Blog for Stephanie Bryant, a writer with too many hobbies and not enough time.

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Lean Coffee for Game Designers

I went to Strategicon/Orccon a week ago. Although a good portion of the weekend was spent working the Monkeyfun booth to sell Threadbare, I also spent some time talking about game design!

Sunday morning at the convention tends to be a “refuel before the last hard night of fun” kind of day, with a lot of hangovers and slow moving folks. Games on Demand doesn’t have any scheduled sessions, so with Tomer‘s blessing, I hosted an 8:30 AM Lean Coffee event for game designers and those who are “game design adjacent.” The idea was for game designers to bring either a Games on Demand pitch for an unpublished game, or a game design topic they wanted to discuss. If they got traction, game pitches would run at 9. Otherwise, we’d just have some structured “shop talk.”

Everyone was a little slow moving and overbooked, so while pretty much everyone who attended brought a topic to discuss, nobody had any game pitches. Which was fine– we had a few latecomers, but generally we had a good discussion about various topics in game design, including:

  • An idea for a Great American Novel game
  • Level up mechanics
  • Consent and Charm in RPGs

I started out by explaining how a Lean Coffee runs– we all write down our topics on index cards, vote on them, and sort them by most votes. Discuss for 3 minutes, then thumbs up or down to decide if we want to keep talking about the topic. If yes, keep talking for 1 more minute, then thumbs up/down again.

Typically, the topics are put into columns: To Discuss, Discussing, Done. I like to add a column called “Take Aways” for ideas that were especially compelling, resources people mentioned, URLs, or follow up items.

I found that we spent about 6-7 minutes on each topic and had a good chat for just under 30 minutes, at which point everyone was ready to move on to their next game sessions.

We’ll definitely do this again at the Strategicon in May, and I am looking forward to seeing some good discussion from those who take up the challenge Jim Sandoval (RPG coordinator) made at the Happy Jacks convention meetup, to make a game between now and Memorial Day and bring it to the next Strategicon and enter it for a prize!

Gamex 2016 (Strategicon): What we played!

This weekend, I went to Strategicon, as I do two or three times a year. Memorial Day weekend is Gamex, and it’s usually well-attended and of course a lot of fun.

brehahaFriday night, I’d pre-registered for a game called Brew Ha Ha from UNCORKED Games! It has 24 left in its Kickstarter right now, and I highly recommend it!

The premise of the game is like Apples to Apples, Funemployed, or Cards Against Humanity, with a judge and each player submitting cards to tickle the judge’s funny bone. In Brew Ha Ha, however, each round starts with a 1-ounce beer tasting, and you pick cards that describe the beer. The judge awards a point to the “most accurate” description, and one point to their personal favorite, which may or may not be accurate, or maybe just funny.

In the course of a few rounds, we drank about the equivalent of a single beer, but had a lot of fun doing so! Really fun game, and one of the few “drinking games” where the point isn’t to do irreparable liver damage!

Saturday was a good day for kicking around, going to the vendor hall, and catching up with friends. I ran Threadbare at 2 and 8 PM, so I didn’t want to get too overtaxed beforehand. My 2 PM game was in the “family hall,” which was poorly marked, but consisted of a set of tables in the hallway. When only adults showed up to play, we moved over to an empty table in one of the gaming rooms. I ran the first run-through of “Flight of the Bumblebee,” a new adventure where you’re a scouting group for your community. For the 8 PM game, I had 7 players, and was reminded that 7 is just a bit too many for PbtA games (I never learn!)

Sunday morning was beach time, which was lovely! I took my kite out and we had a  great time flying it at Venice Beach. Lots of fun, lots of people working out (I guess this was the area known for lots of gyms and such!)

Sunday afternoon I played in Dave K’s new game, Bedlam Hall. It’s a (PbtA) cross between Downton Abbey and Edward Gorey. Wonderfully dreadful, and I can’t wait to see how he continues to develop it. I think it’ll be a very fun game once he’s ready to release it.

In the evening, I played in Toby’s game Jinkies! Also PbtA, Jinkies is a Scooby-Doo inspired adventure where you play the Scooby gang, solving a mystery and having adventures on the way. I playtested a new playbook that didn’t really fit in with the other archetypes. He’ll be revisiting that playbook as he continues to develop it.

Monday morning, we busted out Yellowstone, an Avalon Hill game about the national park. It’s basically Chinese Checkers with predators, and although we had fun, this was definitely our “bad game for the con” experience. It didn’t help that this was the game I personally brought to the con, and which I now own. Ah, well. It was fun anyway, and I got to play a herd of elk!

While I was out of town, Threadbare hit $9K in funding, and continues to go well. The Kickstarter has 8 days left, and I’m excited and hope it hits its next two stretch goals before it finishes up!

Orccon 2015 Roundup

2015-02-13 14.37.01I 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 Demand2015-02-14 09.14.35

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

godzillaIn 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.

Orccon 2014: Games We Played at Strategicon

In the car on the way home after Strategicon, I like to talk with Mike about what games we played and how they worked or didn’t wor. It’s a post-mortem that helps me get perspective on the weekend and what I enjoyed about the experience, what I would change, and generally so I can learn and grow as a gamer and designer. I then like to write down our thoughts and experiences, even if they’re not full write-ups, so that I can remember later what happened and how the con went.

Continue reading Orccon 2014: Games We Played at Strategicon

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