Newmexicon 2017

Getting to games

Newmexicon, an indie-ish RPG convention out of Albuquerque, has been on my radar for over a year. I first heard about it through my friend Stras, who recommended it for the caliber of games and players, and the intimacy. This was the year to check it out, and so I jumped in to fund the Kickstarter, which helped provide an extra hang-out room with snacks, as well as special guests, including Ken Hite.

I joined and posted on the Newmexicon G+ community, and got linked in with the Albuquerque RPG meetup group. Unfortunately I wasn't early enough to make the Thursday night meetup. That said, on the second flight I ran into a friendly... Sarah, who's played D&D. It became one of those excited, hour-long conversations about various RPGs, and she seemed sold. Sold enough that she actually showed up on Friday night to play at the con (although we didn't get to game together).

I checked in to the little Ramada Inn and started running into the folk, and made some new friends including Jonathon, Jason, Aaron, and others. No gaming, but I did get sleep, and that's important for setting up the adrenaline-powered lack-of-sleepathon that would follow.

Albuquerque Wanderings

The morning included the Ramada breakfast, simple but effective, and some little chats with Sarah and Joe (both who I later got to play with). Otherwise, everyone had plans, and I was getting antsy, so to quell that energy - or more likely find it an outlet - I went a-wandering: A 30 minute walk to a local cafe, then 4 thrift stores, a comic shop, and a Vietnamese restaurant.

I returned and got to chatting with Paul Beakley, a G+ friend who I now got to meet in person (a recurring theme of the weekend). We talked about gaming with kiddies (his is 5, mine is 8). I passed on my thrift store find of Loot, a kid game I've had a lot of success with.

The afternoon included getting to play Lanterns, a board game I'd heard good things about, with Joe and Mike. It felt similar to Splendor in scope and strategy and beauty (although the mechanics are quite different). The score made it a very close game that left me with the impression that small, well-thought out optimizations are the key to winning. However much like Splendor, you can play casually and still thoroughly enjoy the game. The three of us went to some thrift stores afterwards, aided by a vehicle, but didn't find much in the way of goods.

A few out-of-towners, including Stras and Morgan, showed up in time for a dinner at a local spot around the corner: Sadie's. It's got some local flavor, and I went for the bean-stuffed sopapillas with the green chile salsa that this part of New Mexico is apparently famous for. A hearty meal, to say the least.

A word on the muster, and pitching games

Newmexicon has historically been a small convention (~40 people), and has also gone with a very non-scheduled and ad hoc gaming model. Everyone will gather prior to a 4-hour game slot (the "muster"), and anyone willing to run games comes up to the front and gives a pitch. People then go play the game they are interested in. If there is too much interest in a specific game, there is a prioritization scheme, performed with a deck of cards. There is a rotating priority scheme (which involves fun stickers!), so you know going in that some time slots you will have a low priority, but you will have high priority in others.

I pretty consistently start conventions I go to by running a game. And I've got a few Lego prop-based RPGs that I've built over the years, and so...

Friday 8pm: Fallout Shelter RPG

GM: Me. Players: Stras, Nick, Kevin, and Paul.

I've run this a dozen times, mostly in 2016. I brought it here as I've found people get a kick out of it, and I like to show it off. Although it's based on a phone app game (Fallout Shelter), which is really a resource management game, I've built this RPG as a PbtA hack, and narrative is pretty much front and center.

The Ascenders included Stras as the feral-ish Rex the wasteland orphan, Paul as the lazy - er, leisurely - ex-overseer Fourthmeal, Kevin as Rasmussen the wasteland explorer, and Nick as a brave (and ultimately self sacrificing) Spikles the Descender immigrant.

Turns out I forgot to print out the little questionnaires for the "playbooks" for this game, but this ended up being a blessing in disguise. Instead of the traditional way I run this (everyone answers leading questions which inform me of why they are going to the other vault), I went with a two-phased approach to this game: I started the scenario with some leading questions that set a very basic scene, but as for what they were actually looking for or planning to get at the other vault... we answered those questions later, when they got there. Feedback later revealed that everyone thought that worked pretty well, and it's something I'll end up repeating the next time.

 A picture of people taking pictures.

A picture of people taking pictures.

There were lots of pets, and by the end everyone had one! (That's a first.) These included Moneybags the Monkey, a rad scorpion, a molerat, and of course Charming, a head-hog (that's not a typo... he literally would live on Rex's head).

As has happened every time I've played this, the journey through the wasteland took a bit of time, and that meant less time in the vault itself (which is what much of the game is supposed to be about, right?), but everyone enjoyed that part of the game. It's really a problem of the restrictive amount of time that isn't easy to solve, without just having more time or multiple sessions.

Although this whole game is more a labor of love for the app and Lego, and mostly an experiment that isn't meant to go anywhere special (as in: I'm not planning to publish anything), it was awesome having Stras there, because I respect his level of game and mechanical insight, and need to follow up with him on his thoughts about how this game works. I write this mostly as a reminder for my self, especially considering I forgot to run a Roses and Thorns feedback part at the end (for good reasons: we were bumping on 12:30pm and the staff had to clean and close the room).

 Another group of (mostly) vault survivors

Another group of (mostly) vault survivors

At this point my roommate, David from Story Games Glendale meetup, arrived from the airport, and we adjourned, and chatted until fairly late.

Saturday 9am: Spacewurm vs. Moonicorn

GM: Paul. Players: Joe, Brenden, Patrick and myself.

After a quick breakfast at the Owl Cafe with some of the prior days new friends (and a few more: Patrick, Jamal, Jeremiah), we got back just in time for the pitch-fest. Considering my card draw gave me a very low priority, I pitched a game. Fortunately it didn't pan out, and I jumped into a game run by Paul Beakley, which would have been my first choice anyways.

I had heard amazing things about Spacewurm vs. Moonicorn from Stras who played it the prior year, and in retrospect now, it was nothing short of epic in scope. It just exudes galaxy-scale conflict and larger-than-life personalities. We played with the "Quick Play Rules", which apparently includes much simplified sheets, which I would highly recommend for convention play (especially now, after looking at the full sheets!) Each playbook is self-contained, having the available moves for that character, and there are no shared moves. The narrative sort of writes itself.

Patrick played Spacewurm, in this case named Madax Mazar, or "The Most Great and Terrible", whose goal is to "conquer and rule". I played Moonicorn, in my case named Zenobia, who's diametrically opposed, with the goal to "promote freedom and challenge authority". Joe completed the love triangle by playing the Lover, the Marquesse Juliet. And Brenden the Star Vampire, the Baron Miles Vostoya.

Space Wurm chooses two sectors of society he controls, and Patrick took Interstellar transport and religion. We quickly settled on spaceships made of large, unintelligent space whales that are repurposed for transit. This made my decisions easy... I would work to promote the miniature bicycle versions, available to the proletariat... however because I don't have the means to production (breeding) of these things, I only have the one. Each character chooses a domain to control, and mine was cybernetics.

Before long we had Automata, the planet-sized computer AI, which was also my sibling. We had a history that included both Space Wurm and myself having lived for almost 1000 years. We had one very political Juliette, with interfamilial squabblings. A psychic communication via space vampire blood (taking the place of "The Spice" in this game). And a space vampire who was the son of Count Cylus Vostoya, which runs The Blood. Then of course there was the Imperial Throne, the Engineering Guild, and spies in various locations. And this was all prior to Paul injecting unknown threats.

One of the coolest aspects of the game (and something to steal for future sessions) was Paul's huge diagram that he created as we went along. This really grounded the scenario, and made it all easy to follow and digest (and gave it scale... I mean this was on a huge piece of presentation paper).

 Paul's amazing handiwork

Paul's amazing handiwork

Although there was a large front-load for the game, as there often is with many PbtA and story games, it was not something I would've traded for more play-time. 

I've also taken a look at the full campaign playbooks, since the game, and its only reinforced that the quick play sheets are the way to go during con. Paul said it was his first time running with them, but he handled it so gracefully I couldn't really tell.

 The universe in chaos, thanks to these guys.

The universe in chaos, thanks to these guys.

The game was followed by a quick walk to, and lunch at, Sonic with Paul, Patrick, Jamal, Jeremiah and others. I had low expectations, but the green chile burger was actually quite good, and the tater tots did the trick. Again, we got back just in time for the next time slot...

Saturday 2pm: Velvet Glove

GM: Sarah. Players: Nick, David, Ken, and myself.

This was the only time slot I didn't pitch a game. I had a decent priority card (a "4"), and I ended up barely getting into this game. Sarah Richardson wrote Velvet Glove, a PbtA game about girl gangs in the '70s.

There are a few restrictions inherent in the game, like that you play as characters that identify as girls. The 4 stats in the game are Brains, Heart, Muscle, and Pussy. Sarah did a good job making sure we're all comfortable with saying "pussy" from the get-go, an important task in a table full of dudes.

This is the "notebook" edition of the game, which just seems to mean: pared down for simple play. The playsheets are super simple to groc, and I love the aesthetic (with little kitties, flowers, and hearts scribbled around the place). 

We went with a mixed race, WOC gang in a small city (think St Louis, not NYC). I was Bahar the Newbie, a Filipina; dark skin often mistaken for latina or half-black; from a big city which makes people think she's "hardcore", but really just a private catholic school flunky; her mother outwardly blames her for the move, when in actuality it was her father's gay infidelity (ignored publicly) which caused it. Mmmm.... good old drama.

The case included Nick playing Ruby the Gearhead (who has a secret crush on me, and whom I'm trying to teach how to "get some"), David playing Romana the Maniac (she brought me into the gang, by having me run naked through the local roller rink), and Ken playing Rosalyn the sephardic Jew from Spain, and budding Lenenite philosopher revolutionary (who's also in my band). I don't want to undersell how great Ken was at this role... he's got the various knowledges and backgrounds and execute it flawlessly.

And we just launched into it. Rosalyn getting kicked out of class. Romantic drama in the classroom. Ruby's first kiss (with NPC Julie). Invitation to a raging party. Romana being hit on by the PE coach, and then scratching the shit out of his face. Rosalyn grabbing the car from shop and us all getting the hell out. Taking revenge on the PE coach by trashing his place and taking his dog and sex tapes, but getting caught by his girlfriend (our Algebra teacher), who knows about his under-18-student habit. And then threatening to rip her face off. Preparing for the festivities with a make-up session, and then a make-out session. Party at the roller rink, with gang fights ready to rumble. And of course Ruby getting slapped both by myself and Julie.

It was a blast. One of my favorite parts was the escalating Angst that the characters start to accrue, and how to let it out (mostly through violence). Too much Angst is bad, cause eventually you will get put away or be out of action... so you gotta use those outlets. That, and the fact that certain scenes actually had me uncomfortable, sometimes blushing, sometimes stammering. I mean, the characters got Angst, but I felt like as a player I got some good Angst as well, and it was a treat. Sarah was a rock star and didn't pull any punches.

After the game I got caught up in a whole new gang, including Phil (one of the con originals) and more. We went dive barring (at Billy's Pub, where none of us felt especially comfortable) and Vietnamese dinner at Huong Thao, which hit the spot. Again, we were running late coming back, but just in the nick of time for...

Saturday 8pm: Atlas Reckoning

Facilitator: Me. Players: John, Yoshi, Royce, and Kevin.

I'll admit it: I was a little nervous running Atlas Reckoning at a con, and with Stras in attendance. I mean, I've done it twice, and it's a story game, and you kind of know going into it that it will be a lovely collaborative venture... but still, I was playing with Yoshi (who'd played with Stras before) and John (who is basically Stras' test subject and has played 30 sessions of this game, if I'm not mistaken).

But you know the drill... that's all forgotten in about 5 minutes, and the game was a blast. The game is Atlases (mechs) vs Behemoths (kaiju) in a style similar to Pacific Rim. You need pairs of players cause there is going to be synch between the pilots. But that's where the similarities die.

It's a built-it-yourself world, and we decided to go more Escaflowne (magic-based battle robots) than realistic. Before long we had a flat-world on top of some huge spire, with a large magic-tech city at its center. Recently, the jaguar creatures came... climbing over the side of the world, and laying waste to towns and people at the edge of the world, first. Turns out they are digging up the huge magic rocks from which we derive our magic power. (And guess where the biggest cache of these are?)

Our Atlases? The magic golems we use for Arena fighting in the metropolis. The pilots? The wizards who harness that magical energy. But wait... why Atlases? Can't wizards just shoot fireballs at these creatures? Nope... they're immune to the magic, of course. So instead, we need to use magic to control the golems, and use it to shoot stone and wield huge, mundane weapons to damage the actual jaguar beasts.

We had a really cool diversity of characters, including Yoshi as the Survivor, Akemi Takabe from Star Valley in the outer rim (Callsign: "Oak"), Royce as the Hunter, spartan-like Asha (Callsign: "Stalker"), Kevin as the Redemption, tattooed warrior Ulric, and John as the Hotshot, Talsk Novarro of Lanllelon (Callsign: "Falcon") . Akemi and Asha were piloting the Vehement Hurricane, and Ulric and Talsk the Bouncing Earthquake.

We got a good battle going fighting a cougar-beastie that probably looked similar to the displacer beast in the old AD&D Monster Manual... teeth, extra tentacle limbs, and full of frenzy. After a few rounds of combat, they were able to take it down, with Talsk stealing the kill right from under Asha's nose. Everyone took a bit of Stress, which is the perfect setup for the Downtime phase.

We got play a few downtime scenes, which included a touching memorial tradition by Asha, joined by Akemi for a moment that had us all (quite literally) tearing up. After that there was time for another downtime scene at the arena, where these two golems were duking it out, and Asha and Akemi (maybe getting revenge for the kill-steal) taking down Talsk and Ulric, with Talsk petulantly storming out of the arena.

It was a great game, and unfortunately we just didn't have time for more. Having John in there helped with those gaps in my knowledge around some of the mechanics, but mostly it was just a brilliant table, and everyone brought it, story-wise.

 AR pilots

AR pilots

Sunday 9am: Forget-Me-Not

Facilitator: Me. Other players: Ken, Renee, ?, and Sylvia.

After a quick meal in the lobby kitchen (overflowing with us nerds), I had an Ace in the hand... i.e. highest priority. I could get into ANY game I wanted. But, very few people were pitching games. Perhaps it was the end of con fatigue setting in?

I handed my Ace over to David, with the instructions that he bring back and run in LA whatever coolness he got into (Sunday Swords Without Master, as it turns out). Then I headed up to the pitching line: Forget-Me-Not, a Jim Pinto classic. It's a GMless game that runs like a stripped down, simplified Fiasco, and churns out a narrative not unlike Twin Peaks.

I ended up with Ken Hite, Renee, and a mom and daughter pair. The girl (Sylvia?) was pretty young (maybe 6th grade) and the game can be dark. We did the X-card conversation first and foremost (a tool that the mom and daughter hadn't heard about) and I ensured that we were on the same page regarding language and content, and to make sure we had our out in case things got hairy.

I ran it as a 5-player (although 4 is really the sweet spot), and it worked really well. Ken playing Ivan included spectacular Russian-accented jokes at the expense of Americans, and Renee did some amazing roles (especially as Erich Lang, the Vagabond). Mom and daughter really held their own as well, and by the end, we had a russian salting the ground with radioactive waste to turn the town into a dump, and a perverted logistic expert as the perpetrator of the murder.

One interesting thing we did (outside the scope of the rules) was murder one of the characters. It was scene appropriate, and I knew that it would also help us move the story along with the other characters in play. Haven't seen it happened before, but it definitely worked.

Ken mentioned, during the thorn segment of feedback, that it would've been nice to have more variety of scenes, and lo-and-behold, Forget-Me-Not: Murder Hobo already does that, with 5 total Thread cards with 3 uses each, instead of the 4 Threads with 4 uses in this game. Haven't play-tested it, but in theory it should work with that setup (simply add a Thread and use each Thread one less time each.)

 Not trying to solve a murder

Not trying to solve a murder

And out...

Nick, the con head, was inviting everyone over to his place for post-con BBQ action, but unfortunately I had to catch my flight. I had enough time to scurry about and chat, and say goodbye to all the lovely people.

Kevin (also from LA, and whom I got to play with twice to boot), was also catching a flight, so we headed to the airport, grabbed a bite, and then I was really off on my own, as we had different flights. No one was chatty on the plane, so it was just a long ride home on two planes, with many gamer thoughts to keep me company.

What can I say? Can't recommend it enough. Great con, somewhat crappy hotel, but private game rooms that worked brilliantly. The crowd was A+, and the games I played were all outstanding. I'd go again in a heartbeat.