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.

Dreamation 2011: Mice and Ice, Mystery, Lycanthropy, and Identity

My head cold is just as bad now as it was when I arrived at Dreamation, but I feel a whole lot better.

After one of the most trying months of my life, we managed to make it through the wilds of New Jersey on Friday night, with barely an hour to spare. I ran my tried-and-true Mouse Guard scenario “The Spring Thaw” with five great players, including Ralph Mazza and Andrew Morris. While it didn’t quite soar, it was a good solid run, with the mice decimating the fox and then convincing the selfish town captain to abandon his wicked ways. It likely should have been a bit more challenging, but with the stress and the cold, I didn’t have it in me.

Saturday morning was Ganakagok. When the schedule was forming up, I noticed that no one was running Ganakagok or With Great Power… Those two games had been run at every IGE at Dreamation since we started in 2005. I didn’t feel that they should both go down the same year, so I signed up to run Ganakagok. And I’m sure glad I did. The game has never failed to deliver for me. Something about the imagery of the tarot manages to effortlessly bring everyone onto the same page. As before, my adversity may have been a bit weak, but the Medicine economy more than made up for it. The hearth-fire of judgment rose, and melted all the unworthy Nitu, leaving Ralph’s urgent prophet to become the new divine leader.

Saturday afternoon afforded me the opportunity to play in a game. Luckily there was a seat in Kat’s “A Taste for Murder” game. It was my first time playing, and I really enjoyed it. Our household was a rank nest of dysfunction, debauchery, and betrayal. Jeff Collyer’s cook turned out to be the murderer, but we were terrible people, all of us.

Saturday night enabled us to have dinner with Bill Segulin at the Famished Frog, which is a grand, rejuvenating tradition. It was great to see Bill, even if only briefly.

Saturday night, I was supposed to run Mouse Guard and had a full complement signed up, but only Sam Zell actually appeared at the table. He quickly found something cooler to do, and so did I. Buddha Davis, George, Jason Morningstar and I adjourned to a quiet suite to play Love in the Time of Seið. I’m so far out of the loop these days, I hadn’t even heard of the game. But playing it I can see how it builds on older designs, with a strong game design aesthetic of its own. I played The Princess, and really enjoyed watching as, over the course of 3 hours, she matured from a naive and romantic girl, to an overreaching young woman unsure of her own power, to a powerful, decisive beast who still had the heart to mourn for what she had lost. It’s a great game.

Sunday morning we had another heaping helping of angst for breakfast, in a great game of Serial Homicide Unit. The profile was “people working on our second chances.” It’s cool to see patterns in your games when you run them enough. With six players (which we had), there’s always at least a bit of silly. This time it was the balloon animals that the serial killer left at the crime scenes. But, the game also consistently delivers at least one moment of full-fledged audience investment and sympathy for one of the civilians. This time, it was a male-to-female transgender person just trying to get a fair shake from her boss. She succeeded and everyone cheered. And the next moment we opened a small envelope to learn she had been cruelly murdered. I really, really love that game.

I barely got to chat with anyone. I didn’t get to play or shop or hang out nearly as much as I wanted to. But that’s okay. I dusted off my gamer-skin, and tugged it on, and it still fit. As life requires me to put it back in mothballs for a few more months, just the memory of its return will be a comfort.

Thanks to all who helped make such a great con.

Origins 2010 – Chaos Incarnate!

Maybe so many years of really, really great years at Origins set the bar too high. Maybe the staff and software changes at GAMA came too late to be truly integrated into convention management. Maybe the stars were just wrong. Whatever the reason, Origins 2010 was plagued with numerous drawbacks and pitfalls. On the whole, the people made for a positive experience, but I was left wondering if we’ll return next year.

Tuesday

Tuesday was a mad, hectic rush for last-minute preparation. Bill came out and we stayed up too late, but somehow everything got done. Not much different than any other convention.

Wednesday

Wednesday is the day to drive, and drive we did. Bruce, Michele, Bill, Kat and I all piled into Bruce’s minivan and set out away from the rising sun. We made good time, reached Columbus by 4:00pm, and soon learned of the chaos that awaited us.

In the events book, none of Kat’s events listed a GM name or a location. None of the seminars listed a location. None of the events listed a game system. Evidently, this lack of location had been caught shortly before the convention started, but the revised information was not disseminated to anyone we were able to speak to. We spoke to people at GM/event HQ, at RPG HQ, at Customer Service, and we continually got variations of “I don’t know. The person who would know is around here somewhere, but I don’t know where.” This was the beginning of frustration incarnate.

Because of these scheduling issues, ALL of Kat’s games had no players. With no game system listed, people who wanted to try out With Great Power… or Serial Homicide Unit couldn’t know that the events were in those game systems. With no GM name listed, players who had played in Kat’s games previously could not know that she was running them, and that they’d be fun no matter the game system. It was very, very rough on her to sit at empty table after empty table.

A note to myself for future big cons (like Origins and GenCon) that have a long a storied history of screwing up event registration. It consists mostly of breaking their registration rules, because they don’t follow the rules themselves.

  • Include the name of the game system in the event title. Even if the instructions say not to.
  • Include the name of the game system in the event description. Even if the instructions say not to.
  • Include the GM’s name in the event description. Even if … etc., etc.
  • Publicize your events yourself as much as possible. Include a fallback location where interested players who follow you online can meet up with you if the convention staff screws up. I’ll need to set up Twitter for this.

Okay. Vented about that enough, I think.

Even though Kat’s Wednesday night event folded with no players, I had five great players for Mouse Guard. I ran “The Pirates of Rustleaf” which is a cool introductory adventure where the players get to fight red-furred mouse pirates. The players had various levels of familiarity with the comic and the game, but they all knew what they were doing by the end, and we had a great time. I believe I got asked “Are you the same Michael Miller that wrote With Great Power…” which is always surprising and gratifying.

Thursday

Thursday morning I ran the classic With Great Power… scenario “A League of Their Own,” where the heroes have no hero licence, and need to earn one. I had five enthusiastic players, and we had a great time. I haven’t actually GMed WGP in close to two years, and it was enlightening to see it from such a distance. I can see what really works and makes the game sing, and what simply pushes my buttons, but confuses and distracts most people. All that stuff will go into the revision.

Thursday afternoon was supposed to be Kat’s LARP, but after that disappointing lack of turnout (we had one player), I spent the rest of the time trying to find out where Luke and Jared’s seminars were supposed to be. Again, the same worthless wall of ignorance, with only one volunteer taking any initiative to say “I don’t know where it’s supposed to be, but I know that this room isn’t used, so I’ll do everything I can to direct people in here.” Thanks to Luke & Jared’s mastery of Twitter, the seminars were fairly well attended, and went well. Afterward, I chatted w/ Luke, Thor, and Dro, then Kat and I retired early.

Friday

Eight o’clock Friday morning found me running Mouse Guard again. This time, the scenario was “The Spring Thaw,” which is essentially “Deliver the Mail” from the rulebook with a few Miller-ian twists. Again, a varied group of experience with the rules and setting material. It’s always fun when I’m explaining things and someone says “can I FoRK in my wise?” because I know exactly where their experience comes from. A great experience.

Friday afternoon was (finally) lunch at the North Market! Then some shopping, which was curtailed because I had run out of people to buy gifts for (had trouble finding anything I wanted for myself), and mostly because my foot hurt like the Dickens. (Did I mention that my first gout flareup in over 2 years started on the Monday before Origins? Fun.) I rested for a few hours, and then went to dinner w/ my roommates.

After dinner, Michele, Bill, Joanna, Philip and I played in a pickup session of the With Great Power game Kat was scheduled to run that morning. It’s a fantasy comic book scenario called “Dragon-napped” where no one is quite who they seem to be. We had a lot of fun, but with an 8:00AM game on the schedule, I had to hit the hay before the game was over. Good, juicy, melodramatic stuff, though.

Saturday

My last Mouse Guard game was another rousing rendition of “The Pirates of Rustleaf.” Another fun time, but I think I’ve made the scenario too morally ambiguous, as the session descended into discussion of “what should we do about this.” I wasn’t on the ball enough to force them into a duel of wits at the table, which would have solved it, but that felt more like a BW solution rather than a MG one.

Got to do some shopping with Kat that afternoon, and then sat in for Luke and Jared’s “Game Design is Mind Control” seminar, which was good and thought provoking (and well attended! 35 people). I got to watch the group play Action Castle! and observed the interesting social dynamics that develop. Luke and I then did our “Self Publishing Crash Course” seminar where we barrage the audience with nearly two decades of game publishing experience in less than two hours.

After that, a quiet dinner with Kat, and then we got to observe a Luke, Dro, Thor, and Kira playing Danger Patrol. It’s a fairly loose game with lots of cool-stuff-generation baked right in. Still some rough spots, though. It was fun to watch the guys plays and taunt each other. Dro is exceeding dangerous with his love beam.

Sunday

Packing, shopping, chatting, and driving. And driving. But we made it home and on the whole, it was a good con. There were just a whole lot of bumps along the way. Will we return next year? Only time will tell.

Moving, and SHU on Actual People, Actual Play

Due to the increase in intrusive advertising and other technical issues, I’ll be leaving LiveJournal for the greener pastures of WordPress. My new blog is Multitudinous Seas. I’ll be posting updates here at least through the 10 Favorite Mechanics series, but eventually I’ll be posting over there exclusively.

I have the day off work Monday and a ton of errands, so no post in the 10 Favorite Mechanics series. However, I just listened to the most amazing podcast review of Serial Homicide Unit! Will, Laura, and Jesse recorded an episode of Actual People, Actual Play with great attention to detail and insight into the game. If my occasional posts about the game have left you with any doubt about whether Serial Homicide Unit is a game you’d enjoy, please take 25 minutes and listen to this podcast. It takes the game apart, describes how it works and what kind of fun is in it. Great thanks to the APAP crew!

One bright spot of interaction

The only time I can recall online discussion of a game of mine making me smile was an ancient RPG.net thread that called FVLMINATA the “worst initiative system of all time.” I relished the fact that I had outraged someone’s (several people’s, actually) sensibilities.

I’m a moderate at heart. I’m not in-your-face. I’m not offensive. But I still can’t wipe the smile off my face when I recall that thread.

Should I be doing more of that kind of thing? Should I be more assertive and controversial? I dislike when people generate controversy to garner attention. I find it cheapens any interaction.

But I’ve still got some assertive, controversial things to say. I just say them nicely. Serial Homicide Unit says to society and fanboy culture: “Your fixation on violence and identification with criminal behavior is wrong. It is sick and twisted. You’re on the wrong side.” It is a subversive game that puts the lie to its genre.

And nobody plays it.

Maybe I should be more controversial for the most American of reasons: To make more money.

I don’t know the answer to this. I’ve got to ruminate on it some more.

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:

Tuesday
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.

Wednesday
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.

Thursday
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
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
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.

Sunday
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.

Serial Homicide Unit–Download a Demo!

The audio demo of Serial Homicide Unit is now available here.

Russell Collins, our esteemed narrator, has produced a brilliantly atmospheric and informative demo that is FULLY PLAYABLE. The recorded instructions are a bit longer than 7 minutes. They provide step-by-step instructions for playing a brief demo of Serial Homicide Unit. The demo is provided in MP3 format, and is 13.5MB. Feel free to link to this demo from wherever you think appropriate.

Try it for free. Protect the innocent. Hunt down a killer.