Nerdly Beach Party is a small mini-convention conducted at San Simeon State Beach Park in central California. This was the third run. I had missed the first in spring 2007, and made it to the second in spring 2008. I again came with my son Milo. Unfortunately, this time there weren't other kids for him to play with. I spent a bunch of time with him running around the park, but also got three grown-up games.
I had signed up to GM a game of Julia Ellingboe's "Steal Away Jordan" on Saturday afternoon. However, I only had two players and one of them opted out to go to another game. That was disappointing for me, since I had hoped that the NBP crowd would be one of the few places where I might find a quorum of people interested in playing SAJ. Other games played included "Mist-Robed Gate", "A Dirty World", "Sorcerer", "Spirit of the Century", "Mythender", and several rounds of the narrative boardgame "Zombie Cinema". A few links on the general action:
Friday evening I joined in on a three-player game of Polaris. I had never done Polaris three-player, and it had a tidy feel to it and it went quickly which was good for the limited time. We started by agreeing on a shared Fate aspect. We settled in order on it being (1) a person; (2) a once-great knight who was now a beggar on the streets; (3) the wisest of the knights, whose wisdom had not been heeded; (4) a woman; (5) named Alcyone. The three players were Nancy, Colin, and myself. Nancy was my Mistaken, I was Colin's Mistaken, and Colin was Nancy's Mistaken.
The game went great. I started in a bar talking with Grinky, who talked me into a bet that I could have any woman in the room. Eridanus showed her resolute stand by chopping off the head of the Lord of the Dance shortly after he appeared -- though that didn't stop him. As Mistaken, I had Al Reschia ordered to dig up dirt on the explorer Mirfak by Lord Senator Antares, who thought her a threat to the established order. I had Alcyone walk into the room, and Menkib subtlely hit on her by claiming to ask for her help.
Colin had Al Reschia rescue Mirfak, who returned to the city wounded. However, a deadly demon came in with her and poisoned Al Reschia. This proved to be a transmitted poison, which passed to Menkib and then Eridanus, and soon mutated into a plague that threatened to destroy the city. Al Reschia quietly had fallen in love with Mirfak, who was carrying vital information about a place full of mysterious crystals whose light drove demons away. Al Reschia made a deal with the Antares -- who turned out to be demonically possessed -- to save the city. However, Eridanus chopped off his head before he could spread the cure to most of the people of the city.
Our remnant was then doomed, but Mirfak escaped wounded out into the wastes only to be captured by the Lord of the Dance. Months later, Eridanus found and confronted him, but then turned away when she refused to bargain for her daughter's life. Al Reschia also searched the waste and found only her corpse, which revived and spoke to him with the words of the Frost Maiden. Spurred by what he learned, he went to take his revenge upon Eridanus for abandoning her daughter. He attacked her but she killed him. Then Menkib reappeared and found Eridanus. He had been searching for her in the wastes, to tell her of the survivors of the remnant who had made a new home by the place of crystals that Mirfak had found. He told her that he still loved her, and offered to take her to the new colony, which she accepted.
All three PCs dropped to veteran status during the short session, which was new to me. We were liberal with having knights make multiple experience rolls for their questionable behavior. Menkib and Al Reschia both made deals with demons, while Eridanus doomed the people of the remnant by not accepting a deal. Also, we rolled remarkably low in some experience rolls.
On Saturday morning, I went around the park with my son. In the afternoon, I had hoped to GM "Steal Away Jordan", but that fell through for lack of players. So instead, I organized and played an impromptu kid-friendly game of "Monster Island" -- a simple indie RPG of giant kaiju fighting by Bruce Harlick and Patrick Sweeney. We had six players including my son and myself, from the people who didn't have an afternoon game.
Some people just jotted down stats, while a few others did the full generation of spending 30 points on stats and powers. We each described our background -- so we had some variety, including a snake that just wanted to eat things, a cyborg giant soldier that vied with my alien mantis for taking over the island, a giant land squid of unclear motives, and a giant butterfly that tried to keep the peace (and zapped those who broke it). Everyone had a fun time as we pounded on each other.
This was a six-player game of "3:16 Battle for the Stars" (by Gregor Hutton), game-mastered by Paul Tevis. I had vaguely heard a lot of buzz about this game, and I liked Hutton's game "Best Friends" a lot, so I signed up for it. It was about space marines fighting aliens, roughly based on Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers". I had known nothing about the system prior to signing up, though I briefly skimmed Paul's book that afternoon.
Paul did a masterful job as the the foul-mouthed, cowboy-like commander from orbit speaking to us, blending meta-game and in-character talk ("Roll your damn dice, soldier!"). I created Sergeant Pollesky, with the Reputation "Joker" -- and constantly made sarcastic cracks about the outfit. Both Paul and I drew a bit on "Full Metal Jacket", I think. The others were Pvt Makepeace ("Newb"), Pvt McClain ("Unstable"), Lt Sax ("Sux"), Pvt Horowitz ("Kill Crazy"), and Pvt Harris ("Crazier").
We went through two planetary missions. The first fighting a bunch of furred aliens on a water planet (aka "otter badger ape furries"), and the second was taking on headless zombies on a radioactive planet. The roleplaying was mostly in quips between the characters -- stereotypes soldier talk about masturbation, killing, and guns in roughly that order. The combat was rather abstract -- there were three broad range bands, and our actions were typically just "shoot" (though there were occasional shifting range band or some other non-combat action). We called it a night after two planets.
On Sunday morning, we organized an impromptu game of "A Flower for Mara", by Seth Ben-Ezra. This is described as "an improvisational play about death, loss, grief, and hope" -- it's a jeepform game where the player characters are all family members grieving a person who has just died unexpectedly and suddenly. We had five people: Paul (who directed), Nancy (who played Mara), and three regular players including Ryan, Jesse, and myself. It's designed with six parts: three male, three female. We each picked one of six relationship types (devoted/ competitive/ respectful/ bitter/ subordinate/ detached), and then Paul had us draw randomly from a hat for the three male parts. Ryan played the Mara's father Joshua with type "respectful"; Jesse played Mara's husband Caleb with type "devoted"; and I played Mara's brother Thomas with type "subordinate".
This was the highlight of the con for me. It was an intriguing game first of all simply for being a jeepform game about grief, where everyone was on board with portraying out personal grief and dealing with it. A very important addition was that everyone was instructed to bring in a personal grief or regret into the game, and at the moment that their character lets go of their regret for Mara, the player gives an out-of-character soliloquy about that grief or regret while placing a flower on the grave.
So parts of the game were very personal, and all of it was pretty emotional. Ryan as Joshua the father dealt with his own alcoholism and being distant as a father. Part of his coming to terms was awkwardly dealing with the rest of his family. Jesse as Caleb dealt with his guilt over how his relationship had gone -- wondering what he had not done or done too much. I struggled with making my own life without her -- I was a younger brother of 23, still trying to graduate from college and not really independent. Our scenes included:
Some highlights for me were: Caleb pushing to find something dark in Mara's past - first with Tom, who snapped back at him that he was trying to make this not his fault; and later when Caleb indirectly accused Josh about abusing Mara due to his drinking, who blew up at him. Me as Tom being heckled by Mara as I tried to make a date with my friend Josie on the phone, yelling "shut up" at her for a tension-relieving laugh. My soliloquy near the end, when I explained that I was secretly planning to break up with Josie over the holidays, and felt more sympathy for Mara now that I had my own relationship problems.
The game worked on a lot of levels. I would be wary of playing it with all six characters and using the unused-by-us rule of having soliloguys for every character during the dinner scenes. It seemed like three characters was ideal for us, with lots of material to go on. Also, there was so little background defined that I expect that replayed this would be totally different.
I finished "A Flower for Mara" to find that several people had arranged an impromptu second game of Monster Island to play with Milo, which was terrific. So we grabbed a quick lunch with the gang and then started the long drive back up to the Bay area. There were two main disappointments for me in this, but both were upstaged by the good side. First was that there were no other kids for Milo to play with, made up for by enthusiastic adults playing monsters with him. Second was not getting any players for "Steal Away Jordan", made up for by the excellent jeepform game that I hadn't heard of before that day.