This was the fourth quarterly "mini-convention" organized at a game store in Oakland, "End Game". It was organized in collaboration with RPGnet. I'd been to the three previous events, though the last one only for a single slot.
There were 15 events scheduled in three time slots of 4 hours each (10AM-2PM, 3PM-7PM, and 8PM to 12PM) -- though one was cancelled shortly prior to the con. I'm not sure if any others were cancelled. Attendance was fairly good but not quite as good as the last con.
This was a run of Robin Laws' game, The Essoterrorists, as game-mastered by Brian Williams. We quickly did character creation and then proceeded to an investigative scenario apparently included in the book.
The Essoterrorists are a world-wide conspiracy of cultists dedicated to undermining objective reality. By weakening the barriers of rational thought, making the world seem more senseless and insane, the Essoterrorists work to rend the fabric of shared consensus in order to let the monsters in. Their ultimate ends are shrouded in mystery, but there exists a counter-conspiracy dedicated to preventing the from turning daily life into an unremitting horror nightmare. You are members of this counter-conspiracy, elite, highly-trained investigators standing firm, protecting the rest of the world from terror and insanity. You are the thin line, and only you can find and stop the Essoterrorists.
We had three players: Eric Todd, Paul Tevis, and myself. We created characters in around an hour, including some discussion between us about the group. Character creation consisted of two pools of points: 24 points for investigative skills and 60 points for general skills. There was some important of having between us at least one point in each of the investigative skills, so after we had our character concepts our first step was to run through each of the investigative skills. We said each one allowed, and one or more of us would say that we could take a point in it.
My character was Malcolm, an anarchist hacker. Eric played a professor of literature, while Paul played an Irish ex-policeman who was now a Catholic priest. I won't include spoilers for the scenario, but I do want to comment on the mechanics and on how the scenario went.
In brief, we created characters in around an hour, then played through an in-depth investigative scenario in the remaining 3 hours of the slot. While we had learned about an incidental mundane case of corruption, we did not get any real information on the supernatural mystery we were trying to unravel. As we packed up for lunch, the GM Brian briefly explained to us the backstory to the mystery. In retrospect, I believe that the scenario wasn't designed to be completed in 3 hours of play with newbies. However, at the time, we were convinced that we had thoroughly failed and were planning our jail time rather than feeling that we just didn't have enough time.
As of writing, I don't own the Esoterrorists rules, and I think we misplayed some of them. The three key mechanics as we played them were: free core clues for explicitly stating an Investigative skill; gaining optional clues by spending points from Investigative skills; and adding bonuses to a basic 1d6 tasks by spending from General skills, which refreshed with each scene (as we played it). The last I was told was not quite how the rules work. I have a more detailed report here:
So this was disappointing, but still an interesting experiment.
This was a game which I game-mastered -- a run of Greg Porter's 1988 comedic game Macho Women With Guns.
In the 1990's, this world began to collapse. Under a string of incompetent (male) leaders, the national economies began to collapse. Under greedy (male) corporate executives, the environment was poisoned. Under tacky (male) game designers, women were exploited in role-playing system packaging. That, of course, was the last straw. The Seventh Seal of the Apocalypse was broken, the Four Horsemen rode forth, and disco made a comeback. The fabric of society collapsed, the states and nations crumbled, and Hell itself vomited forth a plague of lawyers and tax collectors to ravage the land.
The MWWG are rebuilding the world, but now an occult group of uppity men have a new source of power, and must be conquered for the protection of the Earth.
I had a full sign-up for this of six players. However, at the event, only three players showed up: Liz Henry, Paul Tevis, and Paul Strack. This was disappointing to me, particularly because I know of two other people who were there who had tried to sign up but went for other events because this game was full. Given that signup is only around three weeks before the event, it's perfectly reasonable to do preregistration. So I just have to chalk it up to bad luck.
This was, as Paul commented, a clearly old-school game -- and I played it pretty much exactly as written. I had a hex map with an area laid out. I had nice character sheets prepared, but with limited time I hadn't picked out equipment for the characters. On the other hand, it seemed thematically fitting for there to be shopping stage of the game as the first step. I might even intentionally do this if I run the one-shot again -- though I'd have photocopied and possibly edited equipment lists.
The action was basically two set-piece fight scenes, but they were fun. MWWG suffers a bit partly from a bit of sloppy design but also from its chosen theme. Compared to other common types of fighting in RPGs -- like sword & shield, Eastern martial arts, or superhero slugfests -- shooting guns is harder to make interesting. In retrospect, I might add some optional rules for choice of maneuvers.
The theme was pretty strong through the game, though. The first battle involved frat boys, rednecks, and salivating sexists. The second battle brought in the big guns, geeky Dip Ones who summoned the Great Old Ones: Isaac Azathoth (who pounded opponents and buried areas and people under mounds of prolific writing) and Harla Nyarlathison (a writing mass of grasping tentacles, a reference to his 2006 Hugo Awards behavior).
I think everyone had fun. Paul Tevis in his blog post said "It was quite tactical and very tongue in cheek. I had a good time with Sister Madison "Mad" Maxine, a Renegade Nun on Wheels. With our trusty H&K G-11's we were able to put a stop to the nefarious plots of the Dip Ones and their unearthly masters, Isaac Azathoth and Harlan Nyarlathison." It seemed to me that the Pauls had a little trouble connecting to the silliness, whereas Liz got into it more.
This was a run by Carl Rigney of the Best Friends (2006) by Gregor Hutton -- subtitled "A Role-Playing Game About Girlfriends And All Their Petty Hatreds". The event description was:
A game about Girlfriends and all their petty hatreds, doing stuff ttogether and to each other. If you've ever wanted to play in "Heathers" or "The Descent", here's your chance. Beginners welcome, simple system will be taught.
We had four players: Paul Tevis, Lance Tokuno, Keith Dalzell, and myself. We created both the background concept and characters for ourselves, which was then run by Carl. Paul noted that his last two characters had both been Catholic clergy, and suggested that to complete the trend we could play Catholic schoolgirls. Everyone quickly agreed to this, and I believe Carl suggested the title "Catholic Schoolgirls in Trouble".
Of course, there were the various fetishes about Catholic schoolgirl uniforms (and the girls themselves) to deal with. I think this set up something of a divide in the game. The way the game works is that we give brief pitches about our characters, then we assign stats collectively in a sort of blind voting by deciding which we hate for each stat. Our brief pitches about the characters were: Paul played Emily, a girl with her nose in a book; Keith played Brigit, a girl who went out with the whole baseball team of a neighboring school; I played Tori, a girl who smoked out behind the gym; and Lance played Sophie, a priviledged girl (?). We then decided who we hated for what, which determined our stats. The results were as follows:
Player Character Pretty Cool Smart Tough Rich Keith Brigit 0 1 1 2 1 John Tori 2 0 1 2 0 Lance Sophie 2 1 0 0 2 Paul Emily 0 2 2 0 1
A cool facet for me wat how this process broke stereotypes. The bookish girl Emily was the coolest (Cool 2), but the least pretty (Pretty 0). The bad girl Tori had Cool 0. Paul decided that the book Emily had her nose in was the Bible, and that her coolness was being part of a holier-than-thou set. This was tricky later on, as we had different views of what was cool to these kids.
We then picked out "Stuff" and "Nonsense" which filled out our characters. The running joke that I made about Tori was that as bad girl, she had nasty rumors floating about her -- both that she was gay and that she was pregnant. I added that she was poor, and her older sister in college had become a Unitarian and converted her. Paul made Emily's issue that her mother had just remarried and that she now had a new step-brother, but she was convinced her mother was going to hell for remarriage. Lance decided that Sophie was going out with her step-brother Peter. Keith set up that Brigit was worried that she was a sex addict.
Basically, I think there was a divide here. Paul and I had made characters who were centered mostly on faith -- Emily with her divorced mother going to hell, and Tori with her Unitarian bit. However, Keith and Lance had characters who were centered on sexuality. The rough plot was that Emily convinced Sophie to break up with her step-brother, but then they got together again for a party. Then Brigit convinced Sophie to have sex with two guys at once -- and Sophie managed to seduce Emily's bookish boyfriend along with her step-brother Peter. After this, Emily and Tori were both disgusted with men.
An interesting matching was at the end when we described how we pictured these characters going. Emily seemed set on being a nun. Tori got blamed for the stuff which went on at the party without having done any of it, and the others got more into man trouble (I think). When Carl asked, "Are you still best friends?", we all answered simultaneously "Of course!" Despite this, I think there was a gap between the two. I think Emily and Tori held back some the potentially raunchy, less serious stuff -- while Sophie and Brigit made it hard to focus on religion.
Despite some disappointments in the games, I'm still pretty jazzed on the EndGame mini-cons as a venue. I look forward to the next installment. They are now scheduled in advance as quarterly through 2007 -- in April, July, and October.