Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Celesticon 2011

If Celesticon lacked anything for being a small con, it made up for it with the wonderful vibe and crew of great staff, players and GMs. I for one did not miss waiting in line for the elevators, checking in, or registration. For once, I had a room very close to the elevator, which was just really convenient. The hotel was beautiful and the staff was very nice. I ate at the restaurant a couple of times and the food was excellent, if pricey. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to afford a weekend like this, and to be a part of such a positive and creative community.

Big thanks to Kris and Lisa and the whole staff. It was a great experience.

Here are my game reviews. I hope the grading system does not seem to harsh. It’s all Shannon’s fault. I swear.


Brian W’s Dresden Files RPG Casefile: Night Fears

a FATE game of small town horror

B GM Preparation

B GM Presentation

B Player Dynamics

B Payoff

B Overall

I had been waiting a long time to get into a DFRPG game, and I was stoked to get into this one on Friday night.

In spite of being a “Dresden Files” game and a free download from the publishers, this scenario actually concerns a group of youngsters about to enter high school. So rather than wizards, powerful fey, and ruthless vampires, this was a story of young people coming to terms with their powers and/or the fact of supernatural phenomenon. (I knew this going in. I only mention it to help explain the scenario.)

On a dare, all the characters arrived at the neighborhood haunted house, the Stanton Place, to spend the night inside to prove how cool they were to each other. I won’t spoil the ulterior motives that may have existed within the group.

There was some pretty creepy ghostly stuff happening in the house. Our characters, with a few exceptions, seemed bent on exploring the place throughout the game, so much of the evening consisted of us exploring, making search and occult checks to put the story together or find important items.

My only complaint is that the pacing of this game was very slow. I think I was amped and ready to rock, but this was a more stately scenario. I understand that horror takes time to build, and there were certainly payoffs in terms of character depth, I just think that a bit more urgency in the first half would have made the game more exciting and kept if from running over by more than an hour. Now I am just as bad as the next GM at pacing, but it is something that I am working on, and look at very critically in other GMs.

However, there was a good amount of cool character interaction and the players got along well. There were some great laughs and genuine chills. The players gelled as a bunch of 13-year-olds very easily. Morgan J as the Bookworm, and Rodney as the Shepherd were standouts for me.

The finale was exciting and compelling, if a bit late in coming. It also was only a resolution to the plot, and not so much one for the players. After spending so much time getting into these fun characters, I didn’t feel like there was a solid arc for each of us. And as late as it was, there was no time or energy to devote to that.

Brian seemed pleased with the group, and it was an enjoyable game overall. A fine introduction to the DFRPG. Thank you, Brian!


Matt Steele’s Kuiper Station L7

a Chthonian Stars game of terror in space

A GM Preparation

A- GM Presentation

A Player Dynamics

A+ Payoff

R Overall (that’s way higher than an A)

Originally, I had planned to play Apocalypse world on Saturday night, because I am really eager to try that game, and I thought this was a scenario I had played in before. Though I still want to try AW, I’m very glad Matt corrected my mistake and I got into his game.

The setting for Chthonian Stars is a few hundred years in the future, when mankind has successfully colonized the solar system, all the way out to a series of stations in the Kuiper Belt, the ring of debris and plutoids (among other things) at the far edge of the solar system. It takes 6 months to travel to one of these stations, most of which is spent in bio-stasis, enshrouded in a bubble of muck and electrodes.

Our characters were special agents sent to investigate problems on one of these stations. Matt provides pictures and brief descriptions of each character, but you don’t get all the juicy details until you make your choice. The draft was by die roll. I rolled 2nd highest and chose the obsessed female scientist with ulterior motives, but all the characters seemed interesting.

Matt always adds something to really help the players really home in on the character personalities. In this case, each person keeps an item on a pedestal outside their stasis chamber to help them ground themselves back in reality when they come out of hibernation. Apparently, it’s like dreaming for months straight – does strange things to your consciousness. So these objects, give each person a chance to define the character and let the other players know what is important to him or her. Very cool and effective.

Once we arrived at the ummm. .. cold spot…. things got really interesting and twisted but, as is common in RPGs, the debate about how to proceed went on a bit longer than was strictly necessary. There was a newer player at the table who was a strong voice for caution, which is great in real life, but not the ingredient for the most fun in a roleplaying game. So, just to be consistent with my harping on pacing, I dinged Matt a little for the game running over and choking a little bit on the debate. But I enjoyed myself the whole time.

However, the party was a very good mix of personalities, and there was some great banter. The revelations were awesome and the horrors terrifying. The game’s horror mechanic was fun and pretty brutal, with people soiling themselves, going insane for short periods where they were dangerous to themselves and others.

To my pleasant surprise, the game runs on the new Traveller system. I happen to play in a Traveller home game right now, so I was able to provide some technical support when it came time to fight, since my character was basically a non-combatant. However, I’m not entirely sure it made the game more fun, as the effectiveness of our automatic weapons seemed to keep the friendly body count down. Again, realistic, but not necessarily fun in a horror game.

The team made some good tactical decisions and we managed to survive the incident with only one person totally insane, and no deaths! I did not feel that outcome was a given. The threat felt very real.

About half way through, my character got to doctor up the heroic, fearless Jason Statham character, and I decided she was going to jump his bones if they survived. Matt was kind enough to let me toss in just such a scene, or at least the implication of it, after the credits rolled on his exciting space-horror adventure.

Thanks for another awesome game, Matt.


Michael Garcia’s Exodus: Fate Between the Stars

a Fate game of high-stakes hard science fiction

A GM Preparation

A- GM Presentation

A Player Dynamics

A+ Payoff

A Overall

After meeting Michael and June at Kublacon, I was stoked to see his game scheduled at a perfect time for me to play and have time to relax before my game. Add to that a version of fate (Diaspora) that I own and have been hankering to play, and it was practically a done deal. What I got was even better than I hoped, especially in terms of drama and moral complexity.

The scenario, in brief, involves two ships, the Fortune and the Destiny, which carry the sum of humanity’s technology and hope for survival beyond the solar system. Our characters were the command team on shift during the turn the ships must make to prepare for the decades long breaking maneuver that will take them to their new home, 22 light years from earth. Something goes terribly wrong, and it may not be accidental. The focus of the game is on survival and responsibility, with plenty of tension and action to focus the conflicts.

After some brief discussion with Shannon, I convinced him to let me play the rich, sinister guy, for a change. This turned out to be extra fun, because of my character’s dark secret.

The players as a whole gelled really well and got into the groove of the hard sci-fi drama. As a wealthy, charismatic character used to getting his own way, I was a bit at a loss at first for how to help. However, since I also maneuvered myself into the command position, based on my character’s previous experience, I soon found myself in the thick of things. This was the most like a starship captain I have ever felt in a game. People were willing to roll with it, as I mostly gave commands to help get people involved, and never to do things against their nature. It was a pleasure to play with that team, especially a fellow named Anton, who ran the first game of Fate I ever played. He was spectacular as the blue-skinned Genymedian chief medical officer.

My only criticism of the game is that the session started out slowly and Michael seemed a little disorganized at first. So that’s just a slight presentation issue. But he provided exactly the information we needed to customize our characters and understand their complex histories without information overload. And once the story began, all was golden. The rules were virtually transparent as the drama, action, amazing scientists, and moral weight of the situation descended upon us.

This game had it all. Social combat, physical combat, high stakes skill checks, and solid characterization. I never felt overwhelmed by the science jargon, though the knowledge of my fellow players was surprising and cool. I suppose there could have been more compels and more focus on the characters, but it was clear from early on that the story was the focus here, and even my selfish character was moved by the sacrifice of one NPC. In this case the story truly was bigger than all of us, and it was a pleasure to take part in it.

Worth the price of the con. Thank you, Michael. Now I really want to play in one of your DRYH scenarios.

My game, Spirit of Metal

a Fate game of imagination and heavy metal mayhem

C GM Preparation

B GM Presentation

A+ Players

B Payoff

B Overall

The premise of this game is that a group of flawed individuals from the mortal world are transported to the Realm of Metal where they must fight to save all of reality from the nihilistic machinations of the Loc-Nar, a green force that is the sum of all evil.

I’ve run a lot of very high prep games in recent years, with tons of custom maps and figures and elaborate plots. This game is my attempt to indulge my previous style of gaming, in which I would run games with just a few notes. All my prep time for this was just spent in priming my creativity and trying to hone the character sheet and handouts to be useful at the table. My goal was to create a universe of characters and realms at the table and then wreak havoc upon them in a scenario custom designed for the players and their interests.

Turns out everyone was interested in mayhem and violence. Perfect.

Character generation went fairly well, though it went long. Also, I did not take proper care in looking over their aspects to make sure I could really compel them along. This is a disappointment, as grabbing the compel reins was my primary goal going into the game. It turns out giving yourself half an hour to design a scenario that will equally spotlight 6 characters, each with a significant villain, is a bit much. lol So in the scuffle to keep my imagination rolling, I failed in my goal of mastering compels. I’ll keep working on it.

However, everyone made very metallic, unique characters with lots of aspects taken from metal titles and lyrics. It turns out I was the only currently active, dedicated metalhead at the table, but everyone understood what I was going for and created a character that rocked.

Iron Mullet – Gil’s meth addicted trucker turned armored drummer of doom. Nothing I had heard about Gil’s roleplaying prepared me for the reality. lol

Rob Daily – Duane’s not-Lemmy Kilminster, with the explosive bass powers

Whiplash – Bob’s Metallica inspired lightning-wielding guitar wizard

Den of Earth – Straight out of the movie, Alan so totally nailed this character, including geek-voiced inner monologue.

Sgt. D34TH – Jerry’s technomancer, a Blue Oyser Cult inspired, Tarot card wielding summoner.

Trixx – Matt Steele’s Japanophile ├╝ber-ninja with the power: Decapitate!

This was my first time running Fate. Creating my own version of it had mixed results. Not all of my custom Aspects were really helpful. I tried to include some rivalries in the group, in imitation of Dovi Anderson’s kick ass Star Wars game, but it didn’t add much. The nature of the overall scenario (save the universe from annihilation) doesn’t leave a lot of room for internal drama.

Also, my character sheet had a confusing stress track, based on my own design error. And I really need a better grip on GM fate chips and how the economy can actually work in play. I think the main problem was that I was just trying to shove too much in too little time. An earlier start and a little more time would have helped. When I looked at the clock and found that time was technically up (2:00AM!) with only half the players’quests done, I had to shrug off the truckload of FAIL I felt.

Luckily, my players soldiered on for nearly two more hours to see things through. They were awesome and funny and totally brought the mayhem at every turn. They were so entertaining that it didn’t feel like a nearly 8 hour game to me. But that’s no excuse to not actually USE a f’ing clock for pacing, my own personal biggest pet peeve. Doh!

I had a great time and the players laughed a lot. It was exactly the crazy, creative experience I hoped for, but the pacing and technical issues really bother me.


Fiasco with Shannon, Dovi and Bob

I own Fiasco and have read a lot about it, but never played. So I was thrilled when Dovi offered to facilitate a game.

We played a WW2 maritime horror scenario. Basically we were on an American submarine, caught between the horrors of the deep and the Nazi’s vying for control of an island with ruins of great and horrible power.

It was awesome. The other players were creative and fun, and the laid back atmosphere was perfect for Monday. Don’t get me wrong, the game was exciting and horrifying and interesting, but the atmosphere out of game was just a mellow, creative vibe. Very nice.

I think in retribution for taking the conniving leader in Diaspora, Shannon handed me my marching orders early on. This is totally a kind of character I dig, so I was glad to oblige. She was an American occultist, willing to sacrifice anyone to secure the power for the US. Shannon required that I play her as:

1. Super hot.

2. Very sensual and charming.

3. Says all the right things.

I did my best. How was it Shannon? lol

The story played out in many very satisfying ways and whole experience was very fun. I would easily make Fiasco a go-to game for Monday pickup sessions.

It was an awesome con.

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