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.

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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 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 steal some seeds from plants the humans were growing in their glass house.

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

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

Gauntlet Warren. In the Desert.

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

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

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

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

A Warren fascist state

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prickle and Viho follow Coriander to attempt to ask advice of a wise rabbit who lives on her own in the vicinity, a prior resident of the warren: Sage. They get attacked by a venomous snake when exploring the wrong cave entrance, and Viho is now at 3 scars for the session. (Each scar in the Warren means you lose one of your basic, or your character moves.) They find Sage, and ask for advice (and I got to use the custom move for the setting: Honoring Your Elders). My favorite was 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.

Strategicon Gateway 2017 Recap

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

Thursday evening

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

Gateway2017_01_HJDrinks.jpg

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

Gateway2017_01_BeiHai.JPG

Friday 2pm: The Sprawl with Hamish Cameron

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

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

Friday 8pm: Mad Max Fury Road Dread

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

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

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

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

Saturday 9am: GoD - Tales from the Loop

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

Hamish's Dungeon World table

Hamish's Dungeon World table

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

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

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

Tales from the Loop

Tales from the Loop

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

Dallas RPG; in the board room, of course.

Dallas RPG; in the board room, of course.

Saturday 2pm: GoD - Dungeon World

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

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

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

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

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

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

Groovy portraits from one of the Games on Demand

Groovy portraits from one of the Games on Demand

Saturday 8pm: Happy Jacks RPG Podcast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Psi*Run risk sheet

The Psi*Run risk sheet

Sunday morning

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

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

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

Sunday 2pm: GoD - Kids' Edition

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

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

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

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

Games on Demand: Kids Edition!

Games on Demand: Kids Edition!

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

Sunday evening: Werewolf with Kids (x2)

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

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

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

Voting for some death

Voting for some death

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

Mario Kart action in the little video game room.

Mario Kart action in the little video game room.

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

Until next time!

Until next time!

Gauntlet Gaming in the Summer of '17

The Summer of '17

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

Let's see... what games?

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

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

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

And to that end: Gauntlet Con!

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

The Gauntlet and The Watch

The Gauntlet

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

Preparing to play The Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lollec: The Raven

Lollec: The Raven

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

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

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

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

The Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt of Mission Moves from The Watch's Kickstarter sample

Excerpt of Mission Moves from The Watch's Kickstarter sample

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

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

Post game and feedback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independence Days

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

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

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

The Game Room Adventure Cafe booth

The Game Room Adventure Cafe booth

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

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

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

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

Highs and lows

Highs and lows

Another Indie RPG meetup

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atlantians unite!

Atlantians unite!

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

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

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

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

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

Story gaming: Atlas Reckoning in the far future

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating the Atlas

Creating the Atlas

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

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

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

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

Happy customers, I hope!

Happy customers, I hope!

Sacramento Gaming (Take: 2) - Dungeon World hijack

A quick one-on-one Dungeon World session

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

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

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

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

D&D Adventure League night

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

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

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

Dungeon World and the Scrimshaw Pass

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

We did some character creation, and had:

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

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

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

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

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

It made me realize that I want to have a cheat sheet version of these I can just whip out into play during the game. I remember reading Tim's original document and thinking, "there is no way I'm going to remember all of this!" But in fact there isn't too much you need to remember, if you condense it into little bullets. So... this is a background project that I'll link to when I'm done! [It is done! Check here for standard size and here for 3x5 index card size cheat sheets for Dungeon World!]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sacramento Gaming (Take: 1)

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

Downtown Sacramento and Big Brother Comics

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

Great Escape Games

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

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

I Attack the Darkness (Meetup)

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

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

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

The Game Room Adventure Cafe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escape Room: "The Machine"

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

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

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

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

The Final Girl at SGG

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

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

The Final Girl

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

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

Writers' Conference in Maine, and the cannibal mental patient

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

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

A tweak for The Final Girl with large groups

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

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

A Day with Tobie Abad

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

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

Meeting at Game Empire

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

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

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

A Single Moment

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

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

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

Example cards used in the game.

Example cards used in the game.

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

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

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

A blurry pic from Game Empire playing A Single Moment

A blurry pic from Game Empire playing A Single Moment

Game Haus Cafe and Story Games Glendale

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

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

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

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

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

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

A session of The Quiet Year

A session of The Quiet Year

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

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

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

An interview a few days prior

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

Interview about A Single Moment by IdeateTV host Lauren Pappas

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

Strategicon Gamex 2017 - Monday

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

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

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

That's No Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 10:15am: Dinosaur Princesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A great session!

A great session!

And out...

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

Strategicon Gamex 2017 - Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Playing Wind on the Path

Playing Wind on the Path

Sunday midday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showing off their hard earned loot on their character sheets.

Showing off their hard earned loot on their character sheets.

The rest of Sunday

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