Big Bad Con 2016: Sunday and out

7am: The Wolf Pack

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

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

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

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

 Wolf Pack 2016!

Wolf Pack 2016!

 Many Pokemon lost their freedom on that run...

Many Pokemon lost their freedom on that run...

The gap (and no nap)

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

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

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

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

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

Legend of the Elements: The Last Dowry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Tag pool, with tagged people and environments above.

Tag pool, with tagged people and environments above.

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

Mega-Dinner!

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

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

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

More Legend

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

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

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

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

Bookends

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

Goodbyes, a Transit Journey, and Home

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

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

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

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

Toot toot! Until next time...

Final thanks

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