So, Maelstrom 2015 was a very good time. It’s a small convention, emphasizing quality over quantity. As always, Avie and Vinny and the Double Exposure crew do a great job making everyone feel welcome. And this is the con where they just let the magic spontaneously happen.
We didn’t arrive until later than I wanted, and until we checked in and had dinner, we had missed the 8 o’clock launch window, and many folks we knew were already involved in games. The secret to Maelstrom, though, is to simply wait by the launchpad area and magic will occur. Indeed, it did. After a few hands of Spades, people drifted by with talk of a game of Monsterhearts. Well, you can’t say “Monsterhearts” without gamers flocking like cats to tuna, and soon it looked like Daniele Popelsky was going to have to MC a game with nine players. I had my Monsterhearts stuff in my bag, so I started a second table with Tim, Jim, Misha and Neil. We had a good session, with mysterious murders, tornados, car crashes, and teenagers handcuffed to boilers rigged to explode. We could have gone longer (as is usually the case with MH), but the hour grew late and I was fighting a cold.
The next morning I was lucky to grab a seat in Dave Petroski’s FATE Accelerated hack called “Civilizations”, where each player takes the role of a civilization. This is an idea I’ve been interested in since I first read about Aria nearly twenty years ago. This was actually the first time I ever played any version of FATE. The game was kind of like two sub-games: The creation of the cultures and a hex-map game of expansion, discovery, and conquest. They didn’t fit together quite as well as I would have liked. I think Dave needs to decide which one is the thing he’s going for and make the other component support that. But it was an enjoyable and interesting introduction to FATE and I hope I get a chance to play this again as it develops. The players in this game were Michael, Mel, xander and Neil. We created a cool pseudo-Bronze Age world around an inland sea, which had recently drained away due to a cataclysmic accident in one of the civilizations. I was pretty happy with my culture: The Majesteria, an ancient matriarch which had seen better days, but was not yet on its last legs.
After lunch, I got to playtest With Great Power. We had an amazing table of Rowan, Jesse, Joe, Neil, and Jim. The character cards worked their magic once more, prompting the creation of Harrier (a super-intelligent inventor with power armor), Reactor (longshoreman with a tragic past who could absorb and discharge energy), Pris (a cybernetically-upgraded martial artist indebited to shady figures), Divebomb (invulnerability and somewhat-controlled flight with a poor record of causing collatoral injuries), and the White Scarab (undead Egyptologist who could phase and teleport from corpse-to-corpse). They faced off against the Engineer, a woman who could talk to and command machines, whose son was killed by a rogue superhuman (She didn’t know it was Divebomb) devoted to ridding the world of superpowers. We had stunning fights in Chinatown, bots cruising the darknet listening for criminal chatter, a hero’s powers amped up beyond his control until he drained the entire city’s power, the building mystery of ancient Egyptian magics, and a collapsing building for good measure. Particularly noteworthy was Divebomb, in his secret identity, being pressured by his coworkers to sign a petition that would force Divebomb to reveal his identity and face justice for injured bystanders. I really enjoyed the game and got some great feedback. I think everyone had a good time.
Saturday evening I ran With Great Power again. This time Melissa, Daniel, Seth and Sharon created what was clearly a Vertigo comic. And a weird one, at that. Our heroes were The Ressurectionist, a doctor who could bring people back from the dead, but only by psychically traveling to hell and leaving something else in their place. We had The Good Son, the son of Satan whose fit of teenage rebellion brought him to Earth to battle his cousin-demons. There was the Caretaker of the Necronomicon who produced television shows that debunked actual magic so others would know find out things they Were Not Meant To Know. And the Sculptor, a troubled teenager who could reshape matter with a whim, but had trouble thinking through the ramifications. They were opposed by the Accountant, a man who had stolen power from heaven and was hunted for it. He knew if they found him, it would trigger the end of the world. But the only way to hide was to exploit the fact that angels prefer not to look upon human suffering. He had to keep a level of misery around him as cover, but not too much, lest he attract attention from the other side. After character creation, things got _really_ weird, including teleporting most of a scumbag father away, a glimpse into the Scientological beliefs of Tom Cruise (stunningly portrayed by Daniel), and a portal to heaven opening above a city torn apart by looting and violence. Oh, and naked Benjamin Franklin. Because, of course, right?
This morning, I was on a bit of compressed time table, so I neede to run something short. Baron Munchausen is one of my favorite games that I rarely get to play, and it only takes about 10 minutes per player. So Kat, Meredith, Ally, Anon and I told tales of deuling with the king of cats on the moon; luring the moon out of a stalled eclipse by wearing a dress made of mirrors crafted by blind, handless tailors; drinking all the congac brewed in the year 1700; earning the ire of Freemasons by bottling the sweat of Polish laborers and selling it as French perfume; and the terrible fate of the arms of the Venus di Milo and how it related the dimished fecundity of coconuts. There was some awkwardness as one of the players seemed to be playing a different game than the rest of us. Every few years I trot Munchausen out again, and often unpleasant things happen around the table. I’ll need to think long and hard before I pull it out again. At least with strangers and slight acquaintances. Perhaps I really do need a category for “games to play with friends only.”
Regardless, I’m very glad I went. I wish I might have been healthier, but am glad it was just my voice and not my mind that wheezed and sputtered. Definitely looking forward to DEXCON! And Philly Games Con next week!