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).
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.
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!)
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.