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.

Ten Favorite Mechanics #4 – Vision Cards from Everway

A blast from the bygone era of 1995, here’s the oldest game to make my list.

#4 – Vision Cards from Everway

How do you make a character in Everway? Easy. Look at a bunch of beautiful fantasy art, pick a few images that inspire you, and tell a story about them. There’s a handful of numbers on the character sheet and a tarot-like fortune deck, but the vision cards are where the magic lies in Everway. I’ve heard more attention-grabbing, vivid characters made in the first few minutes of Everway games than I have anywhere else. Why?

  • They’re simple. Nearly anyone who’s imaginative enough to play RPGs can look at a group of pictures and make up a story about them.
  • They engage different parts of the brain than words do. Pictures are perceived information. Words are received information–they need to be decoded to be understood. Pictures can set off players’ imaginations instantly.
  • They’re fast. There’s no fighting over access to books, or waiting for the GM to explain character options one at a time. Everyone grabs a bunch of cards and looks through them simultaneously. Plus, the selection of cards conveys a wealth of information about setting, color, and tone instantly.
  • They encourage good communication. After you’ve chosen your cards, you explain what they say about your character to the rest of the players. This sets an immediate precedent for vividly imagining the game world, describing it to the group, and the other players paying attention to your contributions.
  • They short-circuit shyness and “writer’s block.” For shy players, the “show and tell” aspect of physically handling the cards allows them to be imaginative, while talking about something other than themselves. They can use the cards as a focus for the conversation. Plus, the rich imagery of the cards provide input to the imagination, priming the pump to get people started on making stuff up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone draw a blank when making Everway characters.
  • They encourage group involvement. Other players will ask clarifying questions about the details of the pictures. “Does your sword look like this one, or are you just saying your character is a warrior?” Even better is when more than one player chooses the same card. We know instantly that their characters are connected. Explaining how sets off another burst of creativity!

Up next: …but if I win, your girlfriend marries the nefarious Dr. Venom!