Big Bad Con 2015 - Saturday, Oct 17

Sleeping in

Fortunately, Ross scheduled his game, which is on the somewhat shorter side, for noon. I got to try and sleep in (emphasis intended), and got to about 9 am. Did a 7 minute workout for a min-max win, then off to munch and wander.

Went into the Games on Demand room. Now, one lovely idea that they have here, is that they had a table full of board games, and each one was basically up for grabs... in the sense that if you played one, you could add your name to the raffle for that particular game. What an excellent way to exposing people to new games!

Ran into a lovely couple, Andrew and Dawn, who were playing one of these games, Elevensies. This being my favorite Hobbit mealtime, I was drawn in. It's effectively a game like Love Letter, but with a little more meat on it. The goal is to set your tea-time spread, in competition with the other servants. The graphics are lovely, and one of the cutest components is the little plastic sugar cube tokens.

My favorite Hobbit meal, along with Second Breakfast. Definitely a game for the day bag to share with Nova and family.

My favorite Hobbit meal, along with Second Breakfast. Definitely a game for the day bag to share with Nova and family.

Serpent's Tooth, 12noon-2:30pm

GM: Ross Cowman


  • Jenn Martin as Celeste the Moon Cleric (adventurer)
  • Noam Rosen as Blind Janella the Beholder (minion)
  • Tomer Gurantz as Marklor the Mysterious (adventurer)
  • Russell Borogove as Vig-Narg the conjoined twin Kobold Librarian (minion)


This was another game I was very much looking forward to this weekend. I met Ross up at Go Play NW earlier in the year, but didn't get a chance to play with him. He's the designer for Fall of Magic, which he also brought and was showcasing. In fact, I tried to get in to that one too, but it was full. When I was up in Seattle for Go Play, I went to the Ray Gun lounge (aka Gamma Ray Games), and ended up picking up a copy of Serpent's Tooth, Ross' earlier game. Although I perused it in weeks prior, and I absolutely love the layout (very accessible!), being an indie game means it's hard for me to grok it without seeing it in action.

First, we had to choose the type of game we wanted to play, by choosing a King. There are choices such as The Taco King, The Prom King, and many more. We decided to go for Dungeon Master, which I suppose is quite appropriate given: game convention. This means that Ross would be playing the "dungeon master", although technically this didn't mean he was a DM, but played the controlling big bad of the fantasy world; in this case Lawrence Dragonsbane.

Next, we need to define the Kingdom. From the description of the game: "At the start of the game the King possesses three Regalia: a crown, castle, and sword, that give them authority over the characters, places, and threats in the kingdom. Like a Game Master in a traditional role-playing game, the king wields vast power over their Kingdom." He passed out one sheet for each of these three Regalia, and we players started filling in the blanks.

What a great table... we already started with interesting open-ended adventurers, minions, lairs, and treasures, which you just knew would be used to great effect. As an example, one of the minions was listed as "Blind Janella". Who's that? Well, it ended up being the choice of characters for one of the players (Noam) and he took it to the next level by making it a blind beholder. The eye stalks all work (but don't provide sight), and the big eye was unfortunately blind.

In addition, we had a cheese farmer (that of course figured prominently in the game), a GM PC, the lair of eyes, Onyx the dragon (which burned down the cheese farm), some cameos by Celeste's god Lumos, and a deep treasure vault.

What was fascinating about this game was that you, as a PC, can take control of one (or more) regalia, and that gives you some power over setting scenes. I.e. when you grab a piece of regalia you take 1/3 control of GM-ing power from the GM! And players can take control of these from other players throughout the game as well (although we didn't get quite that far given the short play time). Vig-Narl ended up with much control, taking his masters crown, and control of the "sword" (in this case a lich hand), and Blind Janella took the "scepter" (the eye of Vecna, or something similarly named).

This was one of my favorite games of the weekend. I just loved watching it morph from a GM-based game to GM-less in spurts and starts. Very interesting system dynamics. It's just lovely starting to feel like you've gotten a hold of different systems, such as GM-based versus GM-less games, and then BAM, getting knocked on your ass with something that's somewhere in between the two. Definitely one of the games I'm taking back to play with the home group. Maybe even the next Strategicon.

The Secret Vault of the Queen of Thieves (Torchbearer), 3pm-7pm

GM: Thor Olavsrud


  • Jason "JiB" Tryon as Beren the Dwarven Adventurer
  • Demian Luper as Ulrick the Cleric (I might've gotten him confused with David, below)
  • Gina Ricker as Carolina the Fighter
  • Tomer Gurantz as Tiziri the Thieft
  • David Gallo as Taika the Ranger from Elfland (yes, that is a place)

The absolutely best description of this game I heard all weekend is that this game is the "Vietnam of dungeon crawls." Want to feel like a scrappy, dirty adventurer, living by the skin of her teeth in dank corridors, barely able to carry her gear, much less food, water, and other necessities. And oh ya, you want to pick up that treasure? Hope there is something you can drop in lieu of these vital life-saving utilities.

I've heard various things about Torchbearer. One is that it's a bit resource management heavy, and that is definitely something I do not like to manage as a GM. However, as a player I found this game fascinating. I did not know ahead of time that it's based on Burning Wheel rules. Apparently Mouse Guard is as well (although a simplified version), and apparently this game fits somewhere in the middle... simplified rules of Mouse Guard plus some crunchy bits from Burning Wheel. 

Thor (who, incidentally, is the game's designer) was an excellent as a GM, and I just love coming away with the feeling of old school dungeon crawl, with all the excitement and risk that was associated with it. It reminds me of the very first game I ever played of Moldvay Basic D&D, where we went into a crypt, ended up surrounded by Skeletons, and just ended up dying. The fear and trepidation. Excellent.

And all this without even saying that I got to play with two of my favorite Strategicon gamers: Gina and Jason (aka JiB), of Happy Jacks RPG fame!

We were a party of dungeoneering rapscallions, and were asked by Lady Attar to find the missing Jackal's Eye, which she was being framed for stealing from her lover, Taymar. This would involve going into the Tangle, the sewer depths of the city. Many giant rats and cultists of the mistress of plagues later, we emerged, not quite successful, scarred, but also laden with some few riches.

A bunch of dirty, grimy adventurers

A bunch of dirty, grimy adventurers

Generation Starship (Songlines), 8pm-12pm

GM: Aaron Vanek


  • Mark Ellsworth as family Tannen
  • Morgan Hua as family Drood (Captain)
  • Tomer Gurantz as family Nova (Psychologists)
  • Vivian as family Navidson
  • Vera Vartanian as family Saint-Fleur (Stowaways)

Another game I was excited about... the description being "This is a playtest for a new RPG system that uses music as a story guide. In this scenario, players will represent generations of one family line aboard a starship looking for a new home among the stars." Now, being someone who uses audio frequently, and in some cases quite heavily, in my games, I was quite intrigued.

This game system that was created by Aaron, called Songlines, consists of a mix tape that you use to inform role playing and mood. During a song, you perform tasks or role playing scenario (which is timed with the song) within the context of a scene (which is defined by the song number, or vice versa, as the case may be). The specific session we were playing was also written by Aaron, and called Generation Starship (the working title).

In this session, we each create, and play, a family on board a star ship being sent to colonize another world, as the Earth is sinking into collapse. We each create a family name, and define up to 6 family members. This could be a parent and children, or whatever. We also define a (aka make up any) role that our family performs on the ship, however one family will definitely serve as the Captain, and one family will be Stowaways on the ship.

In my case, I was neither of those two roles (neither Captain, nor Stowaways). I decided to make a "family" of six 16 year olds. In fact, they aren't genetically related at all, come from diverse backgrounds, consist of 3 males and 3 females, and have all taken the name "Nova" as a new surname. I decided to define my family as the Psychology Officers of the ship.

Part of defining your family includes choosing from a pool of traits (and each trait can only be owned by one family at any given time). I decided to go with Clever and Creative. Each trait gives you some benefit, whether that is power, in the form of dice, or tokens, which stand for some sort of fate chip-type mechanic (which allows you to change die faces, or perform re-rolls). Additionally, as the game progressed, you would gain or lose traits within your family, which was also cool.

As it turned out, many scenes were like various games and puzzles. In some we played dice games. Some were competitive, with each family trying to surpass the other. Some were puzzles that had us work together. In some we had to negotiate a favorable outcome to a difficult decision, all with the time limit looming over your heads.

One of the best scenes was one where we all listened to a melancholy piece, and had to separately write a letter. The letter was from one of our family left behind on Earth. The end came, and then Aaron announced, "The transmission never reaches the ship. You can throw it away." Holy shit. All our jaws just dropped. It was an awesomely depressing moment of the game. So good.

This game is the one that has been sticking in my head the most since the con. I want to write my own session of this game, with ideas about what I'd like to do different. Fortunately for me, Aaron is super cool and happens to live in the LA area, so we'll see where all that goes!

Great set of players, and everyone had great feedback for Aaron after the session. I think we all agreed that some of the dice games were cool, but some became repetitive or need work. The generation shift mechanic, whereby you gain new family members was interesting, but a bit broken and laborious. Also, naming all the children began to feel like useless exercise since their names were rarely used, or came up in the game. I think we all agreed that a little more role playing would definitely suit the game well. That said, overall the feedback was provided in such an excited way, that you could tell that the players bought into the system, even with the work it needs.

So I don't lose it forever, I will transcribe my letter, that was lost to the stars... 

To Boora Cameroon,

I know you've chosen the new surname, but I can't bear to use it, my lovely daughter.

I wish I had good news. Half of Africa has been destroyed by the bombs. Those that live, struggle. The rest of the world also suffers. I don't mean to burden you with this news, but I hope you will learn lessons from our failures, when you reach the stars.

I am so proud of you, and wish only the best for you in your new family. You are all that keeps me happy; the thought that at least you have escaped.

I have changed my mind. I will take your new name, so you can tell your children about who you left behind.

Love, your mother, Sabrina Nova