Actual Play – Not Demons at the Door? (8/18/2013)

GMs: John Stavropoulos, and assistants.
Players: Sean Nittner, Karen Twelves, Terry Romero, Shoe, Kira Scott, Lou Agresta, Ajit George, and several others.
System: LARP in a Hotel Room

Jstav organized a LARP, and from what I’ve heard about it there was some disagreement between the GMs about what that LARP was actually going to be, but from my perspective it ran smoothly.

We created flawed characters with deep regrets that came to the surface as an unearthly fog decimated everything and everyone around and eventually crept into the hotel to consume us as well. I walked out happy to shed the skin of Mike, the P.E. Coach.

GenCon 2013 - 13

Actual Play – Tricky, Tricky Kobolds! (8/18/2013)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Four awesome gamers
System: Torchbearer
Game: Under the House of the Three Squires

My second Torchbearer game in Games on Demand. It went of much smoother because by that point I was in the groove. As with the previous game, I had all the pregenerated characters on the table ready for players to pick. We got Karolina, Taika, Beren, and Ulrik. Sorry Gerald and Varg, next time.

Delving Deep

Right off the bat this group way impressed me. When Beren and Ulrik were about to fall, Taika jumped into action, casting Lightness of Being on them and levitating them back up to safety. Then they quickly got to work on establishing safe passage down.

Later, when they were trapped by Kobolds and had the option of trying overpower them, Karolina lead them in an effort to trick the kobolds into letting them out. As it turns out Kobolds aren’t all that smart! It such good times.

Here’s a shot of the players after the game. Clearly they are smiling too much and I didn’t do my job.

Thoughts on this game

This ran a lot smoother than the previous one because I had my stride. Both the players and I were good about leading with description and letting the mechanics follow that.

Torchbearer has this weird trust thing, where the players have to trust the GM not to completely dick them over and call for rolls on every action they take. Some players are really cautions and I think that just make the game slow down. It also create a cycle that gets reinforced. If you think every time a roll comes up the GM is punishing you, then everything eventually becomes punishment, even when you’re awesome. I was really glad that this group just did things, and then rolled dice when they had to. Awesomesauce.

Actual Play – Torchbearer with Thor (8/18/2013)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Thor Olavsrud, and four other fine folk
System: Torchbearer
Game: Under the House of the Three Squires

No pressure here. Not at all. I had meant to get in Thor’s game on Saturday but it was during a panel we were going to so I missed out. Instead, he sat in on my game on Sunday. And was a complete gentleman the entire time.

The Setup

With only two hours I wanted to jump right into play. I had all the sample characters (including Ulrik) printed out on the full Torchbearer character sheets (thanks Adobe forms!) ready to players to pick. I didn’t really explain the mechanics much, instead I gave what has become my default pitch for Torchbearer: “Think less Fellowship of the Rings and more surviving Vietnam.”  The players laughed, and I smirked because I knew it was true.

Under the House

Thor had a pretty obvious advantage in that he wrote the damn adventure but was quite courteous and letting the others lead the expedition. If I remember correctly the dog they found was a boxer. The befriended it quickly and it made a merry 6th member of their party.

Ulrik and Karolina were both pretty stompy bad asses, but it was fun to see Ulrik’s shady side when treasure was afoot!

I can’t remember the turn order because running in person had me a bit more on my toes, but I know they explored some, rested and continued on. Yay for the underused camp phase !

Thoughts on this game

It was actually nice having someone as back up for rules. This was the first time I ran a game of TB with the sample characters (so I didn’t know all their details) and it was also the first time I ran it live (instead of over hangouts). Thor was pretty great about reminding me “oh, move the turn marker up” or “I think that’s Ob3”.

I’m becoming increasingly dubious about goals that involve safety, because they are essentially saying I’ll make sure a thing “doesn’t” happen instead of a thing does happen. Be cause safety is not a thing you strive to gain, it’s a thing you strive to keep. Thus I have a hard time awarding persona for this one, at least until the players leave the dungeon for town. Taika had it this time, but usually some one does. I guess it’s a fate mine, but I really wish there was a way to distill it down and make it more concrete.

I also wonder for con game about starting the characters with 1 Fate and 1 Persona. Just a little something to give them an edge?

Feels like two hours is a good demo length for the game. We totally didn’t complete and “adventure” but they got a good taste of the system.


Actual Play – Until we Sink (8/17/2013)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlayers: Kristin Firth, Jason Morningstar, Steve Segedy, Karen Twelves, and Sean Nittner
System: Until we Sink

I walked into my room after playing a great game of Atomic Robo to find cool peeps playing until we sink. Someone offered me a drink, I picked up a card and horrible southern accent, and I started playing.

I played the big, dirty, and a little bit stupid caretaker, who, given my state of mind, mostly just wanted to do simple tasks like poor more whiskey for everyone, myself included.

They were already in the middle of the game, so I tried not to disrupt it. Tensions were high between the characters and I was quite content to let them stay that way. I also realized towards the end, that I was the only one with the means and potentially the motive to kill the sports fisher. If only the alcoholic writer had paid me to do so.

In the end on a boat, what else was I to do but confess.

Jason played the hotel owner, which I think he played last time when we played it in Oakland a couple years ago. Jason makes a great hotel owner. Calm, cool, and ready to divert blame at the drop of a hat.

Kristin was a great alcoholic. We loved finding out that she used a ghostwriter, and that she had infact paid for others… her ghost writer… to come to the island.

Steve was very important, the celebrity I think, and he acted very important!

Karen was smart, capable and suspicious. I confessed because I knew she would figure it out anyway!

Thoughts on the game

Until we Sink is a delightfully fun game to play when a little tired and a little drunk. It is also the source of some amazing poetry.


Actual Play – Atomic Robo (8/17/2013)

Robo-Cover-600pxGM: Mike Olson
Players: Me and four other gents
System: Atomic Robo

Yay, not only did I get to play Atomic Robo, I got to play it with the creator, and awesome dude Mike Olson. Talk about first round draft pick!

Robo was present in the game, but I was keen on Helen McAllister. The tech savvy underestimated daughter of Jack Tarot. Here’s the blurb about her from the wiki:

She is rather brash, speaks her mind easily, and is quick-tempered, but is very decisive and has quick and nimble fingers. As part of the vigilante duo, she serves as the mechanic, inventor, and intelligence-gatherer while Jack is out crime-fighting. To conceal her identity, she is codenamed Nightingale during missions when father and daughter communicate with each other.

Yeah, my kind of character!

Mike’s game put us all right in the action. We started at Jack and Helen’s house having dinner but quickly on the radio heard about an attack from space. Jack and Robo were quick to action, hoping in the car and taking off… and Helen was quick to sneak in the back seat.

From there we battled giant many legged mechanical monsters, saved innocent people, and put a stop to Baron Heinrich von Helsingard’s nefarious plans.

And we smiled while we did it!

Thoughts on this game

Mike is the first Fate GM that I have EVER seen that managed to both kick the PCs butts and make it fun while he was doing it. He regularly swung with Fantastic, Epic, and Legendary rolls to trash our days, and he had some brutal weapons to boot. We were also quite skilled (often starting with a Superb in our best skill) and had plenty of Fate points to invoke our own aspects, as well as free invokes on situation aspects that he gave us free at the start of the game. End result a lot of high rolls were made, but the bad guys often won out by a lot.

How did Mike (and Robo) make this awesome? Consequences applied to the setting! You just too four stress you can’t absorb. Sure you could take a gut shot (which I did, yay) but you could also apply a consequence to the setting, like say, the supports for a floor of the Empire State Building are collapsing (which we also did, yay)!

The other thing Mike did was be very quick to encourage dramatic action. “C’mon drop a Fate point on that aspect and lets set that go to Legendary” or, in this case “Or you could just save your Fate points and take some stress. Stress is nothing, don’t worry about it.” It was that kind of coaching that really made the game rock.

I can’t wait for Robo to come out. Wearing my Evil Hat hat (har, har) for second, it is nearly done with Layout as we speak, then it goes to proofing, indexing, and author review/sign off. After that we send it to the printer. Huzzah!

Actual Play – The Zoo (8/17/2013)

playset_the_zooFacilitator: Jeremy Friesen…er Sean Nittner
Players: Three other fine folk
System: Fiasco
Playset: The Zoo

I was excited to play in a game with Jeremy and when I noticed he had a Fiasco table running I signed right up. We picked The Zoo setting very quickly (almost no debate at all), which is a great sign.

The Setup

The other players were new to Fiasco, but they took to the setup quickly. We had the follwing

Lawrence Chinn – An old hand at the zoo, who had been working there “too long” and was always “getting to old for this”. Lawrence was a good guy who never got a lucky break, and was modeled very closely after my good friend from college by the same name. He was a zoo keeper and because of his tenure, also a board chairman.

Relationship – Board Chairman and Zoo Custodian
Object – Administrative. Lease to the original zoo grounds.

Danny Iago – Danny was the custodian who should have lost his job years ago when an attendee slipped and broke his leg because water spilled on the floor of the bathroom. The zoo owner, however, had a soft spot for Danny, and so, after a big cover up, Fred Hicks instead took the fall…for the fall.

Relationship – The Past. Haven’t really spoken since the case was closed.
Need – To get respect from the one who left.

Abby Normal – Abby was a State Farm workman’s comp insurance adjuster who couldn’t let sleeping dogs lie. She knew that Danny should have been fired and she was determined to make sure justice was served. When she got word that another claim had been filed against “Anytown Zoo” she hopped on it faster than ninjas on hot apple pie.

Relationship – Illicit animal smugglers
Location – Around town… train tunnel behind the zoo, or as it was in Anytown Zoo, the mini train the zoo offered for tours.

Karl Dobson, Wolf Keeper – We established really early on that Karl and Lawrence were the only two actual keepers at the zoo. All the other work was done by usually well meaning but incapable volunteers. Karl, however was the wolf keeper, and that was it!

Relationship – Keepers. The only two actual keepers at the zoo. Lawrence has way more seniority and was effectively Karl’s boss, but he end up doing most of the work (and whining about it) away.
Need – To get out…once your favorite animal is secure. Karl wanted to “rescue” his wolves from the zoo. Lawrence just wanted to retire.

Lawrence Chinn – as above


Disaster strikes

True to the game we were playing, Games on Demand had a Fiasco of it’s own and Jeremy (who was coordinating) had to run off, which was a bummer because I wanted to play with him, but it worked out fine. I facilitated the play and we had an early romp through Anytown Zoo.

Karl started the action quick, with a tiger getting out of it’s pen. Hilariously, we didn’t actually address the tiger for a few scenes, so when it did show up, it was licking a little kid’s ice cream cone, while the child’s mother first freaked out and then threatened to sue. No harm came to any children or tigers in the making of this game.

The great part of that was that it really gave Abby something to sink her teeth into. The tiger go out during Danny’s shift, and she was hoping to leverage that investigation into re-opening the old case that got Fred Hicks fired.

Lawrence started off really passive. He didn’t want to be bothered by Abby, and he couldn’t stand Karl, but Karl was his only keeper, so he wasn’t going to fire him (even though he ignored the tiger on account of watching his wolves). Lare, as I depicted him, just wanted to be left alone and make it through his day. He felt perpetually harassed by the people around him. That all changed when sifting through paperwork to give to Abby, he stumbled upon the Lease to the Zoo, which listed him and Danny as the somehow inheritors of the property. HELL YEAH!

The Tilt

Folly – You can’t afford to lose it…but you just did.

Deception – The mighty fall…exceedingly hard.

Oh these were so good. Unfortunately, with a two hour slot, we were running out of time, so we decided to just do one more round of scenes instead of two. The lease was lost (and I don’t think ever found, even in our epilogues), Abby overly aggressive investigation techniques got her put under review by state farm, and Karl continued heedlessly forward to “rescue” his cubs.


Oh, it was all bad. Abby was fired of course. Karl was caught by the police with the mama wolf half in and half out of the hole he had dug for her. Lawrence had to run the zoo by himself and personally deal with the “a tiger almost ate my child” lawsuit. Danny somehow got away reasonably well, it turning out that he was Karl’s accomplice all along and made off with a truck full of stolen wolf cubs, abandoning Karl to the police and his fate.


Thoughts on this game

We talked a lot about, going for the most banal idea possible. Abby wasn’t an FBI investigator, she was an insurance claims adjuster. Just the same we ended up with some pretty gonzo action like chipping a whole in the concrete wall to free the wolves, and a tiger roaming the zoo. It worked though. The mixture of zany with mundane mashed up nicely.

The first scene was one of my faves. It set up a relationship that was later flipped on it’s head. Lawrence and Karl were together in the warthog pen arguing over who was going to feed the temperamental one. Karl didn’t care if it was his job, he was the “wolf keeper” and he wasn’t going to do it. The scene set up the status dynamic early on, that Karl was a pain in the ass, and nobody liked him. This paid off really well when it got tilted later. He had just assaulted Abby (by taking the badge she was waving in his face away from her) and when she came to Lawrence demanding that he be fired, I had this great realization that yeah, Karl was a pain in the ass, but he was my pain in the ass. Maybe it was a common enemy bringing people together, or just that Abby irritated Lare even more than Karl did, but I loved the switch when suddenly Lawrence was defending Karl!

Our aftermaths were brutal, as they should be. I don’t remember all the details now, but trust me, nobody was happy. And the zoo, it was a wreck!

Actual Play – Stake and Shake (8/17/2013)

tn_coverGM: Mark DiPasquale
Players: Sean, Sarah, and two other gents.
System: Tech Noir
Setting: Indianapolis Transmission

Hell yeah, I finally got to play Tech Noir. Mark is clearly a big time fan and contributor (play-tester and avid promoter of the game). He introduced us to the game and gave us a little background into the setting and mechanics. We picked playbooks and of course, being at Gencon, we picked Indianapolis!

Marked rolled up some conspiracies, we picked characters, and the game began. I took Zaide Mantel, handle RISC, whose candy blue cyberarm matched her mohawk. Hmm, what is it with me and bad ass chicks with cyberware? The other players picked characters Sleight, Gemini, and Roman and then we picked our relationship adjectives to knit our characters together.

Because several of us (myself included) had a relationship with Val Torrino (the old mob lawyer) we started the game getting a lead from him, in the place that was the highlight of the game, Stake and Shake. Vampire themed dance club on the seedy side of town.

We started with some pretty vivid descriptions of our characters, and dove into the old chestnut “you all meet in a tavern.” Only we didn’t all meet, Sleight, was watching us from a distance, presumably to join up later. We got a lead from Val, to investigate a high end break in where something, presumably valuable, was stolen.

Expanding the conspiracy

So we set off to find it. Roman did the tech thing that drives me nuts in many future/cyber-reality setting games. He was able to essentially get all his information while sitting in a booth at the Stake and Shake. In a story this can sound cool but in game it pulls the character out of any interaction with the other PCs and the essentially enter a mini-game that is just with the GM.

Gemini and Zaide set out on foot, or really on her bike, to go see what information they could dig up in the physical world.

Sleight watched us from afar. Which continued to me to just seem odd. Odd because it was a 2nd character having no interactions with the PCs.

When we had made contact with several people, and hacked several systems, we got the idea of where this package might be, and Zaide, being the gun lugger of the group, opted to put herself in it’s place as “bait”.  That introduced our only “fight” conflict. When the car she was in arrived at it’s auto-piloted destination and the door opened, some giant robot reached it’s slicer blade arm in to vivisect the “package”. Luckily the package was ready with an under-arm shotgun. Her’s how it went down:

1. I spent one of my push dice in the attack and blew off the critters arm.

2. It spent two push dice and with it’ other arm cut off my arm. Mark gave me the choice of which arm and elected to keep my cyberarm as I thought it would be necessary to survive.

3. I counter attacked, pushing two more dice and destroying the critter, but yeah, with only one arm left.

Meanwhile the other character found where the other endpoint of the drop off was and, having hacked all the drone security, dispatched the one guard, and made off with the loot.


After two hours of game, which is understandably a pretty short game, we did a brief epilogue wrap up, and Sleight described his character pretending to be Val Torrino and stealing the loot from us. Hmmm.

Thoughts on this game

I really dug the gritty noir elements of the future. And the conspiracy map unfolding was great. I didn’t pay too much attention to the back end mechanics of the conspiracy unfolding but it felt very organic to me.

Having one character be completely absent from the game, and one character spending the entire game hacking remote systems really took away from the game for me. It meant that only Zaide and Gemini had any meaningful interactions.

The damage system in the game strikes me as insanely brutal. If the adversary pushes two dice, you take permanent damage, which can only be repaired by cyberware. Don’t get me wrong, I like characters changing, but I got the distinct impression that it wouldn’t take long before there was nothing of “you” left. I’d had to play more to really know for sure.



Actual Play – Professor Claudius Lightstep: Taken! (8/17/2013)

Anima Prime CoverGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Will Robot, and three other fine folk!
System: Anima Prime

I got really excited about Anima Prime when I played it up at Go Play North West. The system was light enough to encourage the high-flying steambot megasword Final Fantasy, Avatar the Last Airbender action that the setting presents, and it has just the right ruleset to back that up and make choices feel meaningful in the game. If you haven’t checked out Anima Prime do it now. The game is free (I know, awesome) but if you’re like me you’ll want a physical copy in your hands as well.

I figured the best way to run the game was with the demo adventure, so I downloaded it (also free off the website) and read it during the flight to Gencon. I liked the characters, the situation, and even the bad guys. Win, win, win. It even starts (and this seemed like a theme for me at Gencon) on a train!

GM on Demand

I wasn’t slotted to run games on Saturday. In fact I had only signed up to run for a couple of slot on Sunday because I wanted to have the freedom to run all over the con… but I instantly regretted it. I knew that I would have a lot of fun running games and that I wouldn’t have to worry about signs ups. I could just sit and wait for players to ask for something. So, on Saturday as I was looking over the offerings I just asked one of the hosts “hey is it okay if I run a game this slot?”. Since there were tables free they pulled out my menu (the Games on Demand menus look great this year) and game me a table.

20 minutes later I was running Anima Prime for four eager players. Woot!

Anima-prime-GoDThe play is the thing

As per the adventure scenario I started off with a brief opening about the setting and situation, we introduced the characters and their relationships, and then jumped right into a character scene. The players were new to each other, and their characters were set up to have sort of gruff attitudes towards each other, so the chemistry wasn’t tight at first. As they played though, I felt the table warming it and just as the character interaction was reaching a crescendo, I played the Final Fantasy 7 Fight Scene music. Or at least I told them to envision it in their head!

The players took very well to the combat mechanics. They were excited about achievements and had really awesome descriptions of bad-assery.  After the fight we were nearly out of time, but with the few minutes he had left, got in one more character scene and saw them flying off to find Professor Lightstep, with their newly liberated MechaniFlyer!

Thoughts on this game

Many thanks to Christian for support and advice running the game. I gained a lot by playing in his game first. Both in understanding the rules and in my confidence with the setting and system.

Actual Play – Six Gun Showdown (8/16/2013)

feature_sixgunGM/Reader: Jared Sorenson
Players: A lot
System: Parsely Games: Six-Gun Showdown

We signed up for this game event. And paid real money for it. And we got swag.

Jared ran Parsely #8 Six Gun Showdown, complete with pew pew pew sound effects and his 8-bit smile.

As a group we stunk. We kept going back and forth trying the same things over and over again and dying for it. We died a lot. In fact, I started keeping track of how many of ended the game… by the end it was most of us.

But that’s a great thing about Parsely, even when it’s stupid and frustrating, it’s fun. A puzzle you’re sure you can unlock if you just give it one more try. Jared’s presentation also adds to the effect, though I have to say, he’s vastly under utilized by GenCon. It says a lot about the play culture that his games at Pax fill up a room of 500 people, and at GenCon we had maybe 20 to 25.

What is Parsely

Jared took old text adventures and turned them into roleplaying games, well, sort of. He just took old text adventures, and called someone the parser (who read through them) and then gave everyone else one chance to give an instruction like “Go North” before they had to go south to the end of the line. The game is fun because it’s so silly, because it’s so strict, and because people never pay attention to each other. It’s the most high-stakes game of telephone out there.

What’s better, since the game are so small and presumably cheap, Jared gave them out as prizes for everyone that attended! Yay, prizes.

Actual Play – Freight with Peril (8/16/2013)

FateCoreBookCoverGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Six great Gen Con attendees who had never played Fate before
System: Fate Core

Never mix business with pleasure. That was the less on I learned over and over again at Gen Con. For most of Thursday and Friday my boss was calling me every hour asking for help because a server went down and our users couldn’t access their files.

Justin Jacobson, of Blue Devil Games, also made the same mistake I did, and brought his job along with him. In the middle of Gen Con he was doing work, and the work happened to happen at the worst possible time, when he had a game scheduled to run. Luckily it was Fate Core, and I was happy to give it a shot.

Freight with Peril… from the author

“Freight with Peril” is an extended Fate™ Core scene for 6 PCs. It was originally designed for use at Gen Con in 2013. It is intended to be run using 6 PCs within a two-hour period (allowing some time for introductions and wrapping up).

About Dawning Star

DAWNING STAR is a sci-fi setting published by Blue Devil Games. It was originally published in 2005 using the d20 System rules from Wizards of the Coast and released under the Open Game License. In 2013, Blue Devil Games relaunched the setting, using the Fate™ Core rules from Evil Hat Productions. DAWNING STAR is a “firm” science setting, grounded in real-world, existing scientific knowledge but extrapolated beyond current understanding. So, while there are numerous xenomorphs populating the Helios system and the mysterious “psionic” alternate dimension known as Red Truth, we try to ground these elements in actual science.

In 2196, scientists discover a large object on a collision trajectory with Earth. The free countries of the world unite to evacuate as many people as possible on large transport ships. As the fleet is leaving our solar system, it inadvertently interacts with a long dormant gateway station, and the ships are scattered across the galaxy. The setting follows the fate of one of those ships, the Dawning Star.

The Dawning Star finds itself in the newly named Helios System and settles on the planet Eos, similar in composition and atmosphere to Earth. There, the evacuees seek to rebuild society. In the years that followed, the humans have come to learn that they are not alone on Eos or in the system. In fact, there are numerous alien species there, remnants of the long dead Star Confederation. For the setting relaunch, the timeline is advanced several years. Another evacuation ship makes its way to the system, and the evil vaasi have begun an invasion with the intent of total annihilation.

One of the setting’s great strengths is its versatility both in focus and style. It supports a variety of different sub-genres, from Space Western to military to space opera, played in a variety of ways, from ultra-gritty to over-the-top pulpy. In fact, before running the scene, talk with the players to get an idea of their preferred playstyle and tailor the scene accordingly.

717The play is the thing

My players were great. Mostly their background was Pathfinder, and they had never played Fate before, but they took to it very quickly. Without ruining the adventure for anyone, I think it’s fair to say there was plenty of opportunities for action and tough character choices. Their collective responsibilities and motivations served as great seeds for compelling aspects and sticking them in all sorts of sticky (and awesome) situations.

One of my very favorite twists early on was that one of the players asked me if people normally carried firearms. Ironically it was the one player who played the alien race that asked this, so I turned the question back around on him. “Good questions, why do you roll Lore to Create an Advantage and find out.” He hit the difficulty and created the situation aspect “Everybody is packing”. Suddently the train they were on was part of the wild west, and differentiating innocent bystander who was carrying a gun from deep cover operatives became MUCH harder! That is really when the game picked up steam.

Thoughts on the game

Racism came up at the table. And I was glad to have an opportunity to address it. Every player at the table was white and we had a game where every character was human except one. who played a pseudo-indigenous insect like alien. Early on one player described his character as xenophobic, and soon after another player join in with him. Right then I pulled back the curtain and asked everyone to consider that trivializing or romanticizing racism with the excuse that we’re playing a game, still doesn’t make it okay. If your characters are racists, then let’s address that issue as a serious one in the game and treat it with respect as a major problem in the setting. Or lets leave all that bullshit out of our game. The opted for the latter. I was very happy I caught that one early on.