Big Bad Con 2012 Report

This was the second year of a new Bay Area gaming convention, organized by Sean Nittner, located at the Oakland Airport Hilton. There were around ?? players attending, and 130 or so games on the schedule. Nearly all of the scheduled games were RPGs (including 5 LARPs), but there were many of card games and board games being played in the open gaming area - though no miniature games that I saw. There was a dealer's area that consisted only of End Game Oakland with space to play their games. Signups were handled in advance over the web on a first-come first-served basis.

         The RPGs were in conference rooms with heavy curtain dividers, with reasonable sound blocking.

The Siege of Peking

Fri 7:00PM - 12:00PM
System: Call of Cthulhu
GMs: Janyce Hill

This was a Call of Cthulhu event by Janyce, who GMs an irregularly-scheduled campaign that I play in, but whom I hadn't seen in a while. It was off-the-cuff, as she had been held late at work Friday afternoon, but still quite enjoyable. I played a disreputable Chinese man, the black sheep of his family who were Christians from decades earlier in the Taiping Rebellion. The other players were Basil, Luke, Morgan, Joshua, and Ralph. I didn't record all their characters - but there was a Chinese Christian nun, a lecherous Catholic priest, a ne'er-do-well gambler, and one or two others.

         We at first tried to organize defense or escape from siege of the European quarter of Peking. However, we were eventually overrun and took to escaping ourselves. The train station was packed with would-be refugees, so we eventually just headed out along the train line. Out in the country, we happened on some Boxers who did a ceremony to call in an enormous monsters - and we hid in the trees. My character was gravely wounded when he tried to flee down the road, but the nun was around to save him in the narrated aftermath.

Breakfast with Jason and Luke

Sat 8:00AM - 9:00AM
Panel: Luke Crane and Jason Morningstar

A nice seminar of questions for the two on game design. People brought up a lot of good points, and I raised the issue of social mechanics that weren't conflict-y and likely to cause resentment.


(Luke Crane)
Sat 10:00AM - 2:00PM
System: custom larp rules
GMs: Luke Crane

This was a larp set in medieval Denmark for nine players, at the occasion of a grandfather's funeral. I played Tyr, a one-armed warrior, husband and father of a twenty-something daughter. I had a great time and it was very interesting. It was mostly mechanicless, except that if we got into potentially deadly combat, the result was found by drawing a slip with the name of the character we were facing.

         Key sources of trouble included: (1) my foster-brother's resentment of Christianity; (2) his exiled son returning for the funeral, having killed his brother; (3) we wanted to marry off my daughter to his non-exiled son, but she was in love with the son who was killed; (4) my despair over being a cripple and guilt at having killed my foster-father because he wanted to die in battle. It was interesting though somewhat triggery for its medieval take on relations and marriage.

         In my background, I had abducted my wife from her position as a grove priestess, and during the game I punched out my daughter when she talked back to me. I was very clear that her marriage was not her decision, and that I would choose well in doing so. This game ended in a bloodbath where she picked up a sword to avenge her love, and was killed unintentionally. I, my wife, and my foster brother died avenging her - and my brother also killed the priest over religion.

A Thousand and One Nights: Shajar al-Durr

Sat 3:00PM - 7:00PM
System: A Thousand and One Nights
GMs: John Kim
In the year 1250 in Cairo, a new Sultan has been appointed. With the crusaders defeated, it seems like a high point, but trouble brews with those who dispute the appointment.
This is a run of Meguey Baker's A Thousand and One Nights, set in medieval Egypt with premade characters. This has a rotating storyteller, so we will all pick characters from the pregenerated set and create stories as our characters. cf.

This was my first run with this pre-generated scenario for 1001 Nights. The game suggests the players starting from a blank slate and creating their own, but I found that it worked great from running a game with characters from Zelazny's Amber series. By starting from pregenerated archetypal characters and a strongly dramatic scenario, I hoped it could be quicker to jump into the storytelling - and the stories would flow more from the characters. For this run, the players and their characters were:

It was particularly fun and appropriate to have Monika playing a great macho general, while Bay played the outrageous mad aunt. All the players were great, I thought, and the stories told all had strong subtext about the issues that their characters were wrestling with. Highlights included Bay's tale "The Prince, The Vulture, and the Woman of Nubia" - featuring Wahid as a macho, violent Nubian slave girl - and in general his character Ismalia's bizarre thing with vultures.

         I think the key was that with certain strong archetypes, it is much easier to bring their character into the stories they tell. Bay's stories as Ismalia were wacky and often very scolding of her nephew prince Cassim; Alan's stories as Douban were always amusingly lewd and creepy; Monika's stories as Wahid were self-congratulatory and warlike; Oscar's stories as Abdallah were defensive; and my own stories were sick and twisted about everyone else bleeding and suffering. All the other characters turned against Cassim, and he ended up pleading that he was really repentant, which I thought was interesting.

The LemonLyke Extra-Fun Treason-Free Show

Sat 8:00PM - 12:00PM
System: Dread / "Dread-anoia"
GMs: Duane O'Brien
Congratulations Troubleshooters! You are now the cast of the LemonLyke Extra-Fun TreasonFree Show! You go live in five minutes. Please report to SoundStage X-17 and prepare to engage.
We'll be running a Paranoia game using some Dread mechanics. Everyone who comes in costume will get a bonus clone and one free grenade.

This was a hilarious scenario that put together the background from the classic Paranoia game and the horror movie system Dread. The main mechanic for Dread is a Jenga tower - where you can usually succeed at tasks by pulling from the tower, but when the tower falls, the player character dies. In this case, as an added twist, the GM Duane spray-painted all of the Jenga blocks into the colors of the spectrum (red, orange, etc.). The rule was that if you pulled a block whose color was above your security clearance, you did something treasonous to succeed - and someone else could pull a single block to call you on your treason, at which point you would have to pull as many blocks as steps in the spectrum to the color you pulled.

It was a great device, especially because dying is bad but not the end of the game in Paranoia. The players and their characters were:

The scenario was a classic bad dream - an agent knocks on the door of our suite, and tells us that we have five minutes to showtime... when we have no idea what show we are supposed to be in. Early in the game, one of the players accidentally dragged the tablecloth and knocked over the tower, making the first death. We eventually took a psychotic taxi bot with a Southern accent, and found ourselves on the titular children's show.

         A definite highlight was the puppet show segment, when Duane pulled out actual sock puppets with names like "Mutie", and we had to actually put them on and keep them on and talk with them the whole time. Inevitably, we tried to do something during the puppet segment. The player started to take the puppet off to make his Jenga draw, but the GM reminded him of the rule, so he had to make his Jenga draw while still wearing the sock puppet on his hand. This was hilariously recapped at the end when Teryn decided to go out with a bang by putting on her sock puppet and telling all the kids how horrible everything really is. It was poignant as well as darkly humorous, and I really appreciated it.

         I was playing the sing-along officer, which I did as a perpetually cheery and back-stabbing type. About halfway through, I took to almost always calling the others on treasonous moves. When stuck for a move toward the middle, I choked - then grabbed one vialful of M&Ms that we were using as a prop for pills and quickly ate them all, then roleplayed the next hour or two as being deleriously high.

Improv for Gamers Workshop

Sun 10:00AM - 2:00PM
Organizers: Mia Blankensop, Karen Twelves, and Matthew Klein
Improv theater teaches many skills that can make your game rock: collaboration, embracing failure, and generally feeling comfortable looking stupid. Yet, there is a divide to cross to get the gamer onto the stage. So Big Bad Con has brought the mountain to Mohammed. Come to the workshop and you're going to explore dynamic characters, collaborative scene-building, and the success/complication model as it applies to role-playing games.

This was a fun game of various improv exercises - more of a general introduction to improv pitched for gamers. We had thirty-something people in a big room. We did a few big exercises, or joint demos where everyone took a turn. The majority of it, though, was done in three groups where we could each be in a circle.

         Straight improv is something I've done before but isn't a big draw for me, but this was done very well.

Hellcats & Hockeysticks

Sun 3:00PM - 7:00PM
System: Hellcats & Hockeysticks
GM: John Kim

This was another time running one of my favorite games. I had five pre-registered, but two didn't make it (though one apologized). This was unsurprising for Sunday afternoon, but disappointing. The two missing players were Rachel and Molly. However, the game still went well with three players, who made characters as follows:

Also, doing the secret "best friend" and "rival" was interesting with three. In this case, it meant that everyone had opposed relations - where their BF was someone who considered them a rival. I brought back an NPC I created in another game - Giancarlo the Italian assassin summoned into a plush cat (hitting Amy's fear). Also, we had no hockey girl, and the action here pushed the trio into conflict with the hockey team - and in particular the team captain Becky, who was using Maggie and Giancarlo to try to summon dark forces to her aid.


In all, a terrific con and one that I will continue to attend in the future.

John H Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Mon Oct 7 09:41:31 2013