Pacificon/ConQuest SF 2008 Report

         These are my thoughts on the Pacificon / ConQuest SF 2008 gaming convention. I'm not sure whether they are officially changing the name -- "Pacificon" was on the program, but "ConQuest SF" was still used in some places. I had been to ConQuest SF in 2003, 2004, and 2005, but missed it in 2006. This year it was in a new location: the Marriott in Santa Clara. Also, it started on my last day of working for Yahoo!, which I was quitting.

The Mystery Unfolds...

Game System: World of Darkness, Mortal
Game Master: John Peacock
Fri 19:00 - 1 Round(s)
6 Hours - Players: 2 to 6
The Office of Homeland Security has chosen you to infiltrate a local cult - the First United Church of the Holy Spirit. Rumors abound of their illicit activities. Your country needs you to find the evidence.

This was my first time trying out the new World of Darkness system. I've only had brief experience with most of the White Wolf games. I hadn't made it into a larp that I had been interested in, and quickly looked for a tabletop RPG game to get into. So I arrived a little late, but the game turned out well.

It began as a police procedural of sorts, with FBI agents investigating a cult in San Francisco's Chinatown. The GM was well-prepared with lists of names, and there was eventually a logic to the whole. I picked my pregenerated PC last since I arrived late. The others were the investigative lead agent (Agent Parr), a consulting psychic (Mr. Winchester), and a professor retired from the FBI now consulting (Professor Williams). I picked a combat-capable agent to balance these skills, and chose a rebellious agent with unusual skill in knife-fighting -- Special Agent Brock Logan. His Virtue trait was Fortitude, and his Vice trait was Wrath. My schtick was that I was regularly in trouble with the agency, and was the designated scapegoat for the mission in case something went wrong. I thus started out resentful of Agent Parr, but she and I eventually got along reasonably well.

The adventure began as a straightforward police procedural of sorts. The GM was well-prepared and the scenario made sense. We began surveillance and collected names and backgrounds of those associated with the cult. A nice aspect was that competant FBI resources were assumed -- i.e. we effectively had minions in the form of cooperative local police, and things like getting warrants or cooperation from law enforcement in other cities was assumed. It was nicely mysterious, and on a player level we quickly realized that there was a strange supernatural aspect to this without there being any outward signs of such.

As the game progressed, though, our characters began to experience strange knowledge and impulses. The GM would say impulses that we felt, which we could override or go with. Eventually, it came out that each of us had true identities of comic-book characters. Winchester first became aware of his true supernatural abilities, including his identity as John Constantine. Agent Parr was Elasti-Girl (from The Incredibles movie), and I was Wolverine of the X-Men. This was a bit cheesy, but it was smoothly handled. We confronted the strange sin-eating supernatural power within the cult building, unwrapping the mystery and confronting the fallen angels behind it.

Young Players' Room Games

On Saturday, I came in with my wife and son -- and we started him playing in the "Young Players' Room". There were around 12 to 15 kids in there, split into two games of D&D when we arrived. Over time there were sometimes a few kids off playing a smaller boardgame, but most were in the big games. The games were quite fun this year thanks to the tireless efforts of coordinator Jen Hicks.

My son got to jump into an ongoing D&D game at first GMed by Jen, which he had a lot of fun with. Later, we both played with him in a homebrew game of "Monster Smash" -- where each kid made a monster out of play-dough, and then Jen created a card with simple D&D-like stats on it, and they started battling. The gimmick was that when a monster was reduced below 0 HP, the player who dealt the killing blow gets to smash the play-dough monster. For some of the younger kids who were attached to their creation, they were allowed to beg for mercy and be spared. (There are some online pics of the games.)

The Goblin King's Gala

Game System: GM Fiat LARP
Game Master: Sandra Jacobs
Sat 17:00 - 1 Round(s)
6 Hours - Players: 16 to 16
The Goblin Court is throwing a gala to celebrate the betrothal of King Jareth. Join the revels behind the shadow of a mask, and pursue love, revenge, or redemption as the music plays through the night. Masks will be provided to our honored guests. Costuming encouraged but not required -- 1800s to 1920s fae cocktail/party attire. Use your imagination! A December Star LARP.

This was a terrific one-room larp with around 16 people. The GM provided elaborate masks for each of the characters, and about two-thirds of the players dressed appropriately. I had brought a few changes of clothes, and picked a tuxedo as appropriate formal for someone who was a Seneschal of his domain. The setting was the world of the 1986 movie Labyrinth, a short time before the events of the movie. King Jareth was celebrating his betrothal to a beautiful bride of the realm, and various people had clashes over that.

Casting was done by everyone filling out a questionnaire which had a series of atmospheric quotes (bits of song lyrics, dramatic lines, or poetry). These said nothing directly about the character, but implied them. Each player rated them from 1 to 16. I was given Tom Wisp -- a peculiar ghost who originated as a stillborn babe but had grown up as a ghost, and became Seneschal of the Ghost Wood. He was granted flesh for the first time for the day by gracious act of King Jareth. On a meta-level, he had an open-ended power to find out certain secrets via his ghostly resources, but he didn't have strong goals or other powers.

I had a blast with this game. There were a bunch of small plots, but no huge ones, and I think everyone got a chance to shine. The system called for GM intervention for any combat, but it didn't slow the game down too much, because there were a variety of threads to pursue without GM intervention. The physical/magical interactions were infrequent enough that there were long stretches of purely in-character action.

New Kids, Old Monsters

Game System: Monsters and Other Childish Things
Game Master: Carl Rigney
Sun 09:00 - 1 Round(s)
4 Hours - Players: 3 to 6
The Stars have Aligned and now you have a Monster from beyond space and time! It's your best friend ever, even if others might not understand how cool it is to have a friend that will messily devour anyone who deserves it starting with their toes, but some problems can't be solved by making a big mess. With your new monster, this will be the best school year EVER! Beginner's welcome, system will be taught.

This was a straight run of "Monsters and Other Childish Things", run by Carl Rigney, whom I knew from a number of previous games. We were using pregenerated characters from the book, which were pretty fun. We had four players, which meant we had two kids and two monsters. I played Madison Kate Sinclair-Stevenson, who had a hilarious background description.

Madison is a very busy girl. She is in the school jazz band (clarinet). She plays soccer in a competitive private league. She takes advanced placement classes. She volunteers at local homeless shelters. She runs for student government. She helps decorate the school during Spirit Week. She takes private tutoring during the weekends to help keep her ahead of the academic competition. She sings in the church choir. She takes karate.

She also sees three therapists, takes four mood-altering drugs and a prescription antacid, and secretly wishes a monster woudl come and eat her parents.

There is more, but that first part sold me so I took Madison. Another player took the role of her monster Yog'So-Soft -- a teddy bear that turned into a monstrous Cthulhoid beast that could twist minds as well as shred flesh with its claws. The other two players played her classmate Tommy and his monster Flytrap Joe -- an animated collection of tendrils that can shift through spacetime to make tendrils, mouths, or eyes appear anywhere.

The game was a fairly open-ended romp as we interacted at first with two other NPC kids and their monsters, dealing with the havoc of our interactions -- kid and own monster, monster and other monster, kid and kid. I ended up befriending NPC new girl Lucy Awai and her shark monster Aumakua. I had a clear dramatic arc of dealing with my parents, which I eventually managed -- and then we resolved out the rather incidental group plot of saving the world from a horrible alien menace. It was a little rough around the edges, but it worked pretty well.

My Life With Joker

Game System: My Life with Master
Game Master: Sean Nittner
Sun 15:00 - 1 Round(s)
6 Hours - Players: 2 to 4
The life of a minion is a hard one. The horrific things you do make it difficult to feel good about yourself. If only someone loved you. My Life with Joker is a Gotham adaptation of Paul Czege's award winning game My Life with Master. Prepare to serve the most violent sociopath we all love to hate, and eventually be his undoing. - A Good Omens Production

This was a variation on the My Life with Master game, run by Sean Nittner, whom I'd played with at earlier games. There were four players: Alvin, myself, and two others. I had to leave early, so I was ambivalent. However, the GM knew this and thought it was OK, and I thought I could help the game. It was pre-determined that we would be set in Gotham City, with the Joker as the Master. However, since the Joker has appeared differently in many different incarnations, we still collectively decided on the master's Aspect, Need, Want, Outsider, and Desmesne as outlined in the rules. The GM set Fear at 2, and Reason at 3, to set the pace of the game for a 6-hour slot. After some discussion, we settled on the Master's traits as:

Aspect: Brain. Type: Feeder. Need: Chaos - the Joker fed on chaotic experiences. Want: To convince Batman that there are no rules. Outsider: Batman. Desmesne: An abandoned vaudeville theater.

We then created minions. Alvin create "Carver" -- a psychopath whose More Than Human was "kill anyone as long as there wasn't a child around" and who"had an uncontrollable laugh, except in the presence of someone dead." Another player created April Phule -- a fan of the Joker parallel to Harley Quinn -- whose More Than Human I forgot, but who couldn't talk to others except through an intermediary. Another player create Vick, whose traits I didn't mark. My minion was "Dr. Giggles". In contrast to the others, he had no Self-Loathing, only Weariness. I never got any Self-Loathing during the game, either, since I never succeeded at violence or villainy. His More Than Human was "Can invent impossible gadgets except when angry" -- and his Less Than Human was "Must break or deface things except when a woman is present". One of the things I tried to do with my character was to link the minion's stories, by forming connections to characters related to the other PCs connections. So I had a connection to my neighbor, the cameraman of April Phule's reporter connection. Also, I connected to I think Carver's ex-lover and mother of his son.

After we created characters, the GM got into his character as the Joker -- wearing a Joker t-shirt marked with the Master's traits, a purple jacket, and black latex gloves. He took pictures of us and printed them, that he would mark up and cut up with scissors to add to the atmosphere. This worked fine for the atmosphere, and we got into the spirit of things pretty well. The amusing bit was that April and Carver had huge problems with dialogue -- April always having to talk through intermediaries, and Carver barely intelligible through his laughing until someone was dead. This was hilarious but it could slow scenes to a crawl. The Joker's plans targetted our connections very directly compared to previous MLWM games. Each of us were immediately sent out to do something bad to another PC's connection, and that continued through more of the game. I resisted the first order, and had to go take my cameraman neighbor to the hospital after April broke his legs. Dr. Giggles managed to resist more of the Joker's orders than the others, and had collected 4 Love before I left.

There was a Story Games thread started by the GM on this. He described the end-game that I missed -- The Joker had kidnapped mothers (and daughters) to make poisoned cookies he sent to hospitals. He forced the newscaster to broadcast a threat that Gotham's water supply had been poisoned and the only antidote was in a scarce few cookies at hospitals, psychiatrist’s offices, and free clinics. It was a stretch and much more in the style of the comic books than Dark Knight, but it managed to threaten nearly all of the connections, while fulfilling the Joker's need to feed on fear and chaos.

In the end the Joker commanded April Phule to commit another heinous act. She resisted and looked in the camera, and said "People of Gotham, can you please tell the Joker that his time is over. The last joke is on him." While the rest of the minions were busy setting their affairs in order, April defeated the Joker and dropped him into the poison vats that were being siphoned into Gotham's water supply. There were some other great bits in there as well, but that was the climax.

I thought this game was pretty cool. I did have the same trouble with it that I'd had with MLWM in the past -- that there wasn't much interaction between the players (i.e. it was mainly player/GM interaction). For my taste, that gives less variety to the role-playing experience.

The End of Lloegyr: The Seal of the Dragon

Game System: LARP
Game Master: Ryan Hart
Sun 19:00 - 1 Round(s)
6 Hours - Players: 15 to 30
It is over. The banner has fallen, the spear is broken... Olaf of the Guth, known as the Dragon, has claimed victory over the squabbling kingdoms of Lloegyr. Now the victorious king has called the rules to stand before him, and judge their fates in his palace. But can the last heroes of Lloegyr avoid this fate, and rise again to free their land? This is the final part of a trilogy to LARPs ran at Kublacon 2006 and Conquest 2007. All players are welcome, and all spots in the game are open. Come finish the epic tale of dark fantasy in the genre of Arthurian legend and Old English mythology.

As mentioned, this was the final set of a trilogy of larps. It involved a lot of medieval costuming. Of around 30 players, there were three in elaborate armor and over half had a reasonable costume. I did not have anything medieval, but I at least didn't clash too badly. Casting was done by calling out people in order, with some consideration given to people who had played in the preceding larps. It was set in a fantasy world that was a close parallel to Mythic Europe just after the time of King Arthur. The starting situation was that Lloegyr (i.e. England) had just been conquered by the Guth (i.e. vikings), and the leaders were taken captive and brought back as prisoners to the Guth king's court.

I ended up playing Wandell (?) -- the commoner bodyguard of a king of a people roughly analogous to the Welsh. His secret was that he was one of seven chosen representatives of the old gods (specifically the wolf-headed god of beasts), and his mission was to find the other six -- who would not necessarily realize their true nature. His meta-game mechanic was that once every half-hour, I could ask the GM if one of the other characters was one of the chosen, and he would reply yes or no. This meant that besides acting as a retainer to my king (who had his own problems and goals), I was trying to learn about all the other characters and guess which were most like the old gods, and pick those who seemed the most likely. This was a fair set-up. The characters had a clear hierarchy from the very important and powerful figures down to seemingly modest commoners like myself, who all had secrets.

The quest was interesting to pursue, as I hooked up with another of them and a wizard who also wanted to find the seven. However, the eventual resolution was disappointing. I only managed to find five of the seven, and had no clue for the other two. The wizard (a parallel to Merlin) knew all seven, but he didn't tell us and was killed. In the end, there was a cataclysmic ritual where a dragon was raised. However, only one of the seven of us played an active role in how that end turned out. So I felt it was a good setup, but had problems in the ending. Also, there was only one GM and one assistant for 30 people, which is too high a ratio for a game where there is GM-resolved combat and magic.

John H Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Fri Sep 5 14:25:52 2008