Actual Play – RPCV (10/19/2014)

RPCVPlayers: Jason Morningstar, Colin Fahrion, Tess Aquarium, Jackson Tegu, Twyla Campbell, and Sean Nittner
System: RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer)

As a judge in the Golden Cobra Challenge Jason wasn’t allowed to submit a game, but that doesn’t mean he would’t write one anyway! The RCVP larp takes place in an airport where all by one of the players plays a Peace Corps volunteer returning home from Burkina Faso. The last player is another traveler  waiting for a plane, curious about the volunteers.

Each player starts with a small playbook that tells them the first letter of their name (T, G, etc), something about themselves, something that happened, and what they should do before and during the game.  T, who is just waiting for their flight, is the timekeeper and lets us know when our flights start arriving (one hour into the game).

The game was rough. I don’t usually play terrible people and I didn’t even intend to in this game, but terrible I was. Part of that was because I wasn’t as dedicated to the cause as the others. That was just some baggage I walked into. But the real horror came because a question had to be answered. Something horrible had happened but what it was we hadn’t determined. We needed a focus for our contempt so I offered it up. My character A, had slept with one of the local women, gotten her pregnant, and then left. As atrocities go, that may seem mild but for me, a father that is divorced with joint custody of my children, the idea was a painful to even talk about in the abstract.

In play, we all wanted to find someone to blame and I was blamed a lot. Colin’s character S, who just didn’t give a shit was blamed even more but he seemed to take well enough. Not caring about what he had done made it easier to not care about what people thought of him. He was never going to be forgiven, nor ask for forgiveness.

My reaction was a juvenile one. When faced with an alien situation that I was not prepared for I became defensive and looked for someone else to blame. I just couldn’t examine my own actions so I focused on taunting Jason’s character G. G and A (my character) clearly both had feelings about Aicha and my focus was so narrow that I could only imagine that he was jealous of me for winning her affections. Not that he might have genuinely cared about her, or about all the other people who’s lives we impacted. So we argued and bickered over a picture of her. I taunted R until I finally prompted him to hit me, and then laughed as I felt blood trickling down from my split lip. I had somehow envisioned that an act of physical violence either to or against me would make me feel absolved of my guilt, but it didn’t change a thing.

Twyla’s character M had a single focus of feeding starving children, and none of us could match her intensity there. Jackson’s character B worked the hardest of all, and was probably the most appreciative of everyone else, but none of us could keep up with him. Something bad happened between him and the Djibissé Boys but we didn’t find out what it was. S fucking hated Burkina Faso and hated us all. He was the first to leave. T interrogated us and I think we were all found wanting.

We ended the game when the time was up. Our flights arrived and we left worse for wear.

After the game we had a debriefing. I remember apologizing enough times that everyone told me to stop apologizing.

Thoughts on the game

I realize that most of my AP reports spend most of the time focusing on what I did in the game because those are the things I remember best and they are also the things I feel I have the most license to fill in the blanks when there are gaps in my memory. This is a pretty extreme example of that. Besides Jason who I was directly in conflict with, and Colin who was just a big personality, I don’t remember the stories of the other characters. I can recall some hurtful interactions, and a little bit of how we were physically arranged (B and A traded places) but not what T or B or M were driving for or what they regretted most.

The instructions on each character to talk about something and not talk about something else is both a good spark for the conversation and a tool for ferreting out the horrible thing that happened. I kind of fucked that part up when we played and decided the conversation was going to be about Aicha and what happened to her. Outing myself identified the atrocity quickly, but probably too quickly, and without sufficient contribution from the others. Read the instructions Sean. Read the instructions.

I appreciate the emotional investment this game immediately established. I’m not sure I want that in my games. It feels authentic, but that’s a two way street and the shitty feelings in the game quickly become shitty feelings out of game for me. I wouldn’t play this game again at 1AM in the middle of Big Bad Con (when I was super sleep deprived). I would recommend it to fans of Jeepform, to play with a group of friends you trust, or to anyone who wants an immerse experience with real issues at the forefront.


Big Bad Con: October 17-19

flyer-2014-webI’m super excited about Big Bad Con! This year I’m working to do these things:

  • Improve open gaming by having flags to indicate “player wanted” which can be put on a table when looking for players.
  • Last year we had food trucks on Saturday and Sunday. This year we’re adding more of them over more hours, including Friday!
  • Games on Demand is possibly getting a bigger space (depending on how many GMs sign up).
  • We’ve added tags to games, so you can identify (and search) for your games based on descriptors like: investigation, collaborative, or fantasy.
  • MOAR GAMES!!!! Game Listing


Actual Play – Last Train Out of Warsaw (10/6/2013)

lasttrainGM: Jason Morningstar
Players: John Aegard, Karen Twelves, Kevan Forms, Adam Koebel, and Sean Nittner
System: Last Train out of Warsaw ( based on Archipelago)

At the end of Big Bad Con, after most of the tables were broken down and all official events were over, a small group gathered to play Jason’s Last Train out of Warsaw.

Last Train is a focused (and GM’ed) game of Archipelago that depicts, as the name describes, the last train leaving Warsaw before the German invasion. Jason is great as taking historical events and providing just enough color that folks who know nothing about them (folks like me) feel capable and comfortable playing through our own retelling of history. This game is no exception.

We told the story of a few individuals on this train, trying to make it to some place safe, or in some of our cases, trying to secure the future of Poland. We all failed at all of these things.

Thoughts on the Game

Adam played a very intense quiet man. Quick to violence when he believed it would achieve his ends, but also not emotionally or mentally prepared for the task. We watched his stoic facade crack and eventually shatter.

Kevin’s engineer was never going to make it to Romania (that we knew) but that loved his train and hated the Germans with a particular kind of passion.

Karen and I should have swapped the areas that we governed. She played the fireman and governed the train. I played the pretty girl and governed the people. This put us in predicaments where we had to create our own opposition, and sometimes resolve the out come of our actions with that opposition, which never works.  Something to watch out for.

Jason’s helping hands offered urgency, panic, and towards the end just the right dose of hopelessness.

Having John enter the game late, playing the conductor, did involve smoothing over some ripples in the shared fiction, but once he was it, it was a great addition to the game. When the pretty girl finally realized he betrayed all of them to the Russians, she took advantage of his injury (and helplessness) to suffocate him with the bandages that should have been wrapped around his wound.

This game was great. Grim as hell. And great.




Actual Play – Big Bad GM 2013 (10/6/2013)

FateCoreBookCoverGM: Eric Zimmerman, Joe Harney, Ezra Denney, Bryan Hitchcock
Players: Tiffany Frederickson, Ray Massie, Dennis Baum, Mike McFarland, Cait Youngquist, Bryant Durrell, Joe O’Neil, Michael Garcia, David Zarubin, Shawn Endresen, Jason Walters, Steven Kaye, Ralph Wolterbeek, Vanessa Brannon, Paul Meyer, and Eric Lytle
Judges: Sean Nittner, Mike Bogan, Bruce Harlick, and Leonard Balsera
System: Fate Core and Fate Accelerated.

This was the big bad showdown of 2013. The event where four GMs are given three secret ingredients and tasked to run a game on the fly. They get no time for prep and all the game/character creation is done at the table.

Secret Ingredients

These were release just before the games began:

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Locations: Dark Woods
Antagonists: Greedy Capitalists

Here were our contestants:

BryanHitchcockBryan Hitchcock

High Concept: The Metal Friar
Trouble: So Many Games, So Little Time
Aspect: Six-string Troubadour

Your Adventure: One year at Dunrdacon in the 90s, one person showed up out of six who signed up for a Werewolf the Apocalypse game. An hour after start time, I finally managed to rustle up a full table. Some of them had never played a White Wolf game at all. But we managed to have a fun game, slay a Nexus Crawler and end it with a climactic duel between two of the PCs for leadership of the pack. Awesome game in spite of an awful beginning.

If you could be any one in any world: The Doctor, but the Metal Realms version. #13.

Eric ZimmermanEric Zimmerman

High Concept: Pop Culture Anthropologist
Trouble: Daddy Issues
Aspect: “…just rolled three negatives!”

Your Adventure: Wild Talents. In a Roman superheroes game, the final bad guys, essentially Germanic Gods, take a surprise shot at the PCs, but instead of fighting back, the PCs talked them into a parley. I had no idea what was going to happen. They wrestled with the moral dilemma of betraying Rome (especially the Emperor who can control them) because they could not disagree with all of the “enemy’s” complaints. It wasn’t until after it was over that I realized the game didn’t falter, but something amazing just happened.

If you could be any one in any world: The Great A’Tuin from Discworld

Joe Harney BBGMJoseph Harney

High Concept: Reenacting Renaissance Man
Trouble: Doesn’t deal well with Stupid
Aspect: Rules Jedi.

Your Adventure: There was the one time where Aphrodite stabbed the Earl King’s Daughter’s Gay White Court Vampire Husband in the heart with the Spear of Leonidas.  Does that count as going good or bad, or both?!?

If you could be any one in any world: Either a Dresden Shide Lord or a 40k Space Marine



EzraDenneyBBGMEzra Denney

High Concept: Paranoia Proselytizer
Trouble: There are other games besides Paranoia?
Aspect: Why are there plus signs on these dice?

Your Adventure: Is this where I tell you about my 20th level Kensai Evoker? Because he was pretty sweet…

If you could be any one in any world: Werner Herzog, or the Funbot 3000

The play is the thing

These four GMs ran some amazing games, and some of them had to work their asses off to do it. Bryan’s game self-identified as “were not a rom-com crowd.”

In the end, judging was really, really hard. Hard enough I’m not doing it again next year. We had several criteria:

Use of Ingredients (10 points)
System Mastery (5 points)
Pacing (5 points)
Player Enjoyment (5 points)

It was tough, the score we close. Close enough we almost awarded two winners. Bleh. It was hard

Big Bag GM Winner

After the judges debated, discussed, and drew swords, we settled on the 2013 Big Bad GM Champion:


Actual Play – Fallen Sons (10/6/2013)

unknownarmiesGM: Todd Furler
Players: Sean Nittner, Mia Blankensop, Matt Steele, Zed Lopez, Joe O’Neil, Shawn Endresen
System: Unknown Armies

Game Description: A town must determine how to respond when a hate group announces they will picket the funeral of a favorite son. Players will be exposed to the rhetoric of a real-world hate group.

Todd, at my request, ran Fallen Sons, the transcendental sequel to Thy Will, which I played six years ago and still remember as a favorite.

I was excited for several reasons. To play the sequel to a personal favorite game. To play with Matt Steele, a friend and personal favorite gamer, and to play with Mia, who was leaning a new system, and hadn’t played with Todd before.

The game did not disappoint. I had heard that it dealt with really heavy issues, specifically hate crimes, which it did. I also heard that the supernatural elements were both familiar and extremely alien, which they were.

Thoughts on this game

I left out the actual play report because Todd may run it again and I want to avoid spoilers.

The only downside to this game for me was being really frazzled by running the con (and proposing the night before) so I just don’t feel like I gave it my best shot.  Nothing terrible, just more distracted than I would have liked.


Actual Play – Descent into Sendic’s Tomb (10/5/2013)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Shaun Hayworth
Players: Sean Nittner, Matt Glover, Brian Williams, and Noam Rosen
System: Torchbearer

I hopped into this game in the last hour and kind of ran roughshod over it. I was in a somewhat punchy mood and hell, I had a character with no conditions!

With my shield shoveling gunk to clear a safe path and the other’s knowledge of where “up” should be, we made it out of the dungeon with Sendic’s legendary sword in hand… which we sold to buy food and lantern oil!

Thoughts on this game

Love Torchbearer and I want to get to play it more!

Actual Play – Fiasco: Dallas 63 playset 50th anniversary (10/4/2013)

Playset_Dallas_63Players:  Jason Morningstar, Morgan Ellis, Ezra Denny, Sean Nittner
Facilitator: Chris Bennett
System: Fiasco
Setting: Dallas 63′

Game Description:

It’s November 22, 1963, and the President is coming to Dallas, although he really shouldn’t. And for a group of people with boundless ambition and poor judgement, you could run quite a scheme while everyone else is paying attention to JFK’s visit.”

We will be running three tables of Fiasco with 3-5 players each, all using the Dallas 63 playset. At the mid-point of the game, each table will swap interesting pieces of content from their games with the other tables to incorporate in the second half of their game. A triangulation of sorts.

This session does not assume any knowledge of Fiasco or the events of 1963. Just a willingness to show up, have fun and make your own history! You understand this will probably end badly for you, right?

Dallas 63 was playset of the month on Bully Pulpit Game:

Lured in by the pretties

I walked by Bennett’s room and he asked me if I wanted to play (he had a no-show). I would have refused but then he showed me the table with a missing player had Jason, Ezra, and Morgan at it. I was in!

We were terrible, and betrayed each other left, right, and center. But JFK lived!



Thoughts on this game

We hit a few points of confusion in this game. Wait, if I have the gold, why am I trying to smuggle it back to Cuba? Huh, why does the Cuban vixen need to kill the patriotic soldier she’s been sleeping with. It was a series of disconnects where I felt like we were following the tropes of the genre but the story itself wasn’t quite holding together.  This may have been due to some confusion at the table (wait, who owes who money?) or to disconnects with how hard we should play (I remember a point where Jason called me on letting someone off early, when I should have pushed for more, which probably would have escalated the tension rather than relieving it).

I think Archipelago giving players specific prompts to say during scenes like “go harder” and “try that a different way” are great and should be used in all collaborative games. A bit more of that I think would have smoothed out these wrinkles.

Bennett’s Mega-Fiasco game concept works really well. Three tables play three separate games all with the same playset. During the tilt they each write down a few elements from their story and put them on a shared table, then they each take two from the other tables and add them to their games. Hilarity ensues!

Bennett had another great rule. You die, you get a cookie. Like a real cookie, that you get to eat. And eat it Jason did!

Big Bad Con – October 4-6

bad-facing-leftI’m super excited about Big Bad Con! This year I’m working to do these things:

  • Improve open gaming by having flags to indicate “player wanted” which can be put on a table when looking for players.
  • There are three additional staff members in the kitchen during the game breaks to help speed up the food service.
  • Games on Demand is being remodeled again, based on the GenCon format by Steve Segedy.
  • We’re spreading out and putting fewer games in the boardrooms (3 instead of 4) to reduce noise and make it easier to get to your game.
  • I’ve added a Code of Conduct, something that should have been there in the first place.
  • We’ve added tags to games, so you can identify (and search) for your games based on descriptors like: investigation, collaborative, or fantasy.
  • Adding an iPhone and Android app – Big Bad Mobile
  • MOAR GAMES!!!! Game Listing

Here’s some of the awesome things people said about last year: 2012 Testimonials

Actual Play – Tremulus (10/7/2012)

GM: Mike Bogan
Players: Jason Morningstar, J Li, and Sean Nittner
System: Tremulus

Sunday ended up being kind of a slow day for me. In the morning we had some chaos as GMs were running late, players were AWOL, and some games ended up collapsing. I hated it, but we moved on. People found something to do, jumped into other games, or started games of their own.

After the Houses LARP I saw Jason sitting out on the lawn and we agreed that we should play something. J had already talked to him, so we just needed another person or two, and we would be good to go. About 30 seconds Mike Bogan showed up and we started talking about Tremulus. It’s Call of Cuthulhu hacked to Apocalypse World. This seems like a brilliant idea to me, even if I’m not a huge CoC guy, it makes perfect sense.

Mike had offered to run it in open gaming but didn’t have any takers, and was a bit disappointed as he had requested a PDF copy from the designer before it was released just so he could run it at Big Bad Con. Jason was planning to work on the guys with their Frozen North supplement so he had some interest in the game as well. Boom, we were on!

Eerie events in Ebon Eaves

Mike handed out some playbooks for us to sift through, and well as asking us a few questions about Ebon Eaves (the town the game is set in). The questions reminded me of making a planetary survey and colonial report for Durance (I mean, the system is essentially identical). We picked some spooky, messed up aspects about the town and that generated some plot seeds for Mike. He had some flavor text to read us as well as some secret horrific details he could keep all to himself until he was ready to inflict them on us.

A pretty cool thing happened then. Mike needed some time to prep the game, so as we were making out characters, we started tying them together. A LOT.

J was playing Emil Richmond, the heir. He was a sickly child, who’s father had also passed from a wasting illness. His uncle stood to inherit the lion share of the Richmond estate, which seemed wrong to everyone, but that is how the will was written. Emil wanted to see the world but his sickness prevented him, so he lived vicariously through Jessica (see below) and their shared passion for the exotic and foreign was the seed of a tender romance.

Jason played Dr. Winthrop Richmond, Emils much older half brother from another mother. Though the elder, Winthrop because of his mothers questionable status was not part of the will. He was extremely bitter about this and had left Ebon Eaves to make his own fortune. His practice failing in the big city though, he was returning, still full of anger towards his family.

I played Jessica Northrup and antiquarian native to Ebon Eaves. She was never wealthy but made enough hocking her odds and ends (which were always purported to have special qualities) to get by. She traveled quite a bit when she was younger but once had an accident that injured her leg. She had physically recovered, but to endure the pain became addicted to laudanum, which was supplied to her with few questions from Dr. Richmond.

We were seriously having fun just connecting our characters and making all of them part of each other’s lives.

Horror abound

I don’t want to go into the details, because some of these are actual plots in the game itself.  What was wonderful however, was how Mike layered on horrific elements to the mundane, so it was hard to tell which was which. Was there something insidious going on here, or does that guy just not like you.

Towards the end we all decided that we knew too much and tried to undo the damage we had done. But you can’t put the genie (or the old one) back in a bottle. It was too late, we had drawn too much attention to the horror that lurked below, and we had to be silenced. The last scene depicting our final moments was masterful as our characters left behind a few notes and clues, that if found but other people of a curious inclination, would condemn them to our same fate!

Thoughts on this game

I love, love, loved that we never got physical in this game. I think the closed we came was me burning someone with hot coffee to get away.  There as never a point where we said “okay, it’s time to break out the shotguns”. The game was always human, filled with human motivations and reactions… until it wasn’t, and by then it was way to late for all of us.

J and I had this really adorable, if quite awkward romance. It was very nice to see our character recognize their feelings for each other.

Jason was just great playing Winthrop. Despite bitterly hating the way he was treated, he was still Emil’s brother and would not abandon him. Even though we had a chance to run away (or so we thought), Winthrop wouldn’t go without his brother. It was great!

Although I liked the moves, and they seemed very fitting for a Lovecraftian game, I was pretty unhappy with the Health and Sanity track systems. They didn’t reinforce the growing horror of the game. Yes there was a descriptor next to them, and we knew that if the boxes filled up we were done for, but I was never afraid of that, nor did the status indicators really give me much to go on. I was really just responding to the events in the game. I think to make these tracks have some real meat they needed to be turned back into the game. Either by affecting rolls, calling for new moves (maybe the same move you did when you were sane, works much differently when you’re going mad, etc), or some other reinforcing mechanic. As is, they felt just like hit points, which really didn’t thrill me.

Mike is a great horror GM. He really knows how to create an terrible, yet still believable, ever-encroaching doom.