DundraCon 2009 – Part 1

Wow, that was a killer con. A few things were less than perfect but I definitely had a GREAT time. Because the easiest way for me to organize my thoughts is chronologically, I’ll step through the con in few hour chunks.

10:00 PM Thursday 2/12

Oh fuck, oh fuck! How the hell am I going to get everything prepared? I needed to clean house, pack up my game, clothes, the kid’s stuff, podcasting equipment, and edit episode 20 of Narrative Control. My normal length for episodes is 20 to 30 minutes. This one was 1:36 minute before editing. Oh crap, this is going to kill me.

7:00 AM Friday 2/13

Waking up early to finish editing NC 20, pack everything in the car, print out directions to a rental place (in case I needed to rent my own special table my game). Got the car packed and then started cleaning in full force. My better half came home from work and desperately needed sleep, so I juggled editing, cleaning and kid wrangling till 11:00 when we left.

12:30 PM Friday 2/13

Hotel check in, no problem. The staff at DDC are really great people, all very friendly and most of them are familiar with the con itself. Mark Schynert, the RPG coordinator had been emailing me back and forth about a long table for the room (a round table really doesn’t work well for my game) and I found out that the hotel was going to provide one for me. Rock!

3:00 PM Friday 2/13

It seems like the world showed up. Plenty of Good Omens folks, LARPers, and random other folks that I know or sort of know were coming to check in. I wanted to spend some time hanging out but needed to get to my room and set up for my game.

4:00 PM Friday 2/13

The Gift (A Good Omens Production)
Friday 4 PM in Room 377 for 4 hours (that’s short for me, usually I do 6-8)
GM: Sean Nittner (yep, me)
System: Burning Wheel (first time running at a con)
Players: 8 (first time intentionally having 8 players)
Provided: All characters provided by GM (Damn right they were!)

This game had way more turn out than I thought it would. Being a 4PM game, I figured most people wouldn’t have arrived at the con yet, but it was packed. I let a few people in because there was a lot of overflow and a few no shows. This pissed one “would be” gamer as he arrived late and I had already filled his slot. Felt like a jerk (as I always do when I have to turn people away) but had to move on. The game rocked. It was full of fun, insults, and murder most foul. Surprisingly in my play test nobody resorted to violence but in the end negotiations couldn’t be made. At the end of my con game half of both sides were dead but the Dwarves and Elves made a treaty. Crazy.

What rocked

  • Having all eight players is really important for this game. In the play test we only had seven and while that worked fine, having the “trouble maker” character is really key to ramping up the tension in the game.
  • The extra props. A blue brocade with silver patterns on the Elven prince’s seat and crushed red velvet on the Dwarven throne did quite nicely. The elderberry juice and root beer (standing in for mirrorwine and nog respectively) were greatly appreciated and all but polished off (I think one root beer remained at the end).
  • Players, even shy ones got to take their grief to the dice. We had a seneschal (the super manipulative character) trying to trick the elven prince who wasn’t going to have any of it. Our first Duel of Wits was between a very comfortable roleplayer and one who was still very new and nervous. The system was great for facilitating both of them making their points equally, without favoring a more persuasive player.
  • Good times seeing some old friends and meeting new people. Both Brent and Cassie were in my game, which was a blast (as it always is) because they play to the hilt. Also I met Duane, who despite playing a character that was young, naïve, and constantly being manipulated by those around him managed to persevere with a noble outcome.
  • The game was hilarious. I was in stitches a few times from the gags the players were pulling.

What could have been improved

  • I forgot to tell the players about their emotional attributes until we started playing. It felt a little bit like a retcon as a told the dwarves “No, no, no, a song is not a suitable gift, you’re greed demands more.” It didn’t break the game or anything, but it would have been better if I remembered earlier on.
  • Some of the players were turtling at first and I really had to goad them to put their two cents in. I need to remember to tell people that they can challenge their leader. Because the prince says so does not make it right.
  • We never got to the Fight! mechanic. I don’t see this as a major failure, but there were definitely guys who came to the game to see how the system works and they would have liked to see more. As it was, in the end we did one big eight-way bloody versus, from of which four characters died. Great stuff and it involved everyone, but it didn’t really show off Burning Wheel.

What was just weird

  • The power went out at the start of my game. Luckily we had enough light coming through the window and the Dwarven Prince brought a camping lantern (we all knew we made him prince for a reason) that helped those further from the window. About an hour later, it came back on. No explanation. I think I need to make a con game about this…

8:00 PM Friday 2/13

Bizarrely, I got into “A Fool and His Gold”, a Dungeons and Dragons game that I didn’t sign up for. I found out later that the “pre registration” shuffler mixed up the Period 1 games. Woops! It turned out to be fine. I palled around with Kevan Forbes, Mike Parker, and Matt Gaston for a while until we decided to head up for a pickup game of Deathwish. Kai, a friend of Mike P. came to join us and we made our superspies. The game has a pretty serious note (much more Bourne Identity than Pussy Galore) but that didn’t stop us from having a ridiculously fun time.

Kevan ran the game, came up with a on the spot plot and then we ran the system through its paces. Dust Devils feels like a crunchier version of PTA. We used cards for resolution (like you do in PTA) but we had stats, loyalties, specialties and of course, a deathwish, which allowed us to either draw more cards in the beginning or turn in a few cards for new ones. The best poker hands unequivocally wins, the player with the lowest fails and takes “damage” and whoever had the highest card (regardless of best hand) got to narrate the scene giving success or failure to anyone in the middle. The damage track was our own skills, so as you got hurt (or failed) you got worse. I’m not sure how I feel about that part yet as my character was only hurt in the last confrontation so it didn’t affect him much. We also had “chips” that could be use to buy an extra card, fold, etc, very similar to fan mail.

We had four statistics: Aim, Wits, Guts and Cool, but I think the game would have been much better served to have used the five Wilderness of Mirror stats (Mars, Mercury, Saturn, Pluto and Vulcan) as we were often mixing traits that only sort of worked. Also the “stud” hand seemed like an afterthought that didn’t really engage the rules as they excluded the advantage for specialties. Other than that I think the system is solid and makes for some real fun adventures.

Thinking about Wilderness of Mirrors, this game could be even more of a “pick up” game if you added the WoM planning mechanic. That would have to reward players chips, which is probably a good idea, as Kevan ended up giving us one to start anyway. This way you could make people earn them. Hmm…

1:00 AM Saturday 2/14

A chat with Carl Rigney. As I walked downstairs to find out what I was in Saturday morning (nothing… which turned out to be the trend for the con) I bumped into my friend Carl. As usual we talked shop until my eyelids started to drop and decided 3:30 AM was way past my bedtime. How wrong I would find out I was.

To be continued…