Kubla is King!

Man, I really can’t say enough good things about Kubla this year. Part con, part company and part serendipity, I had a blast.   Warning: This post is very long, read as time allows.

Pre con excitement.

The fun started for me 10 days before the con. On Tuesday (the 15th) I play tested my Office Waste game with Erik Woodbury, Travis Lindquist, Steve Dunn, Tracy Pinkelton, Omar Camacho and Matt DeHayes. There were some kinks in the game (as there is supposed to be in a play test) but overall I had a great time. Such a good time in fact that I would have been content even if the actual game had been canceled, had no shows or just sucked at the con. The Prime Time Adventure rules (especially Paul Strack’s variations of them) are fast, flexible and fun. My players were awesome and really confirmed to me what a great idea it was to let players play characters who were normal Joes that got to break free of mundane constraints.

After the play-test was done and improvements were made I spent a few nights helping Eric Woodbury with Arathi Ceasefire (a World of Warcaft LARP). Eric is an experienced tabletop and live action role player, but this LARP needed a lot of WoW background information and a system to be created. Erik, Steve Dunn, Tracy Pinkelton and I had gotten together a few times to work out the system and now it was time to crank out the characters. I made seven of the thirty characters and a few minor props. All in all it wasn’t a giant contribution, but I really had fun developing interconnections between the characters. Sadly my game (Office Waste) and Erik’s (Arathi Ceasefire) were both Friday night. So while I helped prep the game, I couldn’t actually be there to be an assistant GM.

Friday Night (Office Waste – by me)

Erik and I got out of Davis just after 4, which was only about two hours late, so I was pretty happy. We arrived and checked in and quickly assembled 30 character packets for the LARP. I helped Erik carry the stuff to Sandpebble D and then left him to run the game. As I had opportunities to check in on the game (while mine was having a break) it seemed like the participants were having a great time. The follow up that I heard after confirmed just that. Arathi Ceasefire went off like gangbusters.

I had an hour before my game was going to start and a friend of mine that lives in Colorado was in town. We hopped across the street, had a bite as Sizzler and then I bolted back to the hotel to get Office Waste started. From left to right here is Alex and Charles just before we went out to dinner.

Alex and Charles - Before Dinner

My players were Justin, Mike Bogan, Sam, Rasilind, Elizabeth, and Brent. I had gamed with all of them except Rasilind and Justin and I was confidant that the group was going to rock. I was wrong. The rocked hard! Every time I faced them with a horrible traffic, evil bosses, sadistic dot-matrix printers, sensitivity trainers, partnership councils, arrogant IT guys, whiners, annoyingly happy co-workers, strange food fetish co-workers and disgusting, greasy, uncouth co-workers they shined like I could have never imagined. Prime Time Adventures (with variations from Paul Strack) allows the players to narrate both successes and failures. Given this, much of the “story” is put in the hands of the players (where I think it should be). They give direction to the plot and narrate a good portion of the scenes. Between the hot-boxed bathroom, “everybody likes my chili”, the fake then real then mocked dying grandmother and the who-on-myspace dialog, I was practically crying from laughing so hard. My players were nothing short of awesome and they made the game something I will never forget.

Deliriously happy, I met up with Erik and Steve who were drinking with some other gamers. I met (hoping I remember names now): Paul, Devon, Dave and Joe. The guys were all friendly and willing to share their wine so how could I turn down the company. We drank for a bit and then eventually headed up the room to crash.

Saturday Morning (Spirit of the 24th Century – by Mike Parker)

I went to bed late on Friday and didn’t sleep all that well. Noise and an uncomfortable bed didn’t help. To my surprise the alarm clock woke me up around 8ish and I made it to my 9:00 game: Spirit of the 24th Century.

For me this game was lot of firsts. Mike Parker is one of Good Omens more recent GMs and one of the few that has never ran a game I was in. I knew Mike had run several Spirit of the Century games already so I was eager to see what he could do with a system he was comfortable with. Also, the game itself was totally new to me. I had heard Paul Tevis’ review of it some time ago and I was interested in the game, but up till now had never played it. Also, of the players in the group I had gamed with Gerry and Greg Eichner before, but Anton, Stephan and the guy who played RxM-42 (sorry, I should have written down names) were strangers.

There are a lot of game reviews of Spirit of the Century (two of them here: Have Games Will Travel, and four more on RPG net (which you can find by searching the reviews at rpg.net) so I won’t go into the details of the game except to note how I think it is well suited for a con game.

In Mike’s game (as per usual with SotC) we created our characters before starting. With a game using d20, Hero System or even World of Darkness I would have dreaded doing on the spot character creation. It can take hours to do and experienced players will end up with much more efficient and “powerful” characters than novices. Spirit of the Century, however, falls in the category of trait based character building which means my “Grew up in a space farm” was every bit as useful and descriptive as Monkey-X who had the trait “Oook Oook”. Character creation is (reasonably fast) and entertaining in its own right. Because this was Spirit of the 24th century, a few things had been changed. We were playing in a high pulp future much like Buck Rodgers or Mars Attacks. Giant Robots, Martians, Space Nazis, you name it.

This took two hours but was well worth it. All of our characters were connected to each other (as part of the character development process) and we had established several antagonists that Mike was able to use as his villains.

In SotC the player describes their character as he or she ages and give them “aspects” which will later be used in the game. I chose to create a “rocketeer” character that was born on a space farm. Quite by accident I named him Davey Rocket and hilarity ensued (along with a chorus of “Davey, Davey Rocket. King of the final frontier.”). As I created the character I ended up with aspects like: An honest face never lies, everyone knows Martians have a glass jaw, a damsel in distress…., and my tribute to Kirk: “But that’s not…possible…” The other characters were similarly rich. Mike did a great job helping us along. As we tried to find appropriate aspects to pull from our history, he was always there with a helpful suggestion that suited the era. After two hours we had a great cast: Davey Rocket, RXM-42 (Android Ninja), Green Something (Martian with only a coincidental resemblance to a mantis warrior found in another slightly larger RPG) Red Starburst, Monkey X (the super intelligent experimental co-pilot monkey), and Doc O, the man of SCIENCE!

Once the game got underfoot, we went from having a good time, to having a great time. Because of our characters backgrounds we managed to have Robot Ninja Monkey Aliens (our side) vs. Pirate Nazi Mind Slavers (the bad guys). The game was completely campy and ridiculously funny. I was quite happy when my rival Hydrogen Hilda (a blue Martian Pirate who worked for the Cult of Hauptman) captured Davey, took away his rocket pack, interrogated him and then had her way with him. Of course RXM-42 came to the rescue only so that I could face my rival again in the field of battle. Mike really impressed me with this game. He rolled so smoothly with our ideas that you would have thought the characters were pre-generated for his story.

As if this review hasn’t been long enough, here is a picture of the players.

Saturday Afternoon (Thy Will – by Todd Furler)

Todd Furler was a new GM to me, but he had come highly recommended. Alex Miller had been in his octaNe game Friday night and Tracy Pinkelton had played Buffy with him in the past. Both told me that Todd was a lot of fun. However, even given that I was skeptical about the game description: “A brutal murder makes you question everything you’ve ever believed. Players in this game must be comfortable having their characters discuss morality and real-world religions.” It wasn’t so much that I was intimidated by the description as I worried that after two very upbeat and entertaining games, this would be a downer. Again, I was happily surprised.

Todd Started the game explaining Unknown Armies as a game that looks at what normal people do when under extreme stress. He prefaced the game with a disclaimer that the game would be disturbing and we must be able to remain detached from our character in order to play. Nobody stirred from their seats. He continued with a few expectations that made it clear to all of us that this would not be a “sit com” RPG.

The story included seven very normal people who all had very different religious views that God had condemned and sent and angel of wrath to destroy. The game spanned five years and in that time our characters were forced to accept realities they really couldn’t comprehend (an example my character who was a happy go lucky pacifist killed someone to protect himself and the others and really went a little nuts when he realized what happened).

By the end of the game, all of our characters had changed profoundly. The atheist had joined Unitarian Universalism. My character who was terrified of commitment married one of the other characters and had children with her, and half of us were killed by the angel of wrath before he finally couldn’t stand the paradox of God’s command, gained free will and was cast from the heavenly choir.

I expected the game to be intense but it was much more than that. The game was full of horror caused both by the world around us and by our own self reflection. I remember at one point taking Jarys (who was playing Eduardo Mendoza the atheist) and literally yelling at him for several minutes because he was trying to give the responsibility of negotiating with the Angel of Wrath to a 13 year old boy. He had very good reasons to do this, but my character who was friends with the boy just couldn’t handle it. We changed, grew, had children and died and we did it all in four hours. Personally I was amazed that Todd told such a moving story in that short of time. This was the most human and most horrific game I’ve every played in. Fantastic job Todd and the same to the other players (who sadly I only got the names of Sam and Jarys who I already knew)!

Todd Fuller's Thy Will Players

Saturday Night (Office Dogs at the Water cooler)

By 8:00 PM Saturday night I was really beat. I had stayed up till 3AM every morning since Wednesday and as I mentioned my hotel sleep was fitful and less than rejuvenating. I found that I had gotten into Wilson Zom’s Office Dogs at the Water cooler game and wasn’t sure I was up for it. Wilson had adapted Dogs in the Vineyard, a game set in an old west that never was, to modern day corporate world. The characters worked for the Davidson-Oligmueller Group (or DOG) and they were consultants that went from company to company to help them implement and maintain the DOG code. As per the normal DotV scenario each company you visit has some problems and you are there to weed out the corruption and get a company back on track.

Since I had some experience playing and running Dogs, I found myself giving advice to Wilson and the other players throughout the game. Normally in DotV this is encouraged. The players are supposed to add their two cents into every situation, however, I worried that I was going overboard. I talked to Wilson twice about it and he said that I hadn’t overstepped my player role but I couldn’t help but feeling I started the game back seat GM-ing. Once I noticed, however, I started doing it a lot less and intentionally put the responsibility of tackling several key “problem employees” in the hands of other DOG consultants.

We had some good times rooting out the corruption. As per a usual DotV game, the adventure isn’t about doing detective work, it’s about confronting people and breaking them down until either a) you make a judgment about them or b) they tell you something that significantly changes your mind. For the most part I played a DOG who walked into the situation thinking (actually knowing) that I already knew what was wrong with the company. The cool thing about DotV is that players decide how their characters interpret the Faith (in this case the Code) and act accordingly. Even thought my character (Dale Bennet) didn’t have all the information, he was certain of who was creating the problem (Wilson had made it pretty clear) and was ready to take action. Since even the CEO was afraid to fire this employee (who the share holders thought was a wonder boy) we did it for him. Then we canned the CEO and forced someone else to take his position and rehire the ex-CEO as a consultant. The latter part was done as part of a narrative, but firing the wonder boy Bob was a really intense conflict. He pulled out all the stops and after he realized there was no way to save his job he started threatening ours. By the end of it all but one of the characters had to defend ourselves in front of the DOG review board. We managed to keep our jobs but earned some nasty fall out. I think mine was “Can’t find the snakes head to grab 1d4”

Interestingly, some of the best conflict actually arose between the dogs. One of us was skeptical of the DOG Code and when he mentioned off the cuff that ignoring it (in this case doing illegal business) flippantly and said “so what” we had a long and vicious conflict which almost amounted to loosing one of our consultants in the middle of the game.

As always I like that DotV skips past the trivial bread crumb system of GMs giving clues until players figure out what is going on and dives right into “this is all jacked up, what are you going to do about?” Good job Wilson and the other players (again I was too tired to remember the names and didn’t think to write them down).

Although I really enjoyed myself, I wish I could have had a clone that got into Rasilind’s “Mystery Men” game. It sounds like the game was awesome.

Wilson Zom's Office Dogs at the Water Cooler players

After being a DOG till 2AM I meandered a bit and then finally crashed in my room.

Sunday Morning (7th Sea – Jay)

Sunday morning I got into a game that didn’t really fit my play style. There were seven players and the others were having a good time so I politely excused myself. Luckily, Erik and Steve had gotten their 7th Sea mentor Jay (sorry don’t have the last name) to start up a game and they called me to see if I could join. Heck Yeah! I called Alex Miller, got him to join and we started.

Jay had run this game before and had a whole list of pre-generated characters to choose from. Collectively we were Sebastian the archer, Andrew the highland warrior, Allison the pirate and myself, Herbert the cook. The game started with a simple mission: Capture a spy whose whereabouts were known and security was lax and turn her into the Lord Bywood. Well, just in case Jay plans on running this game again I won’t spoil the details but after we took a break, all of us agreed that we must have been hoodwinked and of course, we were right. Good times ensued as we tried to get our reputations out of the mud.

Jay is a good GM. I can see where Erik and Steve got their style from. The players however were really what made the experience great. Early on in the game Lord Bywood asked if we were sailors and being both cocky and drunk Steve said Sebastion was part of the queen’s guard, Erik claimed Andrew was a dancing monkey and for my part Herbert said he was part of the church choir (he was singing a sea shanty when the noble arrived). Advice for those who follow: Be careful who (or what) you shove into a canvas bag.

Sunday Evening (Dealers room and dinner with Greg M.)

After the game, I checked as saw that I hadn’t made it into any afternoon games and so Erik, Steve and I cruised into the dealer’s room. I was glad to see that EndGame was doing well and chatted with Chris and Aaron for a bit. Erik was pretty excited about Battlegrounds, which is essentially a miniatures game made with cards. Much lighter, smaller and cheaper. Best of all, no painting required. It’s been a while since I’ve played miniature games so it took some time to sell me on it. Chad from Your Move Games was very friendly and happy to demo/explain as much about the game as I was willing to hear. Clearly he was exited about the game and as it is non-collectable I didn’t feel like my $15 was going to open a huge can of financial worms. Though interested in the game, I didn’t have the energy to try it on the spot so I chucked the box in my backpack and started making dinner plans.

Greg Matheison was coming to the con to have dinner and see friends (he couldn’t attend more due to work) so I went out to dinner with him and a few other guys. Sizzler again. Their salad bar is really expansive (in addition to salads they have nachos, onion rings, chicken and others) but the fish and chips was pretty mediocre. I used to be in Greg’s bi-weakly game but dropped out due to distance, so it was really great just to hang out with him for a bit.

After dinner, I felt pretty crappy. Greg drove an hour or so to see me and I was bolting off to a game. Only I didn’t get into Noah Hills “Thank you for using the Umbrella company…” World of Darkness game or into Larry’s Srenity game or into Matt Espinoza’s “All Aboard” Deadlands game. In fact I didn’t get into squat. I can’t really complain much, though, that is the cost of getting into all of your picks early on in the con. Greg, Alex, Steve and I decided to wait in Matt Espinoza’ room so that Greg could say hi to him before the game started. When we got there we saw a sea of crashers all dying to get their huckster on. Amongst them was Sam and Joel Mikesell and Brent (Brent I need to get your email address, a last name and phone number wouldn’t be too bad either). It was either Joel or Sam that mentioned we had enough people to start our own game and somehow we roped Greg into running a Shadowrun game for us. Mike Parker offering up his copy of the rulebook helped, but ultimately it came down to Greg being a really nice guy who kicks ass at GMing Shadowrun.

We bumped into Kim in the elevator and dragged her along with us, bringing the total up to seven players. Instead of making characters on the spot we just photocopied the archetypes they had in the book and used those. Sam played a troll named “Sue”, Brent played the Arabic and very professional weapon specialist, and I had Carmen, the gunslinger adept who used to be a normal woman who suddenly found herself field stripping and assembling a Colt Manhunter. Yep, it was the Gina Davis character from Long Kiss Goodnight, but I had fun with it.

For creating a game off the top of his head, Greg had some great flavor. Our fixer John Leningrad was missing his oni-bot (yep her name is Yoko Oni ) and wanted us to find him. We made our way through a troll biker gang (and when I mean make our way I mean put holes in every one of them), a prime runner named Flynn and finally to a mafia warehouse. By then end of the session we were all having such a good time and so tired that any kind of plan we might have been able to think up went out the window. A super powered lightning bolt, a rocket launcher and a dwarf ninja were apparently all we needed to rescue the oni-bot. The game was a lot of fun and a great send off from Kubla.

Monday (heading home)
So as to appease the woman of my dreams who was taking care of my two children over the weekend, I headed home pretty early on Monday. I bought a skull to use as a prop in the flea market and then Erik and I (who were carpooling) headed out.

Kubla was really a blast. I am so glad that I went this year.

I’ll be posting a condensed version of this on the Good Omens website (www.goodomensgames.com) shortly.