Thursday, June 02, 2011

Kubla Con 2011

So here's my Kubla Con report. I hope my grading system doesn't offend anyone. Please take it as the big bear hug on geeks that it truly is.

Shannon McNamara's Here be Dragons
a Call of Cthulu game set in 9th century AD Briton
A+ GM Preparation
A- GM Presentation
C Player Dynamics
B Payoff
B+ Overall

This was my first time playing in one of Shannon's games. I knew what to expect in many ways and I was really looking forward to some great roleplaying in a historical setting. I got it. The amount of information was pretty hefty, but not unbearable. Shannon took the time to meet with each of us to discuss our characters. Generally when that happens, there's potential for intrigue. I wasn't watching the clock, but it seemed like I had the right amount of time to understand where my character was coming from by the time the game got underway.
Shannon demonstrated solid knowledge of the setting and rules, enough to teach us neophytes and fend off the inevitable macho history buff at the table.
The big problem was a lack of chemistry between the players at the table. I am sure Shannon will lay down the full details, but basically we had one person who was mostly asleep or not really participating, and another who was a strong knowledgeable gamer playing a bully a bit too well. At least he was sharing and interacting with the group. Then both these cats leave 2 hours before the scheduled end of the game due to tiredness and diabetes. No judgement on that, but as a GM, I have a hard time with people who won't stay for a whole game well within it's allotted time. It's also a good idea to talk about that at the beginning of a session, to make sure your whole group is on board for the full ride.
However, the story and the creepiness and the grime of the age were excellent. Our old priest, Godwine, was hysterical with all his old-man-isms and the revelation of his ultimate goal. June was awesome as Gwyneth the Hag. She really kept the game entertaining. I got totally creeped out by her and some of the dark discoveries we made. The change in group dynamic after the two guys left was remarkable, with a lot more energy. But it also really deflated some of the drama we were in for. While I understand Matt's reservations about long games, I totally would have stayed longer if the group energy had been kickin.
Even so, the twists and revelations at the end were pretty mind blowing. I got to play a complete narrative arc with a character, and have him face supernatural and existential fears that led to a satisfying conclusion. That's what I play for.

Dovi Anderson's Have Ship, Will Smuggle
a FATE game set in the Star Wars rebellion era
A+ GM Preparation
A GM Presentation
A Player Dynamics
A Payoff
A Overall
Dovi Anderson knows Star Wars. But his game Have Ship, Will Smuggle is an awesome story, rather than a boring lecture. We had six characters to choose from, the crew of a ship, which we named The Long Shot. The character portraits were excellent, featuring Eric Bana as the pilot/captain and Willem Dafoe as a dark, horned alien. From there, we had some room to customize our aspects, our gear, and our history through a small number of pertinent questions Dovi posed to us. He suggested we develop some strife with the people opposite us at the table, as well as the usual connections to the people next to you at a Fate table. This helped foster a greater level of communication and roleplaying, I think.
The visual goodness continued, with an introductory video recreating the awesome intros of the Star Wars films, customized for our game. Further, every major NPC, ship captain, ship, and even some of the crew, had pictures, which he taped up for all to see. They had plastic covers, so we could write their aspects right next to the pictures. Soon we had a cast of several ships and their crews, making the scenario feel really big, without a ton of back story.
I don't want to give any spoilers, but the opening scene really had a great Star Wars feel, and the narration of both GM and players was very evocative. Basically we were one of many ships competing in a grand smuggling race, which challenged our piloting, combat and social skills in really satisfying ways. My big warrior guy, Kayn K'sarr, never got to smash anyone, but I never lacked for entertainment. Sometimes, it was challenging for me to make him relevant, but I opted to make him instigate plans, even if he wasn't the best suited to carry them out.
Our engineer was a jawa and the love story in the scenario was a jawa romance. Need I say more? It was excellent, humorous and perfect for the setting.
Dovi ran a great game, with memorable locations and NPCs, and it was a fine bunch of players, ready to give and take and work with each other to help create a cool story. It succeeded.

My game, Fallout: Road Warriors of the Wasteland
a mash-up of Fallout and The Road Warrior
This is the 4th time I've run this scenario and also the best. I had an eager, committed group of players who stayed the extra hour needed to end it right. They all embraced their characters, even though a couple are obvious stars. The story is basically an homage to the movie The Road Warrior, but with a magnificent six, instead of just one hero.

I had a great time playing Humungus and the Legions for this group of Road Warriors.

Lord Mohr's The Giggler Strikes Again
a dark fantasy crime investigation using heavily homebrewed Savage Worlds
B GM Preparation
D GM Presentation
C Player Dynamics
D Payoff
C- Overall

This game had some cool players, but we never got the chance to develop the characters we spent 1.5 hours making because the GM was too wrapped up with the lurid details of his world. At one point, the GM spent 20 minutes at the table with one player working out an S&M scene with one of the establishment's prostitutes. The scene got very, very dark. One player left the table but came back. Unfortunately none of us felt comfortable objecting out loud, though I learned later that I was not the only one repulsed.

Lord Mohr had a detailed culture and could impart knowledge without lecturing. But he suffered a very common GM problem, in addition to his public obsession with kinky sex, a difficulty with pacing. It happened to me this time as well. Basically, many games begin at a stately pace and end up being rushed at the end. The villain is cool, if very (very) adult in nature, but the pacing and the porn factor were a deal breaking combination.

In any case, on both a meta and story level, it was not very fun.

Morgan Hua's Trick or Treat
a Grimm game with a Halloween theme
B GM Preparation
A GM Presentation
A+ Player Dynamics
A+ Payoff
A Overall
I was feeling really ill by the end of the earlier game (psychic vampirism? >.> ), and didn't get into any afternoon games. By the good fortune of being part of this GMing group, I learned of Morgan's game and stumbled over to it in my bear feet. The room was cool and the company awesome. I felt better the moment I walked in.
In Grimm, you play kids. In this case, we were 3rd graders (about 9 years old). We chose characters from a set of archetypes and then got to customize their personal details, specialties and stats, to a satisfying degree. Morgan stumbled a little with the mechanics, but he more than made up for that with his vast enthusiasm and subtle roleplaying. While there were very few visual aids, this was truly a game about the characters and their lives, in our imaginations and the faces of the other players.
Initially, the game was set in modern day, on Halloween Night. Our somewhat mismatched group was out trick-or-treating together. But I remember going out on Halloween with neighborhood kids that weren't necessarily my usual social group. Besides these kids are 9 and they all go to school together.
Our troupe of players was hysterical, devolving into childish antics and attitudes with magical ease. Once again, June rocked, playing the juvie kid as a bully with a compelling emotional wound. Shannon killed it with the popular kid, dressed as Justin Beiber, and crooning out his taunts. Wilson was the outcast, a country kid who could never get the attention she craved. I was playing the dreamer (go figure), as a little girl with her head in the clouds and a broken home, loosely based on Ari from The Name of the Wind.
A couple of fellows, Wade and Lance, showed up that no one else seemed to know. I had some self consciousness, as a fat, scraggly, middle-aged man, about roleplaying a 9-year old girl in front of them, even though I'd never met Morgan and hardly knew anyone else, either. To our great enjoyment, they rocked as the Normal kid and the Jock.
A lot happened in this game. Like most story games I've played, the action moved really quick and almost everything that happens is dramatically important to the characters and the story. It was a hilarious and often moving game, full of wonders from Morgan and the story, and from the totally unreserved group of players.
We negotiated with a seriously cracked, but powerful, Humpty Dumpty. Scratch that, our Jock character negotiated with the big bad egg. How cool is that? Morgan was very sly and calculating. Quite entertaining. All the characters were important and played as real and present personalities. And I really adore a game that lets you create things with your Imagination trait.
This was a wonderful gaming experience that made the whole con worthwhile.

Patrick Riley's Justice Squad: Old Flames
an Icons game of super heroic melodrama
A GM Preparation
A GM Presentation
A Player Dynamics
B Payoff
A- Overall
Patrick runs great super hero games. He is a really energetic and clever GM. All the characters and major NPCs have illustrations. His pre-generated characters have depth and connection to the world. In this particular game, they are all members of a hero team that was based at a Xavier-esque school on the west coast, and have romances and strong ties of friendship and history with one another. I had played in the previous chapter, and dodged another game to crash this one, perhaps to the detriment of the game. Due to techno-failure on my part, I woke up late and was not the bright eyed, eager gamer this story needed, and that I wanted to be. I think I came off badly at the start of the game, and I'm not sure I ever fully recovered credibility at the table.
I'm a big Icons fan, even though I've never played. I have a character, Frostwitch, in the first tome of NPCs for the game. So, it was a bummer not to be more helpful.
On the other hand, one of the most entertaining players from the previous chapter had returned, and even though I was playing a different, and less interesting character (having arrived last), it was still a blast to see the progression of the characters and take part in their further development. The rest of the group was very involved and on top of it. It was an all male table and group was basically three couples, but the guys did a great job of roleplaying without any self consciousness.
It was a pretty tough adventure in comparison to the others at the con. Patrick is not a "Yes" GM, as is the current trend. He makes you work for it. Icons as a system relies on your heroes failures to create dramatic combat, and the battles were intense. The villains were a serious threat. There was some pretty intense investigation and roleplaying and just enough explosive super combat to rock the house. In the end, we faced an enemy that was pretty much invulnerable, and we had spent our last point of Group Determination without fully containing him. So there was a bit of a deus ex machina, though the way it was handled made it very significant for a couple of the characters. The story ended on kind of a sad note, which was not as rewarding as the triumphant end of the previous chapter. While this was an entertaining game, the previous chapter was a bit richer, in spite of using the Mutants and Masterminds system. Some of that may be due to my own low energy this time around.

The bottom line however, is that anyone who enjoys super heroes has scored big time to get into Patrick's games.

Post a Comment