Strategicon Gamex 2016

My 12th Strategicon in a row. There should be a badge reward or something...

New to this one, Jim (aka the head honcho for RPGs) changed the at-con signup process so that only the next 2-3 slots of games would be available at any given time. Friday at 2pm allowed you to signup for Friday 8pm and Saturday 2pm games, however you had to come back a few hours later for the Saturday 8pm game sheets to be available. There was still online registration ahead of the con, but Jim has ensured that only 1/2 the slots fill up with online registration for any given game. All in all, a reasonable accommodation, and I personally think it worked well during the weekend.

Friday 2-6pm: Fallout Shelter: Finding the Descenders

GM: Me.

This was my game for 2016 as mentioned on prior blog posts including Orccon 2016. Players included:

  • Brian as Cass, the Food Engineer
  • Dimitri as Dr. Maxwell Ricofermi, the Scientist
  • Dorian as Fox, the Wasteland Explorer
  • Nick and his son as the two-headed Bevis and Butthead the Ex-Overseer

My game is limited to 4 players. It's a hard limit because I have 4 character sheets made out of Lego, but also because I know it becomes too hard to manage after that number, and that degrades the experience. Although limited to 4 players, Nick and son wanted to play; Nick was going to sacrifice his spot for his son (this being his son's first Con as well), but we settled on this hack, where they helped play the same character. It worked well enough.

I wanted a different scenario than prior games, and settled on one that involved "Bob", a vault dweller that emigrated to the other vault. Everyone's questionnaire reflected this by filling in information about "Bob".

As in some prior games, I spent too much time in the wasteland. It's not really a problem, as there can be some fun flavor and role playing, but it does not use the vault itself as much, and if you have a 4 hour slot, I find the players in retrospect want more vault action.

That said, everyone had a great time, and I had a blast with this group, having played with almost all of them in the past. Everyone died due to deathclaw attack in the end. 

Friday 8pm-midnight:  The Extraordinarily Horrible Children of Raven's Hollow

From Jesse Burneko's blog on the subject, here is a description of the game:

The primary inspiration for this game is Edward Gory’s “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” with a dash of the comic “Lenore.” The game is intended to produce a quick grim fairy tale about horrible children who bully each other into dangerous acts that likely lead to their demise.

This blog may be a bit outdated, as it mentions dice, and apparently the mechanics were changed to cards at some point. The players are mischievous children, and play involves a competitive / cooperative card game against everyone else at the table, as well as various adults (NPCs) of the town. It's a GM-less game, and Gretchen Burneko played with us, and did most of the explaining.

I had a great time playing this game. I loved that you play a mechanical card game at the same time as needing to explain in the story how the move looked. The story begins to blossom as time goes on. Each individual event allows every player a chance to intercede for good or ill, but during your turn you normally only have the ability to change who is winning the combat. The card mechanics are at once simplistic, but also allow for some strategy and nuance.

Each card has some number values that are important in the way "combat" works between players, but also have a location listed on the card. Because those locations (e.g. The Graveyard, The Crossroads, etc.) repeat, and must be used in some of the story-driver elements, the cards begin to influence the narrative in interesting and random ways.

The downside was that we had a total of 9 players. Although the game handled it fairly well (it is supposed to support up to 10?), it led to a long session of about 4 hours. I think it would do better as a 5-6 player game (at maybe 3 hours), and look forward to giving that a try at some point. I think you could play this with inexperienced role players to great effect.

I've talked before about postworldgames' Forget-Me-Not game, and although many things including the mechanics were different, the overall feeling of playing a card game and coming away with an intricate story remain.

Saturday 9am-1pm: T.I.M.E. Stories: Pariah Missouri

I've been interested in playing T.I.M.E. Stories, a game put out by Space Cowboys, of Splendor fame. I'd heard something about it being role-playing-esque, and that there is a function of time travel and solving mysteries. But that's about all I knew.

Introducing Andy, who I have started gaming with regularly at this con. He's the author of the Pariah Missouri graphic novels, and after I introduced him to Dread a few cons back, he's been running it like mad.

Andy is a bit of a mad genius. First off, he's got a graphic novel that is a Deadlands-like setting with darkness and magic prior to the Civil War, in the South of the USA. He's taken it, and created a whole scenario for T.I.M.E. Stories. It includes his graphic novel's art as the setting pieces for the game (each distinct location includes a number of cards that create an actual picture of the location). The mystery is fully fleshed out, and the game plays out as a cooperative choose-your-own-adventure mystery, of sorts.

For those familiar with T.I.M.E. Stories, Andy's scenario has additional elements that the base game and expansions could, but don't, have. These include a mechanic for day and night time on the overall map, with locations that appear only during one of those phases. There are some additional cool elements that he's overlayed onto the game.

I won't be rushing to buy the actual game, because I see it a little limited in my groups, and I'm not as big a board gamer as much as RPGs at the moment. That said, I'd recommend this game for those that like collaborate mysteries, and I definitely recommend his version, and hope to see it published. (He's got meetings with Space Cowboys... crossing fingers!)

Saturday 2-6pm: A Time to Harvest: Episode Two Description (Call of Cthulhu 7th Ed)

This Call of Cthulhu scenario was run by Arthur Severance. Apparently it's part of Chaosium's attempt at organized play (similar to Pathfinder Society). From Chaosium's web site:

A Time to Harvest is a campaign unfolding over six months, which will be offered free to all members of The Cult of Chaos, Chaosium's Game Master and Organized Play Program.

The Pros: The GM had most of the scenario ready in his head. The props included many pictures that had a '20s feel on index cards that the GM had put together that helped us digest the overwhelming amount of information. The scenario is very fleshed out, so would do well (possibly) in a long-term campaign.

That said, this was outweighed by the Cons. I was not really a fan of this game. I play Call of Cthulhu for different reasons than organized play. I don't think organized play, in and of itself, would deter me from enjoying such a session, however the session ran information-heavy (tons of NPCs and material), and the GM had to pretty consistently refer to the module notes. Part of the problem stems from the scenario, as having the GM "wing it" can break the story and mystery. Now, as a player at a con game, I don't care too much about the consistency of the story arc, as much as I care about a loose consistency in my individual game. Also, being based on '20s America, it wasn't a very diverse set of characters (if that is an issue in your gaming).

But really it was the constant need of the GM to refer to notes, the mechanical nature of some of the investigation elements, and the occasional retcon the GM thought it necessary to have the story "make sense", broke more than a bit of the immersion for me. 

I'll be avoiding these games in the future. I think they can possibly be done well, and for some gamers they may be quite enjoyable as is, but they feel too much like organized D&D and Pathfinder to me. And that's not what I'm looking for in general, and especially with Call of Cthulhu and horror games.

Saturday 8pm-midnight: Grace Under Pressure (Call of Cthulhu)

On the other end of Cthulhu...

The door to the room were closed. Odd. I open the doors to find a table at the far end of the room with green and blue glow sticks. There are sounds of engine thrumming, mixed with the occasional bubble sounds; a submarine. A man with a fez, a large squid across one side of the hat, sits behind a screen, looking like a flight attendant. I look down and see schematics for a very future-looking submarine. It might as well be a spaceship.

Sitting down, I could feel the oppression of thousands of pound of ocean above me.

The game description gives a good feel for where this starts:

You are on the sea floor, 1500 feet below the surface. Around you is only cold and dark, the sun's rays bring nothing to this world. The pressure in this lethal place is over 600 pounds per square inch. You and your companions are aboard the RSV Wallaby, a prototype research vessel on its maiden voyage. You are not alone.

Ronjon, the GM, throws down a head of information: ship schematics, detailed list of equipment in each chamber, and article about this prototype research vessel that looks like it was printed from an internet article (with ominous advertisements peppered randomly around, if you cared to look). Overload, but in just the right way.

This was the maiden voyage, and none of us are particularly skilled marine biologists... we're mostly either the tech backbone of the ship, or those responsible for its funding. 

The players all got into it. The game had excellent pacing. People started dying around midnight. I jumped out around 12:30pm, since I had some folks ready to play some late night gaming, and my character goes down. I expected the rest to succumb shortly. I was wrong. My friend Howie continued playing, and they were able to pull together and somehow get out of the worst of the craziness.

I highly recommend this game. Absolutely brilliant.

Grace Under Pressure

Grace Under Pressure

Saturday Midnight - 3am: Dungeon World

I had a crew who'd mostly never seen much Dungeon World, and wanted to get the flavor; and a few who just wanted some late night gaming. I had 6 players total including Andy, Keith and Brandie, Bob Quinterro and a few others.

The first half of the session was a bunch of character and bond creation.

I had an idea for the second half, which involved a little girl adopted by monks at a monastery. Let's call her Annie. I was thinking maybe she's about 5 years old, but also is a bit of ... spirit? Baby doppelganger? And the holy church is sending their holy warriors out to get her, and she's appeared on their radar.

So instead of just giving the players the ability to make Bonds with each other, I also had them make Bonds with little Annie. And then I threw them into the shit, with a holy cleric threatening her life. Good times!

I have to admit that Brandie (one of the players) was a whisky and ginger ale having angel, and I'm a little fuzzy with the details of how it all played out. I distinctly remember that I was able to hold my alcohol enough to have a coherent story, and the players said they had a good time, so hey!


Time to go pickup the daughter. We hit the pool, which was a bit frigid, but fortunately there was a hot tub as well. We ran into another father-daughter pair who incidently had come over from Boston... and it was their first con! We chatted them up and convinced them to join us for the miniature paint-and-take. 

The last time I painted miniatures with Nova, she didn't have the dexterity to do a very good job, but this one came out pretty impressive! I didn't help her at all.

After that, we grabbed a few bites from the Gamer Bytes booth in the main game room. They have hot dogs and chicken strips for exorbitant prices, but at least they aren't horrible. Found out that an apple costs $3. That's some fine bullshit right there.

Showed our new friends Marc and Ariella how to play a few games, including Towers of Conspiracy, and Condottiere, and they brought Lost Cities. 

Some Lost Cities; utterly pleasant being able to just sit back and watch the kids play, with NO interaction from the adults (except for some scoring help).

Some Lost Cities; utterly pleasant being able to just sit back and watch the kids play, with NO interaction from the adults (except for some scoring help).

Sunday 8-10pm: No Thank You Evil

We convinced our new friends to join us for our scheduled 8pm game, No Thank You Evil run by GM Matt Chapman. The game is designed by Shanna Germain and Monte Cook, ran as a Kickstarter a year back, and is listed as "a Game of Make-believe for Creative Kids and Their Families". I funded it at the PDF level, but have otherwise not had time to look at it, so wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.  I was also surprised that Nova actually wanted to sign up for the game a few weeks back, as mostly she's only wanted to play in the few Lego RPGs I've run.

Ariella had never played an RPG, and so Marc and her joined us, along with a father-son pair (Jesse and Johnny) who I've seen around in the RPG area of Strategicons past.

Matt did a pretty great job corralling the kids (and adults) and giving us a good feel for the game. We did a module that comes with the base game. The pieces that come with the physical copy of the game are nice quality, and definitely add to the experience, but don't strictly look necessary.

It's definitely a system I'd be happy to run the next time around, so it's on my short list to prep and test run with Nova and some of her friends.

No Thank You, Evil!

No Thank You, Evil!

What impressed me was that after 2 hours of gaming, with the game drawing to a close, Nova wanted more. She was disappointed that all the loose ends weren't answered, and actually complained that it felt like we "had only played for 5 minutes". I am proud, indeed.

After that it was time to say goodnight to all, and especially Marc and Ariella, who we wouldn't see as they were flying out the next morning.

The biggest bummer was seeing Andy and crew about to start a late night Dread game, which unfortunately I couldn't join.

Monday 9-11am: Beware the Boogeyman (GURPS)

I have always wanted to play in a Monday game by Mook (a Strategicon regular, and of How to Be a GURPS GM fame). He's always running a session to close out the con. I've played in a few games with him over the years, including his Dungeons and Dragons cartoon game (amazing!). And now I got to play not only in a Monday morning game, but also with my daughter! And with JiB, another regular, friend, and awesome gamer. 

The only bummer was that Gina was supposed to join us (JiB and Gina usually finish the con with Mook's Monday games), and unfortunately she was feeling sick.

But we did have a blast! The premise was:

When the sun sets and the children sleep, the Boogeyman tries to feed on their nightmares. Luckily, the children have you to protect them: a cat, a dog, an action figure, a toy dinosaur, and their imaginary friends (a furry monster and a unicorn). Can you successfully confront the Boogeyman and put an end to his reign of childhood terror? 

Nova played the toy dinosaur: Z-Rex. I played a hand-me down toy soldier. And JiB was the dog, Barkley. An attack by goblins, a dealing with Morpheus of the dream lands, and a confrontation with a dragon and then the Boogeyman.

Also, here's Mook's own blog post about this game, which he ran three times for various groups, at this convention.

And out...

I did have a few regrets: Didn't get to play with Stephanie who was running her ThreadbareRPG (I so wish she had it going on Sunday so Nova and I could play!), and many other awesome GMs and players out there (you know who you are, or not).

From there Nova and I grabbed some eats, and then went to the game auction, which was in full swing. We watched for a bit, and I bid and won a brand new, shrink-wrapped Machi Koro for $16. We sat down and had a few plays, but then decided to head on out.

The future looks promising. All I gotta do now is work on my gaming-with-youth skills, and then I can run and play with Nova at more of these things.

Machi Koro action!

Machi Koro action!