End Game April Fool's 2006 Mini-Con Report

         This was a "mini-convention" organized at a game store in Oakland, End Game, in collaboration with RPGnet. The store has a number of tables in an open upstairs area -- often used for miniatures and card games as well as role-playing. The space was a spread out open area with not much noise, and it was easy to hear even with five simultaneous games.

         There were 15 events scheduled in three time slots of 4 hours each (10AM-2PM, 3PM-7PM, and 7PM to 11PM). I think most but not all of the scheduled games ran. The time slots were a bad choice, I think, because it left no break for dinner, and the lunch break was very late at 2PM.

         I played in all indie games for this one: Dead of Night, With Great Power, and Dogs in the Vineyard.

 


Dead of Night: Bookworm

         This was a short demo of a new horror RPG, gamemastered by the co-author of the book, Merwin Shanmugasundaram. Rather than a 4 hour game, he had scheduled two 2-hour games, running 10AM-12PM, and 1PM-3PM. However, since they were concurrent with 4 hour games, we had exactly the same five players for both games. The first ("Bookworm") was a fantasy game in a generic medieval high fantasy setting; the second ("Blind Spot") was a modern day ghost story. The descriptions were:

Bookworm

Experience two hours of fantasy horror using the most compact and versatile horror RPG in print, with the game designer as your GM! An angered demon's diabolical servant is killing members of your guild one by one. Stop it, or suffer a gruesome death by drowning. It has never been more true: the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, and knowledge is power.

Blind Spot

Experience two hours of modern horror using the most compact and versatile horror RPG in print, with the game designer as your GM! How do you escape from a killer you can't see? In an isolated office building after hours, a disgruntled office worker crosses beyond to unleash a nighmarish terror on anyone within reach. Blink once, see a shadow; blink twice, you're dead.

         I'll discuss the two events together since they had all the same players, the same GM, and same system. The system is aimed at imitating classic horror movies. The book includes a long list of horror movie cliches, and the system is geared towards this. Characters have a single variable stat called "Survival Points", and four pairs of traits which are very broad (such as two stats for all combat: Assault and Protect).

         These were really demo games in that we learned the mechanics of the system, but that was also mostly the focus of play. At least within this short demo play, the game had something of a boardgame feel as we tried to beat down the Survival Points of the monster while the monster tried to beat down our Survival Points. Both players and GM inserted flavorful description into these rolls -- and the GM encourages player input into background narration. Still, overall there was a clear goal (beat the monster) and a simple dice-off resolution to get to them. The basic game that we played seemed like it would get dull quickly, but there are advanced rules which introduce more factors such as Tension.

         The rules emphasize being very portable and easy to pick up (literally). The rulebook is pocket-sized. Character creation can be done in around two minutes. Though in the basic game rules that we played under, I think the characters are not very well differentiated mechanically. All resolution is handled with a single 2d10 roll. Similar to the Buffy RPG, only one side rolls the die in a conflict, and a conflict is always a single roll -- though unlike Buffy, there are times when the GM will roll dice.

         The first game was in a generic fantasy setting at a magical academy where a dark creature had gotten loose. I played a knife-wielding fighter named "Lance", whom I described as the classic ranger-esque tough guy -- with close-cropped hair except for a short braid, with well-worn leather clothers, a single earring, and a scar. The monster was an inky black liquid, and he was the first to get the monster on him. I described him running and throwing himself onto a fire to drive it off. This made the GM/author blink a moment, but I succeeded the check, and he obligingly rolled with this.

         The second game was a ghost story set at a bail bonds office. I decided to play the paralegal, whom I described as a fashionable blonde woman who began the game doing her nails at her desk. The monster turned out to be the ghost of a serial killer who died at the office but could appear in any reflective surface. This game was somewhat problematic, because it wasn't clear to us as players what we could do to fight the opponent. So we stumbled around a bit, got one or two PCs killed off, and eventually won -- but there was a random feel to it. The prior monster was at least physical and so it was clearer how to deal with it.


With Great Power...

         This was a demo of Michael Miller's 2005 game, game-mastered by Paul Strack. Paul used a few house rules -- one or two for his own tastes, and one or two to let the game play a complete story. There was a four-hour session and there were pregenerated characters, but we had to learn the rules, and there was a short break as he tailored the scenario to the strife aspects we selected (i.e. our choice among the nine traits of what we wanted to emphasize this game). The description of the event was:

There's more to a hero than a costume, a battlecry and powers beyond those of mortal men. Superheroes are about shouldering the burden, no matter how great, of saving everything that means something to you. You can save the world, but are you willing to pay the price?

         So I picked a mystical superheroine named Arcana -- likened to Raven from the Teen Titans (whom I wasn't familiar with) mixed with demure Willow from the early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In her origin, she had absorbed the powers of a former superhero named Cecil Snow as well as a demon named Ehrghaz. Her aspects were as follows:

Assets:

Motivations: Relationships:

         The GM Paul did a report on the run at the Forge, in the thread "[With Great Power...] Endgame MiniCon, April 1". I picked the demon seed as the most interesting of these for my strife aspect. I played her a bit stronger and more confident than the notes and aspects suggested. I think I was influenced here that it was an all-male group and I had the only female character. One other player picked a female character but chose to play it as male. So as the token female character, I really didn't feel like playing low self-esteem.

         This is a system where everyone has a hand of playing cards, and you can gain extra cards by putting at risk the highlighted aspects which you picked for this story. So you're rewarded for risking them, but if they go too far then they risk becoming "Devastated". Once that happens, then the GM controls them and if he also devastates them, then he can change them against you as he sees fit. So, if a relationship to Aunt May gets devastated by the GM, he could kill her, or turn her into a villain, or anything like that.

         We started with a teaser fight with a bunch of zombies and henchmen causing a ruckus downtown. I did the nurturing thing and took as my goal to save the little girl who was threatened. That lead into a plot where IronClaw and the Zombie King had some vague plan to cause havoc, which we joined up to stop. The four scenes of my character were:

No. Type        Who?         Stakes                                     Result
 1  Conflict    Zombie       Save the child or child eaten              Success
 2  Enrichment  Ehrghaz      Learn where and who the zombies came from  Fail
 3  Conflict    Demon        Mark the demon or be marked                Fail
 4  Conflict    Zombie King  Strip King's powers or Ehrghaz freed       Success

         The last one was the climactic scene, and was somewhat problematic as I discussed in the Forge thread. Still, in general the game went smoothly and did pretty well for a demo. The mechanics were crunchier than I had expected, but everyone took to them fairly smoothly.


Dogs in the Vineyard

         So I played in a Dogs game run by Carl Rigney. I had played Dogs with Carl before at an earlier convention where I was the GM. Though he knew more about it than I did. For this game, he ran a branch scenario created by Judd Harris: New Gidea. The description of the event was generic description of Dogs as a system:

Roleplay God's Watchdogs protecting the faithful in a West that never was. You stand between God's law and the best intentions of the weak. You stand between God's people and their own demons. Sometimes it's better for one to die than for many to suffer. Does the sinner deserve mercy? Do the wicked deserve judgement? They're in your hands.

         There were four players, including Mark, whom I'd also played with before, and two others whose names I forgot. Mark had read the Dogs system but never played, while the other two were completely new to the system. Both of the other two decided to make book-quoting male zealots. I decided to make a more social dog, Brother Caleb, who was the son of a Steward, trained in law, and aspired to high political position in his future. Mark decided to make a soft-hearted woman, Sister Sarah, with traits like "Soft-hearted" and "Comes from a big family".

         I went with Strong History and took traits of "I'm a Dog", "Slick talker", "Can blend with common folk", and "Hard worker". I picked a single relationship: my elder sister Esther who had raised him. I pictured him as a hearty hand-shaker and believable baby kisser, unafraid to get his hands dirty, but doing so to consciously make an impression. My initiation goal was for my faith to be strengthened by seeing my error. Mark's was to survive in wilderness where her traits really didn't apply, and was thoroughly beaten.

         Roughly, we got into town and headed off a posse who were hunting down a killer. We then asked around to figure out what was going on. We then successfully tracked down the killer. He had killed my character's brother-in-law (husband of Esther) thinking that he had raped his sister when really the two had been having an affair. I was pretty clear on this one: We talked him out of the canyon he was hiding out in, and then I shot him dead (and the GM gave immediately).

         Something that stood out to me was that it can be difficult to set appropriate challenges in Dogs. This one was something of a pushover. It's still interesting because Dogs isn't just a beat-the-bad-guys sort of game, but I think it could have stood with more adversity. Roughly, you set adversity by how many people there are in league with each other. If you've got enough NPCs acting in concert, you can beat Dogs. If there's a lone NPC, he's always toast if he meets two or more Dogs.

         Carl handles conflicts and rules very smoothly. He explained things well and was very well prepared. The scenario was simple, which is good for a first-time con game, but could use a little more adversity and some sort of oomph.

 


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Sun Jul 16 00:05:13 2006