Actual Play – Kubla, The Khan of Cons

Kubla this year was my redemption for DDC. During all of DundraCon I was regretting not running a game… so what did I do for Kubla? Yep, run two. More on that later.
Friday 2PM – Check In

We arrived Friday afternoon with the kids in toe and check into the hotel. Without going into a rant here, though I love Kubla, I think that the Hyatt is the least hospitable hotel of any convention hotel I’ve ever been in. The building and rooms are beautiful but the staff, check-out process, and elevator/stairwells all exude irritation. If I ran a horror hotel game, it would definitely be set in the Burlingame Hyatt. We arrived around two and my game wasn’t until six but somehow the hours flew by. Between catching up with friends, eating, buying Dread (a game I’m very exited about) and doing all the normal registration business I barely made it to the game on time.

Friday 6PM – Exalted Unplugged

To be honest I was a little nervous about this game. The play-test had only been mediocre and had exposed several holes in the game that I wasn’t 100% sure I patched. Let’s face it I was trying to jam Exalted into a Wushu box and cover it all over with a thick glaze of the 1980’s LA Music scene. That meant two rules systems, two settings and trying to loop them all together with a common theme.

The premise in a nutshell was that the characters were a high school band (White Gold) in the 80’s in a battle of the bands. In the middle of the competition they, along with their rival band (Maidens of Mercy) were sucked through a dimensional portal (as we all know there were many in the 80s) into creation where they were revealed as the chosen ones (i.e. Solars) who had to save the south of creation. The game was positively perforated with ridiculous 80s references, such as the high priests pray “Woah, we’re have way there… woah… living on a prayer” and the leopard familiar that was hard of hearing, ending with the great weapon being found a top a Stairway to Heaven. Yes this game was designed to be cheese, with cheese on top and a side of cheese to go.

So how did it go? In a word, it was Def! According to Kevan Forbes I broke the geek-o-meter. I’m not sure if that was with the Cult of the Blue Oyster or with naming his Night Caste character the “Rhythm of the Night” but whatever it was, it was a great compliment. This was the first game I had ever received applause for at the end. My players were Alex D, Kevan F, Greg M, Jen M, Brendan and Justin E. They were great. They were better than great, Greg was the one who gave me the Stairway to Heaven, they were awesome. I’ll stop gushing now.

As for the critical breakdown of the game system, I used the Wushu system for the first portion of the game and then used the Exalted adaptation Wuxalted for their time in creation. The system did an excellent job of not getting in the way. Traditional Exalted allows for over the top action, but the game mechanics have a way of slowing down when things get to crazy. Wushu (and the wuxalted adaptation) both get behind wire-fu action and make it integral to the mechanic which I love. Further I found that a battling other bands in a Rock and Roll competition is surprising like fighting mooks in a battle, mechanically speaking at least. I was quite surprised to see Wushu do so when it was clearly social combat. My greatest accolade for the system would be to say that it did not impede the story or the player narration, and for me, that is really saying something.

Saturday 8AM – Breakfast

Saturday morning came a little too soon for my tastes. Thankfully however, I was playing in a pickup game run by Justin Evans so the start time was flexible. I gave my seat in Rich Taylor’s Unhallowed Metropolis to Elizabeth the Rock Star (seriously, she’s probably 18 now and I’ve game with her at cons for the last three years, and she is amazing) and did the breakfast thing. $7.00 Mocha… Wow!

Saturday 9AM – Roanoke – Justin Evans

Mike B, Jessie S, Shaun H, Kristin S and I all meandered up to Justin’s room for a game or Roanoke. Before playing the game I knew nothing about the setting (except for that I thought it sounded vaguely Japanese, yeah… five moron points here) but did know it used the Wushu system and that Justin had added mechanics from other systems (such as the duel of wits from Burning Wheel) so I was really looking forward to seeing what this Roanoke was all about.

I had an ulterior motive here, I’ve got to admit. Justin has been in two of my games before (Office Waste last year at Kubla, and my previous night’s Exalted Unplugged) and both times he was awesome. The master of subtle humor, Justin has an amazing talent for grabbing onto a small morsel of hilarity and beating you to a giggling pulp with it. I guessed (and was correct) that he would also be a great GM but before begging him to join, I felt it obligatory to play in one of his games and see for myself. Man, am I glad that I did.

For those who know nothing about Roanoke, fear not. You are part of the majority. The setting is a small island in the Chesapeake Bay. From Wikipedia:

Roanoke Island was the site of the 16th century Roanoke Colony, the first English colony in the New World in what was then called Virginia, in honor of England’s ruling monarch, Queen Elizabeth I. There were two major groups of settlers who attempted to establish a permanent settlement at Roanoke Island, and each failed.

In 1587, the English again attempted to settle. John White left the colony to return to England for supplies that he felt would help the colonists to survive, expecting to return to Roanoke Island within three months. Instead, he found England at war with Spain, and all ships were confiscated for use of the war efforts. His return to Roanoke Island was delayed until 1590. When he finally returned, the colonists had disappeared. The only thing he found was the word “CROATOAN” carved into a nearby tree.

The game of Roanoke is the story of what happened to those colonists during those three years. I will not reveal the storyline as I believe Justin is going to run the game again, but suffice to say, Justin ran a great game. His depictions of characters, control of the pacing, and improvisations were great. In addition he (as I expected) added several mechanics to the game:

  • To represent the impending doom or Roanoke he used a doom counter system that determined the relative horror of the final outcome.
  • To handle out social combats he used the battle of wits from Burning Wheel.
  • To flesh out NPCs, which he handed to the characters to play he gave us aspect cards with descriptors similar to the decriptors you would find in Spirit of the Century.
  • To help flesh out our characters and connect them together he had us each contribute to each other’s character sheets elements like “fatal flaw” and “saving grace”. We also decided as a group why the head of the militia had chosen us to work together as his aids.
  • And one of the coolest bits, we drew the island, including adding all the elements like mysterious caves, mute water sellers, mud pots and the works
  • Finally, at the end to evoke real urgency, our characters got put on a timer to resolve the last scene. Using a chess clock we rallied back in forth (between players and GM) to describe our actions. In a game that is heavy on the narration, this was awesome

Were it just for Justin the game would have been great, but in addition we had an amazing group of players. Everyone in the room was so immersed in the game I could taste the salt water off the Chesapeake Bay!

Saturday 3:30 PM – Rock n’ Roll Dreams – Carl Rigney

We had to peal out of Justin’s game just after it ended, leaving no time for the normal game debriefing yack that I love to do… we had to run to make it to Carl Rigney’s Dogs in the Vineyard game. Jessie has never played Dogs before and I was very exited for her to get a chance to a) play Dogs, b) play a game that Carl runs and c) get to be a Rock n’ Roll legend. The con gods must have loved us because we both got in.

Carl’s games (which you can hear at length about over at 2d6feet are great, and this was no exception. He used a Dogs in the Vineyard adaptation to run this game:

Brand Robins’ “Jim Steinman: The RPG” comes to life using Dogs in the Vineyard mechanics in a rock n roll opera of desperately pretty rebels without a cause, 50’s ambiance with 80s hair and modern hyper-sexuality. It’s all about the Bat Out of Hell, Nowhere Fast, Streets of Fire, I Would Do Anything for Love over the top emo porn modern fairy tale, with nothing less than 3 true loves, 5 broken hearts, a fight with sledge hammers under the L train in a thunderstorm, a beautiful ‘57 Ford, and the blowing up of that beautiful ‘57 Ford. If you’d offer your throat to the hungry wolf with the red roses in the pale moonlight, this is the game you were born to play.

Yes, I drove that ’56 Ford and yes I did get in a sledge hammer fight with the biker gang leader, and yes in the end I did explode in an inferno of love, glory and teenage hyper-sexuality (oh.. not to mention fire and wreckage). Our race was to get out of town and Dean Able (my character) found one way out. Rarely have I been quite so satisfied with my character dying horribly.

Thanks Carl, that was awesome.

Sunday 9 AM – There Is no Spoon

Back for the second game I ran, again with the Wushu, I took six coppertops into the Matrix and gave them the chance to Free their Minds. If I said above that the Wushu system didn’t get in the way of the narrative for my Exalted game, it positively made that same narrative ROCK in the Matrix game. There is no single system that would have supported the Wire-Fu, strange Matrix philosophy, Bullet time and inevitable fight and flight from the Agents. I’m getting tired now, and these descriptions are getting shorter. Suffice to say, thank you Martin , Matt , Vicky , Joel , Jessica and one other who’s names escape me for an awesome time in the Matrix. That game was a blast.
Sunday 4 PM – Podcasting with

My first podcast. Rock! Check it out at

Thanks Shaun and Kristin, that rocked.

Sunday 8 PM – Board/Party Games

We played Amun Re and Time’s up in our room. Just a little bit of alcohol and Time’s up becomes a truly awesome game. Kevan Forbes and I OWN Michelle Pfeiffer.

Once again. Kubla was six kinds of awesome!

9 thoughts on “Actual Play – Kubla, The Khan of Cons”

  1. Since Sean is allowed to cross post from the Good Omens site…I’m going to cross comment:

    Thanks for the glowing review! Its easy when you have such inpiring players. One thing I won’t take credit for is the Doom Counter mechanic…I grabbed that one straight out of the Roanoke rule book and I think its an awesome addition to wushu for horror games.

    And Exalted Unplugged was Good Times ™. I’ve never had so much fun trying to score a few bricks of the coke…

  2. Hyatt Zombies

    If I ran a horror hotel game, it would definitely be set in the Burlingame Hyatt.

    It certainly deserves it. I set my Kublacon 2007 Zombies in the Vineyard run at the Hyatt, and for that matter AT Kublacon. There was a last stand in the Knuckles sports bar.

    1. Carl, you’re like a mind reader. I wanted to get in that Zombie’s game already, and know knowing that you hosted it in Kubla, just makes me all the more envious.

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