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.

#WithGreatProduction 16 August 2015

Not much time for an topical post. I’ve had my most productive week of writing since immediately after DEXCON, but I’ve still got a lot to do in the next two weeks.

I had dinner with Rob Bohl this week and that managed to knock my head into a better place than the mire it was caught in last week. No slight to Rob, but it wasn’t so much anything specific about the conversation as much at the simple act of having the conversation, and needing put my thoughts into words that helped. Writing can become a very solipicistic activity and getting lost in one’s own head is a constant danger.

I’m not a very talkative person in general, and I need to continually remind myself how important it is to talk and listen to put vaguely-defined thoughts into definite words, if nothing else.

Status
I finished the phase overviews!

Goals for Next Week
So much to do in only 15 days! I need to write up the endgame (known as “Gloating Mode”). I also need to start on the introduction and gameplay overview (Yes, I always write the introduction last. Always).

If I can keep up the rate that this week has been, I can do it. Fingers crossed. See ya in seven!

#WithGreatProduction: 2 August 2015

Project management is a skill that I’ve picked up through bits and pieces, successes and failures, trial and error. You need to realistically assess what a project requires: How many resources? What skills? How many hours? You need to make a plan that will get all those ingredients together in the right order and on the right schedule. You need to keep that plan moving on pace, and you need to be able to adapt when that plan proves unworkable. When parts of the plan require more work than initially estimated, you need to be able to keep the whole thing moving, and still moving toward the same goal.

As both the game designer and the project manager, it’s easy to get distracted and lose sight of what I need to be working on right now while planning the bigger picture. One thing I use to keep myself focused is an array of lists. Within a few days of a playtest, I make a list of all feedback, and categorize each item as something to change, or something to consider. I don’t make the changes at that point, but my list is all ready for me when I come back to it. Likewise, ass I’m writing, if I change the way a rule works, I don’t open up InDesign and change it on the rules summary sheet. I put it on the list of changes to that sheet. Or if an idea for a sidebar pops into my head while I’m writing a rule, I’ll add it to my list of sidebars, with a few words to remind myself later what I’m thinking about. It allows me to keep focused on the task at hand. Likewise, I have a list of potential topics for this blog.

The other way my lists help me is that, realistically, I don’t have the same skills available all the time. I find game text very taxing to write, so I need to prioritize it on early weekend mornings, or very early weekday evenings, when my brain is freshest. Entering simple changes or laying out sheets or cards is easier for me, so I can work on those tasks at off-peak hours when I have less energy. My lists make that possible.

Status
I wrote the troublesome “overview of phases” section three different ways. I don’t particularly like any of them, but I’m certain I’ll be able to edit together their strongest points into a single overview.

Goals for Next Week
Edit the single overview and write out two of the specific phases.

#WithGreatProduction: 26 July 2015

I had forgotten how much of a different beast writing game text is compared to designing procedures and character sheets, and simply explaining things verbally.

Writing is so slow, at least for me. It gives me too much time to think. I’ll write a sentence, consider how it meshes with the tone of the section and the overall shape of the instructional text I’m writing. Is it too long? Could it be simpler, more straightforward? Does it move the idea forward after the last sentence? Does it setup the next sentence? Is this even the best way to present these ideas? Should I switch to a top-down / bottom-up / metaphorical / “just the facts” / evocative approach? Do I need to give the players more tools to spark to their imaginations? Do I need to back off and let them play the game their way, rather than mine?

It wasn’t so bad in the Hero Creation section, as I’ve verbally explained Hero Creation again and again during playtests. But I don’t really explain gameplay at the table as much as outline it and demonstrate it. Because of this, the writing of this “How To Play The Game” section is going even slower than usual. (This is also the reason why the GM portion of my games are always the hardest for me to design, because I never explain them, I just do them. If I take WGP back to Metatopia this year, I’ll be testing the ability to have a player be the villain player with no prior prep or experience.)

To break this impasse, this week I intend to speed-write the section I’m stuck on several different ways, knowing beforehand that most or all of that writing is going to get thrown out. If nothing else, surrounding the problem and attacking it from different angles will at least allow me to fail faster, and rule out ways not to explain the game.

Status
Finally finished the Villain Creation and Villain Plan section! It somehow metamorphosed into a thicket of oracles and sub-oracles right before my eyes!

Unexpected projects at work and illness of family members joined forces like a pair of supervillains to rob me of most of my writing time this week. I wrote a few paragraphs of the Phases summary, but didn’t make much headway. Luckily, my schedule included allowances for these sort of delays.

Goals for Next Week
Finish the summary of the Phases (Which now that I look at it, may end up longer than I anticipated) and the description of at least one Phase.

#WithGreatProduction 19 July 2015

So, at DEXCON, I mentioned to Clark Valentine that I had been designing With Great Power in character sheets and quick-starts, and therefore had effectively no “real game text” written yet. He asked for more details, so here it goes.

More than a year ago, the always-insightful John Stavropoulos wrote about how vital character sheets and quick-start rules summaries are for RPGs. They are the user interface of your game. Most likely, only one or two people at the table is ever going to read your game’s rulebook, but every single player is going have a character sheet. That is going to be their portal into the game world—the piece of paper they will be looking at all session long, every session. John’s point was that character sheets and quick-starts should not be treated as an afterthought to game text, but should take a central role in game design.

John is absolutely right. I’ve been trying to design With Great Power to work with dice for more than three years now. I’ve gone through ten major “restart from scratch” revisions. And all of that design work was carried out on character sheets, quick-starts, and notes to myself. I play and playtest games almost entirely at conventions. Getting simple, clear, quick-to-understand information into the hands of the players is vital. I need the players to know their options, have reminders at hand, and maybe even be a tiny bit inspired by the source material. Writing rules text gives me _none_ of that.

At least in the style of role-playing games that I design, when you’re at the stage of testing when you need to know if a set of rules actually does what you hope it will, precisely how those rules are phrased is irrelevant. Put a reminder of the rule on the character sheet. Summarize it in a bullet point in a rules summary. Jot yourself a note with any clarifications. If the rule helps players say interesting things during the actual playtest, then you can take the time to write it up, seeking out the right words to teach it through text. If the rule doesn’t achieve your goals, changing it is just a bullet point away.

Status:
Finished Hero Creation section. The Villain Creation section expanded considerably while I was writing it (I was going to put section on Villain Plans later in the text, but decided they should really be with Villain Creation), so I’m not quite done with Villain Creation, but I’m happy with the progress. Wrote a few sidebars as I went. Started on the playtester survey form, which I’ll fill in as I go.

Goal for Next Week:
Finish Villain Plans. Write the introduction to Phases (what they are, how they work, general guidelines), and the description of at least one of the four types of Phase. And more sidebars. I can’t write a game about superheroes without sidebars!

See ya in seven!

#WithGreatProduction: 12 July 2015

No, it is not 1999 all over again. I am, however, doing a production blog for the next phase in creating the With Great Power, reimagined edition.

Why a production blog?
Because I have a busy life and have no project manager to nag me about getting stuff done. Also, it is months until my next game convention. Conventions always light a fire under me and I cannot afford to let this project languish that long. Being responsible to report to all of you good folks on the Internet will keep me moving forward. There are some other reasons, which we’ll get to in future weeks.

What’s the current state of the game?
The sessions I ran at DEXCON were great fun, and very productive. The process of play itself is largely working the way I want it to. The next step is external playtesting.

However, I have no text to send external playtesters. I have been designing through iterations of character sheets and rules summaries. I need to write the text of the game to get the information on how to use those character sheets and rules summaries out of my head and into other people’s heads.

What’s the projected timeline?
I am not the world’s fastest writer of game text. I’d like to have an external playtest edition of the game ready by August 31. That’s eight of these blog posts between now and then.

Won’t a production blog siphon off time you’d be using to write the game itself?
Not likely. I just put in several hours and am starting to lose focus. It’s time for a break, so I bang this entry out, as the first part of the break.

Okay, so what did you do this week?
As I said, I ran the game twice last week at DEXCON. I got lots of great feedback from players, and my own observations. However, it was scattered on character sheets, rules summaries, origin cards, and my trusty notebook. I reviewed all of that, fixed the things like typos that were quick to fix, and compiled the more involved changes into a worklog.

I also reviewed the textual outline that I had been neglecting, brought it up to speed, and started to write the text for the Hero Creation section. I also made a list of sidebars I need to write. Oh, and a list of topics for this #WithGreatProduction blog.

What are your goals for next week?
I’d like to be able to finish the text for hero creation and villain creation. Anything extra would be bonus.

See ya in seven, True Believers!

DEXCON 2015

DEXCON is one of my favorite conventions, I think it’s fair to say that this DEXCON was the best yet! Vinny, Avie, and the entire Double Exposure staff always put on a great show and go above and beyond to be welcoming.

Unfortunately, I came home with a bit of a cold, so my thoughts are a bit more scattered than usual. Also, apologies to anyone I hugged yesterday. Here’s what I played.

THURSDAY
9AM: Companions Tale with Adrian, Bruce, Kirk and Daniel.
–This is the game I’m editing for Laura. It’s at the point where we’re testing that the text actually says what it needs to say. I simply explained the premise of the game, laid out the materials, and sat back taking notes while my awesome players taught themselves the game. It was very insightful, as well as fun and entertaining. There were definite problems identified and the game will be stronger for it! Plus, we told a story of the red-haired hero who founded a new citadel and faced armies of zombies and diverted rivers of hallucinigenic joy-juice.

2PM: Lady Blackbird with Adrian, Rich, Lilith, and Candace, with Markus GMing.
–Lady Blackbird delivered fun character play, as always. I’ve GMed for Markus before, so I knew we were in good hands there. Plus, Rich, Lilith and Adrian are some of my absolute favorite people to play with! Plus, Candance hadn’t played a tabletop RPG in the better part of a decade, but really brought the fun! Adrian had never played LB before, but he is one of the funniest people I know. I handed him Snargle and said “This character was written for you.” I was not wrong.
–I pushed the boundaries of bad playerhood in that game, but I think it worked out okay. I was playing Lady Blackbird, and I tried to play her as a slightly more arrogant Princess Leia from A New Hope. I tried to make her a take-no-crap, if somewhat shrill, entitled woman throughout. Near the end, I revealed that she was running to Uriah Flint because she thought he would use his pirate fleet to fight her oppressive father, the slave-lord. Markus was playing up the angle of Uriah Flint being a terrible womanizer who didn’t even remember me. In the scene where she finally meets Flint, I turned her into a spineless, simpering, lovesick moron who offered her father’s fortune and implied sexual favors for a moment alone with Flint. The reaction of disgust on the faces of everyone at the table was extreme, and rightly so. I was nervous. I pushed on quickly to assert that in the next scene “All that lovesick mooning is just cover so I can get close enough to magically mind-control him so I can use his pirate fleets to fight to free the slaves.” Everyone was cheered, but I’m not sure if I should have tipped my hand earlier.

8PM: Dictionary of Mu with Rebecca, Ben, Jeff, Sweeney and Jim Crocker.
–I posted about this earlier, the game was as metal as anything. It had dismemberment, disembowlment, patricide, soul-sacrifice, and even the conception of a new life. I’m glad I got to run Sorcerer for so many who hadn’t played it before. Plus, Sorcerer had never quite clicked for me before. I think that I never quite understood how large a part Color and Situation played in the game, since I was overly focused on System at the time. But I’ve learned a lot more about how to “read the fiction” in the intervening decade. Perhaps there’s a role for me a revivalist of older games.
–My players were awesome! They gave me a round of applause afterward, but they really should have (and were) applauding each other. They really brought to life the characters and their grand, eloquent desires.

FRIDAY
9AM: With Great Power with Mel, Bill, and Bruce.
–A dream table, and a great session. My latest round of tweaks were fruitful and the game is singing now! It draws on the creative wells of players’ internalized superheroic narratives and helps them spew forth in four-color glory. I love it.
–They made a psychic, Doctor Id, and two magical characters: Mister Mystic who could manifest “solid thought” and worked for an other-dimensional arcane Library; and Argent who had been imbued with the powers of the Light Fantastic to battle evil. They faced off against Duke Diablo, who wanted to purge the world of its regrets, permanently. We had earthquakes, demolished buildings, tenure review boards, the battle of paired ancient amulets of power, the clearing of steam over where the heroes should have died but stood to face the villain. Gobs of fun!

2PM: Kagematsu with Blair, Kirk, Jim, Kat and Melissa GMing.
–The regency romance angle was awesome. Kat’s been working on a Jane Austen-esque game for a while, so I’m really glad she got to play this. The mix of desperation and desire seemed a perfect fit for the Kagematsu framework. And Melissa made it look so easy.
–I found myself in an authority figure role, again. Our house had no male heir, and also needed to woo a faerie lord to shore up the bloodline. I was the eldest sister, who had been married for a day before her lying husband had shipped out with the Royal Navy and been promptly killed by the French, taking my reputation and hope for the future with him to a watery grave.
–Learning from my last game, I min/maxed the stats 6/1, probably should have gone all the way to 7/1. My character, Honora, was all charm. She ended up marrying Lord Weymouth, even though it was Blair’s innocent Helena who secured the promise on my behalf.
–I managed “a roll in the hay” Even though it was explicitly set up as a regency romance—and I’ve typeset enough of them to know what that entails—I was still uncomfortable introducing sexual content, concerned that I would step across the line of good taste. The table was very supportive and I really, really enjoyed the game.

8PM: Dictionary of Mu with Daniel, Mel, Jurgen, and Neal.
–This session (also posted earlier) was just as metal, a bit more time for development of the characters, as there were only four players rather than five. This one had ritual combat, intentional disfigurement, flying ark powered by blood, and the killing of the concept of kingship itself and binding it as a new demon.
–Sorcerer works best when the Color and Situation are first and foremost, with System supporting and giving them teeth. I never fully understood that until after MCing Monsterhearts.

SATURDAY
9AM: Companions Tale folded for lack of players. There was an embarassment of riches on Saturday. Instead, I played Fiasco with Phredd, John, and Jon.
–Fiasco has always been a mediocre game for me, but this session was thoroughly fun, as I got to play “off-kilter” but not “crazy.”
–The playset was “Shovelbums,” which is slang for “archeologists” and based on Phredd’s real-life experiences as an archeologist. It was a great setup, with petty people focused on pride, greed, lust, ambition—basically everything but the preservation of the artifacts of the past.

2PM: Five Kingdoms with Bill, Nina, Xander and Dave GMing
–Dave Petroski is working on this “Kingdom versus kingdom FATE game” for a little while now. I admit that I’m stalking this game for selfish purpose, as I have an idea in a similar space.
–The version I played at Dreamation version was interesting. This version was fun, but it could be much moreso. Dave’s on a good path. The role of the fiction and the cultural character of kingdoms is a sticky point. It can very easily be overwhelmed by the currency-driven light board-wargame that the map portion teeters on the edge of. Maybe something can be done so that certain milestones are easier for different cultures to acheive, or give them extra benefits, or something? I don’t know quite how to fix it, but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the state of this at Metatopia.

8PM: Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine with Ami, Karin, Brian and MP O’Sullivan HGing.
–Anecdote: I come to the room, and Mike has already put out tea and cookies. The character sheets are sitting friendly and welcoming on the table. Mike asks me how my Sorceror game had gone. I refused to even mention the events of Mu in the room, lest I pop the bubble of “feel-good” that Mike had crafted.
–I didn’ know what to expect other than “Jenna Moran does Studio Ghibli.” I was plesantly surprised! It was a thoroughly enjoyable, fascinating game with no conflict, just exploration. Definitely looking forward to picking it up.
–We had a pick-up soccer game with monster children; the friendly spirits of rain clouds and too-long, too-thin cat-like beings; the wish-granting engine dropping a plastic egg; an excellently-handled flashforward/flashback use of the wish itself; the perfect memory of our high-school friendship that we would treasure in our hearts forever; the one night in all the year when the stars were visible, with the lights dimming all across the city and everyone gazing up at the sky, with my character looking down, seeing the stars reflected in the puddles of spirit world; and an end-credits montage of our friendship persevering throughout our lives.

SUNDAY
10AM: With Great Power with Brian, Russell, Sarah, Rachel and Kat.
–Interesting test with having two people at the table who “didn’t really like superheroes.” The game took longer to pop, but pop it did, which was gratifying. I actually lay the blame for that more on having _five_ players (even though they were five excellent players), and the meat locker-like conditions of the gaming rooms.
–We had a much more diverse team, with the Timekeeper being able to freeze time in limited spaces, but at the cost of time from his own life; Lady Facsination who had glasses that could see the future, so she could avoid trouble; The Amazing Abra, a teenage wizard who had a dead, evil wizard trapped in his closet; Mindseye, a runaway space princess who could read and manipulate thoughts; and Purple Haze, who could absorb and expel different types of energy. They faced off against Temper, a blind efficiency expert who had been empowered by the far-future descendents of humanity to cut out the weakness from human civilization. She was trying to trigger a meltdown in a nuclear power plant so that the crisis would prompt greater safety and efficiency standards.
–We saw a burglary stopped before it started; the key that connects all doors; the most clever use of an Internet fanbase of a fictional time-travel TV show; the worst examples of over-sharing while having a round of drinks with the coworkers; twenty-something love triangles!; evacuating a speeding car in the last half-second before it crashes and explodes; power station safety hardware flipped so that every procedure produced the wrong result; the heat and radiation of a nuclear meltdown safely absorbed; the day saved!

What a great con. Thanks to everyone with whom I shared a game, a meal, or a chat!

#WithGreatPlay