Go Play NorthWest 2008 Report

         This was the second Go Play Northwest, a new mini-convention focused on indie RPGs. It had a new venue this year, the Watertown Hotel in Seattle's University district.

         Signup was clearer this time then last year, though it was still "first come first serve". There were clearly laid out sign-up sheets for each game. Some slots were claimed by sign-up on the wiki, or more often players would simply write their names on the slots at any time. This can be difficult for newcomers who are new to the process or aren't sure what they want to sign up for. However, the organizers were conscientious about making sure that everyone got into some game by organizing pick-up games after planned events were full.

Sat Morning: "Villainy: The Master of Spider Skull Island"

         In Slot 1 (Sat 9AM - 1PM), I played in GM Brandon Amancio's comic-book supervillain genre game using a variant of the Nine Worlds system by Matt Snyder. It replaced the science fiction of the original with comic book tropes, but it kept some of the themes of Greek mythology. At first this was me and Nancy, but we were joined by Laura and Mark a bit later. The GM Brandon suggested that we pick a Greek god to be the supervillain opponent's of -- which I pictured along the lines of Marvel Comic's Thor. Nancy and I decided that we were going to be the "Rogue's Gallery" of the superhero Artemis, whom we thought would have an ecological theme as goddess of the hunt. I then had a flash and knew that my villain had to be "Carbon Footprint" -- who drew power from carbon in the air and left big black marks wherever he went from his super-strength kicks and stomps. Nancy decided to play the self-made mastermind "Lady Deville" who grew up to be a corporate powerhouse and criminal mastermind after her poor logging parents were killed by Artemis. We agreed that I was a former minion of Deville who went rogue with his experimental powers. Laura played rival goddess "Hela" (operative quote "Reduce, Re-use, Reanimate") and Mark played "Heavy Metal", a would-be rocker out to prove himself.

         Character creation involved splitting 9 points into two primary stats ("Mission" and "Trauma" in this variant), then 9 points into four methods ("Create", "Destroy", "Manipulate", and "Control"), and then 9 points into any number of player-defined plans (this variant's version of "muses" in the original game). We kept our plans fairly simple and broad, which seems encouraged by the mechanics since there was a hefty bonus to any action that would further a plan. As Carbon Footprint, I just wanted to leave my mark on the world, so my plans were "Melt the polar icecap" and "Be declared public menace #1" and "Get Lady Deville to admit I was her most powerful creation".

         We began on some combined conflicts, where Hela was trying to destroy Artemis' temple and others joined in to cause various trouble. Though none of us beat the GM's incredibly lucky draw, we did destroy the temple and the park around it. We followed up with a follow-up attempt to destroy the inner sanctum, then Hela started her master plan to raise all the dead of the region.

         While there were some fun bits of characterization, playing these out basically amounted to a lot of physical conflicts where we pitted ourselves against Artemis and her allies. We had free narration based on who won at the card mechanic, but the larger frame story and scenes meant that what we were doing was basically card-driven combat made colorful by our narration. I think having a stronger background and surrounding characters could have helped.

Sat Afternoon: Urchin

         In Slot 2a (Sat 2PM - 4PM), I played in GM Laura Mortensen's straight run of "Urchin", a semi-supernatural game by Clint Krause playing homeless people in New York City. We had four players. We made our characters quickly after being read the rules, just a set of homeless people living in a strange underground realm where we ventured up to the surface city from time to time. My PC was "Oldboy", a grizzled old man who hated young and good-looking guys and was determined to prove he was still tough.

         Each character had two d6 dice-pool stats for "Meat" and "Mind", three player-invented talents, and a pool of money tokens (starting at zero, appropriately enough). We went around the table with each character doing a scene that was generally resolved in a contest or single roll. However, every time we rolled, any ones that came up in the roll were removed from our pool as rot. We could also lose stats by being beaten in dangerous conflicts like fights. We could raise our Meat by getting food, and our Mind by buying "blessing" - which seemed to be a parallel for drugs.

         The mechanics meant that our stats degraded for everything we did. We had a several rounds of trying to beg or steal for food and money, or to make our own items or blessing to get ahead. For all these, we were lucky just to stay even in our stats, often risking death or madness. However, it turned out that the buying "blessing" and selling it to topsiders could make us money without risky rolls. So we eventually just settled into this for a few rounds and soon were flowing in money and blessing.

         That's a peculiar object lesson of a game. It was interesting to try for a short slot, and I think with some more involved setups of character or background it could work for a bit longer.

Sat Afternoon: Once Upon A Time

         In Slot 2b (Sat 4PM - 6PM), the Urchin group played a number of rounds of the storytelling card game Once Upon A Time. This went very well, playing five or six rounds of evenly spread games. As is common, the stories weren't very coherent, but there was fun in thinking up connections and competitive interrupts.

Sat Evening: "Heart of Darkness"

         In Slot 3 (Sat 8PM - Midnight), I played in Chris Bennett's game set in the Vietnam War paralleling the film "Apocalypse Now" -- using the mechanics from the Mountain Witch by Timothy Kleinert. This was the highlight of the weekend for me, a great game. The GM started a Story Games thread about it.

         There were six players: "Ogre" Whiteside, Ben Robbins, Brandon, John Aegard, John Harper, and myself. We took nearly an hour in character creation, but I think it was well worth it, and we had a great cast. The premise was that we were military convicts who were blackmailed into going with Captain Willard up the river to kill off Colonel Kurtz. Character creation elements were: a name, rank, and service; up to three talents; the crime that we were in for; what we would get out of the mission; why we trust the PC of the player to our left and why we distrust the PC of the player to our right. The PCs we came up with were:

         I drew the unholy pact card, meaning that I had a deal with Kurtz that he would fulfill. This put me in a quandry. With no supernatural elements, why would someone go out over to Kurtz's side? Not knowing my secret draw, Ogre suggested a ROK (i.e. Republic of Korea) marine as an option, and I picked up on that. I made Lance Corporal Mundong Han aka "Moon Dog", who was a rabidly anti-communist, self-hating marine. My idea was that he had nowhere else to go and wanted out of everywhere, so that Kurtz would give him his own little kingdom.

         Play of this was full of amazing character moments as we played out our characters' trust in each other and attitudes. Our crimes and our service specialties made a fertile mix. Ben was terrific as "Swede" the drug-dealing straight man, out of place among us hardened killers. Brandon was similarly great as the incredibly slimy "Spook".

         Plot-wise, Spook covered up knowing about Jughead's father while we went upriver. Then one night, Captain Willard mysteriously took Swede and Top ashore and got himself killed. Trying to recover Top and Swede, we nearly killed Spook but the secret of Jughead's father came out. Jughead then sabotaged the boat to force us to rendezvous with his father. In the end, I then took Jughead into a village ostensibly to meet his father, and I called out "OK, Kurtz, I brought him". At that point we unanimously agreed with someone's suggestion that Jughead's father should be Kurtz. Spook and Top were following us to try to get Jughead's father's helicopter -- but their players agreed that they should be killed off by Kurtz's followers without a roll. Choirboy and Swede then escaped in the boat, neither having wanted in on the mission in the first place.

Sun Morning: "Tears In Rain"

         In Slot 4 (Sun 9AM - Noon), I played in Alan Barclay's game in the setting of the movie Blade Runner, using the mechanics from Trollbabe by Ron Edwards. We had three players: Ching-Ping Lin, John Powell, and myself. We were all going to be policemen in the Blade Runner division, who worked at "retiring" runaway replicants. Our characters were:

         Playing this out, we would each have one scene. Each of us started on a different plot path -- with me investigating someone who tested human but looked just like a replicant model; Dyachenko investigating a rogue set of replicants barricaded in an abandoned building with a group of street people; and Dalton investigating a black market source of meat that included human replicant meat. I eventually tied in my plot to Dalton's at the very end, but in general we interacted very little.

         There were some nice character bits at the end. Dalton had uncovered seeming replicant prisoners being used for meat, while I was waffling about how to treat my indeterminant human/replicant prisoner. We joined forces, and Dalton held off the corporate cleanup team that was going to wipe out all the prisoners, while I helped them escape. I was specialized away from combat, so I made four rerolls and almost died, but I made the last roll and narrated waking up a prisoner in the rogue replicant base. In general, I felt it wasn't well paced well for a short slot convention game. We had multiple conflicts of getting past blocking encounters -- like my roll to get past a police captain to talk to a witness I was interested in. Particularly in a three hour slot, but really in any game, you really have to push past such things.

Sun Afternoon: "Operation [omitted]"

         In Slot 5 (Sun 1PM - 5PM), I played in Carl Rigney's straight run of the lengthily-titled game, "Lacuna Part I. The Creation of the Mystery and the Girl from Blue City", by Jared Sorensen. We had four players: Rebecca, Willem, Nancy, and myself. Carl offered us the choice of "training wheels" or the "full experience" for play, and we unanimously went for the full experience. The result was that we were handed mysterious character sheets and filled them out with only indirect hints about who we were. Our names, ages, and other qualities were filled out by random rolls - though gender was that of the player, and we had the option of being the player's age. What we ended up with were:

         We also picked one skill area. I picked athletics, and pictured Faulkner as a former pro football player with little patience for intellectual matters. I had read Lacuna a while ago, and vaguely remembered some bits about it. Thus, for this I chose a character who wouldn't be at the lead in figuring out what was going on.

         In general, the game went really well. We each woke up in a strange retro reality and struggled to understand what was going on and how to accomplish our mission. My one bit of frustration was in the first scene where Rebecca struggled with what was going on. It seemed to me it was going for a long time without the others getting a turn, while she was slowing down onto actions like "I turn on the lamp" and "I open the closet door". Once we met up in character and got going, though, it moved well. Everyone complimented the atmosphere of trying to make it through a mission while not understanding the reality of what is happening. In the end, we completed our primary mission (details redacted) but lost Agent Redman in ejecting.


         An excellent time in general. For me, the highlights were the games with more character interaction. I am now more skeptical of games which emphasize separate scenes and plotlines for each character.


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Fri Jun 6 14:37:02 2008