Dreamation 2010 – An Island of Sanity (Part One)

For months and months, I’ve been somebody else. A troubled, heartsick, disgusted, frustrated, isolated, curmudgeonly version of me. Not every day, but more often than not. And for the last four days, I had a chance to take off that heavy, confining suit, and put on a better skin–to be a better version of me. I got to be a smiling guy who helps out his friends, sees patterns in the interplay of game rules, and makes up some pretty damn cool shit. I got to go to Dreamation!

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Ubercon 2009

We’re back from Ubercon 2009. It was a great, low-stress convention. Well, low-stress once we managed to find the place! New Jersey traffic patterns were as inscrutable as ever.

Friday night, I ran Mouse Guard for four great players. One had read the game, but it hadn’t quite clicked in his head. Two were very familiar with the comic, and had looked at the game, admired its beauty, but refrained from purchasing due to its novelty. And one just liked my event description.

I ran “The Pirates of Rustleaf” scenario that I debuted at Dreamation this year. My dice were hot, and I was scripting very well. Thus, the vicious redfurred pirates overwhelmed the Mouse Guard and stole the shipment of grain they were guarding. The guardmice had to steal it back! It was great! We even did a conflict about sneaking into the pirate cove and stealing back the grain barge as a “Chase” style of scripted conflict.

Everyone had a good time. The couple who was on the fence said they’re definitely going to pick it up. The guy who had read the game said during the game “This is a really tense game. Every decision you make matters.” Maybe I have figured out how to run MG.

Saturday morning belonged to Mechaton. Since I had to take care of flu-ridden family members most of last week, I didn’t really get far enough on my Mechaton role-playing to use it. Which was just as well. I had one player interested in blowing things up with LEGO mechs, and Kat and Michele joined us for brick-smashing fun. Plus, I handed out at least a half-dozen cards directing people to Vincent’s UnStore.

I got to chat w/ Bill White a bit before the afternoon slot, and it’s always good to catch up with distant friends. We also talked a bit about Dreamation registration, which we will begin discussing online soon.

Saturday afternoon saw me running InSpectres. I had four players, all new. Three of them had fun. The fourth left after the 2nd mission because it wasn’t enough like Toon. Admittedly, I was feeling pretty tired during the 2nd mission, and didn’t run with as much zest as I would have liked. InSpectres requires a delicate balance of Stress rolls vs. Skill rolls, as well as a willingness of players to listen to one another and build off each other’s ideas. This makes it tricky: It’s usually OK, but when it flies, it soars.

In the evening, Bill Segulin came by for dinner, so we got to catch up and eat some tasty Thai food at the Mie Thai restaurant in Woodbridge. Not sure that we’d go back there again, but it was a great dinner.

I had no players show up for my 8pm Ganakagok game. Not terribly surprising. Ubercon is very much a GAMER convention, so interests are more conventional than at a Dreamation or DEXCON. Kat had four players for her Serial Homicide Unit game, so I didn’t want to join that and make it too crowded.

All was not lost. Bill was still around, so he, Michele, and I broke out Zombie Cinema. After reading such rave reviews after last GenCon, I have been looking forward to it for a long time. We made a tale about two day traders and a social worker fleeing a zombie incursion in a Manhattan office building. Both Bill’s and my characters were killed, but Michele’s made it out by disguising herself as a zombie pushing a hot dog cart through the streets.

I was a bit disappointed by the game play. It felt as though the game set up the guard rails on the outer perimeter of “what a zombie story is” and then said “Make up a zombie story. You know what to do, so get to it!” There wasn’t much system input into play once the game started, and we found ourselves stretching for inter-player conflicts just so that we could roll the dice and proceed on the board. I was hoping for a little more oomph.

This morning saw the ladies doing a bit of shopping, us getting thwarted by TWO closed entrance ramps, and finally making it home. I’m very glad we went to Ubercon and look forward to doing it again next year.

Origins 2009–Low-key and loving it!

It’s about an hour and half since we arrived home from Origins 2009. I sit here with more caffiene than blood in my veins and try to unwind enough to go to bed. It was a great con. Attendance looked light, but the folks that were there had a good time. Here’s my high points of the show:

A rush to pack and an error made months ago with the rental car was a bit of a scare, but by the time Bill arrived, everything was A-OK. Got to bed late, but raring to go in the morning.

The Drive. Michele was battling a cold, so we took plenty of rest stops. I didn’t mind because we had no booth obligations and therefore no deadline. We left at a sane 7 AM and arrived about 4 PM, which allowed us to eat at the fabulous North Market. My pad thai was hotter than I could stomach, but that proved beneficial later on. We got checked in, taught Michele how to play Euchre, and got some sleep.

Both Kat and I wisely scheduled our Thursday games to begin at noon, so that we would avoid the early-morning lull that sometimes occurs when there’s a hiccup in the registration system. This time, there was no hiccup to worry about, but there was also a noticeable shortage of attendees. Even with a huge swath of the breezeway missing due to renovation, the place didn’t feel crowded enough. I think I got a picture of the crowd present at the opening of the exhibit hall, and it wasn’t nearly as large as it’s been in the past.

Anyway, I kicked the day off w/ dropping off 5 copies of SHU with the ever-gracious and ever-upbeat Andy Kitkowski. He and his boothmates allowed me to grab a bit of space in his booth to make SHU available for sale. It was greatly appreciated.

At noon, Kat ran a new WGP… scenario, and I ran Ganakagok. I had 2 players: Cary and Amber. Thinking that 2 characters would be too few in the reaction rounds, I also made a character myself. In the end, it added nothing to the game, and I wouldn’t do it again. The game was good (as always), and I even found a few ways to improve the text that I had overlooked while editing.

After dinner, I hung out a bit w/ Luke, Thor, Jared, and Jamey. We caught up on RL stuff. I got to see the tail end of Jamey’s satirical Nicotine Girls hack. Plus, we playtested … Yonder Knights! I never would have imagined playing that in my wildest dreams! The game doesn’t really work, but there was much discussion and diagnosis of exactly WHY it doesn’t work, which was really super helpful.

Friday started w/ both Kat and I having 10AM games. Hers was, of course, some incredible, amazing WGP… and mine was SHU. I had two great players: Todd and Lisa. We stopped a serial killer whose profile was that he was hunting down children’s entertainers. As often happens, the kinda silly profile did not impede the drama and tragedy of the inevitable deaths. I can’t think of a game that I enjoy more consistently than Serial Homicide Unit.

After the SHU game, I checked out the maiden voyage of Luke and Jared’s new seminar: Practical Game Design. It was a clear and informative roadmap to take someone from the Three Questions to being able to judge whether dice or cards will do the job their game needs done. It gave me much food for thought, particularly in light of the previous night’s unfun playtest.

One of the great disappointments of this year’s construction was the closing of the kitchen in the Krema Nut Company store. NO PEANUT BUTTER MILKSHAKES! However, Thor’s clever cell phone knew of the company’s headquarters store 2 miles away. Being New Yorkers, they were going to hoof it. But with my power of Rental Car, I got us to the peanut-flavored heaven and back again in air-conditioned comfort!

Friday evening saw a nice dinner w/ Kat, Bill, and Michele, and then chatting till midnight w/ the NYC crew.

Saturday was supposed to be my busiest day. I was scheduled to run SHU from 10AM to 2PM, and help Luke run a seminar from 1PM (fun scheduling error!) to 3PM, and then run Ganakagok from 8PM to midnight. Unfortunately, I had no players for SHU, which gave me far too much time to shop. I looked at every booth and still had time to spare before the panel.

The self publishing panel is, as Luke likes to call it, a firehose of information. We ran right up to the full 2 hour mark, barely stopping for questions and could have kept going. It’s a thrill to give that panel.

Afterwards, Luke was running a demo of Mouse Guard for a reviewer named Ben and his girlfriend Danielle. I sat in to bring the group up to three, and got to deliver the killing blow to a vicious milk snake that wanted to devour us all!

A surprising one-on-one dinner w/ Kat followed, which allowed for a nice de-stressing to occur.

After that, it was back to frozen lands of Ganakagok, where 6 players showed and we made a great myth about the splintering of the island and its fertile ground floating into the sunlit worlds.

Today started with some great news: Mouse Guard won the Origins Award for Best RPG! Congrats to Luke and the Burning Crew for another game well-designed (and one I can actually play this time!)

Then there was just last minute shopping, lunch, The Drive, and now this. An excellent weekend in an excellent city at an excellent con. You can’t ask for more than that.