Big Bad Con 2013 Report

This was the third year of a new Bay Area gaming convention, organized by Sean Nittner, located at the Oakland Airport Hilton. Nearly all of the scheduled games were RPGs (including larps), but there were a number of 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.

Queer and Present

Fri: 8PM - Midnight
GM: Joe McDaldno
System: Apocalypse World
Description: It's easy to romanticize the apocalypse, up until the point where you really assess the world you live in and find apocalypse's dirty fingerprints all over it. The year is 2014. Depending on who you are, the apocalypse has already happened. This is a session about exploring liminal spaces - between genders, between homes, between economies, between society and its total collapse. What do you do when you realize you've fallen outside the borders of civilization? We'll play to find out.
Sign up for this session if you want to explore queer themes, queer theory, and a very contemporary apocalypse.

This was an intriguing concept. The idea is that post-apocalyptic genre is a fantasy for privileged people, about losing your job, your home, your car, and sof forth and instead having to struggle just to survive. However, some people are already so marginalized that they already have to struggle to survive. For them, the apocalypse has already happened. Based on this, we collectively created our setting, the fictional city of Brookside, a failing port city on the California that blended Los Angeles and Detroit. The players and their characters were:

It was quickly apparent that there was a gap between Dune and Diamond on the one hand, and Jessica and Jesus on the other. Dune and Diamond had their own apartments and ways to make a living - which were technically illegal but apparently not troubling them too much. Jessica was squatting in an abandoned home, while Jesus rented a single room from a gay couple for him and his daughter. (Jesus did not pass well as a man, being curvy and full-figured. Also, he was illegal while his daughter was a citizen.)

My description for his look was "Not passing well as a man; vintage clothing, 70s fashion, curvy man in mid-30s". His moves were "moonlighting" and "easy to trust". As operator, he had three paying gigs and one obligation gig. His paying gigs were "honest work", "deliveries", and "infiltration". His obligation gig was "protecting someone" (obviously his daughter Innocente).

         There were a couple threads of action: some bums crashed at the house Jessica was living in, and Jesus came with one of Diamond's men to help out - but the gangster killed one. Dune helped Jessica out, taking her out to a club where she tried to pick up on a girl, but the girl demanded money, which freaked her out. Dune also had a less fortunate sex worker try to mooch off of her, causing trouble. Jesus had a crush on Jessica, but didn't get anywhere - but this did drive him to join in with Diamonds gang and get a weapon. He later had his police contact cause trouble at the house where he was crashing.

         The game was definitely fun, but it didn't quite live up to its premise. Jesus and Jessica were more post-apocalyptic, with their lives fragile and desperate, while Dune and Diamond were able to function more with regular society.

Midnight Tribunal

Fri: Midnight - Sat: 2AM
GMs: Karen Twelves and Daniel Hodges
System: Tribunal
Description: Two soldiers from your unit have been charged with the crime of stealing bread. If found guilty, they will be shot. The problem is that they are innocent.
The Tribunal is a short, intense participatory scenario about the mechanics of oppression, inspired by Orwell, Krylov, and Büchner. The scenario takes place in a space of waiting, just before the first one of you is called in to testify in front of the military tribunal. Each of you will face the judges alone, not knowing what the others will say. So if you want to make a difference, or be sure you survive, you need to discuss and deal now. The Tribunal has been played all over the world and won the 2010 Larpwriter's Challenge award and is an approachable point of entry for learning about Nordic larp.

This is an intriguing larp scenario that I had played this once before at Solmukohta 2012. It does not depend on secrets, so I felt fine playing it again. The key is that a group of soldiers need to agree on a story to tell the officers, when two of them (not present) are falsely accused of stealing bread.

This run we were largely left to stew for the time. The officers did pull a few soldiers out, one at a time, for questioning - but for the most part they let us work things out among ourselves. The obvious conflict at first was with Private Peacock, who loudly said that we had to give them a scapegoat. Most opposed him and said that we should all say we didn't know who had stolen the bread. Quietly, though, Hawk and Wolf were plotting on their own - and soon they had a consensus that we should say that Peacock did it. They got everyone to sign onto that.

         As Bison, I had significant backstory that I was in a secret relationship with Private Shrew - who was executed after she attacked an officer who had tried to rape her. I hated the officers as a result. I was pulled out and questioned about Shrew by the officers, and at one point Raven told Peacock that there was a rumor that Shrew was a loose woman - and Peacock responded glibly that he never got a piece of that. As Bison, I got very angry at that - after which I agreed to name him as the thief (rather unfairly, but I was emotional).

         In the afterwards, Jason had an interesting comment that here he attempted to "game the system". Because we were forced to stay for nearly another hour, players would try to change their minds and we would lose our consensus. So he tried to bring up other action - talking about stories of events that happened to our unit, and encouraged others to talk about their stories. In the end, seven characters named Peacock - while four did not, though they did not name anyone else, and two mentioned Peacock. So it seemed like Peacock was doomed.

Saturday Morning Heroes & Villains - The Musical

Sat: 9AM - 3PM
GMs: Greg Wirth, Sarah Hawklyn, & Craig Vilbig
System: Teenagers from Outer Space, modified for larp
Description: Our Teenage Heroes get to face off against some truly Evil Bad Guys. Schticks include air guitar, dancing, posing in heroic stances, poetry readings, big messy fights, piloting flying saucers, weird science, nosy reporters, and singing (or at least decent lip synching). After all, this is “TFOS - Heroes & Villains - The Musical”. Tough to do a musical if nobody sings! How will we do it? I dunno, we're working on it.
Additional game tags: Silly, Overly Dramatic, satirical, lampoons modern culture, not devious, sinister, or serious.
* We will be using bright lights and flashing lights (potential to trigger migraines). Also we will be doing physical things, singing & dancing, walking around etc. total couch potatoes and the terminally shy, beware!
Find out more:

This was a larp adaptation of the old tabletop RPG, Teenagers from Outer Space. The plot was a time travel game, where a bored teacher had the kids assemble a time machine, then used it to go back to his leather-clad glory days in the 1980s. The organizers had put in enormous effort to put together a number of props, different set dressings, and NPC characters. We shuttled between several locations around the con, including going in costume roped to a cardboard rocketship. The props and NPC costumes were cool. On the down side, the set and costume changes meant that we spent a fair amount of time shuttling between locations while the changes was being done. It was hard to interact during that time.

         At each location, there were a number of challenges, such as a giant homemade jigsaw puzzle or code. It ended with a lipsynch / karaoke rock-off between the kids and the NPC bad guys. On the musical side, we got to consider and know one or two musical numbers in advance that we could use. In game, we learned that by activating a particular musical number, we could get some benefit in our challenges or other effects. It was tricky to fit the songs, though, since they hadn't been chosen with that in mind.

         A good incarnation of this continuing game. (As a side-note, while mock Russian dancing in flip-flops as part of a contest at Chernobyl, I accidentally tore a big toenail very painfully. Special thanks to doctor and fellow larper Tiffany who was nearby and helped me with this.)

Monster of the Week

Sat: 3PM - 7PM
GM: John Kim
System: Monster of the Week
Description: A game derived from Apocalypse World and Monsterhearts, where we create a series about monster hunters in the style of Supernatural or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Pick playbooks like the Chosen, the Initiate, or the Professional - and from the choices and questions, we'll create the setting and situation for a premiere of a series. I have a stock of monster scenarios prepared to be adapted.

This was my straight run of an Apocalypse World variant in the genre of Supernatural and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I liked it in a short campaign I ran with my local group, and this confirmed that I thought it worked well. The players and characters for this run were:

We took some time putting the background together with some advice from me. The players suggested starting in the Yucatan on a job, although their home base was in Oakland. We then established a bunch of facts from developing the characters, in which possible plot hooks from the players were a creature from the black lagoon (now destroyed) and Bethany's father who experimented on her to evolve her psychic powers.

Based on this, I added in that Daniel's colleague who was just killed (Michael Johnson) had been electrocuted at their archeological site - despite no source of electricity being by there. I then set that we would be starting in media res, with them driving wildly away from the site with something after them. We then took a ten minute break for me to come up with somthing.

         They started out driving wildly away from things coming at them through the jungle and exploding. Soon they realized that these were crystal missles, powered by some human psychic and homing in on Bethany. They headed for a nearby mine, but failed to jump a bridge and crashed the truck in the water. Then Brad got away with Bethany and helped her down a sluice gate into a nearby mine, the missles destroyed the entrace but not her.

         First Daniel and then Marcus rushed into the mine to rescue Bethany, who was in the dark in an underground reservoir. Daniel was surprised by Bethany's father, Dr. Black - who almost shot him but then escaped as Marcus arrived. They reconnected, got their gear, and followed him through the mine. They found an entrace to the pyramid from the archeological site, which was much larger as it continued underground - and was filled with psychic crystals derived from aliens. Daniel and Bethany were separated and found Dr. Black first. Bethany shot at her father, but he was defended by a young man - a brother unknown to her. He had electrical powers, and attempted to escape. They cut off the elevator, but the pyramid was about to be engulfed in a psychic explosion. They escaped through the mine and were briefly knocked unconscious. In the last scene, rescue helicoptors appeared. Marcus and Bethany brought Brad, who was badly wounded, to one - while Daniel and Alexander went off to deal with the other that was trying to carry off Dr. Black and his son. The helicoptors turned out to be manned by agents of the sinister plot behind Dr. Black. Marcus and Bethany destroyed theirs, and Daniel ran down the wounded Dr. Black in a stretcher - but we ended on a cliffhanger as the son, Robert Black, again activated the pyramid with his psychic powers.

         I thought the run was excellent. Talking with the players, they commented that character creation did take some time - but it was worth it, setting up a very charged and interesting group.

The Play's the Thing

Sat: 8PM - Midnight
GM: John Kim
System: The Play's the Thing
Description: Play this storytelling game about actors who rewrite the Shakespearean roles they've been given. We will collectively create actors (with types like the Lead, the Ham, or the Ingenue); then bid on the parts for a play we choose in a play like Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, or a Midsummer Night's Dream. Everyone plays their parts, while dealing with everyone's changes made to the story. There is an economy of story points, along with Parts, Plots, and Props that actors collect - and dice to roll if we disagree over an edit.

This was an experiment for me - my first time running this system, which is about actors who change the plot of a Shakespeare play as it is being developed. The thin narrative conceit is that each player is an actor - one of four types. However, since the play is still being developed and is based on a well-known story, the actors have some say over the story. They collect story points and roll dice to make changes. For this run, I used the players real names for their actors. We decided on Macbeth as our play (narrowly chosen over the much different Much Ado About Nothing).

         After selecting their actor archetypes, we went through casting the parts of Macbeth. There is a specific procedure for this - during which the players can add Parts, Plots, and/or Items to the characters. The players and their characters cast as were:

During the first act, the players had fun acting up their parts - but did not try to change the storyline. I felt that they were reluctant, but were a little stifled about doing so. When I run this again, I feel I should do a mock resolution to walk players through the process of changing something in the play beforehand, to encourage them.

         Once they started changing though, it became a very fun process. We were not as loud in playing our parts, but it was a very engaging process. There were minor changes in Act II, but Macduff was still crowned king. The real showdown was when Banquo was due to be killed. Several players tried to gather dice to make a Major Edit, and managed to save Banquo with difficulty. Lady Macbeth killed Banquo, then met with King Macduff to ally with him to betray her husband. In another Major Edit, Lady Macbeth then went back and killed Macbeth.

         I played all of this with mock outrage as the Playwright who opposed changes to my play. I then set the remaining plot was that the prophecy would still come true if Lady Macbeth became Queen - thus Macbeth was ruler, but Macduff would be led to his death by ghosts, after which Lady Macbeth kills herself. They did not manage to change this ending, but still felt satisfaction at having majorly changed the plot.

Sagas of the Icelanders

Sun: 10AM - 2PM
GM: Jason Morningstar
System: Sagas of the Icelanders
Description: Powered by the Apocalypse World engine, Sagas of the Icelanders brings all the blood and thunder of 10th century Vikings to the table in a freezing deluge of pure awesome. For mature players.

This was a game I was looking forward to. Jason has great insight into games and is an excellent game designer, but this was the first game I played with him as GM. We started with brief introductions, but quickly moved into selecting playbooks and positions on a family tree. The players and their playbooks were:

                       Thorkel -+- Haldis   ....    Ulf (Thrall)
   Surt   Gisli -+- Osk       Hogni       Runa
                 |     .            .
              Astrid   .               .           Magni
                       .                   .    +----+----+
                     Isar                     Eira       Koll

The predefined setup included the family tree, and the situation that Eira was arranged to marry Hogni in two weeks time. I established Ulf as a rebellious slave, picking the "Not a tool" Move along with "Hidden gifts". We also established that Osk had a young daughter Astrid - and that she had gone mad and become a Seiðkona after a very difficult childbirth, during which she claims she died. Eira was to arrive at the homestead with her brother to meet the family prior to the wedding. We then set up only PC relationships, as follows:

As we started, another ship arrived just before Eira - a man named Lambi, who claimed to be son of King Harald Fair-hair, who brought twelve fighting men and his pregnant wife Snaedis. He asked hospitality with Hogni, which he was given. Problems were friction with Lambi - whom Hogni insulted more than once; the mad behavior of Osk; and that Hogni was actually homosexual and attracted to Ulf. Ulf was approached by Lambi, who revealed that he planned to kill Hogni and his father and take over the homestead - offering Ulf a place as a free man in his band for his support.

         Ulf readily agreed to this, shocking the others. Osk and Eira then saw a shipwreck, and went down to the beach only to discover that their step-brother Surt had crashed and drowned returning home. Lambi took this as a sign, and started his fight to take over.

The Third Dream Gate

Sun: 4PM - 8PM
GMs: Jim Sullivan, Kimmi Allbee, and Renee Ritchie
System: Cthulhu Live
Description: Convolution 2013 Gates of Horn and Ivory: The Realms of Dream presents The Third Dream Gate!
It's rush week at Miskatonic University and 16 students are pledging to the coed fraternity Iota Delta Omega. They find themselves trapped in the fraternity's game room playing the Doom That Came to Atlantic City and soon discover it is much more than a simple board game! Before long they are all caught in the convoluted machinations of the rulers of the Dreamlands.
**Note** Some of the characters in the Cthulhu Live LARP will be playing the board game the Doom That Came to Atlantic City, which will be integral to the plot of the game. No familiarity with either game is necessary for participating in this LARP.

This was a larp where all of the characters are young pledges at a fraternity, waiting in the game room - where they have the opportunity to play a board game, "The Doom That Came to Atlantic City" (a real boardgame with partly hand-assembled parts). Due to technical difficulties, it took nearly an hour before we started - the organizers hadn't been able to print out character sheets. The characters were simple slips: just a name and major along with stats and skills.

         A leading fraternity brother started people playing the game - and soon after it was started, players were mind-controlled into still playing the game. As the game continued, strange things started happening. Eventually, characters realized that they could pull people out of the game with effort - but another person would be pulled into the game to replace them. We eventually managed to use the two or three empowered characters to complete a ritual to stop this. Kudos for Alexis as an excellent secret villain.

         The boardgame connection was only loose. Apparently the game itself was only a time counter - moves in the game had nothing to do with what was going on.


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: Thu Nov 14 21:04:08 2013