Actual Play – Days of Future Past (2/19/2012)

GM: Carl Rigney
Players: Sean Nittner, Karen Twelves, Eric K Lytle
System: Psi*Run
Setting: Days of Future Past (X-men)

This is what I know. Psi*Run is a game about amnesiac psychics on the run. This is what we played: amnesiac mutants on the run. Yep, I’m down with this hack.

The hack is based on the 1980s X-men storyline of the same name. From Wikipedia:

Days of Future Past” is a popular storyline in the Marvel Comics comic book The Uncanny X-Men issues #141 and #142, published in 1981. It deals with a dystopian alternative future in which mutants are incarcerated in internment camps. An older Kitty Pryde transfers her mind into the younger, present-day Kitty Pryde, who brings the X-Men to prevent a fatal moment in history which triggers anti-mutant hysteria.

We were each given a Mutant ID sheet (character sheet) and filled in these questions:

I don’t know who I am! But when I look in the mirror, I see: An “M” is carved into my face and…

What powers do you want? Be vague. Keep a very loose idea of who you are. It make change. Other players may get to help define who you are.

So we started answering those questions. I went for a young black man with electrokenisis. I wanted lightning powers and the ability to “talk” to machines via electricity. Karen was a young woman who had been badly beaten up (still covered in bruises) and could steal powers. Eric had crazy 80’s x-men green hair and the power to duplicate himself.

This power became incredibly… complicated.  More on that later.

Carl explained some of the game, the dice and scene mechanics an we stated playing. The first thing I noticed was that to do something we were rolling dice, rolling dice created all kinds of narrative outcomes (being caught, getting hurt, powers going wild), which led to situations that we needed to do something, which meant rolling dice.

We did a lot of narrating coolness, and a lot of dice rolling, but not much player interaction or role-playing. Part of this was due to the frantic chase mechanics in the game. Unless the highest dice are allocated avoiding the chase, the chasers (in this case Sentinels) would catch us. Further, most of our actions were dangerous, so we were getting beat up all over the place. The general experience was quite rushed. And I’m sure that’s intentional, but it did mean it took us a while to actually start “playing” our characters.

The story we told was one of four mutants with a plan to take down the Sentinels. They had been caught, their memories erased and sent off to Xavier knows where to keep them out of trouble. One of the mutants that sent them away was actually the same mutant, thanks to his own duplicating power… and speaking of which, lets talk duplicates.

It turns out the “Roach” (I got to name him with one of my questions) could make as many of himself as he wanted, but each duplicate was fully sentient, self-aware and self-interested. This meant that his copies weren’t always very helpful. There was a major question of “am the original or just another copy” which we answered, but by the very end, the question seemed moot, as eventually the original and the copy became indistinguishable. As an interesting twist, when a copy died, all of it’s memories came back to the creator…unless the creator was dead. Then, well, the math started getting strange.

At one point in the game there were an army of Roaches fighting, predictably, an army of Roaches!

Karen’s character has the ability to steal powers, which I wonder if that was frustrating as we only met two other mutants besides us. In the span of the game she did get everyone’s powers, but I’m still not sure if that was enough. Though her having the duplication power, and being terrified to use it, was pretty hilarious.

Eric gladly took the role of the traitor, but sadly by the end I even got confused on who he was double crossing, two many different Roaches with too many different loyalties.

For my part I enjoyed playing “Lightning Bug” learning he was the son of one of the scientists that designed the Sentinels, and then was put in an internment camp when it was revealed he was a mutant. But when his powers manifested he understood their programming, and could use it against them. Unbeknownst to me, I ended up programming Sentinels to do the exact same thing that happened in the comics, which was fly into the sun!

Thoughts on the game

As I mentioned, the space for “play” seemed very narrow. We were constantly running. I’m sure that is part of the design goals, but I think there needs to be a built in function to make some space for the characters to grow and interact. I’d suggest a flashback mechanic, but as they are all amnesiacs, that wouldn’t work. I’d say using a confessional, but what I really want is relationship building, plus a confessional makes it seem like the event is being staged, so that’s no good.  Still thinking on this.

Good times as usual with Carl. He was very dedicated to running the game exactly as directed by the rules, a critical component when play testing a game.

The scenario is a good one, it reminds of Lady Blackbird. You’ve just broken free, your on the run and once you’ve had two seconds to catch your breath you find out it is worse than you could have possibly imagined.

Actual Play – Ashes of Innocence (2/19/2012)

GM: Todd Furler
Players: Sean, Donnamarie, Rian, Carly, Ishtar, Tom,  Adrian Anderson
System: Unknown Armies

This was a messed up horror game. I wouldn’t say that most of Todd’s Unknown Armies are really “horror”, I’d call them suspenseful or thrillers, but not horror. Todd describes them as episodes of the Twilight Zone, were normal people experience something where reality suddenly takes a sharp left turn.

Well, some episodes of the Twilight Zone are apparently more disturbing than others…

I played Lauren Markowitz, a teenage girl with all the normal kinds of issues surrounding a 15 year old whose mom just remarried after a divorce to a man with two kids of his own. Actually, I’d say that of ALL the characters, my horrors were the most mundane, but they were still awful. Deliciously awful.

Todd had some very interesting perspective on family relationships. He noted a few things in the very beginning, as he was actively trying to get players to walk away from the game if any of this upset them.

  1. When we encounter something we don’t like, we can either try to change it, deal with it, or leave. In a family change is often impossible and leaving isn’t an option, meaning we were going to spend most of the game (and we did) just dealing with problems that were never going to be solved.
  2. Unknown Armies has a rule for how your characters become inured to the terrors they experience. In a nutshell, when you encounter something that freaks you out, if you manage to keep your calm, you start becoming “hardened” to that kind of experience (e.g. violence or helplessness). If you fail to keep your wits, you starts cracking along the edges. One of Todd’s rules in this is that you never get “hardened” to family issues.  So, if we experienced “helplessness”, like having to sit at the table eating dinner when the other kids go to go have their damn tea parties (“So unfair!!!”), even if we made the roll (which I was very happy I didn’t) we don’t get hardened to that kind of horror. It will piss us off just as much the next time it comes up!

Thoughts on the game

Carly, the young woman playing my character’s mother had it rough! First off, Todd had all sorts of hell for her to deal with and then I just added more to it. I mean heaping tablespoons of teenage angst and rebellion. I commend her for a) staying in character and b) not feeling too picked on. It wasn’t personal, she was just the one to bear the burden.

Todd had two characters with special rule about how they could interact. Because of this I wasn’t able to interact with them at all during the game, my character didn’t even know of their existence. Everyone once in a while I would do something that was relayed to them, but from my perspective they didn’t exist. I think this played out well in our game and it makes me wonder if this would be a good way to handle Upstairs/Downstairs games like a riff of of Downton Abbey, where some characters are simply unaware of others. Hmm.

There was one point were Todd was getting pretty close to pushing one of my buttons regarding violence against children. I think if it was another GM I would have probably call to cut the scene. In this case Todd asked us to trust him in advance and I did, and it worked out just fine. Yay, trust exercises!

I really, really dislike DundraCon’s proliferation of nicknames. I blame the system here. When you reg there is a line for your nickname. Most people want to fill out most lines on forms. We’re programmed to complete that kind of stuff. I takes tremendous willpower to leave that line blank. But if you don’t, if you enter anything in that line, it goes with you through the whole con. So, in this case “2 Shotgun Kid” was about 20 minutes late for the game. I’m sure he had reasons, but nobody had any idea who he was or how to get a hold of him. And because that was his name on his badge, that’s all I remember as well. Todd got everyone’s actual names for his personal logs, but I couldn’t remember them.  Not. A. Fan.

Max Rocks. Just saying.


Actual Play – The Search for the Soul of the Earth (2/18/2012)

GM: Todd Furler
Players: Alan Hodges, Gil Treviso, Kevin Beagle, Aaron Beagle, Sean Nittner, Larry Lynch-Freshner, Thomas Fraser
System: Hollow Earth Expedition

Todd is a fantastic GM, and this was a fantastic group of players. As first official game at DundraCon, I couldn’t have asked for more.

Because this is a game Todd will run again at KublaCon (and I’m working on shipping him out to Big Bad Con as well) I won’t give away any plot elements of the game. Play in it and find out for yourself. You’ll love it.

The Furler Method

I feel like Todd’s approach to GMing should be captured, analyzed, documented and then disseminated for other GMs to learn from. His approach is very different than mine, and very different than other GMs I admire (see the “Rigney’s Rules”) but that doesn’t make them anything less than awesome. So, while I don’t have perfect memory, I have played in half a dozen of Todd’s games, so I’m going to try and cobble together my collective memories of the games and start on a prototype document of the “The Furler Method”. Todd, if you read this, and have the time, please add in anything I missed, and/or correct any errors I’ve made.

The Setup

When you arrive at one of Todd’s games you see a character tent in front of every seat. He always assures you not to worry, sit down anywhere you like, as where you sit doesn’t affect what character you play.  The character tents are card stock letter size pages folded in half. On both sides there is a picture of the character, their name and traits appropriate to the game. In Hollow Earth, it was a quote from the character or a short descriptor.  In Unknown Armies it is four short statements about the first impression the characters give off in their four status (body, mind, soul and speed). The characters photos are rarely (if ever) celebrities so there is no association with other movies, shows, music, etc, but they are generally very evocative of what kind of person that character is (or at least appears to be on the surface).

There is also candy on the table. Jolly Ranchers specifically. Along with note pads, pencils and dice appropriate to the game.

Todd has a GM screen up, though I’m not sure why. I’ve never seen him make a roll in a game, though I have seen him refer to notes on occasion. The fact that he uses a screen is often easy to miss because he spends most (if not all) of the game standing up. So it is still very easy to engage with him.

The Pitch

Todd starts every game greeting the players, getting their full names (which he records), and introduce himself. He confirms that we’re all here to do the same thing (play in his game) and gives some cautionary information (where water is, where the fire exits are, when we’ll take breaks, how long the game will last, etc).

He then introduces his gaming style, which is modeled after a movie, and includes all the (desirable) tropes of filing a movie. Specifically his goal, for running a successful game is that at the end of it everyone at the table will push back away from the table and say “I’d pay money to see that movie in a theatre”.

Depending on the genre of the game, he states goals for the movie we’re all shooting together. For instance, in Hollow Earth expedition he requires that we all had a bias towards action and that we leave the audience constantly on the edge of their seats worrying about the safety of our characters. In the Unknown Armies game (a horror game) he required that we all work towards making a serious horror film.

Todd is both the producer and director of the movie. He will open and close scenes, he will give the players assignments (like “we need to see your character show off his amazing aviation skills here”), and he will determine what makes the cut and what doesn’t. As he said it he pays for the movie reel by the inch, and he’s not paying for fluff, tangents, or references to other movies.

The players are the actors. They are given an assignment of a situation, and told to describe how that looks to the camera. He often tells you “don’t tell me what you do, tell me what the camera sees.” When that authority is passed to the players they are granted quite a bit of license to place just about anything else in the shot. They control their character, but also (so long as it is not completely objectionable to the other players) all the other characters, the set, the props, much of the action, and all the camera effects.  The players are encouraged, even required to say what’s going on, what kind of music should be playing, and how the audience should feel about the action taking place.

A small and quirky example for me was that our movie was taking place in 1941 and we weren’t certain at first if it should be in black and white or color. We decided it would start in black and white and then shift to color at a certain point in the film. As I was playing a robber baron character who was impossibly rich and wealthy, I stated that when the film changed to color my character was in a charcoal suit, had salt and pepper hair and grey eyes. The rest of the movie was being filmed in color, except me, I wouldn’t have any of that nonsense. My character remained in black and white.

The far more common case was that we narrated the amazing dangers our characters faced and then the last moment desperate gamble they would take to barely dodge a fatal encounter.

Finally Todd encourages players to use all the collective knowledge at the table to frame the most interesting scene possible. He specifically encourages meta-gaming if it would make the movie more enjoyable. The example he gives is that if Player A’s character knows something, Player B should feel totally at liberty ask Player A if he or she can let it slip so that Player B’s character can overhear, should it make the story more exciting or interesting for them to know.

Our characters

After the pitch was made Todd will tell all the players about the characters as well as a bit of background about the game. He’s very conscious to leave out specific details. We know about the game, probably less than you would about a moving having seen the trailer, but perhaps as much as you would get from a teaser.

Players choose characters in the order that they arrived at the table and generally speaking the last two or three are asked to negotiate who gets which character so that nobody is stuck with only one choice.

Once all the character tents have been selected, Todd hands out character sheets which have one page of our character “stats” and one page (or more) of our background and relationships with other players.

This is the one area where Todd’s sensibilities and mine are divergent.  While Todd never takes players aside at the table, the character sheets often contain secrets. Sometimes they aren’t secrets because anyone is trying to hide them, sometimes they are just things other people don’t know. But there are also some big whoppers in there too. And this is where we have a philosophical divide. While Todd encourages players to reveal their secrets in game (else what is the point of having them) I find that two things happen:

  • The players sometimes don’t. In our game for instance Larry was playing a character that did something none of us understood and it was never explained why. I don’t know in Larry’s case the motivation for keeping the secret. In fact, I should have stuck around the game later on to talk to him about it. Regardless, six out of the eight people at that table (including Todd) had no idea what was going on with his character and thus we couldn’t play off it.
  • If the players don’t know about characters secrets they can’t build suspense around them. So, let’s say the player knows that his character’s best friend is actually having an affair with his fiancée (not in this game, just an example).  That player can spend the entire game pushing that envelope that he might find out. He can keep showing up early from work, creating either  hilarious escapades (if it is that kind of movie) or terrifying near misses (if it is that kind of movie) and constantly keep building the tension. If they didn’t know, all that happens is at the end they find out, but it’s the same time the audience finds out, so there is no build up. And that’s assuming we don’t have the case above where the player with the secret never reveals!

Todd goes over the characters sheets bit by bit to explain both where to find things on your character sheet and how the game works. As he reviews skills, stats, etc, he also explains how the dice mechanics work, what currencies are in the game (e.g. style dice) and what kind of flags your characters have (e.g. obsessions and stimulus in Unknown Armies, motivation and flaws in Hollow Earth Expedition). This is the part where the gamey bits are explained, like what you would roll to leap off a crashing zeppelin and onto a passing fighter plane, for example!

The game is the thing

Once the players have been acquainted with Todd’s expectations, the characters and the system, the game proper starts. Todd opens the first scene and then puts it to the players to introduce their characters to the audience.

I can’t really go too far into game play specifics without revealing the story, so instead I’ll point out some of the principles I see Todd exhibit in play of pulp action (defining these principles as such  inspired by Apocalypse World):

  • Promote the protagonists as imminently competent.  Todd is always framing the success and failures of the PCs from the perspective that they should be able to do anything they set their minds to, it is only circumstance that prevents them from achieving their goals.
  • Cut to the important actions. Todd will often allow a lot of action to take place without any roll or dispute until it comes to the pivotal action that determines the protagonist’s outcome. He doesn’t want the player concerned with whether they can do all the prerequisite steps to make a cool thing happen, he just wants to find out of the final stroke is a home run or a foul ball.
  • As for the action that he wants to see. As noted above, Todd will often tell players “This is where we need to see this specific thing from you” and coach them into bringing that to light.
  • Rejoice in the success of the protagonists. Todd will shout, cheer, yell “yes!” when our protagonists succeed in something larger than life that improves the movie. He is a cheerleader of good play.
  • Immediately clamp down on play that is not suited for the game. Diverging slightly from the pulp references, in our horror game, early on there was a case where to the players started a comedic exchange that was not fitting with a “serious horror film” and he immediately told them to stop it and reminded that they had agreed to make a serious horror film with him.
  • Provide incredible leeway to the players to frame a conflict or action in the way that would best serve the story.  Questions like “how many enemies are surrounding me” are generally met with answers like “how many does their need to be for the story? You tell me.”
  • Todd always allows players and option to “cut” any scene. This is his approach to lines and veils. If anyone is uncomfortable with the content, they can cut a scene and then the table will collectively negotiate whether or not that scene can be finished with any necessary provisions to make the player comfortable or whether we just need to move to the next scene.

Wrap up

In the end Todd asks for the ending credits of the movie, allows for players to wrap up any small, unresolved bits, and then closes the game asking “was that a movie you would pay money to see?”

Thoughts on the game

I have never had so much fun playing a callous robber baron as I did this weekend. Edgar Richmond was a big picture guy with other people to handle the details. To that effect I ordered zoos and museums built in my name, gave my assistant impossible tasks and then told her not to bore me with the details when she asked how they would be accomplished, and generally assumed I could get anything I wanted with the judicious use of money and haggling.  Alan Hodges played my incredibly competent but totally deferential assistant Stacy and together our dialog and antics had me cracking up through most of the game. That relationship was absolutely hilarious.

While nothing Todd presented was really a huge shock, it was totally unexpected and an absolute blast to play through.

The player quality at the table was just top notch. Everyone there was fantastic. At one point Gil’s character (the geologist) told this totally ego boosting lie to me, that I fell for completely and it was the motivation for so much of my character’s actions through the rest of the game. That was awesome!

Actual Play – To Forgive is Divine (2/19/2011)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Shannon, Daniel, Duane, Cassie, Brent and Maggie
System: A variant of Primetime Adventures.

See here for more information about how this game was set up: To Err is Human…

Travis and I ran our Gods and Heroes game again at DundraCon. This time with a few new twists. We introduced some new objectives for the gods (to rally favors from the other immortals) and a more codified means of gaining influence in the island. I also started the gods game off with a kicker, they were all preparing for a race across the Mediterranean when the fates came to Olympus to tell them that only the god with their golden ship would win the race. The fate cast out three golden ropes for the gods to squabble over… and squabble they did.

We also had the advent of bronze age technology on our wireless connections. The connection started slow and degraded for the first hour until it was totally unusable. I was very frustrated by this but it created some emergent properties, such as the gods in Olympus having to use other gods and messengers to find out what the heroes were doing… and the gods weren’t always all that honest… go figure.

What rocked

The new props (actual laurel wreaths, golden rope, a crown, etc) were great.

The game still delivered forth fickle, greedy, child-like lords of Olympus, as it should.

Explain explicitly to the gods that they needed the heroes influence to claim island territories was very good.

What could have improved

Don’t bring olives. Nobody but you eats them Sean.

Game prep is at least 90 minutes, not 60. Best to shoot for 120 next time just to be safe.

Without wireless, the game is very frustrating to run. Backup plan for next time: Speakerphone calls between the rooms (with Gods on mute), A very long USB extension cable going directly to the camera in the heroes room (if gives enough power to make that work), co-opting the inevitable people who hang out to watch the game to act as our messengers, cast clairvoyance.

Explain to the gods that if they hide out in Mount Olympus the whole time they may be safe from the pranks of the other gods, but they won’t gain the heroes favor they need to win. I.e. get them downstairs!

DundraCon – Part 3 (Saturday Night 2/13/2010)

The family showed up during the day so I got to hang out with them in between games. Dinner at Baha Fresh always means fish tacos for me and the tacos did not disappoint. Worried about prep I ditched the wife and kids (4 year olds can be the slowest eaters on the planet when you’re running late) and head back to set up my game.

Actual Play – Flagship Atlantis

GM: Sean Nittner (heya, that’s me)
Players: Daniel, Kevan, Scott, Joshua, J.C. and one other gentlemen I can’t remember the name of (bad Sean)
System: Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies

SPOILER ALERT – If you play to play in this game at KublaCon, Good Omens Con, or SeanCon and want to be surprised, don’t continue. The story is coming out. If you want just the highlights without the story being revealed skip to what rocked/could have been improved.

SANITY ALERT – This AP report is a mess. It’s one part story, one part mechanics, one part personal reflection, one part crack smoking. It’s gotten horribly long as I both detail everything in the game and then reflect on how it could be better. Sometimes I’m speaking in GM voice as I would to the players, other times as storyteller crafting my narratives, other times as a game monkey discussing my designs and finally as a editor, critiquing the voices above. I thought about breaking it up but frankly don’t have the energy. So, if you have the endurance to slog through it, be my guest. Otherwise skip to the “what rocked/what could have been better” category as it is at least concise.

A rather long description of my game.

DundraCon – Part 2 (Saturday Morning 2/13/2010)

Saturday morning was not my friend. I’m not a regular drinker and four (five?) ice tea variants were not feeling fantastic in the morning. I rolled out of bed around 8:30 just the same, cleaned up and meandered downstairs.

Chris and Tracy had a 7th Sea game that started at 8, which I wasn’t in, but Travis was, so that was at least three people who I wanted to see. I took the salad C&T had given me the night before and had breakfast in their game room. (Other play reports here: and here: I had a fun time texting with Travis for a bit and then headed out for my ten o’clock game.

Actual Play – Gilded Fruit, Rotten Core

GM: Justin Evans
System: Castle Falkenstein + jMods [1]

Justin pulled off another killer game. Not like this is a surprise but still worth mentioning. His character sheets are gorgeous. The character connections by way of granting aspects to each other is brilliant (and something I’ve stolen in the past for my Mouse Guard game). The intro act set the backdrop for the game as well as taught the players the basic mechanics. The game itself was full of interesting characters, a fairly straightforward and fun plot and tons of cool mini-games to set the focus on particular events (like the chase or shutting down the machine). If this looks like just a list of how the game was awesome, that is because it was. Justin always inspires me to make my games really focus on their strengths and build up whatever is necessary (props, mechanics/systems, music, player aids, etc) to make those really pop for a player.

As much as I love what he does in games I realized I should stop signing up for his games simply because he’s running them. This is for two reasons. First, I’ve got his number. Although I like to see the man in action, there wasn’t anything remarkable that I hadn’t seen him do in previous games. It’s time to share the wealth a bit. Burning my priority reg slip meant that someone else didn’t get to get in his game (and there were plenty of crashers that tried) and it also means I’m not seeing what some other GM might be doing to make his game awesome. So, just as after a while I stopped signing up for Rich Taylors games, I think it’s time for me to let others fill my seat in Justin’s. My sincere hope is that another GM will take it and be as blow away as I am by Justin’s work.

The second reason is that as much as I love the artifacts of Steampunk (like airships and clockwork engines), I don’t know very much about the setting. While the game was great, I felt out of my element. There were three players: Handsome Jack, David and the gentleman to David’s right (curse DundraCon for not leaving up the sign up information) that just stole the scene. They had the accents down, the cultural expectations, and a good grasp on the pseudo-history of the game. Another player more familiar and invested in the genre would have done better and gotten more out of it.

What rocked

  • See game description. Seriously, all the elements above were killer. A few more should be highlighted though:
  • Confessionals. Each player was rewarded for pausing the game and making a “journal entry”, or a reflection, on what was happening from their character’s perspective. The confessional was taken from Inspecters, but very familiar from any reality TV show.   I love getting character insights into a situation and this is an awesome way to do it.
  • Character sheets. These are both beautiful and easy to read.
  • Difficulty cards. The system isn’t fantastic but it was clarified some by having color coded difficulty cards on the table showing which skills could be used and at what difficulty. It looked like a more elegant version of a 4E skill challenge.

What could have been improved

It’s hard playing the “smart guy” when you’re not really the smart guy in the group. I was going for a good old boy scientist who, thought smart, usually just pulled levers and poked buttons to see what they would do. There was some mild comedy when I used Fisticuffs in place of Tinkering on one problem.  Justin rolled with it pretty well and I got to tell the clacker later that the device was “a bit dented for reasons unknown”, which I enjoyed. Still, I didn’t feel like I had a particularly advanced mind.

I don’t think I know what a normal game of Castle Falkenstein would look like. This is not knock on Justin, I’m sure everything he did improved the game, but there were enough changes I really doubt I can give the system a fair shake either way.

DundraCon – Part 1 (Friday 2/12/2010)

I was a little frazzled getting ready for DDC. I had totally ripped my game apart and rebuilt it from the ground up two weeks prior and I was tripping a little bit about getting it finished. The result of which, I’ll post in the S7S recap.

I arrived around noon, did the check in thing, commingled with peeps, and then went to lunch with Travis. I forget the name of the restaurant but it was awesome. (Edit: La Ultima was the place. Hella good). I had the chicken sopapillas and will definitely go back next year for the chimichangas as they looked good as well.  We stopped at Walgreen’s to get some pencils for my players and it turns out the cashier was into miniatures painting.  We talked for a couple minutes and she said she would swing by the con.  I never saw here there but that little exchange totally made my day.  It is always awesome to be a game evangelist.

We got back to the Marriott and I did some more meandering and socializing until six when I headed up to room 377 to say “hey” to the players in Travis’ game I was the backup GM if his wife happened to go into labor. It seemed like cutting it very close at the time but now, four days later, we’re still waiting for the little one to arrive, so the fortunes were on his side. Chris and Tracy showed up and, knowing I might be running the game, brought me a salad and drink. What sweethearts! That was really cool. As it turned out I had dinner plans so I save the delectable delights for breakfast the next morning and went downstairs to meet back up with the peeps.

After that I headed out for the same dinner Rich talked about here We had a really good discussion about player buy-in and agency. What can and can’t you do to their characters? Dinner was a Chicken pesto sandwich. Passable, probably several degrees above con crud but didn’t live up to lunch.

Actual Play – Sailing to the new world

The culmination of the evening was, as it should be, in the bar. Justin, Josh, Mike B, and Kevin W sat down, threw out some game ideas and settled on “In a Wicked PTA”. This was Justin’s mash up of In A Wicked Age and (go figure) PTA. It used the Oracles system to create character and plot seeds and the PTA system for conflict resolution.

The oracles we drew:

  • A stow away hidden aboard, there to recover something from the ship.
  • A cabin boy sees something that shouldn’t have been.
  • An abandoned ship, floating adrift for reasons unknown.
  • A cargo of criminals being transported to work on a plantation in the new world.

From these we opted for two ships, one with a cargo of criminals, captained by Captain Smyth, that found an abandoned ship, commanded by Captain Jeremiah, thought to be a ghost. We also had Elaina, a stow away posing as a cabin boy, there to break her brother Carl free. Selene, the siren who seduced and killed the men of Jeremiah’s ship (the Viper I believe). Finally, Enrique the chain mate of Carl, unrightfully imprisoned for the crime of killing Captain Smyth’s father, a crime he didn’t commit. We had three NPCs as well, Sven the first mate of Smyth’s ship and lover of Elaine. Ricardo, the jailor on the ship and the MF Kraken, there to see to all of our demise. Carl would have been an NPC as well if not for Macklin showing up just as we were going to start, looking and the set up and diving in as Carl, the convict who was determined to make Elaina loose all hope in his salvation.

The game was bitchen. It did a few things that I didn’t expect. The first was creating the kind of shifting alliances you see in a pulp film. Where allies turn to enemies and back again as the waves rock back and forth. I think this was largely possible because we didn’t have a GM and the NPCs that existed were minor. The only one we ever really challenged was the Kraken and that was our first challenge, after that things got much more personal. The other thing I didn’t expect was a natural progression of the supernatural influence. It started (in my mind) with Carl telling Elaina that she would be disappointing mother coming after him. Later Elaina upped it that mother hated him and had cursed him. Then Carl, faced with his old captain, the maybe Ghost Jeremiah, revealed he was the daughter of a siren and a sorcerer. Suddenly I looked at my character’s edges and relationships and they transformed in front of me. “Blending in” used to mean she could pose as a boy, now it was invisibility. “Keys to the ship” previously meant Sven, the first mate, had given her keys to free her brother. Now it meant she could walk through walls. Her connection “A lover on the ship” which was supposed to just mean Sven turned into all of the crew she would allure.

We had a great time and the continual supply of Tokyo Ice Tea as well as a botched but never the less very alcoholic NOT-Tokyo Ice Tea didn’t hurt a thing.

What rocked

  • No prep. It was killer just sitting down and rolling out a great story.
  • No GM. I like GMing when I’m prepared with something to offer. I don’t like going full impromptu. Justin’s mash up made each of us the GM (or narrator, or whatever) for one scene and then we moved round robin passing off narration rights.
  • The conflict system was tense. First we played till a conflict was eminent then we figured out who wanted what and laid down cards face down. Every red card counted as a point, but we did the reveals slowly. Every time someone flipped a card they added a bit to the narrative. This turned out to be very tense at moments.
  • Scenes flowed very well. I was feeling a bit uncertain about framing a scene before it was my turn as I wasn’t sure who I was going to put in it. By the time it came to me though the opportunity was perfect. Enrique and Smyth, who both hated each other hadn’t been on the screen for a while. A great fight with the Kraken smashing the ships had just happened so it seemed the perfect opportunity to put an abandoned blade in front of Enrique, just where the captain could see him and goad him into drawing it.
  • Story stuff mentioned above. Words and things.

What could have improved

  • Not being able to frame your own character into a scene made it difficult to fulfill your own best interests without somewhat hijacking another player’s narration. This worked out okay, it just meant we had to watch out for each other’s best interests and try to drive scenes toward that. The upshot is that we didn’t have a bunch of isolated scenes where the players reflected on their own characters without sharing the spotlight.

After the game was more drinking, but I’m old and retired around 1.

Dundracon 2009 – Part 3

It’s Friday now, so the details are getting fuzzy. That most likely means my recount will be less detailed. Woot for brevity.

Early Morning-ish Sunday 2/15

Apparently I snored last night and forgot to tell people to smack me with a pillow if I snore. The solution is simple, I roll on my side, I don’t snore. Going to sleep that late two nights in row though meant total collapse and thus the snoring.

Justin, Josh and I got up, showered, got dressed and shot the shit. While urinating Justin introduced me to cute, humorous and very true tune: “No matter how much you shake and dance, the last two drops always go in the pants.”

My better half took the my toiletries kit home with her on accident so I had to get the necessities from the hotel. Some are in the room, but a toothbrush I had to order. This blew me away: They now come packaged with the toothpaste on it. It was hard, crusty and had to be broken up before I could really brush my teeth. I felt like I was brushing with one of those hard candies that crumbles in your mouth. Weird.

We got up, out of the hotel and ready for breakfast as the crack of noon. Luckily the Bagel Street Café was still serving Eggwich Bagel things, which were quite yummy. This is a solid staple of my DDC trips. The food is reasonably priced, tasty, fast, and reasonably healthy. It beats out the con cuisine in virtually every category except availability. That and Baja Fresh, they have great fish tacos!

2:00 PM Sunday 2/15

Zombie Cinema! Justin had purchased as small RPG called Zombie Cinema, where the players get together, pitch a zombie movie and then play it out. The game is simple and elegant in design. It’s got two components that I really like all bundled into a single tool. Unfortunately I don’t know what the tool is so I’ll just call it the “board” that the zombie horde and protagonists move around on. First the board sets the pacing of the game, we know how bad things will be based on the position of the zombie horde and the relative position of the protagonists. Second the board forces to you to frame the kind of scenes we’d see in zombie movies, the conflict (at least until someone dies or escapes) must be between the protagonists, and not involve the zombies in any material way. The game costs $20 and I should have picked up a copy at the Dealers room, it’s really a hoot.

Our premise. You know how a few years ago Con Quest created “Cruise Con”? And you notice that it doesn’t exist anymore? One might think that it was just a failed financial venture but we really knew that because of low attendance, the con rented out the cabin rooms to a government agency transporting irradiated KFC chicken, which caused zombification in all those who ate it. The entire cruise ship, like the Titanic, was doom. And we told that story. And it rocked. Hard. Harder than a lamellar leather breastplate!

After the game we helped Justin pack up and get ready for his 6PM event. Ribbons!

708 Ribbons (A Good Omens Production)

Sunday 6 PM in Room 378 for 6 hours
GM: Justin Evans
System: FATE
Players: 6
Provided: All characters provided by GM
Rules Knowledge: Beginners Welcome
Game Content: Mature Themes

You’re good at your job. You can tell there are patterns to the way the blood sprayed. Where there’s a pattern there’s usually a meaning. You’ve seen the victim, you’re not sure you want to know what this means. But, if you don’t dig deeper and figure it out there will almost certainly be more patterns to study. Mature Themes. A Good Omens Production.

This is where I really wish that I had written this review earlier. Of course if I did I’d probably include spoilers in this post and that would suck because Justin is running the game again. So here are the highlights that I don’t think will spoil anything:

  • Sanity decks, Justin mated the Cthuhlu sanity loss with Fate aspects and a vile child was born. Delicious aspects describing your character falling deeper and deeper.
  • An intro scene. To get this party started, Justin gave us all mini character sheets to play the rolls of characters who we would not be playing in the main game. We basically played out an opening montage. This gave us a chance to get use to the system without putting our own characters on the line.
  • Backstory + Aspects = Awesome. Won’t say more (otherwise it would be a spoiler) but it work out really well. Good character drama out of this.
  • Justin too the “Gumshoe” investigation mechanic and turned it into a stunt for each character, guaranteeing that they would succeed in the areas they needed to. Very sharp!
  • A quagmire of a story with a simple thread to follow in the middle. Justin overwhelmed us with detail but kept the scenes focused, ensuring that we (as players) didn’t become so overwhelmed that we forgot what we needed to do.
  • Psychological horror. Justin is good a that. It’s kind of creepy.
  • Prop-gasm. I’m pretty sure Justin had over 30 props for the game. Some of them were as simple as a pen, others were elaborately crafted and full of detail. They not only added to the ambiance of the game but also helped us stay on track. We could hold something as a reminder of what we needed to do.

So yeah… that is just what I remember five days later without revealing any of the secrets, just think how much fun it would be to actually play the game…. And if you’re going to KublaCon you can. Look for it in the roster.

1:00 AM Monday 2/16

After the game we collected all of the props and headed back up to the room, joined by Josh who had finished his game as well. After some shit talking we decided to get drunk and then record a podcast… our 21st podcast in fact. I think I’ll title it “We’re legal now”. It was a long show and possibly only funny to the three of us… and possibly only so when drunk. Not sure yet, I haven’t edited it.

4:00 AM Monday 2/16


10:00 AM Monday 2/16

Justin and Josh took off and I was waiting around for my ride. Luckily I ran into Rich and Cil and we hung out for a few hours talking about the con, and decompressing. Good times.

2:00 PM Monday 2/16

Erik picked me up, we drove home and got to share our con experiences. Good times all round.


Dundracon 2009 – Part 2

8:00 AM Saturday 2/14

I didn’t get into any games. Yay, for sleep. Kids were sick and my better half wanted to go home. So much for extra sleep. We packed up the van (which was very easy on account of nobody else arrive or departing at that time) and them my wife and children left. I was sad because I wanted them to be around but I could tell they weren’t having a good time. Cons are strange. They started off as a bachelor event for me. After a while my wife and I were missing each other so they started coming and participating. Now she’s grown pretty disinterested in anything but hanging out however, and that can be really hard when you have kids sleeping in the room. So, now it’s looking like I’ll be going solo again for a while. Hmm..

10:00 AM Saturday 2/14

I decided to try and crash Justin’s Firefly game. Call me a fan boy of my own friend, but I’ve so far only been in one of Justin’s games (okay, technically two now) and I’ve talked to him about games for a long time. This adds up to me wanting to play in his one shots when I can. I didn’t get in, but that was actually a good thing. It led to a guiltless pleasure. Usually I don’t sign up for Rich’s games any more. I like Rich’s games but they tend to attract a throng and I just don’t like fighting them off to get a spot. It’s usually some of the same players in fact and they are really obsessed with getting in anything that has its name on it. Sometimes in fact I think Rich should make a game called

Do My Laundry: This is not an RPG
System: Maytag
GM: Rich Taylor
Players: 8 (1 for washing and drying, the rest for folding)
Length: Spin Cycle
Description: Join in Unkyrich’s clothes washing adventure. Players will get rewarded for excellent role-playing with free passes to vacuum Rich’s floor and wash his dishes.

Seriously, he could list it and people would show up. Seriously. But, as Saturday mornings are he had a bunch of no shows for his werewolf game and I was able to take a slot. That meant I got to play in this game:

The Hand You’re Dealt (A Good Omens Production)

Saturday 10 AM in Room 378 for 8 hours
GM: Richard “UnkyRich” Taylor
System: Werewolf: The Forsaken
Players: 6
Provided: All characters provided by GM
Power Level: slightly experienced
Rules Knowledge: Beginners Welcome
Game Content: Mainstream

Patrolling your territory is always both simple and difficult. When something is making the spirits angry, you just go and deal with it, right?

Of course, things are never just that easy.

This is a Werewolf game that is equal parts thought, combat, and world interaction.

Yeah, it was definitely not “that easy.” Rich did a great job of keeping things tense by throwing many urgent situations at us, all at the same time. Anger spirits in our territory for reasons we didn’t know, a kid having his first change (ouch that hurt), Hunters who nabbed three of our pack mates, and to top it all off a pack the Pure roaming through our turf, pissing our totem off. Man, it was bitchen.

What rocked

  • I really liked my character. Chloe Base-Jumper. She was a Red Talon Rahu, which pretty much meant psycho bad ass. Her concept was a stunt woman based off of the real Zoe Bell. I haven’t seen grind house but I did my best to play ballsy, crazy and proud. She started the adventure playing the Wii in a sports bra and underwear and stayed that way for a good portion of it because she never had a chance to get dressed. Fun stuff.
  • Hitting someone with an engine block. The entire last fight was pretty killer but the hightlight for me was when a pure werewolf ripped the engine block out of my truck and my character went flying through the windshield in Garou (war) form tackling her down, picking up the engine block and smashing the Pure between it and the grill of the truck. Splat!
  • Taking on a new change. We had to help a kid through his first change, never an easy process. My job was basically to be a punching back while the other pack member talked him down. It was really fun to be in a fight where my goal was to survive. Yeah, I could have gone on full defense and just tried to mitigate damage but it was more fun trying to disable the pup with a pipe. In the end the Iron Master talked some sense in him, enough for him to change back to Hishu (human) form at which point the damage that I had done to him overwhelmed him and he fell unconscious. Awesome!
  • Going toe to toe with Kevan. We had ourselves a good old fashioned stared down after a fight. It was very cool to be able to exercise my pride and have real consequences evolve from it. The Alpha cut me down and put me back in my place. Exactly as he should have.
  • As mentioned before, the slew of situations that kept the entire 8 hours tense and exciting.
  • Several short and brutal combats. Instead of one or two long once, Rich kept them really brief, which meant we all got to bring lots of awesome. It was really cool. I’m a big fan of this for combat heavy games like Werewolf.
  • Group chemistry. I had played with all but one of the players at the game, and they were all very cool. I had really personal connections with most of the other characters and it was fun playing that out. I think we gelled very well.
  • Organized Hunters are scary. They couldn’t take us toe to toe, but they managed to lose only two of their team (the same number we lost coincidentally) and set our Alpha on fire. Very nice. Oooh, almost forgot. I got to put him out by running over a fire hydrant and then tackling him into it. Woot for Stunt Driver!

What could have been improved

  • I really doubt there is much we could do about this, but was getting tired at the very end. The fight was cool but I was losing my energy. It might have been good to take another short break just before the last encounter. Not sure though, we were all pretty pumped up about it.
  • I liked the group size better than a 6 player game. I think it might be cool if the game was listed next time as 5 players instead of 6.

6:00 PM Saturday 2/14

I didn’t get into anything in the 6PM slot… which was good, I couldn’t have taken another RPG, I was too tired. Kevan, Matt, Greg and I went out to dinner at an Indian restaurant near the hotel. The food was fine, but our waitress was on crack. She screwed up our order, forgot about is, took forever to bring us food and generally seemed like she was missing her meds. I wouldn’t have minded if I wasn’t so bloody hungry. As is, I started getting snippy because it took forever to get fed.

While there, however, I bumped into an elderly couple who asked about our badges. I told them about DDC and found out they had a son who liked Dungeons and Dragons. Based on their age, their son was probably in his 30s or 40s but apparently didn’t know about conventions. I did a bit of gaming evangelism, which I love doing and it’s possible he was there on Sunday, I’ll probably never know.

8:00 PM Saturday 2/14

Matt and I grabbed his copy of Dominion from his room and headed down to the board games area. I played all kinds of board games: Dominion, Zombie Flux, Monty Python Flux, Pass the Brain and many, many games of Zar, which is like Uno on crack. Around 1AM I talked to my roommates and asked if they wanted to come down or hang out but apparently they wanted sleep instead… so I flipped cards till 4AM. Yikes.

Part three coming soon…

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…