Go Play NorthWest 2007 Report

         The first Go Play Northwest in 2007 was a new style of mini-convention focused on indie RPGs. For this year, it was hosted on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. There have been various posts on the event by participants. On Story Games the main thread was "GPNW is teh hawtness!" along with "[Go Play NW] Photo Thread" and "Numbers, Reflections, Lessons Learned, etc.". On the Knife Fight forums, there was a thread on "I played your game at Go Play Northwest". There is also a Flickr photoset.

         I flew into Seattle from San Jose on an early morning flight, and I arrived at the con shortly before 10:00. At that point, though, the first slot games were already all underway and didn't have room. So I instead checked into my room, showered, and checked my email at the library, then joined everyone for lunch at noon.

         When we got back, I was introduced to the sign-up system -- which was people writing games they would run on the white board and other people signing up. At that point, though, all of the announced games were basically full. There were at least half a dozen people not signed up, though. So I proposed some games. I was prepared to run five games: My Truth & Justice one-shot "Bonds of Steel", my "Spirit of Serenity" one-shot, 1001 Nights, Dead of Night, and The Weaver's Daughters. I suggested TWD first, but didn't get a quorum of interest, and then both T&J and SoS -- and people were more interested in SotC.

         There were about 55 attendees both days. They ranged in age, with a few in their 20s, most in their 30s, and maybe a quarter in their 40s. There were around 5 women, and less than that of non-Caucasians. Most were local, but around a third were from out-of-town, and stayed in a dorm hall where the organizers had arranged cheap rooms.


Sat Afternoon: "Spirit of Serenity"

         I game-mastered a session of Spirit of the Century using the Firefly/Serenity background. I had pregenerated characters that I had made up for my group. However, I hadn't developed the material as a convention game to play with strangers. Also, when I played this with my group it took roughly 4 hours, rather than the 3 hours I had at GPNW. Overall, I like this setup and I'll keep it around as something to run at conventions, but definitely with some changes. The characters are all pretty good, I think, but I'll probably end up majorly revising the adventure background / situation. Going around the table counter-clockwise, the players were:

         Two of the players posted comments about GPNW07 -- Dan posted "Go Play '07", and Lucian posted "Go Play Northwest". Dan wrote:

Also as I imagine is typical for con games, it felt like we were going agonizingly slow in terms of "solving the mystery", and the spotlight was pretty shaky moving around (partly as a result of the aforementioned dumb plan stuff, although maybe I'm just griping; there was a really obvious location we didn't head to until late in the session because we were distracted by various people's side-plans). It felt like lpsmith in particular got kind of shafted by lack of spotlight, but I guess he did get to hack the computer in a few important places and get some vital plot tidbits (he was playing Lalu, the engineer; I was Pearl, the security chief). Things were quite rushed but we did get 90% of the plot exposed and came to some resolution by the end, so I think we were basically ok, although I don't know how much the GM cut things down to make us get there in time.

         In practice, I have noticed that a slow start is common for convention games, but obviously I'd prefer to avoid that. When running it again, I'd make the scenario more personal to these PCs, and write in some strong relationships of the PCs with key NPCs. That's what I did with my Truth & Justice convention game, and it worked very well. Particularly given the setup of the PCs as the crew of a ship, the group dynamic was key. I don't think there's a simple way to improve it, though. When designing convention games, I will often define the inter-PC relationships a little better, giving notes for each PC on what they think of the others. However, it's still a big open question how well they'll work together.

         At some point, I'll post revised scenario ideas for use with these characters. Most likely, the scenario will still involve trouble with Companions out in the territories, and it may even involve the training grounds on Newhall -- but everything else will change completely.

Sat Evening: Playtest of "Know Thyself"

         This was a playtest of a GMless game, organized by the author, Ryan Macklin -- who didn't play but stood by to explain the rules. The general concept was that you're playing someone who has lost their memory. Going around the table clockwise, each player takes a turn doing one scene. As the active player, you control exactly what your character does -- but the players to your left and right define where your character is, their physical body and circumstances, and everything else. The exception is in the conflict which ends a scene -- where success or failure is determined by card mechanics, but you can choose either to narrate how the conflict resolves or define a memory unlocked by the conflict.

         The players were Mike Sugarbaker, Jackson Tegu, Brian Wiegman, Joe McDonald, and myself.

         At the start, each player defined an impulse that would drive their character, and we came up with ones including "I need to get married immediately" and "Why do I still see my dead mother". Each player thought of five inspirational objects and wrote a purely physical descriptions of them on cards. All the cards were then put in a hat, and everyone drew out four and wrote them on his character sheet. Each recovered memory would be keyed to one of these objects -- like "a broken watch", "a check for one millions dollars, made out to cash", and "fifty feet of rope".

         We then started play. One player would draw three cards with random words on them, that define the location of the scene -- like the "(Theater) of (Shameful) (Peace)" or the "(Throne Room) of (Shaken) (Wrath)". That player then frames a scene for the player on their left, describing where they are, what they see, and most (but not necessarily all) of the four objects. After the scene starts, though, the player on the other side of the active player was the GM and could define everything for that scene including physical features of the character.

         In three hours with five players, we got through I think seven scenes. As one might expect from this sort of game especially as a playtest, there were many interesting ideas, but not much coherency. I already gave feedback and the rules may change, so I'm not going to go into any more detail on the game design.

         To my mind, it was a little slow at first, and came alive a few turns in when Joe McDonald and I started pushing back and forth at each other. The heart of this is that other people have a huge amount of say in who your character is, even though you control everything about what you do.

Sat Night: Playtest of "Cheap"

         This was a bizarre session game-mastered by author Joe McDonald. I'm hesitant to describe it too much, since it is basically a mind game where Joe subjected us to stuff where we didn't know the rules. I played with Ryan Macklin, Jake Richmond, and Nick Richmond. Jake Richmond posted "Go Play NW" about the con as a whole including this session, which apparently gave him nightmares.

         I was not at all traumatized, but I was in a sleep-deprived state since we were playing past midnight when I had gotten up before 5AM that morning. I connected with different parts of the game, but I totally couldn't logically put together patterns. Still, we won in the end. As Joe reported, we broke his game and took his pants.

Sun Morning: "Zorcerer of Zo"

         This was a prepared event game-mastered by Edmund Metheny, using a bit of the rules and the canonical setting from Chad Underkoffler's game. Character creation started with picking one of seven wrapped gifts and unwrapping them to find out what our toy was. We then picked our Qualities and Weakness as normal for ZoZ, done in about 10 minutes or so. The players and characters then were:

  1. Sophie Lagace ("mechanteanemone") got a toy vacuum cleaner (made in Japan) and created Watanabe Hideko, the Happy Family Vacuum Cleaner.
  2. Wilhelm Fitzpatrick got a stretchy rubber poison dart tree frog, and created Chewy from Honduras.
  3. Laura Mortensen got an plastic ogre action figure with a cage and a pet gargoyle, and re-created Philban Detmer (whom she had played in an earlier ZoZ game).
  4. I got a medieval knight action figure who had a lot of accessories, and rather than a knight per se, I focused on the gear and created Sir Sellsalot -- an enterprising salesman.
  5. Jeremy Zimmerman got a pink plastic car with princess-themed stickers, and created Loue the Jalope -- who was a personal shopper and concerned transport for an imaginary princess.
  6. Jackson Tegu got a plastic tea set (!!!) and created Good Old Values, the Enchanted Tea Set. Its Qualities were based around different ways of arranging itself, like "Robot Imitator" by arranging the saucers and cups like a robot.

         At the start, Edmund had a list of eight or so plot elements on the board that we were going to try to hit, and we added about six of our own. They were things like "Devil Ducks" and "An Enchanted Princess" and "A Daring Rescue". As the game went on, we checked off things that we had done.

         The larger frame story was that we went from central Zo to the southern kingdom of Rosso, where we were charged with confronting the attacks of devil ducks on the shipping. mechanteanemone posted Go Play NW wrap-up and mini-reviews including this one. I think that between having to create characters quickly from random toys, and the list of existing plot elements, the results were confusing. Kudos to Jackson in particular, though, for his outstanding efforts to make a character out of a tea set.

         I played in a game that was similar in some ways at AmberCon NorthWest '07 -- "Amber's Home for Imaginary Friends" game-mastered by Jennifer Zimmerman. We each got a toy out of that event, too, but it was a symbolic toy that represented a power rather than being a figure for our character. The characters in AHfIF were a little more planned, and they all had more of a thematic bond and a tie-in to the plot.

         A few comments on system... We did not end up using the Story Hooks mechanic from ZoZ, with the plot elements on the whiteboard being the substitute. Also, the plausible coincidence spending was a little odd because we often made suggestions that the GM Edmund would pick up on without spending, though sometimes we would spend for some.

Sun Afternoon: "The Princ(ess)es' Kingdom"

         This was a run of another kids-focused game, "The Princes' Kingdom", game-mastered by the game's author, Clinton Nixon. We had seven players, which was pretty ambitious of Clinton, I thought. He had eight pregenerated characters, one each for ages 5 to 12. Dividing them up, we had:

         I won't delve into the plot too much, but there was something of a mystery that we confronted. It uses a simplified version of the system from Dogs in the Vineyard, with only one attribute (age) instead of four, and thus escalation is only to draw in new traits. Because of the number of PCs, the system was only really invoked for effect a handful of time -- notably at the climax where Elisabet ended up taking on the bad guy one-on-one. (And there was something of a distinct bad guy in this.) There were two other times when the mechanic was invoked, but with multiple PCs the odds were such that the GM just gave.

         The story was considerably less gonzo than the previous ZoZ game, but also had less distinct hooks for characters. There was some nice dynamics of age, with Calvet the 5-year-old just running wild, and Michaela as the oldest trying to nicely boss everyone around. It could have used stronger hooks for everyone to have their moment and shine differently, I think.


         GPNW was a fun time. It's a bit distant for me, coming from California. However, I'm likely to come again at least once.


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Mon Jun 2 10:18:14 2008