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.

Camp Nerdly 2012: Criminal, Villain, Tribute, Puppet

Camp Nerdly 2012 was a really great time. Thanks to all who made camp possible and run so very smoothly. I played a number of unsavory characters early in the con and then put on my white hat to finish off the convention on a positive note.

Friday night saw Kat, Remi, Georgianna, and me playing in Rachel Walton’s Burning Wheel game. It was centered on a group of young theives who had been captured, imprisoned, and sentenced to a life a slave labore in an overseas penal colony. I think that Friday night frayed nerves after hours of travelling were responsible for the tension and difficulty that reared up in the first half of the game. The inter-character conflict soared to eleven by the time we were shipwrecked on the beach. After a break, we came back and worked out how our characters fit into this new society: Could they make lives for themselves? In the end, my character’s brother, played by Kat, sacrificed himself to keep my hands clean. It was a sad, terrible thing, but I let him take the fall and felt like a worthless coward for doing it. Which is how a game about thieves should go, don’t you think?

Saturday morning enabled me to get in on a playtest of Dave Berg’s game In My Clutches. It’s a game of supervillains and their nefarious plans. It has rotating GMship, and each player portrays their villain as well as an NPC that is central to the story of another villain. My main villain was Captain Fahrenheit, who could control temperature. He had gone to the school of hard knocks and didn’t quite understand how to best use his powers for personal gain. He couldn’t even reconcile with his wife. Since his wife was a star reporter and devoted to noble causes like saving the planet and social justice, Captain Fahrenheit decided he would find a way to use his awesome powers to end global warming. However, he had to make her think that he had already had his powers surgically removed, because she would kick him out again otherwise.

It was a really fun game. I probably got more mileage out of playing my guest star: Captain Metropolis, champion of the city. She was being wooed by one of the other supervillains: King Orziman, a pseudo-Doctor Doom character. He succeeded amazingly well at his rolls and convinced her that he was walking the straight and narrow, purging the corrupt officials from his government that had led him astray. In the final endgame, it was revealed that his plan all along had been to sire a child with Captain Metropolis, and raise the child to … wait for it … TAKE OVER THE WORLD.

It’s a nice, tight little game that produces a lot of fun narrative constraint through play. I’d probably tweak the math a bit to make it easier to play a complete story in a single session, but that’s Dave’s call. Maybe an explicit “one-shot mode” and “extended play mode” or the like is called for, similar to MLwM’s “start with one Love and 2-3 points of Fear for a single session game” guideline. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of this game.

Saturday afternoon, I managed to squeeze into Arnold Cassell’s game of the Mountain Witch. I had never played before, and it was very educational. I can see now why trust mechanics were such a big thing back in the day. The giving rules weight to interaction between players was very nice. I suck at the whole “guess what other players’ secret agendas” are bit, even in board games. So, I ignored that part and just played my character. It was fun. We confronted the Mountain Witch about halfway through. He had all sorts of surreal demons and the like at his service, and lived in a palace that floated on a lake of magma. And his evil plot was … publishing books! I put an end to the Witch quickly, beheading him and revealing that I served another master. Unfortunately, one of the other ronin wanted revenge against me, and got it, blowing my head off with a blunderbuss. Highly charged testosterone-soaked action for the win!

Saturday evening, we played Kat’s new hack for Serial Homicide Unit, inspired by The Hunger Games. We we playing tributes in the first annual Hunger Games, a year after the end of the war. We did chose our tributes based on our district, and detailed what was special about us that would make the odds in our favor. I was from the livestock district. My name was Buck and the odds were in my favor because I could handle large animals. We then added why we needed to live. For Buck, it was because he had just gotten engaged. Then, we each listed one reason why the odds were not in our favor, and passed our sheet to the left where that player added another obstacle to our success, and so on. Buck had all kinds of problems: He didn’t think very quickly. He couldn’t stand lizards. We then played out little scenes where our tributes faced these challenges. To resolve the scene, we chose one of two cards. Underneath the card was either a silver parachute, to show that this experience would help us in the arena, or a firework, to show us that this experience would bring us closer to death.

Once we had played some tribute scenes, we all added a detail to the arena. This time, the arena was the urban wasteland that had formerly been the capital of district 13. It was filled with still-burning fires, flying lizards that spit poison, mutant rats that hunted in packs, unexploded mines and sinkholes. On the first round, all the tributes names were put in a fishbowl. One was drawn out, and that one would have to face one of the terrors of the arena. Just when we were about to see whether they lived or not, we would go to the cards. Remember the cards we were building up during the tribute scenes with the parachutes or fireworks on them? Well, we’d shuffle those cards, and add a random one from the deck and then choose one to see if we survived the obstacle. I died pretty quickly, diving for cover into a nest of flying lizards. It was tragic. A very good game and I look forward to Kat developing it more.

Sunday morning, I finally got to play Puppetland, after wanting to do so since I first bought the game umpteen years ago. It was a lot of fun, building on the game that the other players had done last year at Camp Nerdly. I was a lumberjack marionette named Jack Timber that could chop things with my axe, inspire others to do their work, and could not lie, not even to spare someone’s feelings. Dave’s puppet, Splotch Flaggy, had eaten several of Punch’s evil minons in the last game and was slowly being corrupted from within. I plainly stated that to anyone who asked, including an innocent little finger puppet who ran off crying (to her death!). It was sad and heartbreaking. I like the narrative constraints of speaking differently for players versus GM. I’m very glad I got to play.

And I’m very glad we went back to Camp Nerdly.

Camp Nerdly 4: A Wonderful Weekend in the Woods

Camp Nerdly was a wonderful, awesome time this year. So very, very glad we went. Much thanks to all I played with, chatted with, or just smiled at. All of you reminded me why we do this thing called “play.”

It’s been a while since I played. Nearly none since Dreamation three months ago. So my pre-convention jitters were in full swing this week, building up to Friday. We overpacked the car, set off two hours later than planned, and were on our way south of the Mason-Dixon for gamer-geek fun. With fuel stops and traffic and some directional snafus, we didn’t check in until 8PM. Which was far better than our 10:30 check-in at Camp Nerdly 1.

After unloading our stuff, I joined a game of Shadow Hunters with a bunch of folks I barely knew and enjoyed the social level of the game. It was a nice way to ease into the weekend. I had never played before, and Shadow Hunters is one of those BANG!-like bluffing games where you need to sniff out other players’ factions. I’m not a big fan of that genre of game, and some of the nitty-gritty didn’t seem to add much. But I enjoyed the experience greatly.

Tired from our drive, Kat and I turned in early. Tossed and turned a bit, but finally managed to get to sleep by 2:30 AM, which is when Bill White came a’knockin’ at the cabin door. Seems he just got in, and needed to get to his room, and I had thoughtlessly latched all the doors from the inside! It was kinda like the reverse rapture, with gamers appearing out of nowhere!

Saturday morning started with a nice leisurely breakfast (BTW, thanks so much to everyone who cooked! Everything was wonderful!). Rob Bohl had mentioned that he was really looking forward to playing My Life with Master with me. The best time slot was right that morning, so we gathered a great group of players (Rob, Sam Z., Buddha, Tim and Zack) and got started. Most had played before, but some had not. We changed the setting to 60s counter-culture drug cult. The town was a remote logging village in Washington state. The Master was a charismatic genius who was testing proto-LSD, and far stranger pharmaceuticals on the townspeople. He needed to keep the approval of his paymasters in the Pentagon, or else they’d send him back to ‘Nam. We had very cool minions like the brutal drug smuggler who could convince anyone of anything, as long as he was in his van. And the chemistry graduate student who couldn’t say anything unless he could provide a proper citation.

Due to the late start, car moving, and the like, we didn’t get to finish before lunchtime. It was a good experience, but the game itself would have gotten so very much better if we’d had another 90 minutes to play!

One delectable lunch and a bit of chore-time later, I could have wedged myself into Kat’s awesome-looking Everway game, but didn’t want to dilute the fun. Two folks were running a game I read over a decade ago, but never got to play: Puppetland. I was seriously tempted to play, but I also wanted to try out the game of Microscope that Andy K was going to be demoing an hour later, so I just watched. It looked like a heap of fun.

Instead, I played Microscope. We knew we were breaking the game before we started, as bringing seven players (Andy K., JACN, Rob, Seth, me, Julia, Giulianna, and Will) to a game intended for three or four is not the best choice for awesome play. But as the purpose was demo, more than play, we all accepted that and worked on the story of how the refugees from a religious war eventually rebuilt a high-tech hunter-gatherer society on their own world and reconnected with interstellar society at large. It was an interesting story. Perhaps a bit too cerebral, but we were all thinking hard about learning the rules.

On the whole, I was a bit underwhelmed by Microscope. Not by the fiction we created, that was cool. I was hoping for something more robust in the rules beyond structured brainstorming. While the strict guidelines on when you can collaborate and when you can’t are interesting, I’m not sure that they really serve to enable the group to explore material they wouldn’t have, simply by sitting down at a table and talking. Still, I might buy the PDF and look it over.

After a tasty ziti dinner, I managed to take a seat in one of my new favorite convention games: A Taste For Murder. We had a fantastic group: Joanna, Connie, Sarah, Rachel and Dave Cleaver. We portrayed the backstabbing, incestuous Bridgewater house. I was the droll butler Wilberforce. Sadly, not enough players hated me enough to kill me, and as I somehow rolled very well when Inspector Chapel looked into my past, I’m sorry to say that this time the butler did not do it. Instead, the busybody family friend was done in by her own daughter, who didn’t know she was her daughter. As often happens, the game slid toward silly territory as the night wore on. But I didn’t mind. I was too busy laughing.

After a better night’s sleep, a fine breakfast, and some delectable chatting with friends, we headed back north. But Camp Nerdly 5 can’t come too soon for me!