DEXCON 2017 convention summary

DEXCON 2017

Still exhausted from the best five days of gaming in my year. As always, Vinny, Avie and the entire Double Exposure staff put on a great show every year and I thank them for their tireless efforts.

 

Wednesday night, I taught four people how to play Joshua’s _The Bloody-Handed Name of Bronze_ which was pretty impressive, as I wasn’t certain I knew how to play it myself. But together, Sean, Blair, Misha, Will and I unveiled the secrets of the infamously opaque text to find a very fun, functional, and evocative game within. One of the heroes lifted a river to rid himself of pesky crocodiles. The spear that never misses hunted a sneaky name-dealer, but was duped into killing a mighty king. It was a grand spectacle and a grand game.

 

Thursday morning, I got to sit in as a player for a session of Monsterhearts 2. Kat was the MC for Jeff, Brian, JC, Daniele, and me. I played Zed, a ghoul who fed on fear. We were all part of a group of “regulars” in after-school detention called the Bad Pennies. Two of our own had been found dead and no one in town was lifting a finger to find out why. I found some incriminating evidence in an NPC’s locker and tried to get him to confess by zip-tying his hands behind his back, duct-taping one of his own fireworks into his hands and threatening to light the fuse. He didn’t do it, but the fear tasted lovely. Zed ended up getting killed by one of her oldest friends while others had traveled to the realms of faerie and made dark deals with darker powers. All in all, exactly what you’d expect from Monsterhearts.

 

Thursday afternoon, I ran a Games On Demand session of The Sundered Land with Hamish and Dana. We faced wandering seas of giant, flesh-eating beetles, reanimated skeletons, raiding bandits, and our own checkered pasts along the Burnt Road. I really like The Sundered Land, but I don’t think I teach it very well. Every game I’ve run is very stilted and filled with half-steps. I’ll have to think about ways to address that before I run it again.

 

Thursday evening I ran TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes from the ‘80s. Despite having a full sign-up sheet, only one player showed up. He was keen for a nostalgic trip, so he ran She-Hulk and Wolverine as they defended Four Freedoms Plaza from an onslaught of villains bent on opening the portal to the Negative Zone and unleashing Annihilus on the world.

 

Friday morning was the first session of my first-ever KristaCon event, a three-session game of With Great Power. I had five great players: Joe made The Gold Shadow, a police detective who had taken a supervillain’s darkforce-projecting gauntlets from the evidence locker and was using them to fight organized crime. Amber made Orchid Guide, an escapee from a secret quasi-government laboratory with telekinetic and telepathic powers. Misha made Seraphim, who had been raised by Authurian enthusiasts, and been given feathered, angelic wings by Nimue herself. Unfortunately, she couldn’t fly, only fall with style. Cassie made Omen, a time-slowing alien observer who had broken the non-interference directive when a dangerous alien presence was going to kill millions. She contained that presence in the head of Phil’s character, the Drifter, who was just an everyman thrust into this bizarre world of superheroics. In the first session, they faced the threat of Nightbringer, an alien who wanted to hide Earth from the massive alien Armada. His plan was to force the world back to a 19th-century level of technology to avoid detection. They stopped him, got the team together, and Seraphim learned to fly.

 

After washing out of the pun contest, I took some time in the afternoon. On Friday evening played in the game that so many of my friends rave about: World Wide Wrestling. Joe ran “the Comic Book Wrestling Alliance” where our in-ring personas were comic book characters. I was the main heel, playing Annihilus, Lord of the Negative Zone. Other players played The Toxic Avenger, Catwoman, The Mask, She-Hulk, and Deadman. I ended up kidnapping Lois Lane and transporting the entire ring into the Negative Zone where there were no rules! It was fun, but I don’t feel as though I have the wrestling vocabulary to meaningfully contribute to the wrestling scenes. It felt like trying to tell a joke in a language I didn’t understand. It didn’t help that I wasn’t feeling great on Friday, so maybe it was just that. Regardless, it was a fun game and I’m glad I played.

 

Saturday morning was the second session of the With Great Power KristaCon game. Our heroes faced down the evil Mayfair industries. They were the quasi-governmental evil corporation that had experimented on Orchid Guide. In the aftermath of Nightbringer’s attack, they were trying to increase their manpower by taking over several of the local mobs. We also had great development of the personal lives of these heroes, with Golden Shadow’s secret identity partner being a detective who thought Golden Shadow was behind the crime throughout the city. The personal phase in WGP are so fun, they threaten to consume the entire game. Seraphim’s chat with her patron, Nimue, resulted in the lady of the Fae coming to Omnidelphia, where she initiated a revelry of Bacchanalian proportions. Seraphim agreed to return with her to the lands of faerie to save the city from her influence.

 

I didn’t game Saturday afternoon. Saturday evening, I got check a game off my bucket list: I played no-frills Swords Without Master face-to-face for the first time. I generally start my convention games by going around the table and asking people to introduce themselves and why they chose to sign up for that particular game. This time, Shane, Clark, Christo, and Kirk all gave versions of “I’ve heard great things about this game, but haven’t figured out how to play it.” I got to show them the magic trick that Swords does so very, very well: Taking disparate bits of fiction from multiple people and merge them into a single, unified story such that it seems like they belonged there the whole time. We began with a monolith covered in runes amidst the snowy wastes (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/503629170810087027/). We ended up with an ancient fire god locked inside the mountain, a twisted master trying to dominate his old apprentice, an ill-advised wager, bubbles of summertime tossed on an avalanche, a buff human sacrifice, and roiling trails of smoke that possess people’s bodies. A great session, and everyone walked away impressed by the game. As am I. I really love this game.

 

Sunday morning was the concluding session of the With Great Power KristaCon. Because Misha had to travel, we had written Seraphim out at the end of the previous session. Richard joined us and made The Blur, a social worker who had made a deal with dark powers to save his own life. Together, our heroes faced down the arrival of the alien Armada. Gold Shadow fought back-to-back with her archnemesis who was a crime boss, but at least a human crime boss. Omen started a splinter group within her society of alien observers that takes action as well as study. Orchid Guide crashed a spaceship into the ground with the power of her mind. The Blur and the Drifter faced waves of alien invaders like heroes. It was a great game. I’m very grateful to Joe for suggesting a KristaCon in the first place.

 

It was a great convention! Thanks to all who made it awesome!

Dreamation 2017

Dreamation 2017 was a great time! Thanks so much to Vinny, Avie, and the entire Double Exposure crew for putting on such a fantastic convention. Thanks also to each and every person who ran a game for the Indie Games eXplosion. You brought tons of fun to wintry Morristown. And thanks to everyone who played games, hung out, and just generally made for a great time.

Personally, my convention was defined by still recovering from a nasty illness earlier in the week. My energy level was very low, and I was grateful I was only running two games.

Thursday 8pm was the first of those games. I ran With Great Power for four great players. Matt played Sketch, whose enchanted paintbrush could animate things it drew. Sean played Figment, a long-limbed alien with light powers. John played Keystone, who could change his body into other elements. Max played Ironworks, who built himself power armor out of stuff from a junkyard. Together, they faced the Gun of Damocles, an alien cyborg cowboy who wanted to decrease chaos in the world by purging it of technology. He ended up getting pounded by a hero hitting him with his own robotic horse.

Friday 9am I got to play Kat’s game of temporal hijinks, Time Capers. I played Frank Hyperion, two-fisted scientist who traveled through time by falling from great heights and achieving not terminal velocity, but temporal velocity. Adrian’s time traveler wanted to kill his ancestors so he would never be born. Bruce’s traveler wanted to stop his grandfather’s business from failing. Kirk’s traveler wanted to save his father’s life. Amy’s traveler wanted to recover the second volume of Aristotle’s Poetics. Kat’s traveler wanted to save womankind from men, and thereby save all mankind. We ended up creating ripples like a scientific revolution in ancient Greece and aliens escaping Area 51 and living among Cold War-era America. A very fun time.

Friday 4pm I played Dev’s game Love Commander. It’s a fun game inspired by Mass Effect, where a human commander with an alien crew needs to spend their time wisely to learn more about their crew, which unlocks bonuses for the game. It is quick and clever and a lot of fun.

Friday 8pm I ran With Great Power again. Phredd played Godslayer, an ancient Sumerian hero unwilling brought back to life by a post-modern wizard. Neil played Amok, a sort of living cartoon character. Howard played the Hand of God, a teleporter torn between becoming a superhero and continuing to live in his parents’ basement. Kat played Corona, a young woman who had been chosen as a host for intergalactic space wasps. I played Singularity, who came from the cold darkness of space in a cybernetic containment suit to hunt the space wasps. His hunting technique was to make the Earth a less hospitable environment for the wasps, by killing as many humans upon it as possible.

Saturday 9am I got to have a far more gentle and heart-warming time, as Tony ran Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine for us. I played Trinket, a toy come to life. Richard played a wacky inventor. Albert played a hard-working aspiring restauranteur with a sentient ginger spirit sidekick. John played an old woman whose house was slowly sliding off the side of the city. Kirk played a ninja librarian. It was a delightful session. We hung lanterns, found lost library books, chased runaway carts, wrote advertising jingles, and went to a festival. Lovely game.

Saturday 2pm, despite being at my lowest energy of the con, I played The Bloody-Handed Name of Bronze with Joshua, Aaron and Christo. It was a fast and bloody game, with two heroes facing each other, becoming fast friends, then dying. Joshua’s name-dealer was much at the center of it, and came out in a similar place to where she went it. I didn’t contribute as much as I might have liked, but enjoyed the game thoroughly.

I got a bit of rest Saturday afternoon. Then, at Saturday 8pm, I played Infinite Galaxies. Bill White ran the game, which is essentially Star Wars run through Dungeon World. I played a surly robot. Rich played a battle-hardened veteran. Greg played a literal pirate. Eric played a cryptic psychic. The game itself was okay, Dungeon World often leaves me cold. But the table was a hoot. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard.

I got to chat with a handful of people Saturday night and Sunday morning at the booth, which was great. I have stepped away from designing games before. It always leaves me a bit at-ends in these sorts of conversations. But last time I stepped away, I didn’t have something to fill that space in my life, the way that writing is doing currently.

It was great to see everyone! Thanks for a great Dreamation!

DEXCON 19 — June 29-July 3, 2016

DEXCCON 2016

Thursday: I had to work. But was able to drop Kat off on Wednesday night. On Thursday, she was a whirlwind of activity and set up a mini-Maelstrom within DEXCON. GMs who had open slots would post the games that they were willing to run at those times. Players interested would show up or sign up. At the appointed hour, we’d seek out an unused table and BOOM!–the magic of gaming would happen. My wife is a miracle worker.

Evening: I battled through a stressful day at work and finally, finally made it to the convention. Kat ran With Great Power Classic Edition as part of mini-Maelstrom. I didn’t get to play, but I heard nothing but praise..

FRIDAY:
Morning: Another mini-Maelstrom game took off: 7th Sea Accelerated with Joe Zantek, Kat Miller, Jeff Collyer. I played a Castillian archeologist inspired by Indiana Jones. We chased down a buried pirate treasure. We had some witty repartee. Kat seduced a Naval captain of Montaigne. Jeff punched a shark. It was a fun session with fun people. The post-game discussion was particularly fruitful. Talking with Joe about the way the genre maps to FATE, how it might map to PbtA, and why it hasn’t was thought-provoking enough to start my stupid game designer brain working. Stupid brain!

Afternoon: No games came together for me. Thought more about PbtA buckling of swashes. Spent some time with Kat. We bought and played a card game called Spellcaster.

Evening: A Mini-Maelstrom Miracle. No mini-Maelstrom games coalesced for the 8pm slot. So Kat and I spent some time at the mini-Maelstrom booth chatting with our friend Joann. Around 9:30, a couple of new people wandered by, asked for details about mini-Maelstrom, and within 15 minutes the five of us were playing an amazing session of Serial Homicide Unit. I played Yousef, a Lebanese bus boy who just wanted to finish med school. He was a bit of a hypochondriac and thought he was coming down with the ailments he studied. He was savagely murdered by the serial killer. It was tragic. Probably my favorite session of the convention.

SATURDAY:
Morning: Another great mini-Maelstrom session went off as I got to run With Great Power for Dave and his two kids. I played a villain that could absorb and generate fire. When his powers emerged, he had saved a burning apartment building, and later discovered one of the people he saved was a serial killer. Now he hunted down the worst of humanity to purge by fire. Lots of fun and laughs.

Afternoon: John Farish ran a mini-Maelstrom game of Masks for me, Kat, Rich, Matt, and Brendan. It was a fun session with plenty of banter between the characters. I chose the Bull playbook, a girl called Kelsey “Kaboom” who had been given powers by an alien hive mind to be a super powered sleeper agent as part of an attempted invasion. Now that she was free and trying to be a hero, she had trouble fitting in with her fellow young heroes–one of whom was an ex-pop star turned tree. Fun times.

Evening: For my last mini-Maelstrom session, I got to run With Great Power for five players. The game is stretched to its maximum at five, so the session wasn’t as good as it could be. I actively encourage genre mixing in WGP. Often it produces amazing synergy that you’d never expect. Sometimes it produces the effect of an odd crossover where the characters seem like they belong in two different comics. This session had three players who had great interest in the physics of their superpowers and had a grand time figuring out how their powers worked, and what the repercussions would be. The other two characters were a teenager pulled from a teen drama comic, and a really interesting imp who possessed the dead that belonged in a Vertigo comic. Definitely a high note to finish off the convention.

SUNDAY:
Acknowledging the realities of age, we said our good-byes, and came home to rest up to face another day.

Thanks, as always, to Avie, Vinny, and the amazing Double Exposure staff for creating and maintaining such a great convention and community. I’m proud to be a member of such a welcoming, fun-loving community. And thanks to everyone I got a chance to chat with and to game with!

Dreamation 2016

Wow. What a #Dreamation.

As always, Vinny, Avie, and the entire Double Exposure crew made great things happen flawlessly and invisibly. They are amazing and I thank them deeply.

Jason Morningstar compared Dreamtion to a family reunion and he’s absolutely right. Except that there’s more people I’m excited to see at Dreamation.

Thursday, 8PM
For me, I started off the con with a game of Swords Without Master: Starward on Thurday night. It’s a supplement for SWoM that draws inspiration from Leigh Brackett, Flash Gordan, Akira Kurosawa, and WWII aviation films (just like a somewhat popular 1977 film you may have heard of). Andrew and Brian, neither of whom had played any SWoM before, both created fallen space knights. Patty played a translator/scientist from “not the United Federation of Planets”. They delved into a planet-sized ancient starship to find the lost panacea that would end a galaxy-wide plague. Despite the space skeletons and pirates, they got the cure and delivered it, but were cheated out of glory by the scheming space senate. How will they possibly clear their names? Find out in the next exciting episode of Starward!

Friday, 9AM
Friday morning, Bill White was running With Great Power. To keep myself from being a neurotic mother hen, I intentionally scheduled myself something else to do. I facilitated one of my favorite games: Serial Homicide Unit. Adam, Michael, Joann, Ephraim, Ian, and I told the stories of the workers and patients of the Helping Hands clinic, who just so happened to be hunted by a serial killer. The best and brightest of our characters were cut down just as their life turned around, while the worst thrived. It was sad and touching, just as SHU always is. I love this game.

Friday, 2PM
Friday afternoon, I got to play Bill White’s The New World. I played it several time over its many years of gestation, and this was the best version yet. So quick! So evocative! So fun! I think 2016 is finally the year for The New World. Just a few rough edges to polish and this one is ready to publish. We wove a tale of the last great city of learning in a fallen land, forcing the survivors of fallen cities into servitude, and the ambitious sand pirates that plagued them.

Friday, 6:55PM
Matt, Chris, and Chris had asked if I could run a demo of With Great Power for them. Asking me to run my game is my own personal Kryptonite, so run we did. In a quick 45 minutes, they made heroes and we played a couple of exciting phases.

Friday, 8PM
Finally, after years of trying, I got to play Sorcerer with Judd. It was a colonized solar system setting, with Adam portraying the secretly half-alien president of Mars, MadJay playing a xenoarcheologist, and me playing a horrible, Captain Bligh-type starship captain with xenotech fused into his head. If you’ve ever played a video game and took a while to understand the controls, you’ll know what I mean when I say that I often have trouble steering my character in Sorcerer. This game was no exception. I’d go into a scene thinking “I’ll show a bit of humanity, a bit of compassion” and then proceed to do the most evil stuff imaginable, like murdering a conscientious traitor, and trying to murder the president of Mars. I’m really, really glad I played. I’m uneasy with how the game went. And that’s exactly what Sorcerer is about.

Saturday, 9AM
I ran With Great Power for a group of three players: Jen played Noir, who could speak to ghosts; Nick played Mantis, who had instectoid alien power armor; and Adam played Blindspot, who could not be noticed, except on camera. Together, they faced down the flame-bodied Crucible who wanted to give superpowers to everyone in the entire world so that her husband could accept her as “normal”. It was a quick, fun session with green mutagenic gas at an MMA fight, quiet discussions on a park bench, a burning building, and punching a woman made of living flame in the face.

Saturday, 2PM
Joshua A.C. Newman’s The Name of Bronze is a work in progress. I like where it’s going and will be excited when it gets there. In our short session with Frank, Keith, and Matthew, I played Unlu, champion of Mard—tallest mountain and roof of the world. In Mard’s service, I crushed a rival mountain with my bare hands. It was interesting, and I could see where it will be fun once the whole game is communicated properly.

Saturday, 8PM
I finally played Torchbearer. Tony, Stephen, Carly and I did pretty well in Bret’s weird old school dungeon. Nobody died. We scored some loot. We rescued a guy from being eaten by a giant spider. I have my doubts about the “if you suggest an idea you have to be the one to roll for it” rule. I can see that the game is engineered to produce a particular type of experience and does it very, very well. It’s just not an experience I particularly enjoy. That’s an important thing to know.

Sunday, 10AM
A second game of With Great Power, this one with five players: Kat played the Scales of Justice/Dragon Princess who was rebelling against her dragon-tyrant father; Blair played the Winter Knight, born of Fey and fighting to hold onto his humanity; Karin played The Shade, who could speak the ghost of Andrew Carnegie; Ami played Feeback, an alien made of music who could take on the form of Jimi Hendrix; Kay played Refraction, a woman who lost most of her memories in the accident that turned her into a living hologram. Together they faced Upload, a robot from the future who was trying to force human society up to where future history said it ought to be, using things like nanobots to install mandatory upgrades in people. We had some great images like a dragon melting the snow off a blizzard-choked roadway to clear a path for ambulances, medical equipment exploding due to supernatural interference, living hologram destroying the evil nanotech disguised inside of charity blankets, and a fey knight cutting the tongue off a building-sized dragon.

Oh, and I also sold some actual, physical copies of With Great Power. Which made me very happy, and I hope will make all who bought it happy, too. Anyone who bought the game at Dreamation can contact my Gmail account (stalwartip) to get the electronic edition at no additional charge. The game and the origin cards will be available for order by the end of the month.

There is never enough time to see everyone I want to at Dreamation. I’m very glad for everyone I got to chat with, or game with, or even smile at in the hall. Thank you for a wonderful weekend.

Camp Nerdly 2015

Camp Nerdly always holds a special place in my heart. The scenery is great. There are plenty of people I only get to see there. It has more opportunity for me to display my pitiful Frisbee skills than all other game conventions put together.

This was our fourth Nerdly, and certainly the best one yet. We stayed in a nearby hotel, because after being in the hospital last year, I was not about to risk my old man back on a camp cot. Kat had the brilliant idea to go down Thursday night after work and avoid all that wretched Friday traffic. And we did exactly that and it worked out great. I got to learn how to play the card game slash with a host of people, like Keith, Bill, Tim, Josh, Whitney, and Sean. I scored points for introducing She-Hulk to her prefect press secretary, CJ Cregg from the West Wing.

Friday evening, I got to play Brendan’s latest iteration of Masks, his game of the angst-filled lives of teenage superheroes. We had a great table of Rebecca, Jared, Kat, and Frank and really sunk our teeth into the tribulations of Zap and the Young Heroez: Quarry, the genetically engineered escapee from a evil corporation; Pandora, possessor of an ancient Greek magical box that could produce all manner of horrors; Xyrax, the most attractive insectoid alien from a parallel dimension; Shatter Dancer, hacker and stone shaker; and, of course, Zap, the electric-powered protege of the world-famous hero The Shield. We faced down a bizarrely amped-up version of The Kelpinator, and found ourselves embroiled in the machinations of the evil Friendly Chemical company. The game was so enjoyable that we continued it on Saturday night.

Saturday morning, I ran the latest version of With Great Power for Kat, Joe, Brendan, Rich, and Matt. They created a slew of really cool characters. Kat portrayed an adult version her Pandora hero from the Masks game. Brendan created an heir to the muse of memory who could revise peoples’ memories at the risk of losing her own. Rich played a speedster who was paraplegic when he wasn’t using his powers, and knew his time with them was limited. Matt played Professor Rewind, who could speed and slow the passage fo time, but was trapped in a time loop himself. And Joe played Cataclysm, imbued with so much cosmic power over the elements that he could scarcely contain the power in his wake. They faced off against the schemes of Ianus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings who wanted to put an end to technological progress, and also the rage of Heraklea, an ancient foe of Pandora. A very fun session.

Saturday afternoon, Kat ran a FATE game she had picked up a few cons ago: The Secret of Cats. The PCs are cats who can see the true magic of the world and must protect their Burdens—y’know, their people. We had a great table of Scott, Andy, Jule and me who played as the cats of the Buffy, Giles, Willow and Xander. We unraveled the mystery of a cat who had gone mad when its burden had been turned into a vampire. It was a fun game featuring a dog pack called the West Side Wags, dreams of human sacrifice, and an animated zombie mouse!

After washing a few dishes on Saturday night, Brendan, Kat, Rebecca and I continued our game of Masks from Friday. It was my first LongCon! We got deeper into the group relationships and questioned what it meant to be a hero. The game—like many PbtA games—is definitely written with long-term play in mind, so it really shone in the second session. I loved Pandora posing as Shatter Dance’s little sister for a meetup with a mysterious hacker, various team members telling off Nimue the Sorceress Supreme, and Zap nearly drowning saving the world but being rescued by Pandora. A really great game that we could have easily continued.

Sunday morning we got there plenty early and squeezed in a quick board game of Lost Cities with Sam and Kat. Then I ran a rushed session of With Great Power. This time, Ira, Ben, Noah, E.T. and Kat created: a berserker with a tortured past; The Creep, who could trap people in their own nightmares; the Insomniac, who could put people to sleep even though he never could; Thunderclap who had the power of a thunderstorm bursting inside him; and the Puppeteer who had been raised to secretly rule the world, but was rebelling by turning those resources to good ends. Opposing them was Update, a woman who had been empowered by aliens to enhance the human race and bring it up to galactic minimum standards by any means necessary. The session was truncated by the need for chores, but it was still quite a fun time.

This was definitely my best Camp Nerdly experience. Thanks to all the Owlbears who made it possible.

Philly Games Con 2015

Philly Games Con was a good con, and both well-attended and well-run. Neither are to be taken for granted at a first year event.  I was impressed and would return again. Kudos to Dave and the Philly Games Con crew for a great debut.

 

Friday night, I got to play in a game of Itras By with Keith, Clarissa, Yael, Howard, and Brennan. We made a suitably surreal series of events for our racehorse jockey given to over-eating, encyclopedia salesman searching for the perfect sentence, birthright mime with a habit of nervous talking, organ-grinder’s monkey longing to learn how to dance, and truthful fortune-teller looking for someone to tell his fortune. It was an enjoyable session with a lot of laughter. Beware monkeys passing out counterfeit mime money.

 

Saturday morning, I ran InSpectres for Brendan, Tim, Kat, Joe, and Neil. They set up their franchise in a self-storage locker. We got through two missions: a wine cellar infested by alcoholic mole man, and an apartment building that was haunted by the spirits of every animal that that had died on that spot in the last four billion years of life on earth, particularly a smart-assed 10-year-old girl murdered in the mid-80s calling herself Zaxxon4ever. It was a fun time.

 

Saturday afternoon, I ran With Great Power for Mike, Brian, Matt, Dan, and Fran. They came up with some incredible heroes: Warpo, who could warp matter with his mind. Nudge who could hear thoughts and nudge people into making certain decisions. Thinktank, a quadriplegic with telekinetic power armor. Meltdown, given radioactive powers in a reactor accident. And finally, Starsigil, a farm girl who—when an alien crash-landed on her farm—was imbued with a tattoo of cosmic might. They faced the heedless fury of the Rampaging Shade, an energy manifestation of an everyday man’s darkest impulses. In the end, Omnidelphia was saved once more.

 

Kat wasn’t feeling well Sunday evening, so I bowed out of games. But after she went to bed I got to listen to the tail end of a game of Masks with Brendan, Mike, Daniele, and Rich. The game is in a much better shape than it was when I played it at DEXCON. I’m looking forward to this tale of super teen angst.

 

Kat’s Serial Homicide Unit game today at 8:00AM did not have any players. Morning slots on Sunday are always a hard sell, but *really* early slots are even more difficult. We had a nice, leisurely trip home, and reflected on a con well-spent.

Dreamation 2015

Dreamation is always phenomenal, and this year was no exception. The work that Vinny and Avie and the whole Double Exposure staff do to make the convention seamless is a wonder in its effectiveness and its invisibility. Thanks to each and every one. Now, here’s the fun I had:

Thursday 8pm
Event: *Kagematsu* “The Grand Seduction”
Colleagues: Jackson, Mikael, John, Sarah, Natalie, Arnold (facilitating only)
In a Canadian rust belt setting, I played Agnes, a 55 year old school teacher and mother of Karen, Mikael’s character. I tried sweetness. I tried flattery. I tried cookies. All ended in disaster. Finally, with thirty minutes left in the session, I went for broke, pulled out all the stops. I offered the doctor a good salary, and end to the financial woes that may have driven him here, and—when that didn’t work—threatened to drown him if he tried to leave. All utter failure. And Agnes was hauled away to a padded room, never to be seen or spoken of again.

Friday 9am
Event: *With Great Power* (playtest)
Colleagues: Josh, Mel, George
We took the latest revision of With Great Power (adapted from Swords Without Master) for a test drive and the game went really, really well. I was worried that my new hero creation system wouldn’t measure up to the task, but it came through with flying colors. Within moments of handing out the cards, I heard “These cards obviously go together” when there was nothing obvious about them, which is _exactly_ what I wanted. My players came up with Eve-8—an data-manipulating android who had created a flawed “child” called “Eve-L”. Also, Chevron—a government-sanctioned super-suit-wearing leader of Super Team Six. Also, Red Shift—a speedster who had to be careful of her speed, lest she approach relativistic speeds and destroy everything in her wake. They faced off against The Monolith—a scientist who had been transformed to living rock and wanted to evict humankind from Earth so it could return to the glory of its geological past. We had nice pacing with some great character development. I’m very happy with the direction of the game.

Friday 2pm
Event: *The Long Orbit*
Colleagues: William, Amber, John, Rachel (MC)
This was the first time I played TLO and it had a nice, slow burn of creepiness. I played the Journalist and spent much of the early game turning nearly everyone on, because I could. In the later game, I clung to the resolve that my sister was alive again and did all I could to protect her. The climax was a bit muddy due to time and my roll to rob the AI of the desire to oppose us. I liked the early scenes laying groundwork for later scenes, and our freedom to make our own decisions within the somewhat structured framework. It was a good game with a great table of players.

Friday 8pm
Event: *The Clay That Woke*
Colleagues: Aaron, Matt, Dev, Paul (GM)
I played a nameless minotaur who worked for a street performer who sucked and blamed his rivals, particularly a fortune teller who made her predictions by allowing insects to crawl over her body. I came up with a better act about selling the audience leaves for them to write their sins on. I would then consume the leaves as “the Devourer of Sins”. Evidently my cleverness bypassed the Krater of Lots completely. I didn’t make a single draw. The other players’ stories were also interesting with memory stones, and proxy duels, and demigods being reborn through polluted fish. Afterward, we had a good discussion of the game’s roots. I’m not sure that it clicks in my head, but Clay is definitely an interesting game.

Saturday 9am
Event: *With Great Power* (playtest)
Colleagues: Danielle, Adam, Paul, Buddha
This time, the cards worked just as well, with the players creating the Red Avenger—given energy projecting powers through an unethical experiment, the Red Avenger had caused some damage when she didn’t know what her powers were and was trying to claim a reputation as a superhero. Also, Rapid Racer—a super-speedy bicycle messenger that needed a hard-to-come-by chemical to survive. He had robbed his parents to get a supply of the chemical and was trying to make up for it. Also, The Heir—a jewel theif who stole a cursed diamond which allowed him to manipulate energy, but also held the consciousness of its previous owners. Also, Hellfire—a fiery being who had made a deal with the devil. He was constantly burning and wore an asbestos suit, while followed by his gang of groupies called “The Hellfire Club.” They faced off against Groupthink—a blind woman who had the power to infect others with her thoughts through touch. With repeated exposure, her powers would completely overwrite the personality of her victims, and she had already unintentionally turned her husband into an unthinking yes-man.
The story we played was really, really great. I’m going to go into it in a little more depth in another post, as I want to pull apart some of the great things that this version of WGP is doing. _This was my favorite game of the convention._ It’s rare for me to say that about my own games.

After this session, I was so happy with my little superhero origins cards that I started pestering people in conversation with my “Wanna make a superhero” schtick. Thanks to all who played.

Saturday 2pm
Event: *Everway* “Saved by Zero”
Colleagues: Grant, Joshua, Sarah, Kat (GM)
Although Kat was using aspects of the Everway system, this was a cyberpunk game with some elements inspired by the RPG _Zero_ from Archangel Entertainment. Due to some elevator issues the session was short and didn’t have quite enough time to develop, but what we did was fun. Being desperate and on the run from a powerful corporation is always great. And we got to use the word “exfitrate” which was awesome. And my fellow players brought a lot to the table.

Between slots, Vinny and JR slaughtered Kat and I in Tichu. It was pitiful. Kat and I were rusty, plus I never had a hand with more than three face cards the whole game. It was 600 to nothing after two hands. We managed to get on the board, but it was a bloodbath.

Saturday 8pm
Event: *Power Play: Schemes and Skullduggery*
Colleagues: Howard, Jeff, Paul
Going in, I didn’t know what to expect from this. It was game of narrative control with some board-gamey elements. The idea is that we each are a criminal with a secret goal and we spend time doing actions and adding traits to things to achieve our goal. The game is trying to find a middle ground between the limited menu of options in a board game and the infinite possiblity of an RPG. I wouldn’t say that the game failed, but it got very legalistic very quickly. The rules weren’t as clear as they could be, and it feels very much like there is a missing piece. I imagine that when the game designers run it, they do certain things without thinking that they never wrote down. I might look at it again if someone were running it who had played it successfully, but I’m certainly not buying it myself.

Sunday 10am
Event: *Serial Homicide Unit*
Colleagues: Michele, Liz, Ephraim, Kat
SHU is just so very heartbreakingly tragic. I love it. We played civilians who were hunted because of our association with the Morristown diner. My character had been eating there every day since his wife kicked him out. He was still paying the mortgage and shoveling the snow and had no idea why she wouldn’t talk to him. When he found out that his best friend was now staying at the house to “help out”, he thanked him and even gave him some money for gas for the snow blower. And then the poor slob was killed by a serial killer. We also had a poor waitress who only wanted to go to Ireland to see her mom, but couldn’t afford it. A waitress who wanted her son to graduate high school, but he already had a shady job on the side. A cook who wanted to open her own restaurant but was blocked at every turn. And a busboy who wanted to land a scholarship and shake the dust of Morristown, NJ from his feet. And all of them but one were cruelly murdered by the serial killer before he skipped town. Man, I love that game.

Can’t wait to do it all over again!

Metatopia 2014

I think this was the best time I’ve had at Metatopia yet, and that’s saying quite a bit. Many thanks to Avie and Vinny and our hard-working hospitable hosts from Double Exposure for making this amazing gathering possible.

*With Great Power* My first moments at the convention were the first playtest of my newly-revised kappa edition of With Great Power. I had a great table, with Lisa Padol, Joshua Kronengold, Lilith Taylor-White and Julia Elingboe. I appreciated their input and their patience as I barreled down blind corners, stumbled over words, and forgot to look at my notes. Despite all of that, and the two-hour timeslot, we managed to tell a great, exciting superhero story that I really wanted to keep playing and find out what happened next. And I valued everyone’s feedback about how the game could improve.

*With Great Power* Early Friday afternoon, I ran my second playtest session, this time with Eppy, Rich Flynn, Christian, Alden, and Dev. The Swords engine stretches right to the edge of its capacity with five players, so the play itself was less developed. But we got to kick the tires a bit harder, both because I could avoid some of the pitfalls of the first session, and knowing when to fast-forward over things to get to the parts in need of testing. The great feedback I got filled two invaluable pages in my cramped scrawl. While I cannot thank everyone enough for their help, I can say that I was glad to get my own sessions done early, and spend the rest of the time being a guinea pig for other people.

*Solar Flare* was one of two different space games that Dev was testing this weekend. This was the lesser-developed of the two, and my sparce notes have things like “‘Answer questions slowly’—what does that mean?” and “What do we do?” The setting has a cool bit of future history of humankind being driven to spread throughout the galaxy due to a solar flare that makes Earth unihabitable. It struggles with several of the same issues as games in that Universalis-space that are very much “make up what you want”. I think that several things here could be fruitfully merged back into Starjump Chronicles to make one stronger game.

*By Word and Deed* was Mel White’s embryonic game of fantasy. With a single mechanical idea of how to apportion narration, and no strong driving situation, the session became more of a focus group than a playtest. Ideas were flying thick and fast about the focus the mechanics gave to play, and whether that was in line with what Mel wanted. Even if we never got past the trolls on the bridge, it was good food for thought.

Friday night I played Keith’s *Ill Counsel* again for the second year in a row. This one went wildly differently from the last one. Partially due to the condensed timeframe, the fiction didn’t really have much time to coalesce, which is very important for this type of game. I lost badly. And the changes Keith had made to patch over some holes in the previous version didn’t quite work as intended. Which is a good thing to learn. The quest for the proper endgame remains an _intriguing_ proposition.

Even though I awoke early Saturday morning, Laura’s *Dreamfall* made it feel as if I hadn’t awoken at all. It’s a Powered by the Apocalypse game where the characters do amazing things in their shared dreamworld. The setting premise is powerful, and Laura excels at asking provocative questions. I played a roofer who had lost the use of his legs in an accident. He dreamed of walking, and of building the White House brick by brick. The game has a lot of promise and I could see that it would truly blossom over a longer timeframe. There’s some work to do on the daytime portion of the game, but it’s a strong start.

Saturday lunchtime I spent like an Intellect Devourer slurping up the wisdom of Epidiah Ravichol, particularly on the topic of a certain game of his that I’m using as a springboard into something else. More pages of cramped notes about game design resulted, as well as the tragic, quintessentially American tale of Ruth Wakefield, inventor of the chocolate chip cookie.

I spent some of Saturday afternoon in panels, like the *Retailer roundtable* with Jim. Also went to the *Hacking Apocalypse World* panel, perhaps better titled as “Watch Vincent squirm while Mark, Mark, Marissa, and Misha say nice things about his game.” I finished up with *Crowdfunding* tips from Fred, Hannah, and Joshua. Lots of food for thought.

Choosing a favorite session at a con like this can be like choosing a favorite child. Emily’s *Heart of the Rose* game was unique in several ways. I rarely get to play in a game with Kat where one of us isn’t facilitating it, so that was wonderful. And I had never gotten a chance to play with Avie before. And her talent was able to imbue drama and gravitas into a time-limited playtest, which was awesome. And watching Emily’s mind work is a thing of wonder. I usually pride myself on knowing which rules are doing what things in an RPG. I’ll honestly say that because we fast-forwarded to the endgame, I really didn’t get the token system. But I could see that Emily did, and it’s always kind of thrilling watching that nigh-scientific attention in action with “try it this way and see what that does.” It was quite a session and I look forward to more about this game.

*Starjump Chronicles* was Dev’s other space game. This one was more developed, lighter and looser. It wins the “most unique mechanic” award from me, for the part of character creation where you choose a song for your character. You then play 30 seconds of each song, and all the other players write an opinion about your character based on the song. It gave rise to the best phrase of the con: “Sinatra is overpowered.” I had fun with this light game, and I think that replayability is going to be a big issue that Dev will need to overcome. When everything is rolled off of lists, those lists can run dry pretty quickly.

Saturday evening was more panels. *Lovecraft WTF?* was Julia, Bill, Ken, and Darren trying to struggle with how to embrace problematic material (Lovecraft, specifically) without also perpetuating its problems. While a few techniques were discussed, they raised issues of their own, and although no one had a surefire way to quell the evil inherent in the Mythos, sometimes struggling against that which will not yeild is the best one can do.

Rob, Cam, Clark and Stephen talked about “Least System Necessary” which prompted me to scribble a line or two in my notebook. I might have personally liked the discussion to include the Lumpley-Boss principle, and games like The Pool, and Once Upon a Time. I didn’t want to be “that guy” in the audience.

*Six Guns Without Master* is Keith’s Swords Without Master hack of the haunted West. We had a great table of Kat, Michele, and Sean. Lots of good color came forth, like a rampaging gray bull, a creepy old man, and a trapper turning into a werewolf. It’s neat to see someone else working in the same design space, and making different choices to mold the same clay into a different shape. Much brainstorming followed.

I don’t know if I can bear to wait until February to see many of you again. I was surprised by the number of people who were surprised to learn that we’re in Allentown, PA. I’m within 90 minute drive of downtown Philly, and willing to come to games! Although December is always crazy, maybe we won’t have to wait until Dreamation. Which is only 102 days away!

Maelstrom 2014: A New Thing Under the Sun

Okay, so my #maelstrom2014 post is a week late. It’s been a busy week. The convention was a good time, as always. Many thanks to Avie and Vinny and the incredible Double Exposure staff for making it happen. I launched three games and played in two.

*Vast & Starlit*
Friday night I was full of nervous energy and wanted to offer something unfamiliar, challenging, that I hadn’t run before. Vast & Starlit filled those points. I pitched the game as “a setting like Farscape run with a system like Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” I got three players, two of which I had never played with before. The start up was a bit rough. We played for two hours and crafted a game that was a bit scattered, and a bit silly. No one really was willing to do _anything_ to be captain. I think the nerves of a new con and a new group made everyone a little less willing to take the lead, and Vast & Starlit definitely needs proactive players. We did get a fun result from the alien species creation rules: A species who are big and strong and intimidating on their low-gravity home planet, but pushovers relative the rest of the galaxy.

*HERO system*
Since my first game finished after only 2 hours, I had a bit of time before bed. Darren Watts was launching a Hero System game. I had never played Hero, but I had once made a character for 4 hours. This session was fun and reminded me of both the strengths and the weaknesses of traditional gaming. I won’t spoil too much of the scenario, but Darren had very cleverly culled a number of ’70s and ’80s action TV shows for characters and setup, and put an interesting spin on the whole package. One of the strengths of traditional play is that the GM’s vision can be fully realized and explored, which is a good thing when the vision is as clever, amusing, and well thought-through as this one. Pondering on how that long-term prep can be brought to bear on the types of games I like is worth thinking about.

*Ganakagok*
Saturday morning I wanted to return to something more comfortable, but that I hadn’t actually played in a while. A return to the island of ice was in order. Rob Bohl, Flavio, Neil, Kat played our Nitu preparing to see the sun rise for the first time. The Ganakagok tarot, and our imaginations, worked their magic once more, and the specifics of our setting were really great. The island was an ice crust on the back of massive beluga whales. They came together to mate once a generation, and the peoples from the various islands would trade, intermarry, visit family, and the like. We only got through three scenes, but I felt it was enough to get a sense of myth and majesty. In the end, the rising of the sun drove the whales to dive deep, where the people could not follow. Luckily, the people were able to find solid land and prosper there, even though they cast out the one who led them there and forgot the ways of their ancestors. The sheets from this game were donated to Phredd & Krista’s project.

*Lunch*
Not technically a game, but one of the best times I had. Bill White, Marissa Kelley, Brendan Conway, Kat Miller, Mark Diaz Truman, Rich Flynn and I laughed over topics ranging from hacking D&D4 to make it amenable to the tastes of story gamers, to new AW hacks being developed, to that time that Hawkeye saved the entire multiverse. Really. He did.

*Four-Color Process*
James Fry gave quite the thought-provoking panel on racism in superhero comics. I wanted to hear other perspectives on the issue–thoughts that would take me outside my own head and my own biases as I continue to ponder the revision of With Great Power. I was not disappointed. James and his fellow panelists, Kirk Etienne and Cornell Green, gave me quite a bit to think about, and I greatly appreciate their time and insight.

*Everway*
The Saturday evening slot was overstuffed with GMs and unattached players were rare on the ground. So Kat and I grabbed a table with our friends Adrian Stein, Joann Clarke-Stein and played some Everway. Although the “adventure” was called “One Day and Three Knights” we did not make much progress. We had too fun making characters and laughing until our sides ached.

*Heroine*
Sunday morning Kat and I wanted to close out the con with something different. Avie had specifically requested that someone be willing to offer up Heroine, so we did. Our group consisted of Joshua Kronengold, Lisa Padol, Phredd Groves, Kat Miller. Kat played a heroine named Diane who was being forced to move from the suburbs into the city because of her father’s work. While unpacking “the Takers” came and stole her parents, and Diane had to venture into a far-off land to rescue them. Along the way, she met a cat looking for investors to help build his railroad, a perpetually indecisive planner covered in eyes, and a wyvern who painted landscapes. She also delivering a mysterious message from the Night King to the Queen of the Sun. It turns out it was a marriage proposal, and for her services in setting up the nuptials, her parents were returned to her and she was returned home. The game is interesting. I’m _really_ glad that I made the player reference cards that I did. Some of the most important rules are buried inside long paragraphs. I found it very difficult to get enough drama points as the narrator in order to do anything. But I really enjoyed the game, and I think I’ll add it to my regular bag as a pick up game.

Maelstrom was a fun time. I’ll post my thoughts on the convention structure separately, but it was a fun time and we’re looking forward to adding this to our regular convention rotation.

DEXCON 16: No such thing as “too much fun”

Just got back from a tremendously, awesomely fun weekend at DEXCON! Many thanks to the wonderful Double Exposure staff who put on such a great show, as always.

Due to holiday obligations, our convention started on Friday morning. During event signup, I had wanted to run an extra game to expand the schedule, but knew I wouldn’t have time to prep. One of my favorite zero prep games is InSpectres, so I dusted that off. Many of the folks at the table were relatively new to these strange little games we play, and had only heard of InSpectres as a game from years past. Well, we were able to breathe some life back into its aged bones!

My wonderfully creative players (Marcus, Sarah, Irven, Mitch, and Tim) populated the franchise with colorful employees, ranging from interns, failed librarians, and serial tech-start-up guy to a failed voice actor and a former garbage man who now wanted to take out the paranormal trash! They finished and billed two cases. The first was a case of a sudden, sustained downpour of blood at the food court at the zoo. Turns out that one of the zoo’s acquisitions was cursed. It required a exorcism with a song in multiple voices. Luckily, the voice artist came to the rescue. In their second mission, our working stiffs faced a series of disappearances in a condominium complex. When investigating, they heard voices from the upstairs bedroom. They approached and heard more clearly the words “The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in a crazy, mixed-up world like this.” Opening the door to the bedroom, on they other side, in glorious black and white, was the entire airport set from Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman performing the last scene. Of course, the intern was rounded up as one of the usual suspects and pulled into the film just before the end. They managed to rescue him, banish the haunting, return all those disappeared, and face down an entire black and white cavalry regiment. All in a day’s work for the InSpectres.

During the second session, I ran a playtest of the newest revision of With Great Power. I had six players (Amy, Tim, Nick?, Patrick, Jenny, and Dave?), but only five characters. Pat volunteered to sit out, but I was able to use him as the minions of my super villains. It was a fun game, and revealed many of the very rough edges of the latest rules draft. Our heroes were all superhuman mutants who attended a secret school, learning to use their powers to help humans and mutants coexist in peace. Of course, both the would-be Empress of Mutantkind and a group of human supremacists attacked the school simultaneously. We had to cut the session short due to a scheduling mishap, but in comic book terms, that means that we’d leave the reader hungry for issue #2.

After dealing with an inept waiter at the Famished Frog, we returned for the evening time slot. It was my first time running Monsterhearts as a convention game. Of my four players (Karin, Ami, Kathy, and Christian), all were familiar with the genre, but only one had played the game before. I like teaching games, so that was no trouble at all. We had a Queen, an Infernal, a Witch, and a Ghost. At the start of the game, it looked like the rivalry between the Witch, who knew real magick, and the Queen, whose popularity was based on everyone thinking she knew real magic, would be the driving force of the game. As it ended up, the engine of conflict was more and more about the Infernal doing worse and worse things to appease his dark master. It was a fun session, accompanied with the comment, “This is what high school was like. Why do we want to relive this?”

Saturday morning, I ran Monsterhearts again. This time, my four players (John, Andi, Sarah, and Neil?) chose the Werewolf, the Fae, the Ghost, and the Ghoul. All of the players had played or MCed Monsterhearts before, so setup was a breeze. I’m not as skilled at asking provocative questions as I ought to be, but after just a little stumbling, we launched into a tale filled with: one of the school teachers blaming himself for the Ghost’s death and planning to sacrifice a student to bring her back; the Fae having sex and extracting promises from an NPC Chosen and druggie; the Werewolf eviscerating several members of the rival football team; and the Ghoul being immolated in a burning house, but getting up and being just dandy later. Which is just what you want from a session of this game.

Saturday afternoon was my first slot as a player, and I was able to get into a game of Dog Eat Dog, which I’ve been hearing good things about. Keith Stetson facilitated, and my fellow players were Irven, Natalie, and Jim. This game of colonialism and its effects on both the occupier and the natives was interesting in its simplicity. It is very smart and elegant and I could see it becoming very, very brutal. One of our constraints was that the occupying culture did not use spoken language. They used sign language and semaphore. I think that working within this constraint probably prevented the occupation player from developing any distinct characters on his side. It was a very interesting experience and I’m interested in getting a copy.

After dealing with a different, surly waiter at the Famished Frog, I came back to run my second session of With Great Power. My four players (Markus, Jonathan, Kat, and Blair) were all excellent role-players. They brought out the delicious, delectable angst inherent in the Mutant Academy characters. Due to some rules revisions, the fight scene went more smoothly this time. By “more smoothly” I meant as far as the players using the rules and the dice. Not “more smoothly” for the characters, who saw the villains burn the Mutant Academy to the ground, and make off with the data core that held all the mutant research and their secret identities! More rough edges were revealed, and I’ve got my work cut out for me. It was a very fun session and the game’s moving in the right direction.

Sunday morning, I got to playtest Bill White’s new game The New World with Clark and Amanda Valentine. It is also a game about colonization, but much crunchier than Dog Eat Dog. The game uses playing cards as a sort of oracle for creating the setting, culture, and characters. One of the most interesting wrinkles is that the game requires a native culture, a newcomer culture, and an outsider culture, that is somehow distinctive from both. We created a powerful native society that was obsessed with building golden temples to their dead kings. The outsiders were the hungry, overworked miners that brought them gold and built the temples. The newcomers were a commercial fleet arriving with tons of their own gold to undersell the outsiders, which would have left them to starve. Due to impending long drives, we only played a single round, but my dowager queen was ahead in Legacy points. We gave Bill what I think were a lot of helpful suggestions, and I look forward to this game as it continues to evolve.

As always, DEXCON was great. Thanks to all!