This was the fifth of a quarterly series of mini-conventions organized at a game store in Oakland, End Game , in collaboration with the online site RPGnet. The store has a number of tables in an open upstairs area -- often used for miniatures and card games as well as role-playing. The space was a spread out open area with not much noise, but with some games right next to each other, there was some trouble hearing.
There were 15 events scheduled in three time slots of 4 hours each (10AM-2PM, 3PM-7PM, and 8PM to 12PM). There was at least one GM cancellation, but most of the scheduled games ran. The time slots were changed from their original setup to leave an hour for dinner, though this pushed the end to midnight. I might opt to have half-hour breaks instead of hour breaks -- but I'm not sure offhand, and it would be a minor quibble.
I had not originally been planning to attend this because I had another event scheduled at the same time. Thus, I hadn't pre-registered for any games. However, I played in two games that had space: Paranoia XP game-mastered by Brian Williams, and Primitive game-mastered by Chris Bennett.
This was a Paranoia XP event game-mastered by Brian Williams. I had previously played in a game of The Esoterrorists at the last minicon. There was a description of the event on the web-page, but it turned out to have nothing to do with the game we played.
Who was that crazed troubleshooter you just saw fleeing from Internal Security? He looked awfully familiar. In fact, he looked just like you. What's going on here? You're not due for clone replacement until after this one expires, right? Stay Alert. Trust No One. Keep Your Laser Handy. Madcap Mayhem in Alpha Complex!
The event started prior to getting characters with all the players filling out a tongue-in-cheek multiple-choice form asking questions about our suitability for the six different officer positions. From Paranoia XP, the team positions are Team Leader, Communications and Recording Officer, Equipment Guy, Loyalty Officer, Happiness Officer, and Hygiene Officer.
After we filled these out, we turned them into the GM and he eventually assigned us our characters. However, there was some role-playing during this period -- as when one of the players noted in-character that his form was mistaken (it had the same questions on both sides). Speaking as the paranoid Computer, the GM Brian then grilled him about why he thought there was a problem. The last person to turn in their form was summarily executed and replaced by his next clone.
So as it all turned out, the players were myself as Communications and Recording Officer; Chris Bennett as the Happiness Officer; Jarys Managapoulos as Hygiene Officer; Mikhaila Burnett as Team Leader (eventually replaced as such); Mike Parker as Equipment Guy; and Chris Peterson as Loyalty Officer. I can't recall any of the names offhand, and the character sheets had no described personality or background aside from their Secret Society. However, we had a lot of fun simply playing the roles of conniving trouble-shooters. The GM would occaisionally spontaneously have mock Computer tests, like singing, "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands" -- and then grilling anyone who hadn't clapped their hands or clapped their hands too late.
He gave out little tokens which were presumably Perversity Points in the Paranoia XP system -- but there was no explanation for them during play, so we spent them fairly randomly on actions which we cared about. For the most part, the mechanics were a cipher handled by the GM, in keeping with the original spirit of the Paranoia rules -- where in a fourth-wall-breaking twist, it was considered treasonous to know the rules.
The action was appropriately silly, with us eventually finding Dr. Who's Tardis and then taking on a rampaging Dalek. Primarily this was an excuse for sniping among the PCs. What several players noted as particularly fun was that in our briefing, we at first had to lick the boots (literally!) of the higher-clearance briefing officer. However, in the middle of the briefing, we were given temporary status higher than him -- and then got to make him lick our boots. In all, it was entertaining and kept up well. The one classic Paranoia bit that was missing was that we didn't get any dangerous R&D devices.
This was a run of the game Primitive by Kevin Allen Jr., as game-mastered by Chris Bennett. The description in the minicon posting was:
Are you ready to role-play "caveman" style? Build a tribe of proto-humans, fight blood-thirsty dinosaurs, and discover untold mysteries in a game that features easy to follow rules, a uniquely-simple turn-based combat resolution system, and character generation that focuses on group social dynamics. Most excitingly, the players of the game will develop their own language organically during play. Forced to grunt and gesture to communicate, verbal understanding begins to take shapes after only a few scenes, and by the end of the session a rudimentary spoken form will be created.
I wasn't previously familiar with the rules myself, though I had heard of them. Mostly I just followed along with Chris' direction. A feature of the game was that we couldn't talk to each other in-character, we instead had to grunt, gesture, and point -- while a few defined cards for things were laid out in the play area. In keeping with the spirit, we all sat around on the floor rather than at a table. (This got a few comments about us going really far into the hippy games.)
The players were myself, Chad Lynch, Karen, and Paul Strack. We all made simple characters, "proto-humans", who were one syllable, like "Og". We first defined our group as a tribe living on the banks of a river in a big longhouse. Then we spent from a pool of points -- giving each of us two player-defined talents and a balance between our two attributes, Civility and Savagery. I made "Ee", whose talents were endurance and knowing about the ways of river creatures -- who made a name for himself by catching a giant fish by diving into the water and herding it into the shallows. I had privately considered making Ee a woman at first, but in the end all of the PCs were male.
I remain rather confused by the genre of the game, not having read it. I had fairly recently playtested a new edition of Aldo Ghiozzi's Land of Og RPG. However, Og is very clear in its humorous parody of caveman tropes. Primitive has some very silly elements -- like cavemen fighting dinosaurs and the grunting -- but the humor is less obvious. In the game we played, the action was purely serious but with humorous commentary by us as players.
For the adventure, I volunteered to have a relation -- and Chris as GM defined that I had a sister, La, who had been kidnapped. The adventure was that we set out to rescue her from the strange mountain people. I played Ee as the emo sort who cared about his sister, standing out at night and screaming "Laaaaaa" at the moon. We made our way upriver, and then eventually snuck into their camp at night. The twist was that she didn't seem unhappy as we spied on her.
My PC then snuck over to the third hut. I was thinking that it would have the women and children of the tribe -- and that if La was happy, we might instead just take one of their women. However, it turned out that we found only men besides La, where I gave the tongue-in-cheek comment "Well, this doesn't seem like a very healthy environment for my sister."
In the end we saved her and went back to our village, ending the game early for the 4-hour time slot. After that we hung out and chatted for a bit before I headed home.