Big Bad Con 2016: Saturday

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

World Wide Wrestling: Fall Fracas!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ring. Picture by Brian Kwa.

The ring. Picture by Brian Kwa.

Lunch at Pinky's Pizza

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

Ad hoc: Cheat Your Own Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

This game is a blast. 

Ad hoc: Roguish

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles...

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

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

The Grand Warren

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late night ramblings

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

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