Friday, August 16, 2019

Gencon 2019 Report Card

My middle daughter returned to Gencon again with me, and that is always a treat. Some really nice Daddy - Daughter time, the two of us heading out on an airplane to a fun place where there's going to be lots of smiles from both of us.

On to the games

A Powered by the Apocalypse game about teenage superhero. This game focuses not only about the conflicts between heroes and villains, but also the conflict between teenagers. It recognizes the challenges of what it might be like to be a teenager who finds themselves with superhero powers. What it would be like to be REALLY different from everyone else at school. How do you juggle those pressures and stresses. Its a really cool take on the superhero genre.
Grade: A-

The Fleet
A Powered by the Apocalypse game in the vein of Battlestar Galactica. A lot of room in here for interpersonal conflict alongside high stakes adventures. The creator did a good job of modeling the characters and their archetypes. In particular the way that those characters interact with their fighters. The GM takes on the role of the Commander (Commander/Admiral Adama). The players will be (I will definitely butcher the playbook names) the rookie, the CAG, the Chief, the psychic, the XO, etc. Great way of bringing the concepts of the main characters of the show into the forefront.
Grade: C (if the table were better grade would be much higher. Other player was really just not fun for us to play with, and pretty disruptive)

Sentinels of the Multiverse
Another superhero game. This one has its own system that definitely feels like it was born out of Cortex Plus, and some flavor from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, which itself was a Cortex Plus game. Its not the same, but you can feel the DNA in there. A really interesting twist to the game is the idea of some powers not being accessible until things become dire. The hero being really busted up, or running out of time in the scene. Scenes themselves will also have a turn - the environment. And a scene is given a certain amount of rounds before things will go disastrously wrong. It puts a really nice pressure to act upon the players.
Grade: B+

World Wide Wrestling
The WWE in Powered by the Apocalypse form, with the GM acting as the producer, setting up the fights and making the "who wins" decisions. The matches play out like choreographed series of moves, flowing back and forth as wrestlers take momentum and move back and forth. It's extremely fun. What's more, the wrestlers engage in pre-match smack talk and backstage/locker room interviews.

I played the part of a washed up former olympic wrestling bronze medalist, who is just grinding it out on the pro wrestling circuit as a "jobber". That guy who's purpose is to lose to the stars. Through some absurd sequence of luck, he ends up actually accidentally winning,  giving him his first win.
Grade: A+

Last Will
A boardgames in which players are competing with one another to spend their rich uncle's money to prove they are the most worthy of it. First one to bankrupt themselves is the winner. We both liked this one, and I bought the game.
Grade: A-

Little Fears
Another new game for me. I love getting to try new games at Gencon. Hannah and I played the roles of two kids, age 10 or 12 I think, who were on family trips to Sesame Place. Unbeknownst to us, evil things were afoot. Our friends began to disappear as we encountered monstersed versions of Cookie Monster, Ernie, and more. I have to say the GM found the creepiest Sesame Street art ever created for this -
 Dark art: Evil Cookie Monster | Monster art, Creepy drawings ...    
and more. Turns out Mickey Mouse was trying to steal all of the color from our world and be evil and such. We both had a great time, and Hannah figured out what the secret was just in time to save the rest of us.
Grade: A

I wish for the life of me I could remember what the plot was for this one. Definitely a huge act to follow from the "Harrison" musical plot line from the year before. Suffice it to say that we both love Demonhunters. I hope you check it out and have some fun with it too.
Grade: A

Artemis is Artemis. We both love it. We didn't feel like it was very well run or organized this year, and found the physical bridge that was created not really much more inspiring than just the usual laptops on a table. And don't get me wrong, laptops on a table with Artemis is a damned fun experience.
Grade: B

The Exhibit Hall

Meeting up with friends
Not entirely the same when you've got a teenager with you. Your teenager probably doesn't give a crap about any of your nerd friends that you only get to see once a year. Not her fault, and I probably shouldn't have dragged her into it. Was still nice to grab a meal with them and swap stories.
Grade: B

GM101: GMing for Beginners
I feel like I was back into my old form and got a lot of good feedback from people about it. I'm always glad to help a new GM get over their nervousness and go into the game excited, and hopefully with a few pointers and new techniques up their sleeve to help their games feel more natural, less choppy and overall more fun. Its a privilege to be afforded the opportunity to share what I've learned and I continue to be humbled by peoples willingness to listen to me. Different this year was my daughter being old enough to stay at the AirBNB by herself while Dad ran off to blather on about GMing. Went back after to pick her up and off we went to the con.
Grade: A

Overall Gencon Grade: A
While I do love and cherish my solo Gencons because of the freedom to just play and run the games I want without having to consider anyone else, there is something so supremely heartwarming about sharing it with one of my girls. Its not totally her thing. She doesn't love it the way I do, and doesn't play during the rest of the year. But the fact that she wants to take this trip and play with me just fills me with such Dad-Joy™ that I can't even begin to express how good it feels.

Gencon 2018 Report Card

Gencon 2018 - The Friend-ening

Gencon 2018 marked the return of me attending Gencon with a group of friends. Some friends joined me this year for the pilgrimage to nerd Mecca. I had rented an AirBnB with 2 bedrooms for the trip. As the organizer, I got one of the rooms, some others had the other room with the bunk beds (BUNK BEDS!!!!!! ZOMG) and the others piled into the living room on the sofa, etc. We shared an Uber/Lyft in and out each day and it worked out pretty well.

I learned from Gencon's past and didn't try to signed up for a whole bunch of events with my group, knowing how restrictive, (not to mention difficult it is) it can be to coordinate things together. So I limited myself to a small number. We planned to do Firefly, the RPG, Kobolds Ate My Baby: Fury Road, and a session of Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator. More on these later on.

GM 101
There's been such demand for intro GMing seminars lately that I decided to run this one twice. Had a great audience for both. A few people even asked me to game with them, so I invited them to come to Games On Demand, where I would be doing my GMing for the con. Lots of questions asked, answers shared, experiences shared among the group, and best of all, people telling me they now felt less anxious about running their first games. Mission Accomplished!

I ran a whole bunch of this at GoD. I love it each and every time. Great groups each time. I had an old man moment in one session though where a younger kid (please remind me to up the age-limits on my games) named his character Hulk - to which I asked, Hogan or Marvel, and he said "who?" Meaning he had no idea who Hulk Hogan was. At least the other players at the table had a laugh with me on it, and didn't leave me feeling completely out in the cold.

A group from the earlier GM101 class showed up for one of these sessions, and they were a joy to game with. Ran into them at Weber Grill the next day, where they sent me over a dessert as a thank you. Thats the biggest compliment I could get I think. Very much appreciated.
I LOVE running this game for people at Cons
Grade: A

Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator
Had been looking forward to this one a lot. Our group was just about large enough to run an entire ship on our own, and we signed up to plan on the "jumbo bridge" a full scale setup, with podiums for each station rather than just laptops on a table. But when we got there, there was a huge mixup. On top of it all one of our players had forgotten his ticket at the apartment. Which ended up not being such a huge deal since we weren't able to play on the big bridge anyways, as it had been double booked and already seated for the slot.

To the organizers' credit they handled the situation well - offered to refund our event tickets, and give us 2 hours of play time on one of the laptop-on-a-table bridges to fill our time. Turned out to be a great session. Was nice to play with these guys, as they are my "home crew". When we do Artemis at home, this is who plays. Although we play at home, its still cool to play 'out' together.
Grade: B+

Kobolds Ate My Baby: Fury Road
This event was the highlight of the Con this year. We had a feeling it was going to be epic before we even showed up for it, just on the title alone. Kobolds Ate my Baby + Mad Max Fury Road? YESPLEASE! We were joined by a couple of other players and received our pre-game briefing. We would be kobolds in the vein of warboys from the movie. King Torg (ALL HAIL KING TORG!!!) would be the analog to Immortan Joe. A slimy human was trying to run off and escape with a nice tasty pile of babies, and we must stop them!!!!!

The GM explained to us the variant rules for this session, namely the process of being WITNESSED! Upon taking an action, a player may yell "WITNESS ME!!!" and the other players must respond with "WITNESS!!". This entitles the witnessed kobold to a 3 dice bonus on their skill check, but must immediately make a death save, at an increased difficulty of course.

Oh, and the GM literally had a pile of character sheets for us to write up new kobolds in a pinch for when we would inevitably die.

Fast froward a bit into the session, and my friend Matt decides to jump from our kobold war-mobile onto the tanker truck. Seeing this as a pivotal moment, he yells "WITNESS ME!!" and we all cheer him on "WITNESS!!".  He fails his death save and wipes out, but in a twist of fate his death is described as "False Witness!" and he does not die, and instead lies on in humiliation.

The Next round he again tries, in hopes of redeeming himself - "WITNESS ME!!" and we all rejoice in his madness - "WITNESS!!!". Another failed death save and tragic failure.

AND ANOTHER FALSE WITNESS!. He is again denied a glorious war filled death into Valhalla, shiny and chrome. We're laughing more at him now than we were with him. But the fight goes on. And his turn comes up once more. Seeing no other choice than the path fate had put him onto he yells "WITNESS ME!!!!" - and in response to the plea for witness unto Valhalla erupts the sound of....nothing. Crickets. Not a peep from the table. Alan (another friend) and I look over at Matt, our arms crossed shaking our heads in disappointment at his repeated failures. And then the laughter erupts. Man, that sequence alone was worth twice the price of admission!. What a great session. Havent had that much fun in quote a while.
Grade: A++

This one rapidly filled up my "fuck this game" checklist for convention games before it even started. 8 players at the table? NOPE. That exceeds my max quota by 2. GM present and on time? NOPE. Strike two. GM Shows up and doesn't have the materials for their session? BOOM. Bob's out. I apologized to my friends for bailing, but this was too much too quick on my shit-game-o-meter, and I had to skedaddle. Dont recall exactly where I went after that, but it was most likely Games on Demand, to play something. Might have been Axon Punk.

I later heard from that friend that the session did indeed turn out to be a complete shitshow. Maybe I can get a quote from him about it.

Axon Punk
I played the part of a hacker who had become an AI and lived that way so long, they no longer identified as human. Just as an "it" called Corporal Kittens. It taunted the man endlessly and used RATM as soundtrack for the crew's exploits against the authority. Not sure how I feel about the system. It seemed a little clunky, but I had fun all the same.
Grade: B

A very interesting game of Time Cops - using a custom card deck to mark points on the timeline, which can then be moved around as we bounce around, messing with our own timeline, creating save points, redo's, etc. Trying to explain your way out of your own paradoxes is a very entertaining thing. I think everyone had a great time with this, I certainly did.
Grade: A

GenCon 2016 Report Card

Gencon 2016 - The Shit-tacular

For various personal reasons that I won't go into, this was by far the worst Gencon of all time. Take every bad session I've had, add a radioactive turd on top and it still doesn't even come close.  But let me try and salvage some memories from it that don't make me want to eat broken glass.

Bob's GM Seminars
I was in a general funk throughout these, so I can't really fairly assess myself. I would say it was probably a poor performance overall, but who knows. I'll give myself a passing grade but nothing to be proud of.
Grade: C

The Laundry
This is an RPG based on one of my favorite fiction series, informally known as The Laundry. The books follow the tales of Bob Howard. IT Guy and new field agent for the department of Her Majesty's government that handles things that man was not meant to know. Great old ones, vampires, aliens, sinister soul easting spirits living in the body of an unassuming old Englishman. You know, that kind of thing.

Setup was a typical horror-ish  mystery, but things went off the rails quickly when the group came up with a plan that more or less circumvented the entire story plan. I want to give a shout out to the GM, whose name I dont remember, who rolled with this like a pro. Rather than just say "ok we can't de that because it messes up the planned adventure" she instead said - OK. I did not expect that it really would shortcut our session. Can you guys give me 10-15 minutes so I can adapt, and we can keep playing for the full session? This is the mark of a great GM.
Grade: B+ (I still have some heartburn with the Call of Cthulhu 6th ed. system this is built on)
Special Evaluation for the GM: A+

Empty Epsilon

Eclipse Phase

Trail of Cthulhu

Through the Breach

RealmWorks 101


Monday, August 5, 2019

Gen Con 2015 Report Card

This was my first year ever bringing the kids to GenCon. I have to say it was a very enjoyable experience. It was me and my two oldest daughters, on our own for some Daddy-Daughter bonding and game time.

Intro to D&D
Meh, thats about all I can say about this session. The 5th edition is a solid traditional hack and slash RPG. More technically focused and regimented, and that has its place and is its own kind of fun. And I know some of you (if there actually are any readers out there) are saying to yourselves, "but you can ROLE play anything. It doesn't have to be all ROLL play!", I know that already. Now stop being obtuse and admit you know exactly what I am talking about. The story for the adventure was not compelling in any way, and the GM did little to give it the help it needed. GM was a rookie, and really shouldn't have been doing a convention, especially teaching new players. I don't fault him, but rather Baldman Games, who coordinate these events, and shoulder responsibility for their quality. My overall experience with D&D at Gencon is pretty consistent. Not Good. as in the quality is not good. At least its consistent.
Grade: D

Kobolds Ate My Baby
This turned out to be a completely impromptu thing. We popped by with generics on our way in, knowing it was sold out, but luckily there were 3 open seats. Awesome luck. Silly fun eating babies and getting killed. Poor unfortunate Kobolds. ALL HAIL KING TORG!

We like this game and have played together at home Decent setup at the con, but nothing special.
Grad: B+

Extra Extra
Didn't play - no real instruction, just dropped a board game in our laps and expected us to teach ourselves. Disappointing.
Grade: F

Damage Report
Here was a fun, fast paced game of surviving and fixing a spaceship. A realtime board game. Each player has an hourglass to measure when they can act again. Lots of moving around, juggling resources, and prioritizing the repairs. Of course never knowing when or where the ship is going to get hit again is a problem. Also, try not to open an airlock with a shipmate in the room! A fun game, enough fun that we bought it
Grad: A-

Game was fun, rules explained by the designer, engaging, cute. I had backed their kickstarter, but its been years without a finished game :( - Update on this one, I finally got in touch with someone on Etsy who is selling the game. I told him about my kickstarter pledge, he asked me for my pledge number, and said he'd send me the game. This is notable because this person is NOT the people who did the kickstarter. They somehow and for some reason decided to sell all our shit to another person? I'm pissed at the creators, but grateful for the person running this Etsy for being accommodating.
Grade: A for gameplay and an interesting concept. F----- for execution and business follow through

The Whispering Road
This is an interesting story game, written by my friend, Brent Newhall. Its hard to explain so I'll let his website do the talking. I'm not an anime guy, so a lot of the background or style was lost on me, but the game was fun. It provided room to create for my girls in ways that a more rigid structured game like D&D does not.
Grade: A

Gen Con with Kids
Its definitely a completely different experience. Right off the bat, I'm looking at more limited hours. You cant keep a 10yo up until midnight and up at 6am for 4 days in a row. They are a puddle of tears by the end of the first day. It's just too much. So it was 8am start, and 9pm to bed each night. But all in all it was a great experience because I got to share it with my daughters. Just the three of us, memories that are special and ours.
Grade:   A+

Outside of halloween, this was my very first time since becoming an adult that I wore a costume for something. We wanted to do some kind of theme and settled on Firefly. I went as Wash, my oldest as Kaylee, and my middle daughter as River. We did it the same day that I had gotten a ticket for an autograph/picture with Summer Glau. Ellie (Kaylee) got a lot of attention, many people complimenting her and some asking to pose for pictures. I think she enjoyed that. Sadly most people did not recognize Hannah as River, who doesn't have such a distinctive costume. Which made her sad, and you could tell by the look on her face.

So we get to the line for the meet with Summer, and I'm managing kid emotions. They are both being good sports about it and getting along nicely. Not an easy thing for a 10 and 12yo to do all the time. We get to the front and immediately upon seeing my Hannah, Summer exclaims "oh my god, you're dressed like River!", and gave her a hug. Summer looked up making eye contact with me and I put my hands in the prayer position, and mouthed the words "thank you" to her. She was a lovely young lady, who cheered up my daughter at absolutely the perfect moment. I'll probably remember that one forever.

Summer, if for some insane coincidence of the universe you're reading this, thank you again, from the bottom of my heart
Grade: A+++

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Gencon 2017 Report Card - The Anniversary-ing

***I'm getting REALLY bad at posting these. You'd think nearly a year two years later I'd have this done. So I'm posting it now, and hopefully I will finish it later. Maybe. Right......

This year, for Gencon 50, I decided to bring my 12 year old daughter Hannah. She's a budding tabletop gamer, and usually gives me a pretty hard run for my money in whatever game we are playing. In addition to having a great palate for tabletop boardgames, she has a nascent interest in Role Playing / Story games - just like Dad, so that makes me melt inside.

You know you're going to have either a great or massively disappointing con when the first game out of the gate is one of the best you've ever played. I've had the chance to play Demonhunters before, and had about as much fun the first time. Biggest difference here is that while I played the first game with a very good friend (who single handedly kept me on target enough to prevent a complete and total Gencon-Meltdown(TM) last year, so thank you to him) - was that this year I was playing with my daughter as well.

Scenario: Hannah played the Ninja Assassin Vampire with a blood addiction, while I took on the role of the gadget-builder-technomancer with a very short attention span. Did I mention that Demonhunters is just a BIT tongue in cheek? And it hits the mark perfectly. When we were being sent to investigate and put down a haunting at a theatre at the premiere of "Harrison", the musical celebrating the short but uneventful presidency of William Henry Harrison, I knew we were in for a great game. The author of the scenario is a brilliant genius, so whoever you are out there, you Sir/Madam, are a badass.

System: The game system for Demonhunters is an incredibly well done and elegant blend of Cortex and Fate. Two of my most favorite game systems for getting out of the way while enhancing and encouraging narrative play. Its hard to say exactly why this particular blend works so well, it just does. If Fate Core and the Cortex Hacker's Guide had a baby inside of the Emergency Room  of a Black Comedy Hospital, Demonhunters is what you would have. Just trust me, its that good.

Notable Moments: The two notable moments for me were Hannah jumping from the catwalks to tackle Yorick, the cheap plastic skull that was flying about attacking people, and smashing him into a cloud of fine plastic particles in which she appeared like a ninja from a smoke bomb - while I commandeered the P.A. system of the theater to read scathing reviews from the bad boss guy's previous thespian disasters, reducing him to tears

Grade:  A+ (This session was the highlight of the con for us. Hannah is a huge fan of musicals, and this just hit her sweet spot)

My Seminars
GM 101 - A
GM 201 - A
GM 301 - B ( I feel like I was off my game here)

Scenario: Our runners climbed out of a helicopter crash in Montreal, Canada. We had a levitating teen, an old man who could open doors in space and time, a woman who could manipulate memory, and my 50 something who could control small concentrated areas of wind. Sounds like a typical Psi*Run recipe for disaster right? I'm not sure which game had a higher body count. This one or the session of Eclipse Phase in which we released a roomful of tigers onto an unsuspecting bio lab full of Yakuza thugs.

Grade: A

Eclipse Phase

System - An interesting take on a percentile system. Roll % under like you typically would. Doubles is a critical success or failure depending on whether the roll was a success or failure. I like the way that this inherently increases likelihood proportionally to the skill level of the character.  Another unique aspect of EP is its utilization of trans humanism. A body is merely equipment. "Sleeves" as they are known are just a tool, and you mind can be transferred into an appropriate to the situation (or in the case of disaster, a new one) sleeve. The character sheet has 2 parts. 1 for your sleeve, the other for your mind. The setting features such transhuman ideas as uplifted whales and octopi, along with chimpanzees.

Scenario: Rescue a friend who has disappeared. Hannah didn't really grok the world and was confused through much of the game. Not her bag, but I do like EP quite a bit.

Notable Moments: Hannah the hacker releasing a veritable zoo of hostile animals from their cages in the research center as we merrily escape, meanwhile the badges reap what they have sown.

Grade: B

System - One of my all time favorites. this was introduced to me by Dave Chalker way back at Gencon 2012 maybe? Its an adaptation of the Cortex system, originally from Margaret Weis Publishing. Same system is the underpinning for Firefly, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, and Smallville.

Scenario - A wealthy race team owner wants to get rid of a driver that isn't making him what he used to, and won't play ball by throwing races.

Notable Monents: The takedown was an immensely entertaining culmination of scams, schemes, and serendipity. The bomb the villain had intended to use to kill his driver and collect insurance money was relocated to his own private garage, where he kept his extensive collection of antique cars. Meanwhile another one, a fake designed to look like the real thing was placed on the car, swapped out for the original. We rigged it to blow just a smoke trail. Something enough to get the driver to stop without being hurt, and for an investigation to ensue, which of course would lead right to the bad guy - who is now short 1 extensive antique car collection.

Grade: A

System: d6 based, narrative driven. I've come to love this game more than lamp. It puts the story completely in the hands of the players, and they tell it through play. Each time a player rolls a 5 or 6 on their skill checks (from 1d6 to 4d6 based on their skill) they will earn "Franchise Dice". These represent both the potential income gained from finishing this job successfully, and also serve as a pacing indicator for the story.

Scenario - I don't recall the particulars here, other than my character was the lawyer of the group who made extensive use of the various legal contracts needed for servicing a customer with a supernatural pest problem.

Notable Monents - Lots and lots of generally zany mayhem.

Grade: A

Shadows of Esteren
System - Very simple, d10 resolution. There is FAR more substance to the ambiance and feel of this game than there is in terms of game mechanics. I found the mechanics of the game to be somewhat irrelevant, and they took a huge backseat to the story of survival we were telling. Hopeless survival...pretty sure we all died, but had a great time doing it.
Scenario -  Survive a world that is surrounded by the unknown. And the unknown is DANGEROUS. We had to come to the realization though that we were living in a dream, and dying because we were sleeping out in the elements. Freezing to death. We did realize this and eventually woke up by jumping off what seemed a cliff that would lead to certain death. Upon hitting the ground and "dying" we awoke in the mountains.

Notable Monents - In the end we dies in a cave, from a vicious pack of wolves. It was fun though grimly hanging on to the bitter end. We both enjoyed the game

We  played inSpectres again. No surprise its a great, fun game. You should play it too.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gen Con 2014 Report Card

Gen Con has come and gone. Once again, I find myself sitting down to collect my thoughts on what when down over the course of "The Best 4 Days in Gaming", and more importantly (to me) how it went down. If I have learned nothing else over the past 8 years going to Gen Con, it is that you have approximately 96 hours from when you land in Indianapolis until you leave. Subtracting an hour on the front side to get to your hotel, and another 3 to head back to the airport we are already down 4 hours. That's an entire RPG slot right there! If you are a complete game addict like me, you just don't have any time to waste on silly things like getting to the airport, or serious things like a bad game session.
So let's see just how my Gen Con went, shall we?
(As always, in the interest of fairness, I will not name drop GMs whose games I did not enjoy. It is entirely possible that others did have a good time, so take my opinions with a grain of salt. Perhaps an entire shaker of salt sometimes. My criticisms here are in the spirit of improving our games - I hope that if a GM reads a bad review from me that they do learn something from it, and that it helps them. I hope that people in my games feel that they can do the same. I am far from perfect, so if I'm screwing up, please call me on it.)

Wednesday Night
Outbreak Undead
Rather than go to the swanky steak dinner some of my friends were eating, I decided to head over to the Union Station rooms to see if any games were afoot. I found an Outbreak Undead game getting ready to kick off, themed after Resident Evil. So I jumped in. It seemed light and campy, and in general it was. Though for me, it stuck too much to the "you don't have that key, so you can't go into that door" model of video game design, which resulted in the group hunting for keys everywhere rather than engaging with a story. It was cute at first, but got old pretty quick. This is one of those things that is probably just a style issue for me. Might work for some people, but didn't for me.  The GM was very critical of himself, repeatedly apologizing for his map drawing skills being terrible. Once is fine, twice may be funny, but droning on and on about it. If you're reading this Mr. GM - Give yourself a break. You aren't bad at drawing maps. I found them perfectly serviceable for the game. The only other bit of complaint I have is that the game felt very impossible to do simple tasks. From my readings of the game system though, it seems that this is by design. Not really my cup of tea to fail at most things 75% of the time, whether they are difficult or not. Overall Grade: B-

My buddies and I sat down for a drink at the JW bar and played a game of Hacker, my favorite "card" game. Its out of print now, but it is a ton of fun in a little box, especially when you are playing it with other computer nerds. Yes its dated. It has that early 90's je nais se quoi of computer nerdery that it is a wonderful game.
Overall Grade: A

D&D: Shadows over Moonsea
Buckle up and grab a helmet because I feel the need to once again let loose with both barrels about the game experience quality with WoTC at large events. Let me state that I have yet to ever play in a good game of D&D run at a con by an 'official' D&D group. I haven't even had fun in a bad way either. This year's festival of misery came courtesy of a disruptive young teenager at the table, and a GM who either was unfamiliar with the module, or for whatever reason decided that we didn't need to understand anything that was going on. At first, not understanding how things could be so confusing, I chalked it up to bad luck and maybe my own lack of understanding. After discussing with some friends who did the adventure with a different GM, I have to take a completely different approach to my critique.
Major plot elements were not explained to us, even though we interacted with the right NPCs. The fact that we needed to go into the woods should have been explained to us by our interactions with at least 2 different NPCs (Thats how the other group I spoke to found out about it) - neither of which told us anything of the sort. Net result, in the big battle at the end, not a single person at the table had any idea what was going on. Pure frustration. Add to that a 13 year old who really needs to be the center of attention at a table full of adults and you've got a recipe for disaster. And to his dad, who dropped off a stinky steaming meatball sub at the table in the middle - thanks a lot guy!
My general impression is that this GM was more than likely not given the adventure materials until very late. I hope that is the case, otherwise I can't really determine anything other than lack of preparation and familiarity with the adventure.
Overall Grade: F
(This went poorly enough that we cancelled our follow on game of Official D&D later that night. Please note this had nothing to do with the game system. We are not hating on any edition of D&D, this was purely a table/GM experience issue)

Game Mastering 101 (GM)
This was the first of 3 seminars that I ran this year, and it was very well attended. I feel like I was on my game, and the audience had a lot of participation and seemed very engaged and eager. I had a great time, and many people indicated to me at the end that they enjoyed and appreciated it. <Borat> Great Success!
Overall Grade: A

GM Seminar (GM)
My second seminal was also well attended, and brought together a lot of people to talk about GMing in general. There was a ton of interaction back and forth, and I think a lot of great advice was both given and received to and from the audience. I was a little scattered in my approach, so while I think it was an overall success, I would rate my own performance a little lower.
Overall Grade: A-

Having been turned off by the morning's D&D event, we sat down next to another group of friends in an open play are at the JW, and I broke out another of my favorite card games. This one is called Crunch! It is a game in which the players are the CEOs of megabucks that are too big to fail. Their goal is to enrich themselves and their personal fortune at the expense of anything else. Cheating is not only allowed, but encouraged. The penalty for getting cost is the loss of a "trust" card. These cards represent Federal Government bailouts, so you don't want to run out of those. If your bank goes bankrupt, so what. The only thing that matters is your own personal fortune!
Overall Grade: A

Games on Demand - PSI*RUN (GM)
I ran a session of Psi*Run at Games on Demand.  I certainly had a good time, and it seems like the players did. Note to self, in a 2 hour session, 4 questions for the characters are too many (Read PSI*RUN and you'll understand what I mean)The players were running from a mixed group of chasers who all wore red scarves. The highlight for me was them smashing through a pair of ambulances and a riot team of EMTs (who were all bad guys) as the telekinetic running flung the ambulances several blocks away, crushing the EMTBadGuys into them. Maybe you had to be there, but trust me, it was pretty awesome.
Overall Grade: A

Improvisation for GMs (GM)
This was the third seminar that I ran, and if I am being honest, it was probably the worst seminar I have ever run. My apologies go to the attendees. If you were there, and you didn't enjoy it, I am sorry. I also pledge to you that I will do better next time. While I have done close to a dozen seminars at Gen Con, this was the first time I have focused on Improv as the sole topic. As such, I don't think that it flowed very well, or the way I had intended it to. On the plus side, while doing an improv exercise with some of the people in it, the laughter was so great that the seminar next door poked their heads in to see what the hell was going on. If you attended, and have any feedback for me, I would really appreciate it.
Overall Grade: C-

Games on Demand - Fiasco
A friend and I got into a game of Fiasco at GoD, and it was exactly what it says on the box. Fiasco at GoD. If you've never done it, you really should. It is a winning experience. (For Charlie Sheen values of winning) Awful characters doing awful things to one another and living or dying in awful ways.
Overall Grade: A

Trail Of Cthulhu
This is another game that I have been dying to play for many years. This session did not work out for me. I was there, and the game happened, but I just wasn't able to endure the session. While the scenario was compelling, the GMs manner was of such low energy that everything felt like it was 10 times longer. By the 2nd hour I had to excuse myself and go find something else. Harsh? Yes, but with only 92 hours there, I just can't abide sitting through something I am not enjoying out of a sense of politeness or manners. I think its better to just cut your losses and go than to stay and suffer. Nothing mean or rude intended by it, just cold logic. With that said, it still seems to me that the system itself is very good. I'm going to have to give it another try.
Grade: D

D&D with Friends
We recovered that evening and from about 10 to 2am we played some 5th edition - all friends, including the DM. We used an old school 1st edition module converted up (not much work at all) and had a great time. There was a very big WTF moment as an uninvited guest arrived, plopped down at the table and hung around in a very uncomfortable way, touching other peoples things, etc. It got pretty weird for a while, but such is the danger of the Open Gaming Area.
Overall Grade: A+

Games on Demand - Leverage (GM)
This time the group I was given wanted to play Leverage. I had worked out a skeleton of a plot on the plane ride out, loosely based on the plot of HBO's Silicon Valley. One of the players in the group was familiar with the show, and game a big smile when I gave them the name of their client and mark. Everyone at the table was more or less a fan of the show, which makes this game such a joy to run. If you know Leverage - you know how to play Leverage the RPG. The rules are the easy part after that. The game was a blast, and featured the mark getting run off stage at TechCrunch Disrupt by FBI officials and charged with assault and battery of a police officer.
Overall Grade: A

A great game and we had a great GM, who happened to be one of the contributing authors of the game. What a combination. A space age train heist of a kind was perpetrated by our scheming conniving heroes and justice restored to a backwater planet. A fun game fine tuned to fit its subject matter. If you enjoy Firefly and you enjoy RPGs, I'm going to promise you that you will like this game.
Overall Grade: A

Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator
Any game that results in the captain, upon suggestion from his engineer to command the crew to "Keep Firing Assholes!" a la Dark Helmet has got to be a guaranteed winner. Not sure what to say that would be different than my review of Artemis from last year, except for the same advice. Different / same? Who cares. Go out and BUY THIS GAME. Actually don't go anywhere. Stay at your computer and buy online and then download!
Overall Grade: A+

Games on Demand - Dungeon World
I convinced the group to come over to GoD for some night time fun, and they went along with it. We sat down for a game of Dungeon World. I Love Dungeon World. It has fundamentally changed the way I think about and run RPGs. Its that big of a deal. (For that matter so is the game on which it is based, Apocalypse World. Do yourself a favor and read both) - With that in mind, this session wasn't great. It was good, but could have been better. I think the GM needs to give the book a re-read, because so much of what makes DW so special is in the process of how it is run, and in my opinion, the GM wasn't using it to its potential. Too many easy throwaway moves by the GM, defaulting to damage, trying to go in a logical circle around the table all of the time - things that are the norm in lets say D&D, but are very much out of place in a game a DW.
Overall Grade: B+

Exhibit Hall Shopping
I took it easy this year, being well aware that I already have entirely too much stuff that I'm never going to get a chance to play. Instead I tried to focus in on some things that I know my kids will love to play with me, and that we can all play together. This is going to be the year that I really get them going on RPGs as well. I got my oldest a fancy leather journal that has the Tardis cover, like the one River Song uses in Doctor Who. Given that she's a HUGE Doctor Who fan, she was beyond excited when I gave it to her. I also picked up a print from a female artist, Lorraine Schleter - my oldest is an aspiring artist, and I like to find things to inspire her - For my middle daughter, I got an expansion to one of her favorite games, Space Cadets: Dice Duel - It is the Die Fighter expansion, adding in 2 small fighters for the players to dogfight with each other. I also got her, and my youngest a pair of Sonic Screwdrivers. They were jealous of the one their older sister got last year, so I tried to even out the Doctor Who toys. I also picked up a copy of Cthulhu Gloom for her, and a copy of the Doctor Who card game for my oldest. Hobbit Tales rounded out the game acquisitions as a family item, and I grabbed a copy of the old SpellJammer campaign setting in the auction.

I think in the future, I am going to be hesitant to go out of my way to schedule games with other friends who are attending. The Venn diagram of everyone's interest doesn't always make a huge overlap, and with such limited time, you can end up waiting around for someone to do an event or try and decide what everyone wants to eat, etc. It certainly didn't ruin anything for me, but I think I'm better off roaming on my own, and if the paths cross and stars align, we'll hook up and grab a bite or drink or game. Next year, I'm bringing my older two daughters, and we've got some plans to kick some serious ass together. They've been waiting for years to come, and I think now is the time. Well next year is the time, I mean!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Gencon 2013 Report Card

Another year down, another GENCON in the books. Folks, when they make the claim that GENCON is "The best four days in gaming" they are not messing around. GENCON for me is like every holiday and special occaision of the year rolled into one, and then launched into orbit on top of a giant beam of awesome. Do I get a little too excited about GENCON? Yes I do, and I don't pretend that I don't. I start looking forward to the next year's GENCON before the current year's is even over yet.

The sights and sounds of GENCON are just a marvel to behold. 40,000 gaming nerds all gathered together for the sole purpose of gaming and geeking out. For me that means playing a ton of RPGs. Specifically ones that are either new, or at least new to me. It also means seminars, and running games. As a card carrying member of the GM's union, and "GM for Life", it wouldn't be a geekfest for me if I were not running a couple of RPGs as well.

So without further adieu, I give you my report card for GENCON 2013. I always present my honest opinion in these reviews. No offense is meant to anyone who receives a harsh grade. All criticisms here are meant in honest good faith - with the intent of helping the GM in question improve their game. I hope to find similar critique of my own games out there. Let's go!

Hollowpoint was very high on my list of games to play this year. I picked up a copy from the IPR booth last year after hearing a lot of good things about it. I had only skimmed through it once or twice prior to this session. Enough to know I really wanted to play, but that I had not yet invested the time needed to run my own group through a game. Hollowpoint seems designed for one shot games, and what better place than a convention for such a venture? The two scenarios offered up by our GM were an old west theme, and a sci-fi / space opera theme. Neither of those seemed to really grab the passions of anyone at the table - and the GM picked up on this and offered to take suggestions. (This counts for major points in my book. She expertly read the table and reacted to it in a really enthusiastic and positive way)

We bounced ideas around and settled on 80's action movie in cold war Germany. Our GM, Nykki, took a few minutes and whipped something up while we players got to know each other a bit. Gameplay at the table was excellent. The group definitely hit it off with each other, and everyone really seemed to enjoy playing together, working our characters off of each other, bantering, etc. It was an absolute blast, culminating with out heroic, if crazy rescue of Brice Springsteen and the E Street Band, who were help hostage at the Berlin Airport.

Nykki did a great job explaining the rules and keeping the action flowing. The system isnt difficult per se, but can be hard to grok, and she really helped us all through it without getting anything bogged down or slowed up in the technicalities of rules at the table.
Overall - A

Fate of the Norns
I had a chance to play this game with its creator/author as the GM. I was very much looking forward to it, as I had backed the Kickstarter for the game, and recently received my book and runestones. FoTN is different, in that there are no dice, but there is a definitive random element to the game, in the form of runestones.

The stones are pulled from the bag randomly at the start of a round, and they will dictate which of your characters spells or special attacks are available to them that round. Alternatively any stone can be used to power any normal action, like a move or basic attack. You can also use extra stones to power up the range, or damage of an attack, depending on which color stone they are. The combination of symbols and colors makes for a very tactile and interesting take on random result generation for resolution, with the player in charge of how those results get applied. (In this regard it reminded me of the decision making required in PSI*RUN) The stones are also used to track damage. In fact everything you need to play is on a single sheet of paper, which is used as a playmat for your runestones. No pencil required for tracking things. I also liked this about the game.

On the GM side of things, Andrew was great. Its his game so he obviously knew it very well. You could tell that he also has spent a lot of time researching old Norse mythology - his storytelling and usage of that knowledge came through nicely. On the down side, I was able to see that running the NPCs in tactical combat seemed to mirror exactly the process used by the players. I don't have a solid basis to assume this from but it seems to me that more than a handful of bad guys would be cumbersome and overbearing to run. I could be wrong, but that is my gut feeling.

I was the only player at the table who was not bilingual (everyone else also spoke french) and the rest of the table excluding the GM were a group of friends. As Quebeqois, they would slip into French often, which made sense given that it is their primary language, but at the same time it felt fairly rude and exclusionary to me, who only understood about every 10th word they said when this was going on. I couldn't help but feel left out on the in talk at the table
Overall - B+

Shadows of Esteren
Some times you can sit down at a game, and feel all the signs pointing to a bad experience. I think theres even an internet meme about it. This was one of those times. GM bashing how dumb the players of an earlier session were? Check. GM telling you how great of a GM they are? Check. Another GM running a different scenario trying to dump his players into our group because he wants to go do something else? Check. Not enough characters to go around? Check. This one was firing on all 6 evil miserable cylinders, so I went ahead and excused myself before we kicked off. Its a shame because I still really want to play this game. I just wasn't about to sit in on that session.

This was a Games on Demand session. I jumped in having no idea what it was about, and man am I glad I did. This was my first introduction to any of the Lady Blackbird hacks, and it is a good one. Great sic-fi and a simple but effective system for making the mechanicals of the game interesting are just two of the highlights. The table was great with everyone jumping into character.

School Daze
Having the opportunity to play a game with its creator is always a great nerd experience. When that creator also happens to be a talented GM its even better. When that GM also happens to be a genuinely great person, you've got yourself a grand slam. This game session was a grand slam. We played a monster high school, in which my idiot goblin found himself with the ability to do mathematics at a galactic scale - time traveling dimension hopping maths. Of course it was all just a practical joke on him by Lillith, the school's resident demon girl. It was funny, fun, a little bit sad, and a great time.

I think I might be missing something, but as it turns out I started writing this last year and never finished. So in the completion of it, I know that I must be missing some details.
I hope you enjoy - or find it useful - or something :)