I went to Strategicon over Presidents Day weekend, and did some gaming! I brought a friend and fellow gamer along with me, who played in most of the games I participated in (this was his first larger convention, so it was good to have a buddy). Mike and Justin also went to Strategicon, but I barely saw them all weekend.
Friday Afternoon: Dungeon World Dragonslaying
On Friday afternoon, I jumped into Matt Smith’s Dungeon World game about slaying a dragon. Alas, we had about 2 too many players, but it was a raucous fun game with lots of over-the-top shenanigans. I played the Thief and made a dragon-sleeping poison that I used to knock it out and then backstabbed it for the final death blow!
One thing I did like about the session was that Matt had given the game a Monster of the Week structure, which intrigued me enough to buy a copy for future gaming.
We had some player-conflict when one of the players picked my friend’s cleric to be the target of all his bonds. This resulted in my friend feeling like he was being told how to play his character. Normally, when you have a bond or two, you’re influencing someone else’s character, but they still have a lot of say in who that PC is. In this case, the guy was inventing years of backstory that my friend just wasn’t enthusiastically consenting to. At one point, the guy implied some priestly "inappropriate touching," and that was when the X card was thrown.
We took a bio break, the player and my friend discussed it and he changed directions, but it put a damper on my friend’s enjoyment of the rest of the session. He still managed to have some fun, but we both didn’t mind taking the night off afterwards.
Saturday Morning: Best Friends at Games on Demand
Saturday morning, I had signed up for a session, but decided to spend the time doing my stint at Games on Demand.
Games on Demand is a different format from the usual "pre-register/sign up and play a 4-hour session prepped and offered by GMs" format. Instead, the games are shorter– about 2 hours is average. It’s more like a demo. And the GM doesn’t provide a single game, but rather has a few options on offer.
In my case, I was prepared to run one of five games, including Best Friends, Time Quest (a time travel hack for Goblin Quest that I’m writing), Lasers and Feelings, Out of the Blue, and Vesna Thaw. We hung around for about forty minutes while a few ambitious players found us, and then started Best Friends.
The players were my friend, Kristine (who works for a game company), and Ira (who played the Holder in last Strategicon’s AW game). We all played time travelers, stranded in the Cretaceous period, a few hours before the asteroid is about to hit Earth, wiping out the dinosaurs.
This was actually a really good setup and crisis. Our characters were a 21st century goth girl, an Italian Renaissance woman, an advanced being from the 30th century, and a homeschooled fundamentalist/paleontologist (she studies the paleo record in search of hard evidence proving the coexistence of dinosaurs and homo sapiens). The homeschooled was my character– I tried to handle it in a gently zealous way without being offensive.
My character also had a very uncomfortable crush on the goth girl.
Anyway, there were many shenanigans as we tried to deal with a sabotages time machine, a baby triceratops… then a mother triceratops! An ichthyosaur. Imminent fiery death. The belief that the imminent fiery death was an angel. And a certain amount of narrative symmetry that only comes about when the storytellers are really just keeping the ball up in the air for as long as they can.
At one point, the goth girl framed me for sabotage, claiming that I had thrown a bunch of gears from the time machine into the ocean. Not long after, I deliberately messed up the Italian girl’s drawing out of jealousy. She (played by Ira) responded by smashing the canvas over my head, literally framing me. When I found the actual saboteur was the goth girl, I covered for her and threw the gears (from her purse) into the ocean. When she found out, she accused me of doing so, but at that point, everyone had already heard that story and just said "so what?"
We resolved the story narratively by fixing the time machine just enough to go to one place and time, and picked Renaissance Italy. The goth girl and I hung around, finally heading up north to join the Vikings, which is where we were when a phone booth containing George Carlin arrived to save us.
Saturday Evening: Mecha vs. Kaiju FATE Game
In the evening, we got into a FATE game using the Mecha vs. Kaiju rules. This was an odd game–very mechanics intensive, considering it’s still a FATE game. The players played the mecha, except my friend, who played Godzilla from the Godzilla Power Hour Saturday morning kids’ cartoon. I was a Battletech mecha whose main aspects seemed to revolve around being connected to her team. We were, none of us, a team, so that rather failed to be engaged.
The strength in the game was that the GM was really, really into kaiju and knew absolutely everything about them. The first two and a half hours were spent basically on the opening scene/first round of combat, while the conversation drifted around among various Godzilla movies and whether the Matthew Broderick Godzilla is the absolute worst, or just in the top 3.
To put this in perspective: I do not know many kaiju movies. I saw last year’s Godzilla, and I saw Cloverfield. The ins and outs of whether Mechagodzilla would take Mechmothra in a fight just elude me.
But for two and a half hours, I was laughing my ass off and caught up in their enthusiasm and having a great time.
And then… we hit the Plot. There is nothing wrong with having a plot framework, but the GM had previously been saying "yeah, why not?" whenever we suggested doing something wild and crazy. Now, once we had encountered the Plot and were trying to creatively problem-solve… now, we heard "no" a lot.
The first two and a half hours were epic. The last 90 minutes found us doodling in the margins and passing notes asking if it would be rude to leave (answer: yes, by that point it would be).
It was clear that the GM had a firm idea of how we should resolve the adventure, and although fighting it out was interesting to some of the players, it just didn’t do it for Saturday Morning Godzilla, so he tried talking to the kaiju opponent to resolve it. That didn’t go over well with the GM, but eventually the rest of the players did enough physical damage to the kaiju forces to make him feel like he could surrender, I suppose.
By the end, we were pretty drained, but we did have fun for most of the session. It was just a good object lesson in letting go of your plot as a GM.
Sunday Afternoon: Night’s Black Agents
On Sunday afternoon, I ran the Night’s Black Agents scenario I’ve been writing for Pelgrane Press. I won’t go too much into it here, just that (a) I need to get more writing done, and (b) there’s a lot that has to be left out for convention play. Also: Don’t forget to print out and bring the pre-gens, or it’ll cut into your session considerably (sigh).
Sunday Evening: Spirit of 77
This was the unexpected highlight of the convention for us. Spirit of 77 is an Apocalypse Engine game set in the 1970’s in a high-octane action media extravaganza. We had Bowie Stardust (a David Bowie character), Natalya the former Russian Olympic athlete-turned-private investigator, The Hammer (a sexy beast of a man), . And the GM was extremely well-prepped with a very fun, over-the-top hilarious scenario that had multiple directions it could go.
The scenario was "Escape from the Women’s Prison of the Apes." The concept was that we needed to orchestrate a prison break, from a women’s prison, which had turned to enhanced simians as guards.
The role-playing and shenanigans… well, at one point, the vigilante was so intimidating, the GM said "you know, I find myself actually intimidated by that glare of yours." My friend playing Bowie commented later that he was actually kind of afraid, until the guy broke character and started laughing. I used my fake Russian accent to great advantage.
"Anyone remember who invented the twerk?" asks Matt, playing the Hammer.
"I think the Hammer did," I reply.
"That’s right!" And he jumps up to start twerking, explaining that his character is pantsless, on the back of the Burnside, and waving an American flag.
And at one point, the redneck was told "well, the ape you made friends with is on the other side of that concrete wall, so…" "Oh, I get out of my truck and go inside to get her!" "No, no. I mean it’s right on the other side of the wall, there." "Then forget the first half of that statement. I just go inside. With the truck."
The whole session was full of fun and laughter and music and silliness. It was amazing and a great way to cap off the weekend. When we left, my friend told me to go on the Kickstarter and add a physical copy of the game to my backer rewards, because he wants his own copy that much.
The Rest of the Weekend
The rest of the weekend was either non-gaming, small casual games (we played Loonacy a couple of times), and the games auction. At the end of the auction, we had sold 9 lots of gaming books and materials, going home with just my Dystopian Wars miniatures. Apparently, I’m going to have to take it back up again just to have a reason to still have those minis and paints.
(Full article contains spoilers!) I bought the D&D Stranger Things Starter Set, and I was all kinds of excited to run it. I read through it a few times, thought “hmmm…” about some of the choices, but overall it reads like a fairly straightforward adventure.
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