GenCon Indy 2006

         2006 was the first time I went to GenCon. My proximate cause for going was that I agreed to chair the Indie RPG Awards -- which by the prior year's tradition were announced at GenCon Indy. This was also a chance to check out the largest gaming convention, well, anywhere as far as I know.

         Motivated particularly by the awards, I wanted to run indie games -- ideally which had been published in 2006. I submitted three events. First, a Truth & Justice event called "Bonds of Steel", which was inspired by my un-submitted thoughts on the 2006 Game Chef contest. The second was one of Shifting Forest Storyworks' Parlor Larps, "Garden Station 4". For the third, though, I decided to try out my D20 System experiment among the large set of players there -- a Conan OGL event called "Brawny Thews".

The events that I attended were:

Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

"A League of Their OWN"

Game system:

With Great Power...

Start time:

THURS, 9:00am

Category:

RPG
Duration:
4 Hours

Event ID:

RPG00459

Location:

Room 205 : Table 1

Max Players:

5

GM / Judge:

Kathryn Miller

Description:

They expected the resurrection of the defunct Liberty League would be difficult with super villain's like Perjury and Dr. Venom obsessed over the League's destruction. What our young heroes were not expecting was to having their loved ones and the governor would stand in their way.

     Sad to say, I dropped out of this one. I felt I really needed to check in with indie publishers over at the Forge booth concerning the Indie RPG Awards. I had originally thought I might be able to check in with Forge and Indie Press Revolution people before this event, but the dealer hall didn't open until 10, and I had games later as well. Also, at 10:00 when the game was starting, there was only one other player who had shown up. Anyhow, my apologies to Kat.


Thursday Demo Games

     So, I checked out the Forge booth -- and met for the first time many people whom I had only encountered online, including Brennan Taylor, Emily Care Boss, Ron Edwards, Clinton Nixon, Ben Lehman, Joshua Newman, and a host of others. I posted flyers about the Indie RPG Awards being presented. So, in lieu of the longer With Great Power playtest, I did a bunch of demo games.

"Best Friends" (by Gregor Hutton)
Subtitled "A role-playing game about girlfriends and all their petty hatreds". I had never heard of this, actually, but I immediately liked the concept and played a brief demo with author Gregor, along with Ron Edwards and Malcolm Craig. There was a Forge Actual Play thread with the details ( "[Best Friends] Gen Con 06"). It went pretty well as a taste of the game -- we sniped at each other while at an mutual friend's wedding, with the secret being that two of the four PCs had slept with the groom (one the night before!).
"Shock" (by Joshua A.C. Newman)
I had read a bunch of the early material for this game, but hadn't played it and couldn't quite bring to mind what I had read earlier. We had safe recreational drugs as the single shock for the demo. My contribution was the issue of the First/Third World divide, while my character was a woman doctor who lived near the skyhook which had been set up on Mount Kilimanjaro. I think I was cut off from this, though, to talk to someone.
"Mob Justice" by Iain McAllister
This was a brief playtest of an RPG of mob violence and politics. We were handed characters and started right on a set-piece fight which demonstrated the conflict resolution. I played Paul "Two Punch" Corelli as some of his bosses goons came in to wipe out him and two others. Key stats were Reputation, Stature, and Loyalty -- along with a described Code (mine was "All of the crew on my jobs come back alive" and rated 7) along with two skills.
"Hero's Banner", by Tim C. Koppang
This was one of the best demos I was in, for Tim's fantasy game of heroic choice. It's pretty hard to convey much in a ten-minute demo, but this was one that worked pretty well. To simplify things, there was only one pregenerated PC who was handed off between the players -- each taking one scene. The mechanics were pretty simple, and it gave us a chance to reflect on this character and the situation. The initial scene pushed his goal of justice against a corrupt baron -- by starting with the baron recruiting the (PC) prince into his treachery. The player can reroll failures, at the cost of specializing towards one of the three life goals (abandoning the other two).
"1001 Nights", by Meguey Baker
This was an intriguing game, but tough to jump into with a quick demo, I think. It's a rotating GM game where each player nominally has a character in the Sultan's court -- but most scenes are stories told by the characters. The player of the character speaking then becomes the GM, who casts the other players to tell her story. Players can then make statements which earn them rolls, odd rolls give a die to the GM, evens to the player. Characters progress on Safety, Freedom, and/or a player-defined Ambition.
Infinite Armies, by Greg Porter
This was a personalizable tactical card game by Greg Porter, whose designs in general I'm a fan of. So the game works that you can print out your own cards for it, and there is an underlying system to design the cards. The game went smoothly enough -- trading off hits as we advanced our military units over the grid. However, I was a tough sell on this. Basically, these days I want out of a card game something I can play right out of the box -- so even though it wasn't collectible, the customization and self-printing aspects were a big barrier.

"Escher's Revenge (Wraith: The Oblivion LRP)"

Game system:

Freeform Larp

Start time:

THURS, 2:00pm

Category:

LARP
Duration:
4 Hours

Event ID:

LRP00012

Location:

Omni Hotel, Peony Room

Max Players:

12

GM / Judge:

Alex Helm (?)

Description:

The Empire Theatre is a tiny backstreet theatre with a distinguished past. After the tragic death of janitor Joe Montegue in a freak accident ten years ago, the theatre has remained closed. But now it has been bought and refurbished by theatrical celebrity Gregory Charlton. Tonight is the grand re-opening night with a premier perfomance of Charlton's new play 'Escher's Revenge'. But does the ghost of Joe Montegue still stalk the building?

A freeform live roleplaying game for Wraith the Oblivion suitable for new and experienced players alike.

Wylde Deluzion are an experienced group of freeform LRP organisers from the United Kingdom. We have been running freeform LRP games in Europe (including at Gen Con Europe/UK) for several years, based around established and original game settings. This is our first year running events in the US.

     This was a larp event based on Wraith: The Oblivion. It was run by two European women: I believe one was the Creative Director Alex Helm, and the other was a Swedish woman whose name I missed. It was designed for 12 players, however, and we ended up with only 7. We got as far as casting the people who had arrived and some of us getting secret backgrounds -- but when we didn't get more than 7 players, the organizers opted to cancel the game. I had been cast as a former British stage actor now the owner of the haunted theatre who didn't believe in ghosts.

     However, everyone there was interested in playing, so we talked about what other games we could play. I would have liked to have tried a Parlor Larp with them, but I didn't have one with me. However, I did have my Truth & Justice scenario, "Bonds of Steel", and one of the players was enthusiastic about superhero games. So me and five players played that out, but I only got two of their names. I had eight pregenerated PCs -- the four members of the Steele family, and four others. Picking out who they wanted, what I got was:

     Interestingly, I found out afterwards that this was Tanya's first time playing a role-playing game. She had come with Forest to the con, and had some experience doing improv, and signed up for the freeform Wraith larp to try out that. She said that it was a lot of fun.

     Overall, the event went pretty well, but there were a few issues -- especially points which I didn't pick up on because this was a pickup game and I was not well prepared. I forgot to describe the larger background until halfway through the adventure. I was not very organized about the use of story hooks. The run was deliberately short, dominated by two set-piece conversation/fight scenes. The adventure starts on an action scene and of course they had to beat up the bad guys at the end. Because we wanted to wrap it up in a little under 3 hours, this short-changed some of the developing scenes of the adventure. However, both the dialogue and the fights went very well -- including lots of character stuff -- so I wasn't disappointed.

     It played out a bit more campy than I had originally intended, partly missing development scenes and in general a more off-the-cuff atmosphere. Actually, the action here has a lot of dialogue, so it's poor dichotomy. For example (slight spoiler), the opening fight takes place at the Steele's home and so the players are able to improvise and narrate what is in their home (and being destroyed!) during the fight. There was a great bit as Fiona used her fire powers, and Adrian started in on her ("You set the garage on fire?!?").

     All in all, everyone was pretty pleased. The guy playing Mr. Steel in particular joked about the villain names and motivations. I think partly because it was rushed, the villains came across as more two-dimensional than in the full run. Still, all the PCs worked pretty well, and despite newness to role-playing, Tanya worked out great as Blaze the hot-tempered wife.


"Cthulhu Go Wild"

Game system:

Engle Matrix Game

Start time:

THURS, 7:00pm

Category:

RPG
Duration:
4 Hours

Event ID:

RPG00206

Location:

Rm 208 : Tables 1-2

Max Players:

12

GM / Judge:

??

Description:

...

     This was an Engle Matrix game, which is a nearly freeform RPG with a GM managing things. The "matrix" aspect is that the GM assigns a chance to any action which is rolled on. For this, there was a big fold-out laminated map of the small beach town where the adventure was set: including a hotel, beach, swamp with Voodoo Queen's shack, and forest with Cthulhoid temple -- with brief cards on the two dozen or so characters printed around the edge of the map. The loose premise of the adventure was that a bunch of students get trapped in a small beach town as horrific things happen to them.

     For our game, we had about 12 players. I didn't get their names, but going around the table, the characters were: "Swamp Rat", (??), "Drug Smuggler", "Businessman", "Psycho Zombie", "Juju Man", "Arty Girl", "Jock", "Professor", (??), and "Sheriff". I decided to play Deep Ones, i.e. horrific undersea humanoids from H.P. Lovecraft's stories. So this was pretty non-traditional in that our characters played all sides of the conflict. Still, a game with 12 players is inherently pretty chaotic, and in this one it seemed to me that it stalled from time to time when the GM left conflicts hanging.

     For example, at one point I had a group of Deep Ones come out of the sea and surrounded a shack that the Arty Girl, Juju Man, and (NPC) Voodoo Queen were holed up in. We attacked and they came up with a plan for defense -- but outcome was left hanging for over half an hour, during which time we were still outside attacking and they were coming up with their defense. That was frustrating to me.

     To conclude the story, the GM had each of us write out an epilogue. We then went around to everyone -- they read what they suggested, and we tried to come up with a consensus of all of them, dicing off for conflicts.


"Brawny Thews"

Game system:

Conan RPG

Start time:

FRI, 9:00am

Category:

RPG
Duration:
4 Hours

Event ID:

RPG00461

Location:

Rm 205 : Table 5

Max Players:

6

GM / Judge:

John Kim

Description:

Centuries after Conan was king, the Aquilonian Empire collapsed and Hyrkanian hordes descended upon the west, even into the harsh land of Cimmeria. In that time, a band of Cimmerians faced danger and intrigue in the heart of the Turanian Empire.

     This was my experiment in D20 play. I don't usually run or play D20 games. However, this being GenCon -- the center of D&D and by extension D20 games -- I thought it would be appropriate to run at least one D20-based game. This was a strong concept module: the idea was that all six PCs were all brawny, Cimmerian barbarians -- but they split into different male archetypes. I had five players:

     The adventure is set hundreds of years after Conan was king, when Aquilonia became lax and decadent -- and the Turanian armies (Howard's proto-Mongol race) swept across the lands. The adventure begins with all the PCs captured, so I asked each player to narrate how their PC was captured. Kevin had Cruaidh be surprised while with his wife and charged out roaring and naked to kill a horde around him, then be dragged down with a net and clubbed unconscious. I added in that before he went unconscious he saw them violate and kill his wife. Brett decided that Canbotha was supposed to be on watch but was passed out drunk instead, letting the army sweep into their village without warning -- which I thought was a great bit and made nice tension for later though it wasn't completely followed up on. John had Eithriall surrender without a fight seeing that the cause was lost, presaging his heavy playing up of the "No Honor" trait. Timo had Eanbotha out climbing, saw that Canbotha was asleep, and got to the peak and saw the fighting -- overcome as he rushed to the scene.

     I won't go through the plot in detail. I think everyone was satisfied that it was very much in the spirit of Robert E. Howard. There was mighty combat, demonstration of prowess, and beautiful women. My twist was a shift in emphasis. Rather than emphasizing the nubileness of the women, the adventure was all about the sexiness of the men. The women were attracted by the barbarians, but were still strong-willed, competant, and socially powerful. They were abstractly described as beautiful, but didn't have the florid descriptions given of the barbarians.

     A central part of the game was a big gladiatorial battle done with beautiful miniatures -- mostly painted and lent by my friend Jim Chokey. The key to this was that it wasn't simply defeating the monsters, but it was interest of the empress in how the barbarians fought. I had miniatures of the empress and her entourage in a box overlooking the fight, and broke from time to time to describe her reactions. So there was another layer to the fight about how the barbarians looked.

     However, I have to say, although the mechanics went about as smoothly as can be expected. We had two people familiar with Conan specifically, and the others were fairly well versed in D20. However, things did not run smoothly. In particular, I felt that Attacks of Opportunity and related feats broke the flow of play. It's not that we stopped for a while over a given issue, but more that you pretty much have to drop in-character thinking into abstract game mechanics -- like what is a movement action versus a standard action. In short, the system is non-intuitive -- which broke up the feel that I was trying for in the fight.


Friday Demo Games

     My main activity on Friday afternoon was the presentation of the Indie RPG Awards at 3PM. I believe I watched some demos, and might have even done one or two, but I was too taken up by the awards to take notes that day.


"Bonds of Steel"

Game system:

Truth & Justice

Start time:

FRI, 6:00pm

Category:

RPG
Duration:
4 Hours

Event ID:

RPG00462

Location:

Rm 205 : Table 1

Max Players:

6

GM / Judge:

John Kim

Description:

Adrian Steele and his wife Fiona Blais, better known as Mister Steel and Blaze, have been successfully balancing their superhero activities with their jobs and children (Hunter and Crystal) for 16 years. But that is about to be tested to the limit.

     So while I had GMed an impromptu run of this before, this was the officially scheduled time of the run. I took a little more care with the introduction, and I had a different mix of characters. At first we only had three players, which seemed low to me -- but one player (Mark, I think) called a friend so we went with four. This time I dropped the kid brother Hunter and said that with four players the PCs should be the parents Adrian and Fiona, their daughter Crystal, and her boyfriend Gordon. With four players, we agreed to split as:

     This went more smoothly than the impromptu prior run I had done the day before. I started with the background -- which Mark commented afterwards was a bit long, but he loved it because every bit was an active part of the adventure. With the full five hours, for this run I was able to work in Story Hooks pretty well. In T&J, the first Quality damaged in a conflict always generates a "Story Hook". The Quality hit is the player's choice, so it can really drive the adventure as players choose carefully which of their Qualities they want to generate further scenes. For this adventure, the Story Hooks were:

     I won't do a detailed plot summary -- though I intend to post the adventure at some point and at least include a link from my Truth & Justice Page. A standout thing from this run was that everyone picked carefully their story hooks, and these lead to nice scenes as a result.

     Adrian, Fiona, and Crystal found the bad guys' hideout too late at one point, and the entire building exploded -- naturally just as Gordon was approaching the building since Crystal had told him to meet her there. So he had a few agonizing minutes of searching through the rubble.

     Unlike the impromptu run the prior day, they had a chance to really interact with the villains and got to see a little more of them -- and it worked very well. They're still over-the-top supervillains, of course, but it's a very thematic and symbolic set of characters. For this run, there was a split climax with Adrian and Fiona walking into a trap with the main villain -- while miles away, Crystal and Gordon were rescuing the hostages from other villains.

     Overall, this was one of the best convention game runs that I've had. Everything went smoothly; everyone's contributions fit together; and the group dynamics fit perfectly. There was unanimous agreement on Adam's playing of Crystal for the "Most Atomic Player" award. He got the free signed print copy of T&J, and everyone got coupons for Atomic Sock Monkey products. In a Story Games thread, Mark reported this as "Some of the most fun I've had with a SHRPG in a long time.".


"Regina Sutton's Untimely End"

Game system:

Shab Al-hiri Roach

Start time:

SAT, 9:00am

Category:

RPG
Duration:
4 Hours

Event ID:

RPG00024

Location:

Rm 108 : Table 2

Max Players:

5

GM / Judge:

Eric Provost

Description:

The Shab-al-Hiri Roach is a dark comedy of manners, lampooning academia and asking players to answer a difficult question - are you willing to swallow a soul-eating insect bent on destroying human civilization? No? Even if it will get you tenure?

         I played in a game of The Shab-al-Hiri Roach as GenCon Indy 2006, at an event organized by Eric Provost. It was scheduled for Saturday at 9:00AM, and we had three players show up. This was my second game of SAHR, and for this I decided to deliberately play against type. So I made as my PC a sweet, innocent young professor. We each came up with our PCs fairly quickly without a lot of discussion -- I was last to finish mine. The full set were as follows:

         The sequence of scenes is outlined below, with the initiator of the scene marked in parentheses at the start of each. I didn't record the details of the conflict roll or the wagering of status, so that isn't noted down. Roughly, I racked up a lot of status early on -- 10 or so. I took the roach late in the first event. I then vomited the roach near the end of the third event. Eric Boyd, playing Farthington, also cleaned up in status -- but was left with the roach at the end. Eric Provost, playing Horner, was beaten down to nothing in status at some point and pretty much stayed there. I maintained my lead in points until the very end when Charles played a card to steal 2 Status from me, won in a conflict, and won the game.

I. Convocation
(Charles) Pemberton accuses Horner of sexual misconduct specifically homosexual affairs with Bantam and other football players
(Eric P.) With the new class marching in, Horner and the football team carry Pemberton's car into the cow field and fill it with manure.
(Eric B.) Farthington talks to Reverend Talley about Tabitha's drug use. She falls down in a fit during the ceremony, but then cries out Christian epithets and speaks in tongues.
II. Wine & Cheese Social
(Eric B.) Farthington attempts to enslave Horner to do his bidding by drugging his drink.
(Eric P.) Horner attempts to murder Bompus, but is interrupted by Tabitha who takes them both in arm
(John K.) Tabitha attempts to befriend Pemberton, bringing him a basket of fruit *
III. Pemberton Follies
(Eric P.) Horner forces Regina into an orgy with the football team
(Charles) Dean Wakefield-Nutter and Pemberton confront Horner over this, aided by Tabitha
(John K.) Tabitha sees the breakdown on stage and rushes outside to vomit the roach
(Eric B.) Farthington and the football team slip outside and savagely beat Tabitha
IV. Homecoming Football Game
(John K.) Tabitha is sick at home, disfigured from her beating - the Influenza card
(Eric P.) Horner tries to destroy Pemberton's works, but gets to his office to find nothing there
(Eric B.) Farthington breaks into Tabitha's house to bring her soup and treat her nicely
(Charles) Pemberton brings Tabitha drugs, but Farthington protects her, shooing him out
V. Senate Meeting
(John K.) Tabitha demands legal prosecutions of any crimes done by faculty, the motion carrying despite many protests *
(Eric P.) Horner shoots Stoudenmeyer as he vomits the Roach into his mouth, turning him into a zombie
(Eric B.) Farthington beats the Reverend into framing Pemberton for Tabitha's beating
(Charles) Pemberton tries to get the Reverend committed as insane
VI. Christmas Ball
(John K.) Tabitha rushes into the ball to hand out her new play which is obviously based on the real events of the past months
(Eric P.) Horner gets Tabitha arrested
(Charles) Pemberton tries to stop the play from being published, successfully
(Eric B.) Farthington drives Horner & the football team off the road to their deaths
Aftermath
(Eric P.) Horner dies in the crash but his body is thrown in the lake and never found
(John K.) Tabitha goes to prison for drug violations, but is released in two years and goes on to a successful career as a playwright, eventually dying of drug overdose
(Charles) Pemberton's success tastes like ashes in his mouth, and his lives decades of a grim, quiet life at the university
(Eric B.) [I missed this for some reason]

         This may be biased from my playing her, but the character of Tabitha made a noticeable difference from my first game of SAHR. Overall, we did not take the advice of stacking up bodies like cordwood -- I think mainly influenced by her character. There were some intriguing events which followed this. In the second event, Tabitha was in the Roach's power and I had designated Charles as the target and he designated me. However, my roach card command was "Befriend this person" and his roach card command was "Obey this person". So following the roach's orders we just sat down nicely together.

         The other standout event for me was when Tabitha, having been savagely beaten earlier, came to the Faculty Senate Meeting calling for the faculty to turn criminal misconduct over to the police for prosecution. I was opposed by all three other players, didn't have the roach, and by my own admission most of the faculty as well. However, I won that with a high roll of 5 versus 4 from everyone else.

         So overall the game was dominated by redemption and the bringing of law and order to the campus.


Saturday Demo Games

     I played only two demos on Saturday, but I browsed around a lot of games.

"Hero's Banner", by Tim C. Koppang
This was a second time trying out the demo, so I was mostly helping show others. It was the same core character passed between three players. This time, the romance plot featured more highly. The first scene he had the baron arrested. In the second, his love ran away after a fight over his insistence on executing the baron. I took the third scene over his conflict with the rival nation, and narrated him fatalistically rushing into battle with the love of his life gone. He succeeded in overcoming the army, but killed the opposing king which was sure to have repercussions. And that's where we ended it.
Capes by Anthony Lower-Basch
I recalled some Actual Play reports of Capes, but I didn't own it. I picked the superhero "Victory" (which I associated in my head with reports of play as "Major Victory" though the character as written was changed). Two other people picked up villains. Tony participated, but didn't have a character of his own. So we set the scene as the mad scientist about to explode a bomb on top of a radio tower to turn the city into his evil slaves. I recall the main villain threw a steel pylon through my chest. I went with this and narrated that Victory pulled himself through it, fatally bleeding, then rushed past to destroy the bomb -- saving the city but turning into a zombie himself.

Shooting the Moon Demo

     This was a somewhat longer demo of Emily Care Boss' new game, Shooting the Moon -- a game of romantic rivalry which is a "sequel" to her earlier game Breaking the Ice. I ran into Emily in the games-on-demand room, and mentioned that I wanted to play StM. A short time later, we had two other players and gave it a go. The game has no defined setting, and for the demo she had two sets of pregenerated PCs. I believe one was medieval fantasy with a knight and an ogre courting a princess, while the one which we picked was set in a circus where two women were attracted to the high-wire star. The players were:

     We played out three sequences. The situation was the circus was in financial trouble. Mark wanted to start his own circus, and he also wanted to find someone who wasn't interested in him for his glamor. The first was Alexander's as Mark went to see the fortune teller. There were a long line of men eager to see her, and Ian threw in some sort of added difficulty which gave a conflict roll. The next sequence was with the new acrobat girl -- who by complication fell and twisted her ankle. The accident made the circus owner more sure that he had to close it down.

     I had a neat idea for a twist in my sequence. Because he didn't want girls interested in him for his glamor, I had Mark disguise himself as the mousy agent of a fictional businessman who wanted to buy the circus. Through the persona of the agent, he wanted to sound out both girls as well as prepare for starting his own circus. As it turned out, the acrobat girl flirted with his alter-ego (I believe Alexander had somehow tossed a complication of sluttiness her way), which simply confused Mark further. After this, though, we called an end to it.

     This was the best demos I had done. It had the advantage of a better space (the games-on-demand room) and more time. More importantly, though, it had a familiar premise and elements which we could immediately grasp and run with (as opposed to post-apocalyptic kids projecting dreams of giant robots, say). The setup gave both internal and external conflicts right off the bat, while also giving plenty of leeway in where they should lead.


Bliss Stage Demo

     This was a playtest of Ben Lehman's as-yet unpublished game, Bliss Stage. The short intro from his blog is: "Five years from now, a scrappy band of teenagers are Earth's last defense against mysterious alien invaders that live inside our dreams. The only way to fight against these aliens is with robots made out of weaponized love." So it's a peculiar genre, and it took me a while to grasp it even basically.

     So we collaboratively (and mechaniclessly) created the basic setting within strict limits. The game apparently specified that it was set our present location five years from now, after the alien invasion has put almost all adults into stasis and civilization thus broke down. Our primary characters were to be teenage "pilots" who go into dream-space to fight the alien invaders. They held out in an enclave with a single unique adult who did not fall into stasis for some reason. We specified the adult leader and the details about our group. So it was at the Indianapolis convention center in five years. We came up with a narcoleptic man, Hector Ruiz, who was a wargamer and strategist formerly held back by his crippling condition but because he lacked normal sleep never fell into stasis. We lived with other kids in a small enclave who held out by holing up in the convention center, guarded against feral kids outside. The pilots and players were:

     We also each created one "anchor" -- that is a person who acts as the remote guide for the pilot, usually with a close relationship to the pilot. Somehow the anchors were all girls, which I found a little off-putting in the stereotypes it played to. I don't recall how that happened, though. Our three anchors were:

     After this, we created six more characters based on what we knew. These turned out to be Jesse's "not-a-girlfriend" Sue, Hector's protege Fatima, Nell's little siblings Bobby and Harriet, kitchen worker Carl, and Alan and Maria's baby son Nicholas. After this, we went into the involved process of setting all our relationships. Based on our archetype, we had a number of relationships to assign. Each had two ratings rated 1 to 5: one for Intimacy, one for Trust, written as (Intimacy / Trust). We each had a large set of fixed relationships to assign, like "Two 4/2, one 4/1, two 3/2, etc.". The end result was this:

Character Relationship to:
(Intimacy/Trust)
Jesse Alan Elliot
Pilots:
Jesse (16) promiscuous, live-for-the-moment pilot - 2/1 2/1
Alan (17) seasoned veteran pilot 2/1 - 2/1
Elliot (14) eager young soldier pilot 2/1 2/1 -
Anchors:
Jenny (15) tempestuous boy-hater anchor 2/4 2/4 2/2
Nell (13) driven religious anchor 4/2 2/2 4/2
Maria (17) comforting, calm anchor 2/1 4/2 3/3
Others:
Hector (??) adult leader 2/1 3/1 1/5
Sue (15) Jesse's not-a-girlfriend, mechanic 5/1 2/2 3/2
Carl (14) lame in one leg, kitchen worker 2/1 3/1 3/1
Fatima (14) tall, strong, Hector's protege 4/2 5/1 4/2
Bobby (10) Nell's brother, scout, secret missionary 3/2 0/0 2/2
Harriet (7) Nell's sister 3/2 0/0 1/2
Nicholas (1 1/2) Maria and Alan's son 2/1 4/3 1/2

     However, we didn't see our individual assignments at the time. Compiling this table later, it was interesting to see how these matched up. Ben asked about my assignments. My sole high-trust relationship was with Jenny -- the one girl who wouldn't sleep with me. Conversely, my most intimate relationship was with Sue, whom I was with frequently but avoided even talking about our relationship (i.e. "not-a-girlfriend") -- Intimacy 5, Trust 1. I didn't see Jesse as a jerk, but he was pretty screwed up.

     We then went into active play -- which was almost entirely our missions as pilots, diving into the dream-world where we piloted our giant robots and fought off the aliens. This had a specific narrative structure. One player took control of the Pilot's Anchor and narrated the dream environment in her voice. The GM narrated the alien influences. The pilot player said his own actions. Each scene had a single conflict roll. You rolled a number of Fudge Dice -- six-sided dice with two plus ("+") sides, two blank sides, and two minus ("-") sides. You could draw in extra relationships, which would manifest as weapons on your robots. This would give you extra dice equal to the Intimacy of the relationship, but would put that relationship at risk. We played out several scenes of narrated giant robot action where the weapons used were associated with personal relationships.

     This was intriguing, but I had a really tough time wrapping my head around it. It also wasn't clear to me how my character understood it. It also was a really difficult setup for a demo game. We had 13 characters whom we had just created, a strange and surreal setting, and a host of relationships. In retrospect, none of the characters or relationships really stood out to me -- which seems mostly a problem of divided attention. I think this is one of those games that is difficult to jump into, like Shreyas Sampat's Mridangam (published in Jonathan Walton's journal PUSH). I'm eager to see the final product.


"Garden Station 4"

Game system:

Parlor Larp

Start time:

SAT, 6:00pm

Category:

LARP
Duration:
6 Hours

Event ID:

LRP00028

Location:

Embassy Suites : Ambassador 1

Max Players:

8

GM / Judge:

John Kim

Description:

The Union of Planets and the Cerian Empire are on the brink of war when civilian scientists from both sides are trapped together on an alien space station. Amidst technology that could change civilization, they must contend with the ethics of patriotism, politics, and war.

     This was my run of "Garden Station 4", written by J Li and published by Shifting Forest Storyworks (though their website is down at the time I am writing this). I put together a bunch of simple props for everyone's items, but did no preparation otherwise -- just printing out the character sheets which come with the module. I eventually got six players -- though at first we had only four, and I wasn't sure whether to run it.

     So, no spoilers, but the short form was that this was one of the least conflict-filled runs of Parlor Larps that I've seen. Somehow, the UP and Cerians got along fine for the most part. In part, the UP were rather excessively trusting -- at several points, Boris2 and Jane17 seized control for their own ends. Overall there were few invocations of the conflict mechanics, though there were some.

     On the one hand, I think the scenario still held up as interesting. So it wasn't a disaster. But there were a lot of tensions which didn't really get expressed. In retrospect, I think I should have been more careful in casting. I cast by describing the public face of the characters and their code and then people chiming in. In the end, the two left off were the UP Team Leader and a Cerian tech. I also was unsure about Tantorian -- who is a warhawk, and supposed to be cast with someone who can really drive the conflicts. In the future, for a convention run of a parlor larp, I'd first ask people's general preferences, then start by assigning characters -- allowing for feedback and changes, but not having them choose based on the public description, which often doesn't match the dramatic requirements and secrets.


"Big Trouble in Little Oakdale"

Game system:

True20

Start time:

SUN, 9:00am

Category:

RPG
Duration:
4 Hours

Event ID:

RPG00739

Location:

Rm 208 : Table 11

Max Players:

6

GM / Judge:

Joseph Miller

Description:

The village of Oakdale is a sleepy little hamlet with an otherworldly problem. One-by-one its children are disappearing and now a group of their older siblings have followed suit. When these siblings awaken in the dreamlands, they discover a twisted version of their village and must uncover its secrets before their brothers and sisters are lost forever. This is an introductory adventure to the Nevermore campaign setting for the True20 system.

     This was an introductory adventure for the Nevermore campaign setting. It's sort of a young adult horror setting which draws on children's rhymes, dark fairy tales, and Lewis Carroll -- set within the dream world of "Nevermore". The game was being run by the setting author Joseph Miller. This was 9AM on Sunday, and we only had three players: myself, Aren Arendsen, and Patrick Wallen (all adult men). We picked out from a set of 6 or 8 pregenerated PCs -- all of whom were teenagers in the village of Oakdale (part of a medieval fantasy setting). They were a roughly even mix of the three True20 classes (Warrior, Expert, Adept); and evenly split male/female. Picking, we had:

     It drew some comment that we were a girl-heavy group. Socially within the game, Sorcha and Breanna did become the pair that bonded and took the lead, while Tristan tagged along. There was some cute banter between the PCs early on, but it lessened as the challenges ramped up.

     Structurally, this was a very linear adventure focused on problem-solving, but with atmospheric components. That style isn't generally my cup of tea, but it was done well. There were three riddles/puzzles, along with three set-piece fights. It began with all the PCs having a strange dream, then awaking to find their windows open and knotted sheets leading out. A bit of the way in, we found there was a semi-meta-game time limit -- by this I mean that our PCs were told about the time limit, but the limit would be reached in-game when the out-of-game time limit was reached (i.e. our alloted 4 hour slot).

     The plot was about us venturing into the dream world of Nevermore to rescue the younger children who had been kidnapped. Whereas the previous children had been kidnapped one by one, this time there were three of us, all competent (1st level) teenagers. I won't go into the details, but the puzzles were fairly simple with a theme of nursery rhymes like "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" and "Rub A Dub Dub". The fights were challenging and reasonably well-balanced, as far as I could tell. However, it had the basic problem of linear plots and deadly combat. It seemed to me that we had to win the fights or the adventure was over. We didn't actually defeat the big bad guy by force of arms, we tried to escape him, failed, and then paid Conviction Points for a distraction which the GM ruled kept him tied up indefinitely.

     Analyzing it, I think the young-adult tone of the adventure is clearly slanted against killing off kids. However, the supposed risks we faced were all life-and-death: both our own and the captured kids. Really, the setup should have taken that off the table and instead substituted something else. Perhaps a charm which would prevent us from dying in the dream-world, but instead set loose nightmares and/or shocked us when we ought to die.


Sunday Demo Games

     I only had an hour between games on Sunday, but I slipped in one demo game along with lunch.

Universalis by Ralph Mazza & Mike Holmes
This was my first time trying the game. The explanation was purely verbal, just showing the concepts rather than any showing of the game text or types. We specified a gritty real-world Western. Someone else suggested that combat was deadly, but I upped this with a specific genre rule: every time a gun is fired, someone dies. We went through a few scenes as a bunch of Mexican rebels attacked a well-armed train, then cut off after that. I could see in principle how things worked, but it didn't grab me strongly as a demo.

"Reservoir Witch"

Game system:

The Mountain Witch

Start time:

SUN, 2:00pm

Category:

RPG
Duration:
5 Hours

Event ID:

RPG00266

Location:

Rm 209 : Table 15

Max Players:

6

GM / Judge:

Wilson Zorn

Description:

Reservoir Dogs meets The Mountain Witch. Play desperate gangsters wondering who to trust - and when and who to betray - using the Mountain Witch system.

     This was a run of the Mountain Witch closely based on Quentin Tarantino's 1992 film Reservoir Dogs. We were a bunch of criminals who knew each other only by our color code names, brought together by a broker who hired us for an assassination. We had six players -- one of them (Todd) arriving quite late. The game was interrupted by the convention hall shutting down. Everyone opted to continue, but there was a break of over an hour while we got dinner before we found another room where we could play.

     The PCs were pregenerated but not completely filled in. They were gender neutral and given only color names: i.e. Mr./Miss White, Mr./Miss Yellow, and so forth. Each character had a predefined Fate which was semi-specific (more so than the fate cards of the game). They had predefined starting trust with other PCs, and one sample ability. The players were to define gender, appearance, personality, history, and the other two abilities. The players and their characters were:

     My character's Fate was: "Your character is desperately in love with one of Big Joe's offspring. How they met, what they have in common, and so on is up to you to provide insight on as you wish and as it comes up. Big Joe's son/daughter lives in the rambling estate, and this is Mr./Miss Pink's chance to see him/her again (or for the first time, depending on the nature of the relationship!) and to be united, finally and your character hopes forever, with this person."

     So our characters met up at a briefing where we were hired to assassinate a major crime boss, Big Joe, at his country estate. We also learned Mr. White and Miss Yellow had a history together (a prior job that went sour), and that Mr. Purple was still using as well as chain smoking. There was a lot of argument, such as Miss Yellow and Mr. Purple insisting on more money once they found who the target was. This was all played out without mechanics. We then moved into the plan.

     At this point, I began revealing out my fate. My twist (inspired by the gender-neutral terms) was that Mr. Pink had fallen in love with Big Joe's son Billy while in prison (where he had also been doing time). He said that he knew an inside man, and called Billy to come out and meet them. As soon as they started talking, it became clear to all the other players (except Neal, as it turns out) that Mr. Pink and Billy were lovers.

     Making it brief, Billy came out to meet us -- and there was a conflict which ended with Billy unconscious and tied up in the car. At this point, Mr. Pink was dead set on killing Billy's father, Big Joe, whom he was convinced was the prime obstacle to him and Billy being together. We then sneaked up into the mansion, only to find that it was a set-up with bizarre touches like a pit trap full of snakes. Here I think there was a clash between the mythic journey genre of the Mountain Witch and the gritty realism of Reservoir Dogs.

     It ended with us killing Big Joe, but then also killing each other. Specifically, Mr. Pink finished him and narrated so as to describe shooting him through the head which flew back and shattered a picture on the wall of him and his son Billy -- covering his picture in gore. During the final fight, Mr. White shot Mr. Blue in the back while simultaneously Mr. Purple killed Mr. White by injecting him with an overdose. Mr. Purple and Miss Yellow had fallen for each other, and had both gone rather psychopathic. Mr. Pink was convinced (rightly, as it turned out) that Mr. Purple was a traitor who would be a danger to Billy. So from surprise, he shot and killed Mr. Purple, but was killed in turn by Miss Yellow. Then Miss Yellow and Mr. Orange killed each other by Mr. Orange declaring double-critical Ai-Uchi.

     Afterwards, we each contributed to narration of the ending. I narrated Billy being found by the police tied up in the car, appearing to be an innocent victim and the only survivor. Three months later, he was sitting in his mansion with bosses lined up to see him -- surrounded by a surprisingly good-looking bunch of bodyguards. On his desk was the picture of him and his father with the blood still on it. I don't recall much of the rest of the ending, except that Mr. Purple was siblings with the fabled "Reservoir Witch" who was behind Big Joe, and sabotaging the operation.

     I had mixed feelings about the run. While the ending was sort of fitting, it didn't resonate with me. I enjoyed the set-up briefing, but after a time the inter-PC conflicts dragged for me. I think the over-the-top elements detracted as suspension of disbelief wore thin, and this applied to characters as well. The standout for me was Mr. White, whose self-hating compulsive gambler stood out to me. Miss Yellow and Mr. Purple were colorful, but sort of all over the place, over-the-top psycho which didn't sit well.

     I am curious to try out The Mountain Witch in its original genre, but this didn't leave me running to do so.


Conclusion

     In general, GenCon was a blast -- in part from the games, but more so from the people I met there. Since I was there firstly for the Indie RPG Awards, I paid particular attention to the indie RPG producers. Still, there were many other things I looked at.

     After my Garden Station 4 run, late Saturday night, I ran into a bunch of Forge folks talking at a table in the hotel open area. Ron Edwards was chatting with two other people. I joined, and then over 15 minutes or so soon there were a dozen or more guys all standing around in a big discussion. It was a fascinating alternate, I thought, to compare to how online discussions with many of these same people go. I was looking around in part of a big debate, flipping back and forth between the people I was seeing and remembering the online personas.

     All in all, it was a great experience. I got to hand out well-deserved awards, talk to some great people, play a bunch of games, as well as report on them in exhaustive detail.

 


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Thu Aug 24 13:24:37 2006