Pinecon and Big Bear
Pinecon. Basically 3 guys got together and started a weekend gaming camp. It's up in the San Bernardino Mountains, not far from Big Bear, at Camp de Benneville Pines. (In other words, Los Angeles adjacent national parks.) I met one of these guys, Chris Shorb, through The Gauntlet online community, and at Strategicon, when he came to play and run some stuff at Games on Demand.
The only thing possibly keeping me from there: an already packed schedule, and figuring out how to manage that with the daughter. And hence I reached out about how kid-appropriate or kid-accommodating the convention would be. And the answers were mostly positive, with more than a few people saying they'd bring a few young ones and teens. And Adam, one of the other founders, would attempt to bring his daughter of the same age as mine.
The Lodge and Camp de Benneville Pines
I picked up the daughter from school and headed straight to the location... a solid 3 hour drive with good ol' LA traffic slowing our progress. We just about ran out of gas as we pulled into the camp's grounds due to some fuel mismanagement on my part... but made it!
The main feature of the camp, past the parking lot, is the large lodge. We were greeted by Chris, who was managing the check-in process; pretty low-fi, but just the pronoun stickers made me confident I was in the right place.
The lodge became the focal point for the convention and gathering, as all the meals are included (and served here). This large room can accommodate over 100 people, and also served as the open gaming area. A long table in the corner became the game library (a lot of folks brought things they'd be open to sharing).
There was also a fireplace area with pretty regularly maintained flame (in the evening), a constantly available tea and coffee bar, some small refrigerators for beers and smaller food items, and many, many friendly folk.
Normally meals are served at 6pm for dinner and 8am and 1pm for breakfast and lunch. This works perfectly for scheduled game slots that are 9am-1pm, 2-6pm, and 8-midnight. But for the first night, they served dinner at 7pm to give everyone time to get there (taking into account Friday work and traffic).
The meals here were pretty solid. Very much camp-style meals, with hot meat and veggie options, and vegan and gluten-free options mixed in there. There were always steamed veggies of some type, and a salad bar as well. I was pretty impressed with the food: not super high end, but much better than fast food.
Werewolf and One Night Ultimate (Friday 8pm +)
At any given slot there were about 4-5 RPGs running in various cabins around the campground, and always many folks playing or open to running board games of various types at the lodge.
I volunteered to run a few games, coordinating these decisions with my travel partner. One game she loves playing at Strategicons is Werewolf, late at night. And so we did that as our intro game for the convention. I ended up attracting a small crew, both with and without Werewolf experience. The game is all about deduction and social intrigue, and we played about 2-3 rounds of the old-school standard game, and then switched over to play the shorter One Night Ultimate Werewolf version, which was also fun in a slightly different way.
All this was a way to get to meet some of the various kids who we'd see later in the weekend. Unfortunately Adam and family didn't get there until late, so their daughter Cassie (roughly Nova's age) wouldn't be around to play until the next day.
In the spirit of open gaming, we had gamed with Seven (at Werewolf) and met his mom Tina, who convinced Dorian and Nova to join them for a game of Spaceteam. This was a fun, collaborative, timed, and hectic card game involving a space crew trying to repair their spaceship. The parts and tools are all weirdly named, and it is one of those games that, when played, will cause you to get stressed out and loud.
There are a number of cabin's peppered throughout the camp. Each cabin building may consist of a number of rooms, and each room may have a few bunk beds. The cabin shares normally 2 full bathrooms with showers. There are also more private style cabins which you can pay a little extra for (we didn't). Overall, the rooms were comfortable, if tight, and you must bring your own things, like sleeping bags or blankets, and towels. I was lucky that I threw the sleeping bags in the car last minute, because I otherwise didn't prepare well. I didn't bring towels at all, so we just used my old T-shirts.
The Warren (Saturday 9am-1pm)
During breakfast the next morning, Nova got to meet Cassie, which she would later play with throughout the convention.
Nova had asked me to run The Warren as a role playing game slot. There was four players, and I decided to play the Abigail Meadows setting from the book. I didn't come with anything prepared at all, so just went with what the players brought to the table and the way they answered questions. We had:
- Lightning, a quick rabbit (played by Nova)
- Clover, a seer (played by Dorian)
- Thorn, a tough tooth and claw rabbit (played by Sophie)
- Max, a dominant rabbit (played by Ben)
- Moss, a nuturing rabbit (played by Emma)
They mentioned gathering herbs for an old rabbit, so I made the quest about being asked to gather such medicine. I kicked off the game in media res with the final question being: How did the hunters get between you and the warren? We immediately launched into panicking mode, with dogs and hungers running around, ran into Lump, the large toad hiding in the bushes, and rabbits trying to make sense of it all and survive. By the end of the first half, all the rabbits were captured in a steel cage (some purposefully so, so as to rescue the others).
At this point the daughter said she was done playing and wanted to go hang out with Cassie, and so they went back to the lodge to game. This worked out, as halfway through the game a young lad named Alex came in and was very interested in joining us, after listening in the background. It worked out perfectly, with the story dramatically shifting.
- Leaf, and engineer rabbit that was marked by the black rabbit (played by Alex)
Leaf ended up Innovating a move that helped the other rabbits get free. He was also a bit of a wandering rabbit, with no permanent home. The second half of the game became one of political intrigue and a struggle against the current hierarchy of the warren. At the end a sly fox tried to cause trouble, but the rabbits used him to chase off the matriarch who was standing in their way. We did some epilogues and it felt like a solid landing for the game. (Unfortunately forgot to get a picture of my players!)
I returned to the lodge to find Nova and Sophie playing (and teaching) Sushi Go, and running their own table!
Archery (Saturday 2-3pm)
After a hearty lunch, we had nothing planned. This worked out well, because at 2pm the camp was providing access to their archery range. They provide a basic set of bows and arrows, and about 6 people can shoot at a time.
Cassie's dad Adam had brought his own traditional bow and arrows, as apparently it's something he's into. There were a few people who had, in fact. The range was great, and the women who ran it (who works at the camp) was great. We had a good hour+ shooting arrows, and all this without any cost above what we expecting to pay at the camp. Bonus!
The rest of the afternoon we spent playing a game or two, but mostly just wandering around the grounds, playing in the play structure and with the other kids, and chilling out.
Ten Candles (Saturday 8pm-midnight)
The second RPG I wanted to run this weekend was Ten Candles. A tragic horror game written by Stephen Dewey, Ten Candles is about and apocalyptic scenario where the world goes dark. Completely dark. And They want to get you. And the only thing They are afraid of is light, which is in shorter and shorter supply. You actually play with ten candles, in the dark. This game was perfect for the camp.
The game has been written about more thoroughly in other places, such as in Bluestocking's blog and the 3W6 podcast interviewing the designer (in English despite the fact that this is German podcast), so I won't go into the minutia of how the game works. But I will write about some impressions and things I really liked about it.
The daughter was supposed to play, but it turns out was dead tired. Instead she sort of crashed out, an just slept in the room while I ran the game.
Ten Candles explicitly prevents the GM from prepping anything around the story. I did prep the props, as real candles in a forest (and game convention hotels) are generally forbidden. I got some recommendations somewhere about running it without actual candles and so I purchased LED tea candles, and some water-dissolving "spy paper" (for when you need to "burn" the player stats cards).
I will also credit myself in putting together a pretty solid cheat sheet (which is found, and will be updated, at http://tinyurl.com/tencandles-cs). I didn't want to break immersion in the game by having to refer to the book, so this is something I spent some time preparing prior to the game.
I used the Light in the Dark scenario, which has the players be a crew that has some weapons and a Humvee with a massive flood light, and are tasked with getting survivors from a small town, and heading to a chopper to be rescued. I liked the idea of them feeling powerful at the outset. We had:
- Gregory (M), authentic, and an ex-telemarketer (played by Joe)
- Jane Thomas (F), a short and sturdy and harried nurse, looking for her mother (played by Chris).
- Sam (F), a meek and withdrawn 29 year old masters / PHD candidate, scared (played by Galen).
- Travis (M), a grizzled, retired marine, promising to get back to get back to his mate, Troy (played by Tom)
Actually playing the game is fascinating. My favorite aspect has to do with narrative control. There is an interesting dynamic where the players have almost complete narrative control in the beginning of the game, so can be as successful as they want to be (although some players get into the part of causing their own pain, and Galen did that brilliantly). But as the game progresses, the GM has more and more control of the narrative, and They start to appear and cause problems. And who or what They are at this point can easily be colored by what the players or characters themselves have revealed about what they fear. Feels in some ways similar to a GM-less game in some respects.
The characters explored a few car wreckages, found spare batteries, went through a safehouse which didn't provide much in the way of "safe", recovered some scared children from a hardware store (and discovered the many strange human remains left behind), found survivors (including Jane's mother) at the hospital, ran into a rogue group and crashed the Humvee, continued with a crippled car as gas was running low, saw the helicopter in the distance, hit a deer, almost made it to Drop Point Delta (but heard the helicopter leaving), crashed over the side of the road, losing Jane's mother, lost the children, found another crappy vehicle, and then were waylaid by Them on the road. Almost everyone died, except for Sam, discovering that humans had probably let them loose through Lovecraftian means. At this point she screamed at Them to kill her already, but the wouldn't, they just surrounded at her and stared and stared.
The pace of the game is very interesting, with a slow start, but with that building speed of a downhill rolling snowball. And then the ending is fantastic. (But no spoilers here.) We all had a blast playing, and despite my nervousness coming into it as a no-prep game, it really supports the GM very well in that regard. This may be my con-game go-to for 2018.
More Archery and gaming (Sunday morning)
The next morning we had breakfast, and I checked our stuff out as the daughter played with her new friend. It was a relatively chill day.
We got out to the archery range again, and this time there were kid bows, which worked a lot better for the girls. At one point, Nova was able to hit the far targets. There were few people out, and so we got a full hour of shooting, and it was quite enjoyable.
At one point she got to watch, and then we later got to join in and play, a game called Captain Sonar. It's basically a 4 vs 4 player game of Battleship, with everyone getting a specific role on their sub, and the goal being to sink your opponent.
The game has some really clever elements, including one crew member listening to the other sides instructions to try and get a reading on where they are (without knowing where they've started). Definitely a fun party-type game for board gamers.
After some heart felt goodbyes and exchanges of some contact info, we went off to face the long drive home. Oh ya, that was made possible by the friendly staff who helped me fill my gas tank. They get big props for being so lovely (and fortunately there is a tip jar there to put money behind those sentiments).
All in all, an amazingly great experience. This was the second Pinecon, and they plan on doing it again next year, and still capping it at 100 people (for which they sold out this year). It's not trivial in cost, but considering it comes with food included, it's actually very reasonable, assuming you can make it there. It is definitely on my to do list for conventions next year.