Yesterday we went to PoliCon 2008 in Philadelphia. Every year, Don and Joanna Corcoran organize a convention as a birthday gift for their buddy, Joe Poli. Some years it’s invite-only due to space, some times its part of a larger convention. But I’ve had a good time every year I’ve gone.
Kat and I made a wrong turn and ended up being late. Thankfully, the games waited for us. Bill White ran his fantastic game Ganakagok for five of us–Pattie, Liz, me, Tali, and Will. In a fit of verisimilitude, Bill invited us to play outside in the crisp April air. It helped to evoke the spirit of our Nitu characters (eskimos) who had always lived upon an island of ice, but who knew that a change was coming–the sun was going to rise for the first time ever. We created the initial situation inspired by some draws from the game’s cool tarot-like deck, and determined that the Nitu were in the midst of a famine, and some of the sacred whales had beached themselves. Rather than help them back into the water, the Nitu had feasted upon the taboo whale meat. My character was hit with a vision in the contented, drowsy trance that siezes hungry people after a feast. He knew that superstitions and the old god-ways were nonsense, and the time had come for the people to abandon them. Most of the other characters were focused on returning us to the old ways, so I had lots of opposition. We ended up with many characters having bad endings, and, although the Nitu were no longer the Nitu after the womenfolk had moved to found a new village, it was a very fulfilling game.
Lunch was provided by many tasty sandwich fixings, and then it was on to With Great Power…
I had brought both “Mutant Academy” and “Monster Squad.” My players were Kat, Phil, and Amy. They chose monster Squad, and played Debris (the living statue and leader of the Monster Squad), Mudslide (oozy former supervillian, still in debt to the evil mad scientist) and Cerebus Prime (German Shepherd with a 500 IQ). Debris started the game being haunted/inspired by visions of Gaia, the earth-mother, tellingd Debris that she was meant to be the avatar of the earth. By the end, Debris was teetering on the brink of delusional madness from these visions. Mudslide was trying despately to ooze his way out of his obligations to Dr. Grotesque. Cerebus Prime was steadily souring on the stupidity of people and joined forces with his unrepentantly-misanthropic sister to take vengeance upon The Utopian for seemingly killing the third member of their litter. A good session, but I’ve really got to retool the game to make it fit in four hours. It’s always just a little fustrating to never get that sense of closure that I tend to have when I play other convention games lately.
Dinner was a quick trip to the Melrose dinner. Phenomenal cheesesteaks, fries, and milkshakes. So bad for the body, but so good for the tongue.
In the evening, I played Shock: with Dave Cleaver and Scott Lesher. It was my first time playing “that orange game” and it went really, really well. We decided on a Shock of “first contact” with Issues of “conspiracy,” “power politics,” and “xenophobia.” We decided to keep it near-future, and took an idea from Ursula LeGuin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness” and decided that exactly three aliens had landed. They would only speak to certain people about certain things, and were had never spoken about their advanced technology. Our praxis scales were Mass Media/Personal Contact and Impel/Inspire. Dave’s character was a priest trying to change the church’s “aliens have no souls” position to one of “god loves all beings.” Scott’s character was the U.S. Secretary of State, with whom the aliens liked to play poker. He was trying to form a working relationship with the aliens. My character was an aspiring science fiction writer whose book had been in-process of being published at the time of the aliens’ arrival. It had vanished, his computer was stolen, and he was on the run from a conspiracy. In the end, the priest changed the church AND kept his pulpit–his was story of reform within the church, perhaps a documentary on a civil rights leader or something. Scott’s Secretary of State had a story more like Contact or Childhood’s End, where the president was leaning on him for “results” and the aliens end up playing poker for items of advanced technology versus parts of his own soul. In the end, he wins the secrets of cold fusion, and is also “enlightened” into meaning on a higher plane. My guy ended up with a sort of Philip K. Dick ending, where it was revealed that my never-to-be published science fiction novel had actually been prophetic about the aliens and their landing, and somehow my subconscious mind had been transmitting the entire thing back to the alien homeworld. So, even though I was killed in the CEO’s office, I had just finished transmitting the last paragraph.
The game was very good, and particularly with my fellow players being so creative and invested, I had a great time. However, there were some parts of the game that seemed rough. It seemed a waste of potential that the only mechanical effect of links was to risk them for a re-roll. Plus, praxis scales were a pain. On many rolls, we felt out the scene to find the conflict, set our non-mutually-exclusive stakes, chose our assortment of d4s and d10s, rolled the dice, and said “crap, we forgot to set the praxis.” I think the game might work better if the audience decides on the praxis scale for both the protagonist and antagonist, based on the role-play they do in the scene. That notwithstanding, I was glad to finally get to play Shock:.
Thanks to all for making PoliCon such a great time.