Friday midnight, in a basement ballroom hidden behind another ballroom, we laid bare the clutching, grasping face of human nature. About 25 people played in a Game That Dare Not Speak Its Name. Luke and Thor had found a game/social experiment that created an unequal resource economy. And then added an unequal power distribution to it. It was interesting and thought-provoking. And, as part of the lowest, most disenfranchised group (I finished with the 2nd-lowest score), I had a lot of fun. We immediately developed a strong class consciousness and defined our own goals for play. Plus, we got to laugh a hell of a lot while the top group scowled and debated. I’m very, very glad I did it.
It looked like I was going to start off Saturday with nothing to play, but one of the slots in Kat’s WGP… game opened up and I was glad to fill it. This was an experiment in high-fantasy With Great Power… called “Dragon-napped.” We were knights of the magical kingdom of the Darkenwood, whose princess had been captured by a dragon and needed rescuing. Of course, one of the players secretly was the dragon and knew he was being framed. Since many of the differences between high-fantasy and superheroes are a difference between armor and tights, it really worked well. Much angst, many reversals, and me scribbling notes on how to make the game work better.
Saturday afternoon allowed me to take a peek at Rob Bohl’s nigh-complete Misspent Youth. I last played the game two or three years ago and it is much improved. it’s solid and strong. It does what it sets out to do. I’m very impressed with what Rob’s done. (BTW: Rob, I do think that doing the specific means of control BEFORE the abstract Vice, Visage, Victim [the way we did on Saturday, but not the way in the book] works far better for most players.)
In our game, we struggled against an oppressive ethos called “Efficiency Now!” that sought to remove all meaningful choice from humanity. It functioned (?) with a massive bureaucracy that controlled all financial transactions and you needed licenses to do nearly anything. Our Youthful Offenders started a revolution of thinking for yourself, but the tide was about to turn just as the session was over. Very glad I played.
By Saturday night, I was feeling very comfortable in my skin. Plus, the Game That Shall Not Be Named prompted discussion throughout the day, and friendly cries of “Power to the People” and “Operation Cobra Strike” among my fellow blue circle members.
Saturday evening was Serial Homicide Unit with 5 great players. Knowing that the civilian characters are at risk of being killed, the group thought it might be interesting to deal with civilians who “might deserve what they get.” They chose as their profile “People who had been accused of a crime, but never convicted.” The game requires that players might sympathize with their characters in order to function, so I considered steering them away from this. However, I had played with 4 of the 5 previously, and had a gut feeling that following the “oooh” at the table when the suggestion was made was more important.
It turned out that I was absolutely right. It was one of the absolute best sessions of SHU I’ve ever run. The profile was wide enough open that we could have characters that had absolutely done wrong (Trapcast Jen’s character who had killed her husband, been acquitted due to lack of evidence, and when new evidence surfaced, been immune from prosecution due to double-jeopardy. She hoped to regain the trust of her children) to those who had been completely framed (Rich Flynn’s estate lawyer accused of embezzlement who hoped to find the real culprit–and succeeded!) to those who simply lived a charmed life (Dan’s publicly-disgraced basketball player who managed to regain the public trust) to those who continued to make bad decisions (Michael O’Sullivan’s alcoholic who failed to repair his marriage) and those tragically tossed about on the whims of fate (Steve McFadden’s aspiring actress who had been acquitted of prostitution but was killed before she could make the big time). There were moments of heartbreaking tragedy and plenty of laughter at the realization that all the supporting characters were a bunch of jerks. A really, really great game.
After the game, a group of us were standing near the booth area dissecting the Nameless Game, and Vinny walked by. He did a double-take and asked why we all looked so unhappy. I told him we were just dissecting the previous night’s game. After he walked away, I realized I should have added “…and how the game reflects upon human nature.” That’s the kind of skin we wear.
Sunday morning found my designer skin comfortable, but the flesh within weary. Still, I wanted to play something new and different. Jason Godesky had no players for his playtest of The Fifth World, which I had been eyeballing at least since we had registered the events and certainly since seeing his gorgeous map on the table next to my Ganakagok game on Thursday night.
Somewhat delayed, Kat and I sat down to craft a story about Morristown, New Jersey four hundred years from now. As with any playtest, there were bumps and rocky bits, false starts and eurekas. Jason obviously knows what he wants, and is very open to finding out which is the best way to get there. That, and a willingness to work, are the makings of greatness. I look forward to seeing what comes of The Fifth World.
After that, there was kicking off the roundtable, listening to Vinny’s ideas for where the meeting point of the indie games movement and Dreamation called The Indie Games Explosion might go in the future. That’s a discussion for another post.
Returning home, to the workaday world of responsibilities and stresses, I see them differently. They seem a bit smaller, more managable. How long I can keep this skin on, I don’t know. But it is a comfort to know that even when I’ve forgotten the feel of it, this skin, this better version of myself still fits, and just needs a little time, a little space, and some really great friends to easily slip right back where it belongs.