PineCon 2018 and Camp De Benneville Pines

What is this… PineCon?

PineCon. An intimate gaming retreat filled with friendly people, up at the Camp De Benneville Pines in the San Bernadino Mountains (2-3 hour drive East of L.A.), with a focus on board games and some indie RPG goodness.

 PineCon logo

PineCon logo

My first experience was PineCon 2017, which was such a lovely experience that I signed up for this one back in February. That early sign-up is become increasingly necessary as the convention is capped at 100 participants, and it’s first-come first-serve. (They do maintain a waiting list in case people drop; I think this year it sold out closer to late August or September time-frame.)

(Do you want the super short version of this writeup? Here is my Twitter thread on the subject.)

Greetings

I can’t remember if I noticed this before, but the inclusivity here is great, and it’s lovely that the campground itself, which serves schools and various adult groups throughout the year, has it baked into their site. You immediately are confronted with a trans and pride flag on either side of the US flag in the entrance to the campground, and that’s some lovely flag planting.

 Greetings from Camp De Benneville Pines

Greetings from Camp De Benneville Pines

Check-in is seamless, easy, low key and performed in the Lodge, the focal point of the campground and the con. One of the 3 founding members (Adam, Chris and Griffin) gets you situated with your cabin and oriented with the place. They provide nametags, which normally have some template that includes pronoun use suggestions, and this year there was even a little art station to create fancy looking name plates you could wear, if that was your jam.

PineCon2018_nameplate.jpg

Game sign-ups are done 100% at the convention itself, and they only put out sign up sheets for the games that are about to play, in the hours prior. For example, during lunch on Saturday they’ll put out the sign up sheets for games for Saturday afternoon. This means you can really see where you are at during that time in regards to wanting to play board games, RPGs, or just relaxing.

The lodge is the centerpiece of the campground, and provides a huge gathering place. It’s also where all the shared meals are provided… meals that also include vegetarian and gluten-free and vegan options, depending on guest needs. The food was never amazing, but there was some decent fare, and it is provided as part of the stay, which makes the entire venture very affordable. The lodge also has a coffee and tea station that is available 24x7, a counter where people bring booze for the sharing, mini-fridges for your own necessities (including keeping beers cold), and tables where ad hoc game libraries bloom based on what people bring to share. This is also were open gaming occurs for board games and any other things you want to play. A fireplace with couches is there, with wood provided at no charge.

 The lodge during the initial gathering up and intros Friday evening

The lodge during the initial gathering up and intros Friday evening

Friday evening: Werewolf

I volunteered to run a few games over the weekend, which also means I qualified for the GM rate, which saves you a few bucks. Friday evening was Werewolf (as requested by my daughter). Last year we had about 10 or so players, and we did a quick round of Werewolf followed by some One Night Ultimate Werewolf to round it out. This time we had a crew of 16, and played the standard game of Werewolf (with only a few of the basic roles), and didn’t have the time or energy for more. I’m proud to say the daughter survived as one of the last 3 in the village, and as a Werewolf, she ended up winning for that team. She’s not to be underestimated in either Werewolf or Villager capacity… she’s been honing her game.

 The daughter being grilled, and overall being a smooth operator.

The daughter being grilled, and overall being a smooth operator.

Being at high altitude means being careful around physical exertion and staying hydrated. I did a lot of the second and woke up many times during the night. Sleep was elusive, but onwards…

Saturday morning: For The Queen

I ran a two hour session of For The Queen, the new game by Alex Roberts (which I’ve written about way back in March, but holy crap do I need to update my blog!) Although initially I had 4 spots open, I know I can easily handle more (after some great experiences at Big Bad Con), and so ended up playing with 6 plus myself. This included a grandmother + son duo who had never played RPGs before (and in fact were fairly new to even board gaming; she had signed them up only because she’d been to this campground before for other camps and saw this convention in the calendar!)

The game involves a perilous journey that the Queen is taking with and all of us as her retinue. The entirety is about answering thematic questions about your relationship with the Queen, and as a side effect, all sorts of interpersonal entanglements occur. Everything is established in play. (Also I have very strong thoughts on why this is the best RPG of the year, and I’ll write that up later.)

Our story ended up following a band of pixies and their compatriots with our Pixie Queen from the conifer forest metropolis. There was an oak pixie, a druid like human who linked with the minds of animals, and a nefarious human backstabber who was there to ambush our journey in trade for a love potion. In the end, it turned out I was a oak pixie king, but I did not care for the queen, and I sacrificed myself for my true love in the retinue, who ended up flying away disillusioned with our purpose.

 For the Pixie Queen

For the Pixie Queen

Note: At the time of this writing there isn't an official website for the game (For The Queen), but you can signup for further information and to be informed, here: http://eepurl.com/dzxosr.

During this time the daughter and her friend were coloring and playing around, but it was always fun to see how they were really listening at times, because they had very specific questions about the journey and story. I had brought some coloring pages from the old AD&D Official Coloring Book, and so they worked on that occasionally as well.

 The range handles about 5 archers at a time, and is handled with the care and structure you find at shooting ranges. Fantastic experience.

The range handles about 5 archers at a time, and is handled with the care and structure you find at shooting ranges. Fantastic experience.

The second half of my babysitting duty included walking them to the archery range - another treat included with the price of entry - and we did some shooting for almost 2 hours. Niki is the campground archery instructor, but had torn a shoulder muscle in prior months, so I quickly became an assistant in training the new folks in the procedures.

We headed back for lunch, and then I handed them over to Adam (the other dad) for afternoon archery. I just chilled out, and eventually napped on the couches in front of the fire, in the hubbub that was the lodge. I awoke to mostly do some chitchat-ing, and stayed away from games as my brain was a little mushy.

The Raffle for Charity!

On Saturday during the dinner gathering there was a raffle for charity. Basically a bunch of us had brought board games or RPGs we wanted to let go of, and they were on display for the duration of the convention. To play, just purchase however many $1 raffle tickets, and drop them in the baggies on top of that particular set of games. I brought about 5 things to give away myself. The convention raised over $600 for an L.A.-based children’s hospital!

My favorite part was that my Pathfinder Core book, which I’ve been trying to find a new home for, for over a year, was won by a new friends kid who is a voracious RPG reader. The next morning breakfast was watching him engulf this book. Also, we didn’t personally win anything, but our neighbor Dave got a stack, and he gave my daughter the Carcassonne Star Wars set, so we’ll have to be playing that. It’s also nice coming back home with less things!

Ten Candles set at the campground

It’s my Ten Candles anniversary! The first time I ever ran it was a year ago at PineCon 2017. This game is always a draw, and it was a good time. We started late due to various reasons (ice cream!), but after settling in, we decided on a custom premise: A destination wedding up at Camp De Benneville Pines, and now this group of people are holed up in this very cabin, with their last candle about to go out, with the lodge not too far away. But it’s oh so dark.

The game itself worked out OK, but ran a little long due to the late start, and a health interruption in the middle, and just generally very good rolls. One player had to leave around midnight, but we made that work narratively, and we ended closer to 1am. We did need to course-correct tone a few times due to side-chatter, but otherwise the story worked out OK.

One thing that threw me sideways initially was that during the “establishing truths” phase, one of the players accelerated the story in a very large way, so suddenly we were out of the mountains. I was quite prepared for that, but hey, that’s the game. It ended up pretty cool, because suddenly they were in a small propeller plane (one of them was a pilot), and not long afterwards an army base, then a yacht, and finally on the Channel Islands. I loved how many scene locations we got to process and work through.

One difference in this game was the amount of player vs. player conflict at the end, which I wasn’t used to at that quantity, but it worked out well. You do need to make the system support it, since it doesn’t really do PvP using contested rolls, for example, but knowing the characters are going to die soon helps. Having them shoot each other and such with soon-to-be fatal wounds totally works, and lends some cinematic shoot-out type moments.

My absolute favorite part? When we took a break half-way through, and walked to the lodge in the dark, and realized we were retracing the exact steps of our characters, up to and including sitting around the lodge fireplace, where in-game they had a little reprieve. That feeling was sort of magical.

PineCon2018_10Candles.jpg

Sunday morning

I didn’t have any specific plans for the morning hours, but Adam brought the Catacombs board game, which incidentally I had backed in Kickstarter a few years back, but then never played, and finally traded away.

He scheduled the game for 4 hours, and I was thinking “no way the kids will want to play something that long”. Boy was I wrong. The game is basically a dungeon crawl similar to games like Descent (which I’m not that familiar with), but instead of dice, there are wood tokens to be flicked with your fingers. It becomes a combination of a physical dexterity game similar to tiddly winks and other classics, but combined with fantasy RPG tropes such as classes, creatures, abilities and spells.

The game plays in increasingly difficult levels, and so basically teaches them strategies and such as it progresses. By the end the kids were in heated conversations about how to approach the obstacles and monsters. One of the most fantastic parts: This game is completely collaborative. If you run out of hit points, you get to just keep on going - as long as other party members are alive. You have 0 hit points and lose some? Your other party members lose them for you. You have to work as a team.

I now regret giving it away, but hey, something to look forward to at friends’ places and game conventions.

PineCon2018_Catacombs.jpg

And out…

On the journey towards leaving I did catch a few folks playing Dialect, as led by facilitator Amy B. I got to later tell her about getting to play Xenolanguage (the upcoming game from Thorny Games) at Big Bad Con, and she lost her shit. Yah, super excited about that one.

 Friends from prior games playing Dialect… I was so happy for them.

Friends from prior games playing Dialect… I was so happy for them.

 Ooooh… Amy backed it at the higher tier which includes the cool looking bead necklace things. Jealous.

Ooooh… Amy backed it at the higher tier which includes the cool looking bead necklace things. Jealous.

We played a little ping pong, packed some snacks, and then it was time to go. So… until next time.

 A fairwell picture with me, Griffin, Chris, and Adam (left to right), and the little ladies.

A fairwell picture with me, Griffin, Chris, and Adam (left to right), and the little ladies.