. Well, this is Star Wars, right? So I pretend to trade our speeder bike for the engineer, but it's just a feint, and we get in a blaster fight, steal the key, and head home. Unfortunately I failed my Soldiering roll, so the way I spun it was so it felt like we saved the day and freed a prisoner... but when we get back to the base it turns out we damaged that Vibrokey during the fight. Now we lost the advantage we needed for some other part of our mission.

After our scenes, we floated straight into the next mission. During this one we were distracting some Empire vessels from our ground operations, which were on the planet surface. We were pretty quickly feeling desperately outgunned. I wasn't rolling too well, and Rich was, so suddenly my shields are down, and I'm pushing some risky mechanics - which resulted in my torpedoes going out of commission. We survive the onslaught of tie fighters, but then make a desperate run for the Empire's big ship. I go in, even though I don't have torpedoes, just to provide more targets for them, hoping it'll help us distribute the damage. Sorguc Le is killed in action... I like to think I might've saved one of my compatriots. The last scene I frame is the Mon Calamari engineer, working on some Rebel vessel, looking up at that moment, feeling the Force, and Sorguc's life departing from it. Star Wars, right?

 Battle #2!

Battle #2!

Roses and Thorns

Thorns: The game is fairly simple, and most of us thought that the limited number of moves was a bit of a hindrance by the second session. We wanted at least another 1 or 2 (or 3) options, beyond "Support", "Tail them", and so on. Hopefully this would also provide more fictional directions to go during combat.

To that end: For story gamers it always helps to tie something of the mechanics into a way to further allow for narrative. As an example, in this game you can use the Force to re-roll any dice, normally once / battle sequence. When you do so, instead of making it just a mechanical thing, it would be great to have the player describe a flashback, or parallel scene, or something related. Don't get me wrong, most of us do this anyways, cause I mean: story gamers, but still, would be nice to make space and time for that in the middle of combat.

This is something that Stras has built into Atlas Reckoning, and I think done in a fabulous way. Resolving "traits" and marking "burnouts", all mechanical benefits during the engagement / combat phase, all have some narrative associations that you immediately take advantage of to frame miniature scenes and vignettes. It feels very cinematic. I think this game could use some of that.

Roses: The game sings well in regards to evoking quick and fluid combat. Combined with the background music (for those of us playing it) we felt like we were in that cockpit, and there was a sense of desperation as you'd expect, being a Rebel with the Empire breathing down your neck.

Rich pulled this off very well, and gave us some of the story elements we were looking for, combined with simple X-wing combat that felt cinematic, and evoked the desperation you find in the movies.

Gauntlet: Red Carnations on a Black Grave

Red Carnations on a Black Grave

Red Carnations on a Black Grave is a mechanics-lite story game that's in development by Catherine Ramen. She's described it as similar to "Montsegur: 1244" and "Witch: the Road to Lindisfarne". I've only played the latter.

She put the game on the Gauntlet calendar and I was able to get in on it. Here's the description:

For just over two months in 1871, the Paris Commune tried to make an egalitarian, socialist state a reality despite disagreement within their walls and attacks from outside it. This is the story of 12 Communards, their messy personal lives and their attempts to create a utopia in the face of impending death. How far would you go for what you believe in? Would you stand firm even if it meant your death?

The game explores a very specific set of historic events set in France around 1871. I get nervous with historical games, because I'm not very versed in much of real history and don't like the pressure of being accurate in that context, especially as this is a game around political ideals that I'm not very familiar with. Fortunately Catherine pretty quickly assured us that bringing in any political knowledge won't be necessary, and the politics just sort of come into play with the context, but to feel free to concentrate on whatever character drama and minutia you find interesting. I wasn't the only one so concerned, and that bit of reassurance was very useful for us.

Characters

Much like Witch: the Road to Lindisfarne, the game revolves around pre-built characters that each have a light framework around who they are. Interestingly, many of them have real historical context, although apparently only one (Louise Michel, a sort of "main" protagonist) has any significant documentation around her. There is total freedom in making these characters your own.

The game is card-based, insofar as choosing characters, and random events that transpire, based on real historic events. Catherine had some help from fellow Gauntleteers in using the ability to draw from a custom deck, using Shane Liebling's RollForYourParty online dice roller / RPG tool. 

We started by each choosing two characters from the available dozen in the game. We had 5 players, but from Catherine it sounds like the game is meant for 6, optimally. She's played with 4 and has a hack for that, but we were going into unexplored playtest territory here, and it worked fine. A very useful part of the game is the simple relationship map that quickly illustrates character interplay:

RedCarnationsRelationshipMap.jpg

This was a great reference during play and when creating scenes, as you can assess who could be involved for maximum drama and effect. Additionally, fellow Gauntleteer Gerrit helped make a Google drawing of it which we used to fill in additional information during character creation and were able to color to quickly show which player controlled which characters. Super handy!

 In comparison, you can see how very useful this version of the map is. Kudos to Jason and others for formatting and simplifying this key piece of info.

In comparison, you can see how very useful this version of the map is. Kudos to Jason and others for formatting and simplifying this key piece of info.

The game itself played very similarly to many simple scene-framing games (Fiasco, Fall of Magic, the other games mentioned above), in that a specific player controlled a specific scene in framing and controlling "Action" and "Cut". In general the scene they set should include one of their characters. The game is played mostly over 3 different parts: Part 1 during early days of the Commune’s existence; Part 2 after the attacks by the national army against the Commune, when hopes dims. Part 3 during the “Bloody Week” with the army assaulted and the massacring of many Communards.

The character cards are excellent in their conciseness, and usefulness during play. They each succinctly explain the character and motivations, and are as easy to read as Dungeon World monster entries.

The session

What can I say? There were some few light and touching moments, but we played toward dark. Innocent people got dealt bad hands, and Part 3 is especially rough as you choose one of your two characters to die. 

I loved that during each Part of play, there is a set of event cards (placards) that come out that you can optionally choose from. These really help provide a consistent flavor to the game, and are even put together in a way that emulates placards used during that time:

 An example of a Placard used in the game

An example of a Placard used in the game

The above example is probably from Part 1, when things are good. They get increasingly dark as times go bad. Even if you don't have a feel for the time period or politics or France or whatever, these gives you just about as much as you need to stay on tone and inspire scenes and events.

There were two of our players who were new to Gauntlet games, and RPGs in general, but I wouldn't have known it if they didn't say anything, as they played beautifully. The table environment was great.

We had drama, romance, and lots of darkness. Most characters came to pretty sad endings (at least half the characters will die during the game), but we did have one shining light: Camille, the young boy, was able to live a decent life. Perhaps that's the story of France moving on after the events.

Probably one of the toughest parts in playing this online was the amount of moving pieces. You can see on my screen that I was trying to take advantage of every piece of real estate: Hangouts window for players, my character cards, the rollforyourparty window in the top right for the game cards, and the relationship map in bottom right. It's a lot, and if it hadn't been organized well, it would've been hard to digest. I know one player had a tough time playing on an iPad, which required lots of switching apps back and forth.

 Lots of windows!

Lots of windows!

It all ended up working well enough for me, however, and it probably would've been somewhat trivial in a face-to-face game where you have all the cards ready to go, and in play on the table.

Some elements of the game reminded me of another GM-less game I've thoroughly enjoyed called Heaven's Collapse (which I wrote about here). I thought both games were elegantly simple, and could allow anyone to dive into the setting and play without needing any sort of background knowledge.

Definitely keeping my eye out for this one. Catherine has done a wonderful job in creating this game.

EDIT: Looks like the video is posted, and with "production value"!

Gaming in the warm winter of Los Angeles

Hiatus from blogging

So, apparently it's been a while. Well, I haven't been to any game conventions, so that's a possible reason. But conventions are coming, with the next one looming being Strategicon Orccon 2018.

But before I go writing about that, in a few weeks, I just catch myself up here, as there's been more than a bit of gaming. And all the below is just RPGs. My partner has been running board game days about once a month, so to supplement the usual stuff, I've also been playing much more board games, and we went to our friend Unique's birthday, which was basically: game night! So, recent favorites being: Citadels, Secret Hitler, Above and Below, and Shadow Hunters.

But on to RPGs...

Winter 2017 Recap

Oct 24, 2017: Played The Final Girl at Story Games Glendale, as Halloween approached. Only in this case it ended up being The Final Internet Billionaire Tim on a haunted oil rig.

 Story Games Glendale and The Final Girl

Story Games Glendale and The Final Girl

Oct 31, 2017: Among other days, played lots of World of Dungeons run by Tom, with various Gauntleteers mostly from Asia-Pac. In this one we traveled the dunes, and finally got to see to Medved the King Bear.

Nov 4, 2017: Played in a playtest of The Veil: Cascade, run by Kyle of The Gauntlet, with fellow players Lauren and Alex, my Asia-Pac homies. I got to play a little runt Jeet, with Asha the Futurist and Autumn the Mnemologist, visiting Autum's Speakeasy, looking for memories. Mostly it fostered a big desire to play The Veil, which is great for emotional play.

Nov 17, 2017: Got to finally play Monster Hearts in Jason Cordova's Monsterhearts 2: Mercy Falls '83 session. I got to be a Ghoul which is a sort of re-animated Frankenstein composed of four different, previously murdered, geeks.

Nov 17, 2017: Ran The Final Girl with a combo of some of my old RPG crew, and newbie Lien. 

 The Final Girl

The Final Girl

Nov 28, 2017: I ran a game of Dungeon World at Story Games Glendale, with newbie Craig as the wizard Avon and David as the bard Florian. They journeyed through a swamp to see a fortune teller, fighting off tree beasts and with a final epic battle against a demon trying to take a little girl.

Dec 9, 2017: Ran Legend of the Elements (aka Avatar the Last Airbender the RPG) for my daughter and Stu Venable's kids. We played a roughly 3+ hour session involving the White Lotus Scouts dealing with forest weirdness, and trying to get badges, trying to tame strange animals, and talking to stranger spirits.

Dec 10, 2017: Went over to new friend Kevin's place to run some Dungeon World with Martha and Candace, who'd I'd gamed with at prior Strategicons this year. I ran them through a similar adventure starter as the one from Story Games a few weeks back. But the players made some cool PCs, including a weird gem-based golem from the wastelands, a druid of the savannas who's adopted it, and an immolator (the first I've ever played with). 

 Dungeon World crew

Dungeon World crew

Dec 12, 2017: We played The Quiet Year at Story Games Glendale, set on top of mountains in a world with long and inconsistent lighting and flooding (like enough flooding where the mountains turn into an archipelago). And very big goats. And Babayaga. And glowing people.

 The Quiet Year on Dave's cool white board cards.

The Quiet Year on Dave's cool white board cards.

Got sick on two separate occasions, so had to flake out on two proposed sessions to run Ten Candles with two different groups... still sad about it.

Jan 9, 2018: First time officially running a game for The Gauntlet, an afternoon session of Forget-Me-Not:

Jan 9, 2018: After running Forget-Me-Not, headed straight to Game Haus for Story Games Glendale. Many people said they'd show, but due to many flakes, we got one show. We ran a session of Microscope.

Jan 23, 2018: Ran an afternoon session of Murder Hobo for The Gauntlet:

Jan 23, 2018: After running Murder Hobo, went to Story Games Glendale at Game Haus, where we had a good 6+ players showing! David ran the bulk of these guys, while I ran a 2-player game of Dungeon World with Jon, a regular, and Asher, a newbie to the meetup. I had ideas about running something, but after they made their characters I just went with their cool concepts and made some stuff up, crazy cool Eco warriors! 

Jan 25, 2018: I got my question (labelled under "Inferiority Complex") answered by Adam Koebel on his Office Hours:

Whew... I think that sums up the bulk of this time period.

Pinecon 2017: Camp de Benneville Pines, The Warren, Ten Candles, and archery

Pinecon and Big Bear

Pinecon. Basically 3 guys got together and started a weekend gaming camp. It's up in the San Bernardino Mountains, not far from Big Bear, at Camp de Benneville Pines. (In other words, Los Angeles adjacent national parks.) I met one of these guys, Chris Shorb, through The Gauntlet online community, and at Strategicon, when he came to play and run some stuff at Games on Demand.

Pinecon2017_pineconlogo5.png

The only thing possibly keeping me from there: an already packed schedule, and figuring out how to manage that with the daughter. And hence I reached out about how kid-appropriate or kid-accommodating the convention would be. And the answers were mostly positive, with more than a few people saying they'd bring a few young ones and teens. And Adam, one of the other founders, would attempt to bring his daughter of the same age as mine.

The Lodge and Camp de Benneville Pines

I picked up the daughter from school and headed straight to the location... a solid 3 hour drive with good ol' LA traffic slowing our progress. We just about ran out of gas as we pulled into the camp's grounds due to some fuel mismanagement on my part... but made it!

The main feature of the camp, past the parking lot, is the large lodge. We were greeted by Chris, who was managing the check-in process; pretty low-fi, but just the pronoun stickers made me confident I was in the right place.

 Although to be fair, Chewie appears to identify as "he" in the movies.

Although to be fair, Chewie appears to identify as "he" in the movies.

The lodge became the focal point for the convention and gathering, as all the meals are included (and served here). This large room can accommodate over 100 people, and also served as the open gaming area. A long table in the corner became the game library (a lot of folks brought things they'd be open to sharing). 

There was also a fireplace area with pretty regularly maintained flame (in the evening), a constantly available tea and coffee bar, some small refrigerators for beers and smaller food items, and many, many friendly folk.

 The Lodge, with game library table at the far back (from this view).

The Lodge, with game library table at the far back (from this view).

 The Lodge after dark.

The Lodge after dark.

Meals

Normally meals are served at 6pm for dinner and 8am and 1pm for breakfast and lunch. This works perfectly for scheduled game slots that are 9am-1pm, 2-6pm, and 8-midnight. But for the first night, they served dinner at 7pm to give everyone time to get there (taking into account Friday work and traffic).

The meals here were pretty solid. Very much camp-style meals, with hot meat and veggie options, and vegan and gluten-free options mixed in there. There were always steamed veggies of some type, and a salad bar as well. I was pretty impressed with the food: not super high end, but much better than fast food.

Werewolf and One Night Ultimate (Friday 8pm +)

At any given slot there were about 4-5 RPGs running in various cabins around the campground, and always many folks playing or open to running board games of various types at the lodge.

I volunteered to run a few games, coordinating these decisions with my travel partner. One game she loves playing at Strategicons is Werewolf, late at night. And so we did that as our intro game for the convention. I ended up attracting a small crew, both with and without Werewolf experience. The game is all about deduction and social intrigue, and we played about 2-3 rounds of the old-school standard game, and then switched over to play the shorter One Night Ultimate Werewolf version, which was also fun in a slightly different way.

All this was a way to get to meet some of the various kids who we'd see later in the weekend. Unfortunately Adam and family didn't get there until late, so their daughter Cassie (roughly Nova's age) wouldn't be around to play until the next day.

 Our Werewolf crew debating and voting to off each other

Our Werewolf crew debating and voting to off each other

In the spirit of open gaming, we had gamed with Seven (at Werewolf) and met his mom Tina, who convinced Dorian and Nova to join them for a game of Spaceteam. This was a fun, collaborative, timed, and hectic card game involving a space crew trying to repair their spaceship. The parts and tools are all weirdly named, and it is one of those games that, when played, will cause you to get stressed out and loud.

 Playing Spaceteam.

Playing Spaceteam.

The cabin

There are a number of cabin's peppered throughout the camp. Each cabin building may consist of a number of rooms, and each room may have a few bunk beds. The cabin shares normally 2 full bathrooms with showers. There are also more private style cabins which you can pay a little extra for (we didn't). Overall, the rooms were comfortable, if tight, and you must bring your own things, like sleeping bags or blankets, and towels. I was lucky that I threw the sleeping bags in the car last minute, because I otherwise didn't prepare well. I didn't bring towels at all, so we just used my old T-shirts.

 A room with 2 bunks; could fit 4 comfortably. Because they don't completely fill up the campground, the daughter and I shared this room on our own.

A room with 2 bunks; could fit 4 comfortably. Because they don't completely fill up the campground, the daughter and I shared this room on our own.

The Warren (Saturday 9am-1pm)

During breakfast the next morning, Nova got to meet Cassie, which she would later play with throughout the convention.

Nova had asked me to run The Warren as a role playing game slot. There was four players, and I decided to play the Abigail Meadows setting from the book. I didn't come with anything prepared at all, so just went with what the players brought to the table and the way they answered questions. We had:

  • Lightning, a quick rabbit (played by Nova)
  • Clover, a seer (played by Dorian)
  • Thorn, a tough tooth and claw rabbit (played by Sophie)
  • Max, a dominant rabbit (played by Ben)
  • Moss, a nuturing rabbit (played by Emma)

They mentioned gathering herbs for an old rabbit, so I made the quest about being asked to gather such medicine. I kicked off the game in media res with the final question being: How did the hunters get between you and the warren? We immediately launched into panicking mode, with dogs and hungers running around, ran into Lump, the large toad hiding in the bushes, and rabbits trying to make sense of it all and survive. By the end of the first half, all the rabbits were captured in a steel cage (some purposefully so, so as to rescue the others). 

At this point the daughter said she was done playing and wanted to go hang out with Cassie, and so they went back to the lodge to game. This worked out, as halfway through the game a young lad named Alex came in and was very interested in joining us, after listening in the background. It worked out perfectly, with the story dramatically shifting.

  • Leaf, and engineer rabbit that was marked by the black rabbit (played by Alex)

Leaf ended up Innovating a move that helped the other rabbits get free. He was also a bit of a wandering rabbit, with no permanent home. The second half of the game became one of political intrigue and a struggle against the current hierarchy of the warren. At the end a sly fox tried to cause trouble, but the rabbits used him to chase off the matriarch who was standing in their way. We did some epilogues and it felt like a solid landing for the game. (Unfortunately forgot to get a picture of my players!)

I returned to the lodge to find Nova and Sophie playing (and teaching) Sushi Go, and running their own table!

 Cassie and Nova running a table.

Cassie and Nova running a table.

Archery (Saturday 2-3pm)

After a hearty lunch, we had nothing planned. This worked out well, because at 2pm the camp was providing access to their archery range. They provide a basic set of bows and arrows, and about 6 people can shoot at a time.

Cassie's dad Adam had brought his own traditional bow and arrows, as apparently it's something he's into. There were a few people who had, in fact. The range was great, and the women who ran it (who works at the camp) was great. We had a good hour+ shooting arrows, and all this without any cost above what we expecting to pay at the camp. Bonus!

 Archery with an adult bow the first day.

Archery with an adult bow the first day.

The rest of the afternoon we spent playing a game or two, but mostly just wandering around the grounds, playing in the play structure and with the other kids, and chilling out.

Ten Candles (Saturday 8pm-midnight)

The second RPG I wanted to run this weekend was Ten Candles. A tragic horror game written by Stephen Dewey, Ten Candles is about and apocalyptic scenario where the world goes dark. Completely dark. And They want to get you. And the only thing They are afraid of is light, which is in shorter and shorter supply. You actually play with ten candles, in the dark. This game was perfect for the camp. 

The game has been written about more thoroughly in other places, such as in Bluestocking's blog and the 3W6 podcast interviewing the designer (in English despite the fact that this is German podcast), so I won't go into the minutia of how the game works. But I will write about some impressions and things I really liked about it.

The daughter was supposed to play, but it turns out was dead tired. Instead she sort of crashed out, an just slept in the room while I ran the game.

Ten Candles explicitly prevents the GM from prepping anything around the story. I did prep the props, as real candles in a forest (and game convention hotels) are generally forbidden. I got some recommendations somewhere about running it without actual candles and so I purchased LED tea candles, and some water-dissolving "spy paper" (for when you need to "burn" the player stats cards).

I will also credit myself in putting together a pretty solid cheat sheet (which is found, and will be updated, at http://tinyurl.com/tencandles-cs). I didn't want to break immersion in the game by having to refer to the book, so this is something I spent some time preparing prior to the game.

I used the Light in the Dark scenario, which has the players be a crew that has some weapons and a Humvee with a massive flood light, and are tasked with getting survivors from a small town, and heading to a chopper to be rescued. I liked the idea of them feeling powerful at the outset. We had:

  • Gregory (M), authentic, and an ex-telemarketer (played by Joe)
  • Jane Thomas (F), a short and sturdy and harried nurse, looking for her mother (played by Chris).
  • Sam (F), a meek and withdrawn 29 year old masters / PHD candidate, scared (played by Galen).
  • Travis (M), a grizzled, retired marine, promising to get back to get back to his mate, Troy (played by Tom)

Actually playing the game is fascinating. My favorite aspect has to do with narrative control. There is an interesting dynamic where the players have almost complete narrative control in the beginning of the game, so can be as successful as they want to be (although some players get into the part of causing their own pain, and Galen did that brilliantly). But as the game progresses, the GM has more and more control of the narrative, and They start to appear and cause problems. And who or what They are at this point can easily be colored by what the players or characters themselves have revealed about what they fear. Feels in some ways similar to a GM-less game in some respects.

The characters explored a few car wreckages, found spare batteries, went through a safehouse which didn't provide much in the way of "safe", recovered some scared children from a hardware store (and discovered the many strange human remains left behind), found survivors (including Jane's mother) at the hospital, ran into a rogue group and crashed the Humvee, continued with a crippled car as gas was running low, saw the helicopter in the distance, hit a deer, almost made it to Drop Point Delta (but heard the helicopter leaving), crashed over the side of the road, losing Jane's mother, lost the children, found another crappy vehicle, and then were waylaid by Them on the road. Almost everyone died, except for Sam, discovering that humans had probably let them loose through Lovecraftian means. At this point she screamed at Them to kill her already, but the wouldn't, they just surrounded at her and stared and stared.

The pace of the game is very interesting, with a slow start, but with that building speed of a downhill rolling snowball. And then the ending is fantastic. (But no spoilers here.) We all had a blast playing, and despite my nervousness coming into it as a no-prep game, it really supports the GM very well in that regard. This may be my con-game go-to for 2018.

 Just about getting ready to turn out the lights

Just about getting ready to turn out the lights

 Thank Galen for the picture!

Thank Galen for the picture!

More Archery and gaming (Sunday morning)

The next morning we had breakfast, and I checked our stuff out as the daughter played with her new friend. It was a relatively chill day.

We got out to the archery range again, and this time there were kid bows, which worked a lot better for the girls. At one point, Nova was able to hit the far targets. There were few people out, and so we got a full hour of shooting, and it was quite enjoyable.

 Archery, round two.

Archery, round two.

At one point she got to watch, and then we later got to join in and play, a game called Captain Sonar. It's basically a 4 vs 4 player game of Battleship, with everyone getting a specific role on their sub, and the goal being to sink your opponent. 

The game has some really clever elements, including one crew member listening to the other sides instructions to try and get a reading on where they are (without knowing where they've started). Definitely a fun party-type game for board gamers.

After some heart felt goodbyes and exchanges of some contact info, we went off to face the long drive home. Oh ya, that was made possible by the friendly staff who helped me fill my gas tank. They get big props for being so lovely (and fortunately there is a tip jar there to put money behind those sentiments).

All in all, an amazingly great experience. This was the second Pinecon, and they plan on doing it again next year, and still capping it at 100 people (for which they sold out this year). It's not trivial in cost, but considering it comes with food included, it's actually very reasonable, assuming you can make it there. It is definitely on my to do list for conventions next year.

 Captain Sonar!

Captain Sonar!

GauntletCon 2017 and Saga of the Icelanders

GauntletCon, the first

I've talked about the Gauntlet online community and podcast network, and it has quickly become one of my favorite places to learn about new and innovative role playing games out there. Well, it has also become my favorite place to play online games, and because they hit a Patreon goal, they had decided to run their first online gaming convention!

GauntletCon's first convention was October 20-22, 2017. The listed games was insanely good. Here's a sample (first taking a deep breath):

Sagas of the Icelanders, World Wide Wrestling: Gauntlet Roadshows, Fourth World (Earthdawn hack): Ardanyan's Revenge, Rad Hack, Space Wurm vs. Moonicorn, Traverser (run by Paul Czege), DCC, Monsterhearts 2: Seven Spires, Dungeon World (including sessions run by Jason Cordova, and some sessions using Ray Otus' Plundergrounds), Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, Heroes and Crystal Kingdoms (run by designer Maria Rivera), Survival of the Femmest (Original System by River), Blades in the Dark,  Pugmire, The Veil: Cascade, Alas for the Awful Sea, Dust, Fog, and Glowing Embers, Katanas & Trenchcoats, Poutine, Swords Without Master, Golden Sky Stories, Troika RPG, Peril on the Purple Planet - World of Dungeons, Murderous Ghosts, Dogs in the Vineyard, Rockerboys And Vending Machines (a Lasers and Feelings hack), Libreté, The Black Hack, Godbound, Pigsmoke, Cthulhu Dark, City of Mist, Ryuutama, Atlas Reckoning, Fate Accelerated, To Serve Her Wintry Hunger, Vanagard, Psi*Run, Moldvay Basic D&D, Tenra Bansho Zero, Funnel World, The Happiest Apocalypse on Earth (run by Chris Grey), Legend of the Elements, Threadbare (run by Stephanie Bryant), Into the Odd, Dream Askew (run by Avery Alder), Cartel (run by Mark Diaz Truman), Apocalypse World, Malandros (by Tom McGrenery), Freebooters on the Frontier (run by Jason Lutes), and The Veil: Cascade (run by Johnstone Metzger)

Good lord. This is the bread and butter of toast I'd love to be eating. And in many cases above I listed some of the people running the games in cases where they are the game designers themselves or grand names of the sub-sub-sub culture this is a part of.

That all said, this convention comes one week after Big Bad Con, from which I was away from the family for 5 days, and so negotiating another weekend, or even more than a few games, was unlikely. It also overlapped with Pinecon, a local Los Angeles convention (which I will post about separately), and that was something I could negotiate, because I would be taking the daughter as part of it.

Needless to say, I was feeling sad that I would miss the first Gauntlet convention... but... it turns out I would get to feel a bit of the convention.

The Gauntlet Con Discord

Normally the Gauntlet primarily communicates to its audience via the podcasts, and listener communication is provided through discussion on the Gauntlet G+ community. There is also a Slack channel, but that is only open to individuals who support the Gauntlet at a specific Patreon tier.

During Gauntlet Con, however, a Discord server was created to host convention. This created a really fascinating space that really felt similar to the gathering you normally find at the meatspace conventions. 

For me, the timing was fortuitous. I was just coming back from Big Bad Con, and beginning to feel that con crash low that many of us associate with returning from these conventions. I was having an extremely busy work week. And then suddenly, I was virtually able to jump into these rooms and chat, sometimes in audio forums, with all the people I normally only have haphazard communications with on Slack and G+. The vibe was great and the place was buzzing with excitement. RPG luminaries (I may be stretching this a bit) were hanging out among us common rabble, but mostly it was just like hanging out in the lobby of the hotel at Big Bad Con, hobnobbing with friends, old and new.

Originally I had signed up for a few games, but that was all in the case I would somehow be able to attend them, which I knew was unlikely. I bailed out when that became apparent, and gave my space to other, now happier, individuals. But there was one game I stayed in and played...

Saga of the Icelanders with Gerrit Reininghaus

Saga of the Icelanders is a Powered by the Apocalypse game where you play as an Icelandic settler between the end of the 9th and 10th centuries, also known as the time of the Icelandic Sagas, and tell the stories of the settlers families, their lives, trials and legacies. Discover or change history as you forge a veritable Saga worthy to echo through time.

It's been around for a while, and I've heard great things about it, but haven't ever played. And I know Gerrit through the Gauntlet slack and we've chatted extensively, and only got to play a little bit in the past. Also, this game happened to fit perfectly for something I could squeeze in (although there were plenty of other awesome games during that timeslot).

The other two players included Patrick Knowles and Chris Wiegand (a fourth player was a no show). The other two chose men playbooks, so I chose a woman.

Saga of the Icelanders is one of a few games where the characters have very gendered roles, and some moves are specifically for male- and female- identified roles. For example, men can convince someone of something by insulting them, whereas a woman can talk sense into them. You can do things outside your gender norms, but doing so "tempts fate", which may have consequences. This actually becomes quite fascinating in play.

Per many games of this ilk, you build the world at the table, and as I can attest, you need no knowledge of Iceland, vikings, or their lore!

The story ended up one of my family homestead, with myself as Dala, originally owned by my mother and father, and now in contention with our Godi (i.e. priest) Njal Bardson (played by Patrick) and my husband-to-be Torun (played by Chris). Also, the priest has a thing for my mother, since my father had past a few years back (under somewhat mysterious circumstances). And Torun's son is rumored to have caused my father's death. And then there is my brother, who thinks he should run the homestead. In other words, all good drama-fodder! At some point Gerrit puts away the book with all the external threats, and just plays with all the internal threats we've posited.

We had some supernatural symbolism and interference by the gods, perhaps, and Dala and Torun do marry and take ownership of the homestead, which becomes a flourishing town many centuries later.

Gerrit ran some great characters, and my co-players brought good drama. I had a blast, and this really re-energized me at a time when I needed it.

Interested in the game? You can watch the video, as it can be found on YouTube here (world-building mostly occurs from around 0:15:00 to 0:48:00, break for about 10 minutes, and the game mostly played out from ~1:00:00 until the end):

The Gauntlet Con recordings

OK, so you missed it. But it's not too late! You can still take advantage of all this gaming love by watching some very focused and brilliantly recorded actual plays and panels! The panels each run about an hour, and include advice on playing, GM-ing, running different types of content and inclusivity in games. And the games themselves are under the "day playlists" and include many of the games that ran:

Until next year, for GauntletCon 2018!

Big Bad Con 2017: Final days

Games on Demand: Atlas Reckoning (9am-1pm)

Unlike prior years, where I brought my larger Lego-based RPG things, this year I was not feeling it, and prepped to sign up to GM until very late in the game. Fortunately, Games on Demand is a place for just such a situation!

For Big Bad Con, they request that a GM be prepare to run one of two games for a Games on Demand slot, and I chose both Dungeon World and Atlas Reckoning. The latter was chosen.

I've written about AR more than a few times (see here and here and here and here and here; shit, I have run it more than a bit). I'll keep this relatively short and sweet. I got to use Stras' new beta 3.1 playbooks, which are clean and crisp and so well laid out. The rest of the game still needs to be updated accordingly, but I can roll with that.

I had four players: Jerry (yes!) as well as Jeff, John, and Brandon. I tried to ensure that world building was collaborative by getting a few sentences from each player, and we ended up with a sort of space colony on a planet with lots of volcanic craters and underground lava fields. Apparently the colonists dug deep in some volcanic tube and hit on the planets living core, initiating an immune system response. Behemoths represent the planet's response and are trying to rid the planet of us humans (and thus far succeeding very well). We are in the last remaining city, which is completely built within the crater of a huge caldera. A spire (The Lance) rises out of this city, which is likely the remains of the colony ship that landed here many generations ago.

The pairings of pilots worked well, in that both Jeff and John had some similar ideas and directions for their Western cowboy-themed mech, and Brandon had very strong thoughts on what he wanted (with a dragon-looking mech), and fortunately Jerry didn't really care as much about that, but had much stronger thoughts on his character, and playing the Leader (a new direction for him this convention, especially after his enjoyment of playing our leader in The Watch the prior day). 

I forgot my pre-printed location cards, so asked the players to define 4 locations, and we ended up with the Lance (the command center), the Lair (medbay + lab), Sarah Connor's Place (the bar), and the Greenhouse. These are locations we use later during the Downtime (roleplaying-heavy) phase.

But the game always starts with Engagement... battle. That said, I will again point out that the questions that prepare you to jump into combat also have you show and introduce your characters in such a brilliant, anime- and move-inspired way, which does reveal aspects to the characters that ooze with personality.

As I do with these games, I create the Behemoths at the table based on the setting we've created, and went with two creatures. One was a quick little fighter that I based on the Displacer Beast in the old D&D monster manuals, with the power to teleport short distances. The second was "The Carrier", which was a very large, turtle-looking creature with hard carapace slowly moving towards the city. It's powers included brain shrieking, armor plating, and regeneration

They fought the creatures and it was great hitting the players with special powers unexpectedly (like the "brain shrieking"). Jerry took a Burnout, not so much because he had to but it worked very well with the narrative (and it's a one shot, so who cares mechanically if that wasn't an optimized move). We had some great action scenes, and had enough time to go through two role playing scenes during Downtime, which helped flesh out some of our locations, and the relationships between the pilots.

I was very happy with the timings in this session, and being able to expose all the players to enough of the game for them to get a good feel for the different components. Although I just can't pull off the Engagement-Downtime-Engagement sequence that Stras appears to do in his one-shots, I find that my Engagement-Downtime game is tight, and by choosing the Engagement level (for recommended enemies) as one higher in difficulty from the suggested starting point, it provides the players a difficult fight and just enough to get them exposed to game mechanics such as Stress, Burnouts, and burning Traits. Delighted that the players really seemed to enjoy the game, and Jeff even admitted to this being one of his favorite experiences at the con (via word of mouth and tweet!)

(If you are interested in the upcoming Kickstarter in early 2018, the best place to keep informed is the Atlas Reckoning public G+ community, or wait to hear me squeal like mad).

 Jeff, John, Brandon, and Jerry

Jeff, John, Brandon, and Jerry

During the game, I was super happy that Yoshi came by with Philip from the Gauntlet. We've been chatting for a while in the Slack community there, and it's nice to turn virtual friends into physical friends. We'd end up hanging out much more in the evening.

Air Hunters, Legend of the Elements (2pm-6pm)

Andy was running a two-part Legend of the Elements adventure during the weekend: The Iron Turtle, where the PCs break some prisoners from prison, and then Air Hunters as the sequel. As it turned out there was zero overlap between players, but we still played through the setting in the sense that two of us just got broken out of prison to help the others with an airship heist.

As far as character creation, I watched what playbooks the others would choose, and after seeing one bender and two non-benders, I went for a bender, which I've never gotten to play. I settled on a water-bender, but stopped for a moment to think: where is this person from. I mean, I could be from the north or south pole (per the bulk of water benders on the Avatar show), or maybe the swamp cousins. But then inspiration hit: I'd be a set of waterbenders that lived underground, using water to slowly dig through the earth. And then that sort of collaborative magic occurred, where suddenly Jim's Aristocrat character in the fire kingdom has been protecting my family, who lives underground in their lands, and the artifact he's after is intrinsically linked to our families past / has a locking mechanism that needs to be open by an underearth waterbender. 

As I wrote about the prior year, Andy does some serious magic with images and pre-printed Tags that just help guide the game and the story. (See image below!) Legend of the Elements makes use of Tags - in some ways similar to Fate, but in many ways different - to enable the characters to interact with opponents and objects in the scene. This sort of interaction encourages narrative coordination and cooperation with the other player in interesting ways, and was something I was looking forward to seeing again. (The game is on my short-list to run, and I already have something scheduled for December.)

The story had the right balance of drama, silliness, and Andy's amazing characterizations which do so much justice to Avatar, and it all left me with warm feelings inside. We had spying and planning for a hijacking, inter-familial scheming, a brilliantly intimidating matriarch, and firebending fights on the top of airships... what's not to love.

When originally planning the weekend, Jerry and I decided on this game based on my recommendations, and also on the fact that he knew he'd be interested in possibly running something like this for his kids. I had also planned it on being the last game of the con, because I knew it would be such a great way to such a full weekend. It was exactly how I wanted to tie it all up.

 Pre-printed object and location cards and Tags. Jerry's holey coins for effect as Chi.

Pre-printed object and location cards and Tags. Jerry's holey coins for effect as Chi.

 Andy, Jim, Patrick, Jerry, me

Andy, Jim, Patrick, Jerry, me

Dinner at Opa

Ah, the final supper. I knew it was coming, and there are always great people to go hang out with... but I'm just stoked we got a great crew together. Kristine did her Yelp magic, and we ended up at Opa! Authentic Greek Food.

I ended up strategically placed to have conversations with groups on both sides of the table, and some great family-style food sharing (my favorite!)  

 Even got the staff to take a picture for us: Andy, Banana-chan, myself, Philip, Yoshi, Dave, Tracy, Max, Jerry, Noel, Emily, Kristine (I might've missed someone hidden in there... yes, Max's partner hidden!)

Even got the staff to take a picture for us: Andy, Banana-chan, myself, Philip, Yoshi, Dave, Tracy, Max, Jerry, Noel, Emily, Kristine (I might've missed someone hidden in there... yes, Max's partner hidden!)

Lycanthroscope readings

Came back to the hotel lobby love-fest. Everyone buzzing with warm post-con feels and conversations.

One of my favorite moments was in talking to my friend Andi, and realizing that in honestly communicating my need for introversion with my friends Kristine and Jerry earlier in the day, I was practicing some self-care. This would not normally be something I'd honestly communicate for fear of tarnishing my "image" of "friendly" Tomer. Don't get me wrong, I'm honestly quite interested in making friends, but as most humans I will get socially overwhelmed, or need a break, or get tired and need my space. And most of the time I will get what I need either by running away to a quiet corner, or less constructively by getting angry or passive aggressive or whatever other reactions to let off steam. But it was nice instead being vulnerable and just saying what I needed, and also realizing I was with friends close enough that I could do that without fear of their reaction. In some ways a very minor thing, and yet in some ways very much not.

It colored the rest of my evening in a nice multicolored shade of lovely. I spent a few hours bouncing back and forth between different groups of conversations, getting to chat more with Kristine, and Brie, and Emily, and Jerry, and Andi, and Andy, and Stras, and Nathan, and Gary, and Philip, and Yoshi, and Bryanna, and David, and Tracy, and Banana-chan, and ... well, so many others.

The amount of laughter in the early hours of the morning was intensely high. Enough that the hotels security came over and angrily told us we'd have to keep it down. The highlight was Stras, Andi and Bryanna giving us our Werewolf readings (clans and such) especially for those of us who knew nothing of that world.

Morgan and Carl were also chatting down there and were about to concede the prize of con-closers to us, but we gracefully all left the lobby at the same time. I got to bed just before 4am. 

Monday and onwards

I awoke to my roommate gone. Jerry had an early flight, and I slept through him leaving (but we had said some heartfelt goodbyes late last night). Having crashed out so very late, I slept in to 10am or so, and it was good. Packed and checked out. Said goodbyes to Andy and Kristine in the lobby. Ran into Stras and we went out for brunch at Kinder's Meats, which is a short walk from the hotel. I had eaten there earlier in the con, and it was nice introducing it to a newb. We chatted about various con-stuff, and I decided to accompany him on the BART towards our respective airports. We talked con stuff, did an Atlas Reckoning re-hash, and parted ways for a BART transfer; Stras to SFO, me to Oakland. I got to the airport, had a nice beer and book-reading at a bar, and then took the calm flight home.

Happy to be home with the family and ecstatic hugs, but worried about the con crash to come. All this emotional high is often followed by an emotional dip, and in this case I didn't have any particular strategy for dealing with that. Work was busy, but what saved me was some friendly folks to talk to at the Gauntlet Slack, and an upcoming weekend of even more gaming... the next weekend being both the first Gauntlet Con, and the second annual Pinecon (both of which I will write about in another post).

And with that, it ends... my favorite con of the year.

Big Bad Con 2017: White Death and The Watch

White Death (9am-1pm)

I am not a LARPer. I don't say that because I find LARP distasteful or embarrassing. I say it because I've barely done it. The most recent LARP experience was Dog Day Afternoon, based on the movie with the same name, which was made as a LARP and run by Aaron Vanek and partner Kirsten (holy shit that's 1.5 years ago... time flies).

Originally I didn't get into White Death (due to popularity), but I had flagged it as very interesting. However, due to continued availability of online signup, I found an open slot when I checked Friday morning. It was run by the same duo as my prior LARP experience... Kirsten Hageleit assisted by Aaron! This nordic LARP is described as "an abstract, completely non-verbal blackbox LARP focused on physical play. It portrays an allegorical story of settlers who try to make a community, but are stymied by their own limitations, until one by one they die in the snow—and are then transformed. This LARP is built from limited physical movement, simple characters, and symbolic props, and uses theatrical lighting and a dramatic soundscape to explore themes of community, conflict, grief, and joy." Sounded intriguing. 

Although the LARP / game itself is about an hour in length, the 4-hour session was broken up into a 2-hour introductory workshop, an hour of intense, actual game, and then some time for debrief.

The workshop was great: A description and practice of how the game would work, which was definitely abstract. There wouldn't be any verbal communication, between the players, or even from the facilitators and the players. Certain sounds and lights would signal events (such as incoming storms, availability of "resources", and similar events). There was some strict limitation of movement, so we practiced what that would look and feel like. 

The story reminded me a bit of the premise behind The Quiet Year. A village trying to survive under harsh conditions, with the end result being that everyone would "transform" to the white ones / ghosts (i.e. we would all die at the end). Being a human meant that you could move in specific ways, and would have to remain in the lighted areas of the dark room. Once you have passed on, however, you were free to move however you like. However only in the dark parts of the room... and you could no longer interact with the resources or the humans, other than to look from the outside of the village in.

But it starts with you finding out who you are. I got two random tickets: 1. About movement: "Magnets between toes and heels so that the toes on one foot stick to the heel of the other. Elbows connected as if by a stick, so the arms cannot move independently from the elbow to the shoulder." 2. About prejudice: "I hate people with longer hair then me."

This defines your human. Now imagine a room with over a dozen people, all walking in different and limiting ways, and without the ability to communicate in what would normally be easy for us: verbally. And imagine that they inexplicably are OK with some of the other folks in the community, but just hate others. And even showing that love and hate is unclear. Cliques start to form, and then break, in repetition. 

And then resources appear at times... balloons (which represent "dreams", whatever that is), and sugar candies (which represent sustenance), and paper strips (which represent "faith"). And then the storms come, one by one, preceded by an alarm sound. During storms people may leave the human forms behind, and join the white ones, the ghosts, and dance in the darkness just outside the lighted village.

It was a bit of a surreal experience, and one I thoroughly enjoyed. It was interesting how oppressive it was to be restricted in movement, and then how very liberating when you become a white one. You just want to dance and stretch with the freedom! And then leaving behind the hate and the society and just moving freely among your ghostly peers.

The debrief afterwards was interesting, just to hear how different some people's experiences were, and what components of the LARP they latched on to. Definitely something I'd try again in some form.

The Watch: Dark Tide (2pm-10pm)

This was my other of my highest priority sign-up games. This game was listed as 8 hours! That means it also overlays 2 time slots, which is a serious commitment. But, it was The Watch, a game I've found interesting in concept. And my friend Jerry really wanted to check it out as well, so we knew we'd get to hang out for serious gaming.

The Watch is an RPG about soldiers fighting a desperate war to save their homeland. The Shadow has come over the border to the clanslands, and unfortunately all our men are vulnerable to its corrupting influence. But women (and non-binary) folk are mostly immune. So it falls only to them to save our clans. And of course the game is a metaphor for shitty old-school patriarchy and punching it in the face (or dying in the process). Sign me up.

I got to play one session a few months back with the Gauntlet online community, and was very intrigued by the style of play; specifically Missions. Missions are the bulk of session pay, and in some ways they felt a little more like a GM-less game, where we roll and determine mechanics ahead of time for the general results, and then figure out how to fit the story around it. (Although even this isn't quite accurate given how it ran at this table, and how I understand it now.)

The game was run by Bryanna Hitchcock, so that alone was exciting (the con is full of RPG superstars). But really I was just so impressed with how this slot was handled. We weren't just playing a few missions, which is what I expected. We were playing a full campaign! What normally is a 10 mission story arc (for 30+ hours of campaign play) was going to be played in 8 hours. And it went off fabulously.

We did some of the usual PbtA style build-at-the-table magic. Defined characters, all sorts of bonds, and attributes of various tribes of the clans. I played Ahjo the Raven, the fresh recruit, unexperienced in the battle, returning from a journey abroad to this unexpected war. We had Stephen as Parda our Spider, Anthony as Zaysha our scout, Jerry as Paele our fearless leader, Tor as Measho our bad ass, and Alison as Pola our mother bear.

The Watch as a campaign is played over an arc that spans a full storyline, which is recommended to roughly follow something like: Running from an offensive force, defending towns at the new border, coming to the defense of a significant fortress, pushing back against the oppressors and taking back lands and landmarks, and finally taking the fight to their capital and attempting to defeat them. This follows the characters as they progress through the ranks of The Watch, working their way into more prominent positions in the war. Harm is tracked along the way (through Hurting, Wounded, and Critical levels), so dying is a possibility, and there are three ways that growth is tracked: Weary, Jaded, and Experience. Experience lets you advance through advanced moves. Whereas Jaded gives you powers, but will start to quickly snowball so that your character just can't handle it anymore, and eventually retires.

Many NPC (non player character) compatriots join the group and follow the journey, and many may fall along the way. Eulogies are given (which is a core mechanic of the game), and the war moves on. We got to see this in action a few times.

We struggled defending a border town. Found out it was a distraction for a larger offensive against our main base. Rode to the base to find it being overwhelmed, and charged to help out. The base was overrun and partially destroyed, but we did beat back the enemies, at great cost. Much of that cost was my fault, and our own Measho caused drama by telling this to the grand commander of The Watch in a bid to disgrace Paele. Paele was told to give me lashes, but instead she bore the punishment, claiming her leadership made her responsible. The actual reparte was fantastic. We fought and won back our great library (in the form of a large tree), and then across the border to win against our oppressors.

By this point Paele and Zaysha were both of equal rank, and both commanded large groups of soldiers. Although we didn't get much time to develop our NPCs, I can see how in a longer campaign the bonds would be stronger and deeper and more relevant.

Although I expected missions to be mostly about rolling a few dice to determine the outcome, and then narrating it collaboratively, the way Bryanna ran it was more nuanced then that. It felt a little more like a traditional adventure-based RPG, at times. Yes, we'd start by getting roles assigned, and rolling for general outcomes for these missions, which let us know how many complications we had, and whether or not we'd succeed at the task. But as we narrated and played out scenes there was a lot of additional events that would play out, just as in a standard RPG. During those times, we'd be called for additional moves and rolls, which would inform the results of those smaller, individual scenes. It felt a lot more like a standard RPG than I had expected. Bryanna pulled this off very well considering the restriction of having 6 players and an accelerated game in an 8 hour convention slot, with only so much spotlight to shine around.

By the end, we'd wrapped up a great ending, with Zaysha dying for the cause, and scene of final victory straight out of a movie.

[EDIT: Oh yes, I should totally link Bryanna's post here, because she put together such a great writeup that you should check out if this is in your wheelhouse!]

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 Our game in progress, by Brian Kwa (official BBC photographer!)

Our game in progress, by Brian Kwa (official BBC photographer!)

 The Jerry table selfie, with Alison, Bryanna, myself, Stephen, Tor and Anthony

The Jerry table selfie, with Alison, Bryanna, myself, Stephen, Tor and Anthony

Late night hanging out

Again, night after night, I eschewed sleep in lieu of late night conversations and hanging out in the hotel lobby. This night was no different, and it was great getting chat with Bryanna and others post-game as way to relive some of the action.

Big Bad Con 2017: Friday Feels

Disclaimer: It's been a long two weeks since the con with work and life and games, and I'm just now semi-recovering enough to do a writeup. Which means, memory is a little flaky. Forgive, please.

Meals

Honestly, I don't think I had breakfast at the hotel that day. I brought some cereal-granola mix and bought Almond Milk the day prior, and so had that. But, as far as hotels go, the Walnut Creek Marriott is pretty good as far as food and drink go. And there are a few spots very close by and many spots not quite as close. 

Open gaming room and Citadels

The morning was spent catching up with Jerry (who was my roommate for this venture), doing some chit-chat with all the fine folks we were running into around the convention floors, and eventually hitting the open gaming room to fill in the time. We got sorted with registration around noon when they were opening the table, and that was a blessing, because closer to 2pm (when the first official games start) the line was somewhat lengthy.

This is the first year that Big Bad Con is doing a board game track, with board games on the actual schedule, and they also dedicated most tables in this open game room to pick up games. In fact, a whole table exists simply for donated games as Play-To-Win. Play the game, write your name on the card attached, and you qualify for the drawing to win the game at the end of the convention. Amazing.

 The excitement is palapble.

The excitement is palapble.

Jerry and I had met up with our friend Tre who lives in the East bay, and I got a small crew going for Citadels (one of the two card games I brought along). It's a great little game, especially in that it handles 3-8 players pretty smoothly, so you can easily adjust for party game mode. We did a quick round, but were soon joined by many other lovely folks, including Matt from Sacramento (one of the folks I got to meet when I started an Indie RPG meetup there), and we had a good 7 player game going. 

We didn't quite get to finish the game as 2pm was quickly arriving, and so we tied it all up, and everyone started to scramble to their games or otherwise. I didn't actually have a 2pm game originally, as the ones I wanted had filled, but this year they decided to keep online registration open all weekend long. They even had a few terminals at the registration desk just for folks to use in signing up for games (in case your phone made it difficult, although mine worked a treat). Earlier in the morning I had found an open slot for Blue Beard's Bride, and I took it. I similarly signed up for another game on Saturday morning, but more on that later.

Bluebeard's Bride (2pm-4pm)

Bluebeard's Bride is a game I helped KickStart, and has been on my play-wishlist for a long time coming. It plays similar to the old tale about Blue Beard, which (to steal from Wikipedia): "tells the story of a wealthy violent man in the habit of murdering his wives and the attempts of one wife to avoid the fate of her predecessors." Although it is somewhat given that you won't live at the end. Oh, also all the players play facets of the same character: the young bride: the Animus, the Fatale, the Mother, the Virgin, the Witch. If you are interested in the development of the game - which I found fascinating - there are a number of podcasts that interview any one of the three designers: Sarah Richardson, Marissa Kelly, or Whitney “Strix” Beltrán.

Although I hadn't played this before, I got to play Velvet Glove (a game about girl gangs in the '70s) with Sarah at Newmexicon this year, and found the experience fantastic, and times uncomfortable. Sign me up!

This game was run by April Padilla, who had played in my Fallout Shelter game a year prior, and so I was looking forward to gaming with her again. Walking into the room, the atmosphere was perfect. She had toned down the lights, had fake candles on the table, and a creepy doll and picture up on the wall.

 Nice LED candles!

Nice LED candles!

 Sets a tone...

Sets a tone...

It was myself and two other players, June and Ken. I played the Virgin: "You see beauty where there is none. Others seek comfort in your warmth and delight in your obedience."

As many Apocalypse World-based (PbtA) games, a lot of the setting and background, and specifically ways we relate to Bluebeard, are answered in various questions that we are individually asked. As an example, for the Virgin: "What do the Bride’s eyes look like?", "How do others know you want them when they gaze into your eyes?", and "When you first met, what loving gesture did Bluebeard make that won you over?"

There is also the Ring (and in this case, a physical ring that April had us use), which is passed from one player to another, which provides some control over the bride character in the story. I had heard that at first you want the ring, because I mean, who doesn't want to control the character. But during the story you get to a point where you find yourself trying to pawn it off to others more and more. I found this to be roughly the case.

One fascinating part of the game is that it starts just after the wedding, and with Bluebeard apologizing that he must go, leaving you to your own devices, and access to the mansion. The game is played by exploring rooms, and just trying to make sense of it all, and get through as unscathed as possible.

Normally the game is played with more of a 4-hour suggestion time, but we had 2. So in some sense it was an abbreviated session, and I know we skipped one or two mechanics, but damn did April make it fit right in that time frame. It was great becoming uncomfortable and watching the other players have similarly squirmy reactions, and how we were on the one hand capable in different ways, but as whole quite helpless in the larger picture of the game. A game I'd definitely play again, but also one I'd love to bring to the table. It's now available via PDF to backers, and on DriveThruRPG, but I also can't wait to receive the physical components that are part of the higher KickStarter tiers.

And from there I had to quickly ajourn to the next game...

Love Commander (4pm-6pm)

A little earlier I stumbled into Dev Purkayastha and Laura Simpson in the lift. They design games. Laura wrote Companion's Tale, a game I'm very interested in playing. I gushed a little in the elevator, and Laura even offered to try to fit in the game somewhere else during the weekend, but it wasn't to happen this time. But, I did get to play in Dev's game...

Love Commander is a timed, RPG card game. Honestly, I knew nothing about it going in, but the description grabbed me: A card-driven story-game where a human commander and a crew of aliens must unite to reveal secrets, earn trust, save the universe, and start an ill-considered romance – all in an hour.

Sounds cute. But after playing I think the best description was a quote from Tracy O'Brien's game that she tweeted: "Commander, I can't go on this mission, these pirates remind me of my homeworld's history of predatory lending practices!"

The whole game is premised around getting the one human captain to empathize with as many of their alien crew as possible (the more they empathize, the better you can help them on missions). But in the same way as Taboo, there are certain words or phrases you can't use. It's up to you to hint, and the captain to tease it out of you. Oh ya, and hopefully you can get them to fall in love with you, cause then it gets even better.

We first played in the rules-as-written, which allows everyone to talk at once, but then went on to experiment with a gentler and more structured form where only one person (as directed by the captain) could speak at one time. For a game with size (6 players + 1 captain) that worked a lot better. But, there is a time pressure that also must be dealt with.

Needless to say, I won't get into heavy details, but it was quite fun, had RPG elements, but you could play with non-gamers, and I'm definitely backing the shit out of this when it's ready.

 The Axions, descended from guard bots. I just wanted the captain to ask about my pilgrimage and to empathize with how humans were profiting from our oppression.

The Axions, descended from guard bots. I just wanted the captain to ask about my pilgrimage and to empathize with how humans were profiting from our oppression.

 The bridge of our ship! Orion and Randy (near Dev), then Jerry, myself, April, Shuo, and Kitty.

The bridge of our ship! Orion and Randy (near Dev), then Jerry, myself, April, Shuo, and Kitty.

Dinner

From there I recall meeting up with Tre for dinner at the hotel lobby, and their little restaurant behind the bar. They have both buffet and entree options (similarly priced), and I decided to go buffet. They had nice grilled veggie and salad options included. Again, the food here is totally decent (unlike my home convention) so I was very happy. It was nice catching up, and honestly, that's a huge part of the draw of this convention, for me. Every in-between game segment is spent happily buzzing around, seeing friends I haven't met in a while, or even that I have. I get giddy with the happy, and the hugs are non-stop.

"You Don’t Look Like a Geek" Panel (8pm-9pm)

This was the first time I've made time for panels. Normally I prioritize games above all else, but I because I got into some games with strange timeframes, I made it a plan to attend at least one of these (I actually planned to attend about three of them, but got into some additional games last minute).

This panel had to do with not fitting the stereotype white-cishet-male geek look, and what-all that entails. Led by Kristine Hassell (a friend of mine from Seattle), it also included Jahmal “Mad Jay” Brown, Brie Sheldon, and Tanya C. DePass. It was a good panel, with some laughs and some not-laughs, and made me appreciate that panels is something I gotta get doing some more, when they're folks I respect.

I still haven't gotten to play with Jay, although we shared a few meals when I was out in Newmexicon earlier in the year. I also later got to be a fan-boy with Brie, as they're the author behind the Script Change Tool (my favorite, and the most comprehensive, of the system-neutral RPG safety mechanics). It's one of the mechanics I've included in my little social contract / safety mechanic cheat sheet (in standard paper and 3x5 formats). I had a printout so was happy to give them a copy in person! Didn't get to chat too much there, but we got to hang out a bit later in the con.

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Tension (10pm-midnight)

Big Bad Con has a tiered signup process, where you get to sign up for you highest 2 priority games first, then a week later another 2, and then the third week they open it up for everything else. This really allows people to get into at least a few things they are prioritizing. And speaking of priorities...

Tension (now called Star Crossed) was one of my first two signups. I had heard of this game from Alex Roberts' own Backstory Podcast, in the episode where she interviewed Epidiah Ravachol (the creator of the fabulous Dread horror RPG). This Tension actual play writeup by Sean Nittner is currently one of the better sources about the game that I've found.

I have heard the game jokingly called "Love Dread" (thanks, Andy), as it also involves a Jenga tower, but is a 2-player game that involves the rising tension of a relationship that two characters really shouldn't pursue, but do anyways.

Alex ran this as two 2-player sessions that ran simultaneously. She set up and facilitated the game, while the two couples in the room played.

Jerry and Shuo (a fellow player from Love Commander) played in one of those games. Their love story premise was amazing. She was a sentient pathogen virus from space that lost their original symbiotic hosts. He was a human with a terminal illness. 

My partner and I went for a slightly less bizarro route. In our case he was the traitor Earthling coming to help liberate the Moonies from our Earth-bound oppressors. I was the domestic wife of the general of the Moon resistance. He was soldier tasked with helping us defeat his own people. A few scenes at a reception, a moon farm, and finally the midst of the battle. He saves my life during a blast and a cave in, and we admit our love for each other inadvertently. And are pulled out of the rubble as the Moon arises victorious... in the midst of celebration... and separated, never to requite our love.

The game consists of each player choosing a playbook: The Lead, and The Follow. The story goes back and forth via "moves". Doing things. However, if you want to speak in character as your move, you must touch the Jenga tower while you do so. (This makes speech very deliberate, and somewhat rare!) If you want to touch the other character or reveal a truth as your move, you pull a block (which you can do once / scene, for the most part). Oh ya, and the Lead generally does these things with intention, whereas the follow does these things accidentally

The pace of the game and the deliberateness of it is delicious. There were so many sweet, and nerve-racking moments in this game. It captured falling in love as I've never seen in a game, and so quickly and succinctly. There were a few moments when I came near to tears. I'd play this again in a heartbeat, and can't wait for it to be ready.

[EDIT: Looks like it's been announced on the Bully Pulpit Games website, and I'm listed as giving Advance Praise! *blush*]

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Walking away from this game, Jerry and I both felt down that the weekend was already so far gone... and then we realized it's not! It was only Friday night. We spent some more time chatting with friends, and then to sleep late in the night.

Big Bad Con 2017: Getting there

Big Bad Con. It's my favorite game convention of the year. I love my other cons, but this is the one that gives me the highest highs, the most hugs (which says a lot considering the hugs at other cons), and the breadth of games is breathtaking. I negotiated the weekend away from the family as my birthday present (already two months prior), and so off I went...

Getting There

I grabbed a flight to Oakland. David, my partner from Story Games Glendale, was supposed to fly into San Francisco the same morning, but due to fires in northern California, they closed some runways... and hence he ended up on my flight! We land, connect up, and head to a few spots.

Half Price Books Berkeley

First stop: Berkeley. I haven't been there in years. I had lots of friends who went to school there, and lived in the bay area and San Francisco specifically for many years over a decade ago, so it was nice to just be in that space.

I've never been to a Half Price Books, but apparently it's a thing. A used bookstore of sorts, and they even have an RPG section! What? It was seriously a large section, and across from the RPGs was a full shelf of board games. I purchased more than a few items (including Booty and Beast with Erol Otus art from 1979), even finding a copy of Yoon Suin (a world setting that I'm currently in a mini-campaign of with some fine folks from The Gauntlet online community). A nice start to the adventure.

 Not thrift store cheap, but I'll take it!

Not thrift store cheap, but I'll take it!

Endgame Oakland

My original plan was to head to Walnut Creek and the hotel to meet my friend Jerry, coming down from Oregan, but alas... those runway closures at SFO were causing havoc. His flight was delayed over 3 hours.

So instead I suggest that David and I head to Oakland and Endgame specifically. This excellent game store is a sponsor for Big Bad Con, and brings a lot of the merchandise for the (admittedly very small) "dealer hall" of the convention.

The shop itself is excellent. The indie press RPG section has a great selection of material, and the used area is full of little treasures. It was a bonus that we were there just prior to the convention, because there was a whole bunch of boxes chock full of games they were bringing to Big Bad. In other words, we would get first pick of all the goods!

I picked up The Shab Al-Hiri Roach by Jason Morningstar (used for $5!), First Ride Last Ride (a new solo game by the same), and a hard copy of Scenic Dunnsmouth.

 My loot by the end of the weekend (mostly purchased by this point)

My loot by the end of the weekend (mostly purchased by this point)

Jerry had landed, and headed over to Endgame, and the three of us grabbed sausages next door. David went to go meet his brother. Jerry and I settled down to chat, and ended up playing a game of Battle Line (one of two board games I brought for the weekend). Eventually we headed out to Walnut Creek and the hotel.

Walnut Creek Marriott

We took the BART to Walnut Creek and walked to the hotel. Grabbed our room, excitement brimming. Immediately started running into all sorts of friends, Andy and Kristine from Seattle who I'd just seen a few weeks prior at GeekGirlCon, and many others. Hugs all over.

Eventually, we just ended up doing a lot of that socializing that ends up happening when you get this many lovely nerds all in one space. "games games games". Eventually there was a little more earnest in trying to have a game get going. Well... Alex Carlson had a solo game they were working on which involved being a person with a all encompassing collection that may eventually drive you mad. And they were wondering if it could be played in a multi-player mode instead of solo. And hence... playtest.

Alex and Pellet Pals

We adjourned down to lower floor (as we had done in a prior year) to grab a table and start gaming. The crew included Alex as GM, Andy and Kristine, Jerry, . I can't remember all the details, but the game had a simple premise which involved building your collection (in this case we went with Pellet Pals - Beanie Babies with serial number filed), and a sanity-type mechanic which could swing from one side to another on a single axis. If you got to either end of the line, the game ended in one of two (both tragic?) ways.

There was a sort of hex "map" in the center of the table which included a mechanic which led you into story cues of various types to help drive the type of item added to the collection. Instead of playing solo, we each took turns playing the scene, as the same character (a girl collecting these Pellet Pals, if I'm remembering correctly).

If my notes are reliable, our collection ended up including: a green lizard we found on the bus, a purple panda from the hospital gift shop (visiting our sick aunt), a black sea urchin we stole from a bag, a small alligator we stole from a friend, an Eeyore from E-bay, a X-mas variant goose, a malformed people (?) hand from winter camp, a gazelle from an unlocked gym locker, a frog from a rich shop for trade, a hippo with wings from a hobby shop, a beaver taken from the aunt's collection at our cousin's house, a bruiser bulldog again from the collection, a purple heart as a Goodwill find, and finally, the butterfly we coveted from our aunt, from her casket at her funeral (I mean, she wasn't going to use it, right?)

It was a fascinating little game, and we all agreed there are some little tweaks that could tune it up, but it was definitely something we'd play, and had a really good time with! We agreed a multi-user variant for this solo game is a must.

 Love seeing a game in raw form!

Love seeing a game in raw form!

And with that, Thursday night ends late. To sleep, little ones, in preparation for the morrow...

Seattle Adventure 2017

To Seattle

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

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

 The Pearl Jam poster wall at the airport.

The Pearl Jam poster wall at the airport.

The Tranums and Tranum Cafe

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

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

 A game of Villages of Valeria

A game of Villages of Valeria

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

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

 Playing Starving Artists at Queen Bee cafe

Playing Starving Artists at Queen Bee cafe

Ray Gun and Games

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

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

The Quiet Season

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

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

And out...

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

A couple of Warrens

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

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

Apocalypse Warren test run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids Apocalypse Warren

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

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

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

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

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

Gauntlet Warren. In the Desert.

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

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

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

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

A Warren fascist state

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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