Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dreamation 2015: The Post-Con Summation

Note, I just posted this on G+, but for the handful of folks who follow me here and not there, here's a re-post.

First, much thanks to the folks I shared a room with: Mikael Andersson, Ephraim Gregor, Jeff Lees and the travelling Swedes, Angelika and Cristoffer Rusthoi. You were all cool people I was happy to spend time with and made what could have been a cramped situation instead pleasantly snug. Thanks especially for putting up with the hacking and sneezing from the cold I carried with me.

Thursday: I arrived just in time to catch the evening demo of All Quiet on the Martian Front in the Miniatures room, run by Joseph Johnson. I liked the WWI-era vehicle models and I’m a fanatic for anything inspired by War of the Worlds, but unfortunately I found actual game play terribly unbalanced; the single opposing Martian tripod barely suffered a dent as it speedily demolished my American tank squadron, plus a second squadron of reinforcements I was granted to try to make the game more satisfying. That’s definitely in the tradition of Well’s original story, but it’s not very interesting to play out in turn-by-turn inevitability.

Fun detail: in the fiction those tanks are all steam-powered, because gasoline engines and martian heat rays turned out to be too volatile a mix. 

Afterwards I jumped into a tournament of Pitchcar, a dexterity game where wooden pucks are competitively ricocheted by strategic finger-flicks around the twists, turns chutes and ramps of a three-dimensional track. In the three-lap race I finished very nearly last but enjoyed it all the same. Then, after a spot of video pinball, I called it a night.

Not pictured: scrambling under the table to find your car when you inevitably fling it off the track.

Friday: Up early to play Lasers & Feelings run by Alden Strock, a rare chance to experience one of John Harper’s super-elegant RPG designs as a player. I was “7-Krax-7”, the Android Pilot all about Laser-based solutions with an obsession for breaking speed records. Other players were the sexy Riker-esque scientist (played by sexy Riker-esque game designer Tim Rodriguez), the Savvy Engineer who achieved acting captain status via rock-paper-scissors, the Dangerous Doctor with a galaxy-sized moral blind spot and the somewhat reformed aspiring despot Alien Scientist. Our crew romanced giant crustaceans, fought pirates, broke the letter of Consortium law in the name of the spirit (and convenience of the moment), flew so fast we arrived before we departed and declared a war then surrendered in record time.

In the afternoon slot, I ran Stars Without Number for four players using my new “Sweetwater Shores” scenario. The PC’s landed their battered ship of dubious recent history at an anti-matter refinery / black market hub for desperately needed repairs and soon ran afoul of the various factions manifest in the station. Gang wars were started, psychic artifacts unearthed and the decadent ruling class ejected into deep space. A grand and satisfying time was had by all.

Of the two covers available, I prefer this one.

In the evening, I ran into the delightful Natalia Granger and played a couple of her fun demos of the card game Spellcaster. Then it was back down to the miniatures room to try Warmachine for the first time, presented by Kirk Brunstetter. A much more satisfying experience than the last mini game (my Cygnar warband maneuvered around the opposing Khador team until finally seizing an opening to take out their warcaster) followed by some interesting conversation about how the minis hobby is starting to change and diversify much like RPG’s did a few years ago.

Saturday: Up early yet again to jump into Questlandia presented by Evan Rowland. I and four other players (Evan chose to run this potentially GM-less session as a director rather than playing himself) brewed up a Kingdom set on a far-off planet largely ignorant of its ancient colonial origins. Technological remnants were viewed as magic, priestly orders maintained them but only those with noble blood (laced with hereditary nanotech) could actually operate the devices. But, the blood had degraded and now was spreading as a STD through the commoners and sending society out of balance. The personal drama between a traditionalist monk, the monk’s sickly heiress student trapped in a bio-suit, the heiress’s estranged courtesan, that courtesan’s relic-hunting brother and a amoral scientist (played by the same guy who was a amoral scientist in the Lasers & Feelings game) turned out to be the trigger that precipitated the collapse of the kingdom. Our legacies would be a bittersweet rise of survivor nations and teachings twisted by the centuries. I enjoyed the game and the world-building it spawned; I like any game where big sweeping setting construction is part of the fun (in fact I always feel a little deflated when such games step back down to the mere character-scale perspective). Still I think there are parts in Questlandia open to refinement. Some of the processes could be more elegant; there’s a lot of tracking bits. And I felt strain from maintaining a vast Kingdom-wide perspective while still playing a single mortal-scale character. I found myself wishing for Microscope’s approach of making up quick character’s relevant to the current situation, rather than having to keep justifying why my Bio-suited heiress kept pinging from one pivotal encounter after another. Still, I’ll happily play Questlandia in its current form again.

In the afternoon, I was back in the miniatures room again. I didn’t originally plan to keep sliding up to the battle tables, but there were always slots available at the minis games and I found the parlor-like atmosphere and craftsman’s attitude (as opposed to role-playing’s more Auteur-minded tone) refreshing. This time it was Bolt Action, WWII tank battles presented by Joseph Johnson. It was a fast-playing game, letting I and two other players march through four simple scenarios in under 90 minutes. Zipping my Allied Shermans down the streets of a North African village, trying to roll out of cover to blast German Tigers before they did the same to me was quite satisfying; it was also fun just playing with the large-scale, highly detailed tank models.

In the early evening, I decided to try out the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game for the first time (unfortunately, the program doesn’t tell me who was running it). I’d heard it described as a condensed role-play experience, and was curious to sample its appropriateness for some folks I know looking for an introduction to RPG’s. It didn’t really meet that expectation, it turned out to be mainly a cooperative scenario-beater with a lot of group tactics, resource swapping and some light deck-building and no discernable role-playing as I recognize the term. I still enjoyed the experience though, and got to play with 
Asphesteros Felleye, which I don’t get to do often enough.

In the late evening I was scheduled to run Blood & Bullets, a succinct Wild West RPG derived from Swords & Wizardry created by Simon Washbourne. I was really looking forward to this; I submitted the game largely on a whim, to bring exposure to a less well-known OSR game, but unexpectedly found a resonance with the frontier trappings and genre tropes while prepping. I was inspired to put some extra effort into prep, getting a reprinted 1890’s Montgomery Ward catalog to present to the players for gear ideas, and prepared a stack of home-bound rule booklets to give away. So I was crushed when, of the six sign-ups I had, only one actually showed. Of the five absentees, only one had the decency to cross their name off the sheet ahead of time (Kelly Vanda, who I sincerely thank for her conscientiousness). The other four manure-breathed bastards simply flaked out, leaving me to sit in growing agitation until finally at half-past start time with a still nearly empty table I called off the game. Barring they all died in the same car accident on the way to the con, I think what these four folks did is inexcusable. Not only does it waste my efforts, it cost the time of the one person who showed up expecting a table full of fellow players.

Advice: do not buy this Lulu print edition, go to the author's website and download the PDF, which has updates missing from the one pictured above:

Fortunately, Melissa Cohen happened along to soothe my rage and convince me the human race deserved to survive another day. At her suggestion, I tried out the LARP Top Secret Admirer presented by +Daniel Eison and had a pretty good time. Between that and Melissa’s boundless positive energy I got over my grump and ended the night in good spirits. (Melissa’s description of the game is far more thorough than I could manage; go read what she says about it in her Dreamation recap on G+.)

Sorry, its a LARP. They often don't have cover images. So here's some spy ponies on a date.

Sunday: Finally I got to sleep in a bit before checking out, sorting out luggage and forgoing morning gaming to make the rounds of the dealers and watch the drama of the auction. I even brought a stack of old games to sell, and was happily surprised to see all but one find a buyer.

For the last slot of the con, I ran Stars Without Number again. I’ve taken to regularly offering something for the final Sunday slot, because there always seems to be folks grateful for something outside the central Friday/Saturday rush, or who couldn’t make it for the rest of the con. I had four players, again in the “Sweetwater Shores” scenario, one of whom signed up because he enjoyed it so much when I ran SWN at the last con. Another player was a young lady entirely new to the OSR approach, who took to it with delighted enthusiasm. This was the fifth time I’ve run this scenario, and the first time I’ve seen a party deal with the challenges of Sweetwater station by agitating its economy. Heh.

This is the other cover. I like it less.

And after that, it was time to go home and finally start getting over my miserable cold.

Meeting & Greeting: I socialized plenty, but it came mostly as short conversations here and there, dozens of times over with one or two folks. Eating on the go and from my own bonter bag in the room, I didn’t have much call to go out for meals so missed the big meal-time convocations so many other’s have gushed about. Perhaps I’ll try to make those connections next con. I still got to see plenty of friends and familiar faces, and even got to chat a bit with John Stavropoulos after too long a gap since I last did that.

Swag Acquired: The one thing I planned to buy at Dreamation, the new edition of Monster of the Week was well and thoroughly sold out early, so I didn’t get to take that home. However, I still ended up with quite a stack of swag. On Thursday, someone put out a couple big boxes of free texts, from which I grabbed Sengoku, OSRIC and the old ICE Middle Earth Role-Playing corebook and two supplements, Creatures of Middle-Earth and Angus McBride’s Characters of Middle Earth. I’ve always had a mild curiosity for MERP and Sengoku, so its nice to finally check them out. And as an OSR-ian, I was required to pick up OSRIC eventually, so its good to have that finally sorted. At the auction, I picked up three boardgames, Musketeers, Frankenstein’s Children and Sewer Pirats all for a total of seven bucks. Don’t know a thing about them, but they’re all worth a try at that price. Saturday night, I collected my prize points, rediscovering that boardgames and mini games, especially ones with any sort of tournament structure, produce a lot more points than RPG sessions. I had enough points to snag Honor & Intrigue, a swashbuckling implementation of the Barbarians of Lemuria system, which I’ve been wanting to pick up for a while.  Finally on Sunday I picked up Gaean Reach, Robin Laws’ recent space adventure revenge game that combines elements of his Gumshoe and Skullduggery systems. It caught my eye because its succinct (108 pages at digest size) and I’m a long-time Jack Vance fan, on whose work the game is based. I also sprung for Everything’s Better With Monkeys, an anthology by C.J. Henderson, because … well, because I didn’t do that enough while that gentleman was still around.

So, that was my 2015 Dreamation. Now to start getting ready for Maelstrom.

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