Actual Play – Boxcar Children #134: Mystery of the Sunken Submarine (7/20/2013)

FAE-Bookcover_300x450GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Geoff McCool, and three awesome kids (including mine)
System: Fate Accelerated
Variations: YP Game

Game Description (for Good Omens Con)

When the Aldens arrive on the coast for a summer vacation, nobody expects to find bits of an old submarine washing up on the shore. How did it get there, and what does it mean?

This is a Young Players game. All ages welcome.

Prepping to run for the Boxcar Kids

My 10 year old, who is really well versed in Boxcar Chilren helped me make all of the characters. They were really simple, which appealed to me for this game. For instance, each one had a high concept like Friendly Kid, Curious Kid, etc. Watch, being the watchdog, had the concept “Quick-witted Dog”. Their troubles were a bit more varied, but even they were pretty simple “Easily Distracted” and “Always Hungry”, for example.

Also, we talked about the approaches, we also decided that two approaches really needed to be folded into the existing ones. The kids solve mysteries by being inquisitive, friendly, and tenacious. Inquisitive was already covered well enough by Cleverly (and sometimes Carefully), but we wanted the others to have  home. We decided that Friendly was a part of Flashily, and that Tenaciously was a part of Forcefully (an more appropriate than the typical use Forcefully in).

So, some though was necessary, but no major tweaks or hacks for the game.

Writing a Mystery

I realized that I boxed myself into a corner here. I don’t usually write mystery games. My experience with them is that they usually feel (both as the GM and player) that the characters must be led around by their nose and that any true discovery is generally tangential to the core plot/mystery.

Yet, there it was, my game submitted with people sign up to play it and my own daughters telling me how excited the where about it. So, a mystery was needed.

I decided to have two sets of people involved here. Legitimate/Complicated authorities and Villains. The authorities were good guys, but would have some kind of catch that made them obstacles. The villains appeared to be good guys (or authorities) but have a less than honorable motivation.

I came up with this: Treasure Hunters wanting to look a submarine (which was miraculously sunken not far off the coast of a beach) before the officials found it. Their cover up, which was also the first clue for the kids, and the prompt to action was pretending that their had been a chemical spill and using that excuse to close the beach. Issues for the game: “Sunken Treasure” and “Beach Closed”.

What blew me away was how much we were able to build off just that. I just kept asking myself (or asking the kids, or having them ask me) questions about how this would work. Some of those questions were before the game started (like, if someone is going to shut down the beach they probably work for the County, so one of the villains is a Hazmat employee of the county… oooh, better yet, she’s a ex-employee who’s down on her luck and filling out fake paperwork posing as her old position).  Most of them, however were asked and answered in play.

Character Selection

We made the character half-baked. They had high concept, trouble, approaches, and one stunt. This still left room for two more stunts (or more by buying down refresh) and a couple more aspects.

Since FAE is so simple, and most of the players (my kids included) were familiar enough with it, we started playing within the first 30 minutes of our time slot. Record timing!


The play ins the thing

TL;DW (Too Long; Didn’t Write) My two kids plus two others played Jessie, Violet, Benny, and Watch on an adventure to uncover two miscreants trying to steal treasure from a long forgotten submarine! Good times.

What I loved the most was how the kids were both adventurous and brave, while still being kids. We didn’t have a single fight in the game, but we did create aspects like “Newspaper Article” and “Secret Swimsuit”.

Geoff wrote me after the game:

I just wanted to say thanks again for running yesterday.  I kept having these visions during the game that if “normal”, older, risk-taking gamers were playing the game (playing the kid characters) they would be trying to use the old/new diving equipment to find the sunken treasure.  Then I imagined real kids, yours or mine, actually donning the equipment or boating alone out in the Pacific and trying not to panic.  Good times…

I really liked that.. The were brave, but not careless, and they solved problems by being friendly and curious, not by hurting people or taking things that weren’t theirs. Pretty damn cool.


Nobody took stress in the game, in fact if I run a Boxcar Children game again, I’ll remove the stress track and just have consequences (which is what I effectively did in play). There was one consequence however, and I really liked how it turned out.

Late at night the Jessie and Watch snuck into a cave where they knew the villains were hiding an inflatable raft and diving gear that they had been taking out to explore the submarine. The tide was up however, which meant that had to get wet. For Watch, this wasn’t a problem, but the water was really cold and so although Jessie did it, there was a cost.

After the scene, I told the player (who happened to be my 8 year old daughter) that the water had been really cold, and she might have gotten sick from being in it. She rolled her Tenaciousness (Forcefully) vs. the Water’s cold and missed the roll by two. I had her take a mild consequence of the “The Sniffles” from her late night swimming in the Pacific.

She took this with a smile, and later played up her sniffles, which was a lot of fun. Still though, I think she got the idea that some things can have consequences, and I like to think there was a certain learning moment there as well. The upside of course being that her sacrifice was worth it, as they found the sunken submarine, and the villains trying to rob it’s treasures.

Thoughts on the game

I was worried about filling up four hours. As it turns out, the kids threw me so many twists and turns that we finished up just in time.

I found it really easy to make up things for this game, way more so that for other games, because embracing American classics was baked into the setting. We had characters like Sandy Fairweather, Moe Hollander, Col. Maurice Acres (Moe’s great-great Uncle). The names were almost comical (especially Sandy, a park ranger spending all her time inspecting the beach), but it never detracted from the game. They were appropriate, not a pun or farce.

As mentioned above it was great that the kids were super adventurous while still being kids. And I never had to tell them to step back from the gonzo, they knew it intuitively.

Kids tend to be very forgiving. A submarine from the 1930s sunk off the coast of Santa Cruz??? Yeah, there was a couple plot holes there I could have fixed with a bit less making it up and a bit more Wikipedia, but even when we all realized something didn’t make sense we either edited the detail or folded it in to the “mystery”.

Prep for this game was four characters, two issues, and about an hour of asking myself questions. That was great!







Actual Play – Emeralds in these Hills (7/7/2012)

Players: Sean Nittner, Timothy Sanders, Dennis Jordan, Nik Gervae, and Ethan Knudson
System: Durance

I am so glad I ran this game. My last two times playing Durance I wanted to like the game, but felt like I didn’t quite “get it”. This time, I loved the game, and would happily play it again.

In the first scene, I wanted to know about Anders. How far he was willing to go to kill Gunney Black. So I put him in a spot by asking “What will Anders do when the Governor sends Private Pennet to move him down to the tunnels?” This both threatened his oath (never to take charity) and potentially made it harder to reach his target.

The answer was that he would fight like a rabid dog, get shot in the shin and be dragged kicking and screaming into the tunnels, a year of his research on Gunney destroyed.  As we played, the questions drove towards powerful scenes just like that.


Setup took us about 90 minutes, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable 90 min. I think the Durance setup is even more fun for me than Fiasco setup, or Dresden City creation, because, while it allows for a lot of player contributions, it gives a really solid structure to build off of. It reminds me of burning characters in Burning Wheel, but much faster and for the entire setting and all the characters at once. This is what we got:

Colonial Notables

This characters really came alive as we asked questions about them and their relationships.  Rogan used to be the Dimber Damber but was usurped by Lora Balton. Wilton was his abbot but when Rogan flipped and got emancipated, Wilton was left behind and dropped down to Lag, blaming Rogan for his fall and for leaving him behind.

Gunny Black was sent here for manslaughter, killing his wife, who was Anders Praham’s sister. Anders was a cop who actually comitted crimes to get himself on the planet, but was disgusted with how far he had to stoop to be caught, as all the other parts of the authority were so corrupt, they kept trying to hide his crimes, rather than admit one of their own was on the take.

Irvin Walker was a religious man, one who promised a chapel that ALL could have access to. After the convicts on the surface had trashed the one he opened for them there, he erected another in the tunnels, protected by the Authority. This meant the convicts were regularly passing Authority check points “legitimately” so long as we were heading to service. So of course the church became the seat of political corruption and shady deals. Awesome!

Changing the Drive

One of the things I really like that Jason did with oath-breaking in Durance, is giving several options, one of which was to change the drive of the game. We started with control, everyone vying for power in a sea of corruption. When the Governor broke his oath though (and finally conspired with the criminals to get what he wanted) the drive shifted from control to freedom. We realized as ship was coming with more convicts, and if the ship was coming, as ship was going back. When the mood shifted some wanted to restrict freedom, others wanted to gain it. It was a great shift in the game’s mood.

Loosing characters

I’m so delighted that in the 3rd scene the Dimber Damber bit it. The Governor, wrecker, and bolter all broke their oaths.  The characters were really alive and dynamic. Tools of the story, rather than a commodity we were trying to maintain. It was a really satisfying experience.

Thoughts on this Game

Tied rolls did something very cool in this game. They turned it in a direction we would have never expected. In two scenes we had to people vying for control (our game’s Drive) and we went to the dice due to uncertainty. When a tied roll came up, it totally changed the trajectory of the game, in a fantastic way.

3rd Scene: The Swell Colt and the Dimber Damber Lora are brokering a deal in the only safe place they can, the Governor’s chapel. Persia, the bolter, has made the connection between the two of them and Colt is eager to see his finding turn into fame and fortune (he’s discovered an Emerald Mine in the hills) and wants to ship it off Planet. Each was pushing to get a better end of the deal (Dimber Damber wanting the bulk of the money, but also to keep everything under wraps, Colt wanting recognition and a say in the dealings) so we rolled the uncertainty dice. We got tied two, with a one. “Death, amidst mind-numbing terror.”

When we rolled the the whole table stopped for a moment? How was that going to fit. And suddenly it was obvious. Colt, unable to hide his zeal stood up to shout out his good fortune. Persia grabbed his coat and in doing so a ton of emeralds spilled out. Once the convicts saw them, they went mad with greed and a riot started. Trying to calm the riot Lora stood up, shouted for everyone to calm down, and in that moment, the “think with his gun marine Punnet” identified her as a the leader of this outbreak and put a bullet in her head.

Suddenly the game changed completely. The marine had fired his weapon in the chapel and killed the Dimber Damber. The criminals now had a huge power vacuum, and we pretty much spent the rest of the game figuring out how that vacuum was going to be filled.

The experience was never something we would have thought of as a group. In fact if someone had mentioned it I think we would have cast it off as ridiculous. But creative constraints are awesome. Now, this thing happened, we would have never expected and it changed the game completely. I loved it!

We had some discussion after the game about how having multiple notables, and not being able to frame a scene for yourself affected the game. I think this was a very intentional design from Jason as an attempt to shift the focus from “my PC as my avatar into the game” to “these are all the characters that we as a group are collectively interested in telling awesome stories about.” This is something I’really excited about personally because I think the my character is my avatar style of play leads to investing in a character doing “winning” when so often the best stories are about characters falling on their face. Not pathetically so, but tragically so.

During the Improv for Gamer’s workshop, one of my favorite exercises was called Death in 30 seconds. And I loved the idea that we had to have a 30 second scene where someone WOULD die. You can’t protect your character, you don’t want to protect your character, you want them to die spectacularly.

Ethan’s write up some bite sized AP, which can be found here:

Actual Play – Dead World (7/16/2011)

MC: Sean Nittner
Players: Matthew Klein (Al Swerengen the Gentleman), Brent Sturdevant (Loyd the Muscle), Karen Twelves (Rose the Calamity), and Jon Edwards (Roy the Sheriff)
System: Apocalypse World hacked to Deadwood (Dead World)


Dead World
Game System: Apocalypse World
Game Master: Sean Nittner
Characters Provided: Created in Play
Power Level: Inappropriate for public consumption
Variations: Deadwood inspired setting
Number of Players: 4
A frontier settlement on the edge of nothing California, Scottsburg was not just a home; it was the last refuge for its inhabitants. Criminals, dilatants, and hard working miners that could not find a place anywhere else in the world carved out a small niche there, ever mindful of how tenuous their hold on the town is.

The bounty of Scottsburg, long unnoticed by neighbors in the east, caught the attention of a entrepreneur O. C. Wheelock. His appearance in the town was a swift and painful one; turning private gold miners out of their homes, moving his own employees in and letting them have run of the town. He held the deed to the town and threatened that if his will was contested he would bring in authorities that would not only enforce his claim on the land but make life for Scottsburg’s inhabitants impossible.

Life was further complicated by a pox that has slowly been spreading through the town. Effort to treat and quarantine the sick was an uphill battle, being lost each day in pints of blood and puss, running deeper than the streams of gold beneath them. Welcome to Scottsburg, welcome home.

A bit about the hack

For a while I’ve had a fascination with the show Deadwood. I love how human and weak and miserable the characters are. I love the every son of a bitch has something to redeem them, even if only a little. I like that the people are are desperately holding on to a dream that is always slipping between their fingers like streams of gold without a pan to catch it in.

Shaun Hayworth, Kristin Hayworth and Randy Davenport did a Burning Wheel hack to Deadwood some time ago and from all reports I heard it was great. Burning Wheel is awesome for capturing that real need for something that will drive people into action.

For my tastes though I wanted a lighter system that would still capture the “oomph” that burning wheel offers. I considered Smallville, as it focuses on the player conflicts, but I kept getting drawn back to Apocalypse World. I think in large because Jane is the epitome of the Battle Babe, better conceived that Vincent’s archetype. She brings trouble with her everywhere she goes. Jane is the Battle Babe I can identify with and understand, not the ice cold inhuman figure I think the playbook presents. In honor of Jane, the playbook was named “Calamity”. Perfect.

So, hacking Apoc World to Deadwood seemed like the solution that would give me the game I wanted. Gritty, fluid, tense and mechanics that can keep up with the pace of the narrative.

Most of it was easy. Change a few names, mostly filing off serial numbers. What to do with Weird and opening your brain was tough at first. I floundered a bit with a “make an earnest plea” idea but it was too much like going aggro or manipulating. Thankfully I took my troubles to Story Games and Jonathan Walton gave me the perfect move “Indulge your vices” (see the ugliness of my first thoughts and the beauty of Jonathan’s here:

The other hiccup was the Preacher. An obvious choice was the Hocus but the preacher doesn’t have a congregation as such, at least not in the show. So, he started as a Hocus but lost his congregation and eventually got a “mask” of faith to cover his demons. He’s one part hocus, one part faceless and a touch of brainer

The playbooks and moves are all on a PDF here:

Love Letters

I wanted a set of love letters that all focused on how a few pressures on the camp were affecting the different characters, specifically an arson the night before and generally the presence of O.C. Wheelock taking over the camp.

They were adequate to get the game started but didn’t drive the characters together enough. I did this at the last minute and I think they suffered because of it. I’m going to keep working on them till I get them looking like Scott White’s letters (example:

Character selection and creation

I told everyone we needed the Gentleman and Matthew immediately stepped up to the plate. Karren nabbed the Calamity and then it was up to Jon and Brent to figure out where to go. Jon thought the story needed a Sheriff to butt heads with the Gentleman and Brent went for the Muscle, to be the Gentleman’s, well, muscle.

Character choices went pretty quickly (though I’d still like to add a list of last names to the playbooks, currently only the preacher has last names) but Hx had it’s usually “Hurh?” moments.


Making the play books took a LONG time, as I had to learn how to use In Design. That said I was still able to cobble together my basic standards of props:

Playbooks: Custom made.
Love letters: Formatted in In Design like the playbooks and sealed with wax (thanks to Karen)
Experience points: Shotgun shells. In the future I’d use some nice poker chips.
Character tents: Also formatted in In Design to match the play books, included bits like Name, look, Hx, Hold and highlighted stats.
Dice: provided but nothing special. In the future I’d like to get some “bones”.
Attire: Thanks to Jack Young and Adan Tejada for dropping off cowboy duds at the Con so I could dress up the part. Pictures coming once I get a hold of them.

The play is the thing

Without going into the specifics of the plot I found that two bits of magic and one semi-dud. Magic happened when two PCs wanted different things out of a situation but respected or feared the other enough to make concessions or when basically hapless NPCs show up with news that complicates life and then struggle desperately not to be fed to the pigs. I had a semi-dud when my warlord came with a show of force making an ultimatum. The results were cool, but the choices began feeling narrower than before and gang level violence erupting felt like a forgone conclusion rather than a desperate option. Perhaps splitting hairs but my warlord didn’t have the oomph I wanted him to bring.

What rocked

PC Relationships is my THING. Especially watching them change, grow and be challenged. I’m not always good at provoking that kind of play, but it’s always what I want. Luckily Apocalypse World is AWESOME at encouraging PC interactions and my group was ALL about it.

Little things really MADE the game. Like the sheriff wrestling the dope dealer off the ledge of a second story balcony into the mud below. Even given the indignity of it all, I never imagined Sheriff Roy flinching. He was just doing his job, messy as it might be.

There were some hard choices, like what do I do with the guy I just kicked so hard in the gut, he isn’t moving anymore? Knowing he worked for the Warlord and he is a new deputy? How much to I let the Sheriff in on what’s going down?

We felt like this game was a great pilot for a campaign. O.C. was killed (VERY killed) and the common understanding was this would bring all manner of hell on the camp. I hadn’t thought to have him die, but as Vincent says, keep your NPCs in the cross hairs.

The relationships between the low status characters (Loyd and Rose) and the high status characters (Al and Roy) were great. Both sets understood their roles and understood that not liking each other had nothing at all to do with how they got along. Very true to the show.

Rose used the move “indulge your vices” at the table, which besides getting her the jingle she needed, drew out one of the other fronts, an NPC making moves on the Gentleman’s establishment. Unexpected and a lot of fun.

What could have improved

I could have done a LOT more with the deputy that got killed by Loyd. Instead of shoe horning in the Doc’s threat (the Sheriff’s wife being raped) I could have had the warlord (who offered up the deputy) demand the Sheriff enforce justice. Everyone saw him kill the deputy in cold blood. O.C Wheelock (the warlord) should have demanded that Roy (the Sheriff) lynch Loyd (the Muscle). That would have been intense!

As mentioned above, my big scene with the posse rolling out felt like playing my hand a bit too soon. Nothing had been done to establish O.C. as any more dangerous than the next cocksucker, so it wasn’t particularly threating when he came around. The good part was the conflict involved all the characters.

Actual Play – Iron Road (7/16/2011)

MC: Scott White
Players: Chris Bennet (Amiette), Matthew Klein (Snow), Karen Twelves (Morrel) and Sean Nittner (Trout).
System: Apocalypse World


Iron Road

Game System: Apocalypse World
Game Master: Scott White
Characters Provided: Created during play
Number of Players: 4 (1 seats open, 0 on waiting list)
You grew up with this train, old rusted hulk in the middle of the old trainyard you call home. The old men kept tinkering with it but when the boiler exploded last year one of your best engineers was almost killed and he took a bunch of your gang with him when he walked out. But hell, that train’s finally almost ready to roll now and just in time cause the fires have been inching closer for months and they’re right on your door. Suddenly plenty of people want on your train… too many. Time to fire this thing up and face the Iron Road. Beginners welcome, system will be taught.

Wait a minute

So you’re reading this an instantly you think, “but wait Sean, didn’t you already play in Scott’s Iron Road game?” Or maybe not. But if you did wonder, yes, I played in it back in October at the the EndGame Minicon in 2010 (AP here:

The reason I got into this game was due to two last minute cancellations taking the game from 4 players down to 2. Chris Bennet and I filled vacant seats. I told Scott in advance that I’d be in the game but not to worry about me “knowing the plot”. I was sure it would go much differently than it did last time…and it did.

Lighting character creation

Character creation went VERY fast in this game. I knew I wanted to play a Hocus. I had been itching to do so for a while. Karen quickly grabbed the Savvy Head (a central figure in the game), Matthew was on the Battlebabe and Bennet chose the Brainer. After that we whipped through our playsheets and were quickly at Hx. This made me pretty happy as it meant more play and less prep.


Scott has added another piece to his props array for the game. Cards printed out on cardstock with these gorgeous faded images on them. One of them includes me from the garb last time I ran “Heart of Darkness”, a particularly sweet nod I thought. The cards were great because it gave us a chance to represent our particular “Look” choices. Some of them, like Morrel (the creepy little girl with haunting eyes) were very disturbing, perfect for the game)

The Fire Eaters

Apparently last time someone played a Hocus they created their own followers and they never really fit into the story. So… just before this game Scott created a cult called the Fire Eaters, which is especially significant because in his setting the Psychic Maelstrom is a fire that has consumed most of the world. I travels above and underground and never stops burning. The threat of the setting was that the fire was coming and our train was the only way out.

The fire eaters weren’t really part of the settlement though, they were outcasts who practiced wacko rituals and liked to destroy things. We had some early incorporation during the Hx that established that Amiette was a member but so weird herself (as brainers are) she was shunned by the others, Trout (my character and their mouth piece) included. Snow (Matthew’s Battlebabe) on the other hand was the object of their desire. They wanted to own him, to make him one of them… and Trout made that her mission as well.

Love Letters

We all had some interesting prompts from the love letters, more than enough to fill up the game and make us want to come back for more when it was over. Scott does a very good job (better than mine) of making all the love letters represent how the same situation (namely the omnipresent threat of the fire as well as the immediate threats of Erie and the scrappers) affects each player differently. When I make another pass at my Dead World game, I’ll be writing mine in the same fashion.

Kick it off with a Riot

The first scene started off with some awesome character interplay. Snow was trapped outside the settlement with a huge crowd all trying to get in the front gates between her and access. Trout was on the wall calling out proclamations about the fire and I tried to have Trout make a powerplay, inciting the crowd to present Snow to me “as one of us”. In a bit of awesome failure (I think I rolled misses (6-) on my first four or five rolls) I not only failed to “save” Snow but ended up on fire myself, shaking the faith that my fire eaters had in me. Much of the rest of the game was spent with Trout trying to win Snow over not to take power any more, but to regain her follower’s faith. It was good stuff throughout.

When Morrell entered the scene she was being dragged off by two goons. Her reaction was violent. She slipped out of one boot and knifed her other captor to get free. After a confusing tussle involving Amiette’s voodoo-esk dolls, both would be captors gave up (one doing so with his brain bits splattered all over the place).
Keeping the Train safe

What initially seemed like a opening salvo (the crowd at the gates demanding entrance) turned into the major event of the game). We united the crowd against a common threat (the armored bulldozer Snow saw on his way back to the settlement) with a promise to offer those that helped in the fight could gain entrance to the settlement. The fight was a fast one, and very one sided, but when we opened the gate, the masses rushed in, far more than we could support. We ended up firing on the masses to scare them off (and kill quite a few in the process). A brutal fight to hold onto our own safety and security, just what an Apocalypse World conflict should look like.

Rise of the Fire Eaters

Eventually the Fire Eaters were united to push out the other scrappers and became the defacto defenders of the camp. This was a pretty unintentional shift in the power dymanic, but made the connections between the characters, particularly Snow (the object of their desire) and Morell (the only one to save us all) much more important in the scheme of things.

And now the sex

The first few conflicts were all on top of each other. One cascading right into the other in a orgy of violence and rapture. After that we elided time a bit, cut through several sex scenes (nearly everyone had sex but due to the nullifying power of the Battlebabe’s special, not too many moves were actually played out. I was kind of disappointed in my answers to Morrell’s questions (which were basically why are you so broken) as they came off a pretty trite. The good news was they results of which felt like great fodder for another game, rather than material to try and shoe horn in now.

Need a part

In the morning we got to the scenario’s primary challenges, how to get the train running. We had a fixing up the train montage (which, I could be getting mixed up but may also have been part of the sex montage) until Morell realized we needed new barrings and the only one who could provide them was a guy named Gully, often called the Waterman

The Watterman

Remember the scene with the cannibal family in Six String Samurai. All inbred with guns and wild eyes. That was Gully’s family (though probably minus the cannibalism, Scott feels that trope is overused). Morell pulled out an awesome save though in created a transceiver that picked up reception through the fires and let Gully talk to his (presumably dead) wife. (Fuck yeah Augury!)

What rocked

The characters were awesome. I loved the tensions between them. Having just played a very friendly relationship with Matthew in the previous game, it was a lot of fun to play a very contested one in this game. I know Karen is playing this very spooky girl (well, AI entity using a spooky girl’s body) in an Eclipse Phase game she plays in and wanted to get the creep factor in. That definitely came across in our game. The spooky girl with giant eyes that everybody NEEDS.

The “Frenzy” move is a crazy powerful one. Enough so I’d be damn scared of a Hocus if I was MCing a game. That said I had SO much fun using it. Even when it missed. I loved it.

An NPC “Ula” gave Amiette a chance to “help” by giving herself over to the fire. 2 Harm (ap) and no immediate result. Not long after the flames leapt up through the concrete to burn our enemies. A very nice touch from the MC and a great way to tie the characters together further.

Getting burned in the first scene meant my character had a lot of crow to eat. But a lot of weird rolls early on allowed Trout to pick up “Divine Armor” which Scott rued would work against convention fire as well, representing how the fires had burned Trout and left her strong for it. I liked it.

Snow’s resistance and self reliance was great. As Matthew said, our two characters just kept pulling on the opposite ends of a rubber band making the tension tighter and tighter.

We got to have sex. Lots of it. Woot. I know, it’s silly of me, but I like games where sex happens, sometimes gratuitously. I think it’s good for the ratings. The fact that Vincent made it a mechanical “move” in the Apocalypse World is pure genius. Bless his soul.

We all walked out of the game with a ton of unresolved issues. What about Trout’s questionable faith? Will Snow embrace the Fire Eaters. Will Amiette join the rest of the settlement? Can Morrell get the train running? If felt like a ripe opportunity to play another game of seven!

What could have improved

The Amiette and Ula thread was interesting but as it only involved one character, was hard for the other players to interact with. It felt separated from everything else. Scott brought the effects in thematically but in terms of role-play, we couldn’t interact.

It seemed liked there were two scenes vying for the “opening” slot. Snow was trying to get into the camp to report his finding while Morell was getting abducted. As they were results of a Love Letter, I can understand how the simultaneous immediacy happened, but I think it would have been better to have staged one after the other so that we could address each one. It felt a little like Morell’s abduction got overshadowed by Snow at the gates when there was no reason to not make them both major events in their own right.

How we were going to address Gully (who had our part) broke a little from the narrative into questions of mechanics and who has the highest “hot”. That translated into some conflicting ideas about how we were going to approach him. Eventually we pushed through bit it was the one hiccup in an otherwise seamless game.

Actual Play – Bright Souls, Dark Alleys (7/16/2011)

GM: Ryan Macklin (though in a tired haze the night before I misspelled it Makclin on the Game Table Tent)
Players: Sean Nittner, Matthew Klein, Morgan Hua, Jon Edwards and Chris Hanrahan.
System: Unknown Armies


Bright Souls, Dark Alleys
Game System: Unknown Armies
Game Master: Ryan F Macklin FTI
Characters Provided: yes, mostly
Power Level: Street-ish
Variations: Streamed down and laser focused, baby
Number of Players: 4
“You know Rhianna? That gal that works over at the diner, busting her as for seven-five and crap tips? Yeah, her. So, last night she starts speaking in tongues and the diner bursts into flames. Plenty of bodies…but not hers. Now gents & lasses, we have ourselves a serious situation. A normal got herself immense power & blew up a building. That needs to be dealt with, so I hired you freelancers. You know the Weird, you’ve seen things that crack minds. Go fix this, or you might be next.”

Why it almost didn’t happen

This game almost didn’t happen for me. Every year at Good Omens Con something goes wonky. Last year it was the shuffler hate, this year it was drop outs. We had a lot of people that at the last minute couldn’t make it. Most of them were cool and told me about it, but a few just didn’t show. As Shepperd Book said, there is a special place in hell for some sins. Despite having a lot of excitement, and having to turn people away when I first opened up sign ups, the morning shift had games that barely went off. One in particular “shot in the chest lol #seriouslysomeonecalladocwagon” hand only 2 of the five players show up. One of them I heard later in the morning session was sick as of the last facebook update, the second is still unexplained, and a third had told me in advance that they couldn’t make the game. I asked Randy how many players he needed to make the game run and he said 3 would do. So…I was a hairs breadth from playing in that game instead. Luckily last minute Cil Taylor showed up and took a spot, ensuring that all the games could run as planned, or at least close to it.

Why it HAD to happen

Much as I like Ryan, I haven’t had the pleasure in playing in many of his games. Ironically it’s the story of the cobblers sons have no shoes. Whenever I see him at cons I refrain from taking a seat in his games under the assumption that we live near each other and so we could game together any time… only we haven’t. Life, distance, gaming groups, you name it, it gets in the way. Anywho, I was listning to this episode of Canon Puncture where Ryan got on and talked about why Unknown Armies was his favorite game ever. For being a pretty old-school, non-indie game I thought this meant a whole lot. It would be one thing if he said Apoc World or Burning Wheel or even Dresden, but to give that credit to a mainstream game meant a lot to me and I listened to the show intently. By the end of the episode I was doing two things. 1) Special ordering a copy of the game from EndGame and 2) telling Ryan he had to run it for me some time, even specifying that I wanted a street level game.

So, in many ways I felt like this game was a special gift to me and I didn’t want to miss it. I’m glad I didn’t.

Ryan wears a lot of hats. Ryan the entertainer, Ryan the game designer, Ryan the critic, Ryan the podcaster, and the most public Ryan Mother Fucking Macklin from the Internet (list not exclusive). One hat that I really like though is Ryan the GM. It’s a tempered and personal Ryan that is very good at shining the spotlight on others and reincorporating their awesome into a larger narrative. Apocalypse World calls the GM the Master of Ceremonies and I think Ryan is just that. He doesn’t just run a game, he MCs it.

The game is the thing

The story itself followed a pretty loose plot that Ryan populated with a kicker to get the action rolling, a few bangs to keep us on the right track and a few complications to allow for some dynamic options at the end. The information presented at the beginning of the game about the organization we worked for (The Toy Chest) turned out to be more complicated than we though and by the end I think all of our characters had some reasons to question our allegiances.

The player character interaction, which is always the big thrill for me in a game, wasn’t the primary focus of the game but it was nevertheless charged, which I like. I’m all about my character having some obstacle to overcome and looking to the other PCs to either complicate or help in that endeavor. In this case it was the very good chance I was going to die due to a few bad choices my character had made. My interactions with everyone but Jon (the occultist) were very satisfying, and that was only because we lacked a place to connect, although we did have one funny near mishap with some pharmaceuticals. In particular Matthew and I (the preacher and the thief) had some nice connection. His character being one to find salvation in the darkest of places and mine being one who very much hoped said salvation could exist.

The end was predictable in that we “won” but less so in the how we did it. Find out for yourself if Ryan runs it again.

What Rocked

  • Ryan’s presentation of what we knew about the universe was great. It felt very Heroes, first season.
  • Silas (my character) and Solomon (Matthew’s) had a great rapport that was a lot of fun to play out.
  • There were two plot arcs in the story which converged over a single point. Those were murky waters to navigate.
  • Ryan made a character specifically for Chris Hanrahan, knowing that he might need to disappear during the game.
  • Ryan’s approach to being disconnected from time was very well done. The past, present and future all merging together in a complex tapestry of NOW.
  • At one point, due to some overconfidence on my part, and some bad rolls, I was starting to feel a little de-protagonized. Not like my character lost significance in the story, just that he was hired because he was supposed to be capable but he was in fact pretty inept. Ryan pulled a move that I really appreciated and gave an NPC a respect for my character that he probably didn’t deserve but nevertheless allowed him to still seem competent.
  • On that same note, Chris offered the same olive branch of accepting that “shit happens” rather than making the somewhat obvious jump to “why are you such a dumbshit?”
  • I think hunches are something that Ryan made up. They were a very welcome addition to a percentile system game (which I’m generally not a fan of) as they added a little bit of the “decide what is important to you” element that I think most percentile games lack.

What could have improved

  • The character sheets started blank and we filled them out. Largely do to the lack of an editable PDF character sheet. THAT IS A TRAVESTY! Not exactly beautiful but better than nothing:
  • There were a couple times when the game threatened to go off the rails (like stealing pants from someone at a bar ala Terminator). It took some work to easy those impulses back into the fiction. Fiction friction.
  • I would have liked more face time with the characters. That is a personal preference of mine though, not something I think every gamer shares. We didn’t have competing needs so there wasn’t a reason to have a relationship beyond cooperation. I’d like to have had either a romance, a dependency, a rivalry, or at least some asynchronous relationships (I like you but you’re worried I’ll be trouble, or I dislike you but I need you, etc). Perhaps that wasn’t in the cards for that game or that group.
  • The characters all had three stimuli (rage, fear and noble) as well as obsession skill that a) is what I thought the characters were “about” and b) did some neat things with the mechanics. I was looking for more of those elements to show up in the story. This is tough one I know, it’s almost like niche protection, but instead of creating a situation for every niche, you need to create one for every facet of each character (which would have been 20 if Ryan had done each stimulus and the obsession for each character). Phew!
  • Though it probably would have made the game take longer, I think we needed more stress tests. There was just a TON on unnatural, violence and self encounters in that game (which is a good thing!)
  • One of the antagonists came off a little high and mighty. I got that he was the voice box for a plot thread but he felt overpowering. It turns out he was bluffing and hoping we would back down, but when the GM presents a character as acting invulnerable, you can’t really tell if that is the GM presenting the “Truth” (caps intentional) or just some schmuck’s line. I wanted to take that guy down a notch, but ended up knocking him right off the ladder by means of a metal-bumper-to-the-head sneak attack. In the narrative it seemed that diplomacy lead us to a stalemate and violence was necessary. I felt a little uneasy initiating that violence.

Though that is a long list on both sides, the improvements are nit picks compared to the strengths. I had a great time in the game.

Actual Play – Sleeping Serpent (7/17/2010) at Good Omens Con 4

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Karen, Loyd, Justin and Xavier
System: Agon

Agon is an action-packed roleplaying game about ancient Greek heroes who face brutal tests from the gods. With bravery, cunning, honor, and strength, one hero will prove to be the greatest and secure immortality in legend.

Agon supports fast-paced, competitive play, with mechanics designed to create an even playing field for players and the game master. Oath-swearing and trash-talking are highly encouraged.

Okay, I’ll finally admit this a month later. I took the entire week off work before Good Omens Con to prepare for both the con itself and my Dresden game. At noon on Friday before the con it finally hit me, CRAP, I’m running TWO games at GO CON! I had an audition game at four in Berkely so I figured I had at least a few hours to prep it. Then I looked at my calendar and was reminded that I had a hotel to tour for Big Bad Con in Pleasanton at 2:30. Which gave me exactly one hour to pack up all my stuff into the car and prep for Agon.

I was SO happy that a) Agon is relatively low prep and b) all my normal props (character tents, power chips with matching portraits, and my Greek Tarot deck) were quick at hand. So I printed off a few more character sheets, crammed it all into a box and raced out.

Then after a day of touring the Four Points by Sheraton and playing in Justin Mitchel’s Iron Kingdom’s game, I schlepped over to my sister in-laws house to finish creating Good Omens dice bags and write the adventure. Thank you, thank you, thank you John Harper for making such an easy adventure creation system in the back of the book. Roll some d12s, keep what you like, chuck the rest and weave it all together. Sure, we’ve got a couple of different communities. Ares wants war, Hermes wants a crown stolen and Artemis wants a hunt. What would each of these establish? That took some thought… and bam! Each of these actions (whichever happens first) will dictate the king or queen of the Island and promote the god that gave them that status to the favored one on the island (god’s are always motivated by self-interest).

As usual I told the heroes that they would have three major objectives but that I left the specifics up to them. In this case they chose to find an oracle, defeat the gorgon and take the crown and then use that to choose a leader to start the war (effectively completing quests given by both Hermes and Ares but only appeasing the latter because they did it in his name).

What rocked

Agon, as always was a ton of fun to run. I take simple tasks like “let’s go talk the oracle” and fill them with cryptic assassins, snakes, spirits, collapsing tunnels and an ornery old hag. It means we’ve got plenty of challenges, lots of strive and tons of glory.

I got players to shout their names. I love that.

Karen was the only player who chose to play a human (not a demi-god) and she had the highest glory at the end, much to the chagrin of the half gods.

I loved having daddy and mommy come down from the heavens to mess with the heroes that weren’t following the. Ah the hubris of man, and how fun it is to smack them upside the head for it.

Lots and lots and lots of smack talk and competition between the heroes.

Openly defying the gods. Loyd took a statue of his mother (Artemis) and used it as target practice with his bow. WOAH!

I was dressed appropriately

What could have been improved

The quests probably would have made a bit more sense of I had thought them out a bit more and not been so rushed.

I kept rolling crazy high. I swear my average roll on 2d8 (keeping only the highest die) was a 7.5. I think it was kind of demoralizing for the players. But on the up side it just meant they spent three weeks in the woods having a drunken bender to recover.

Actual Play – Lockdown (7/17/2010) at Good Omens Con 4

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Teryn, Randy, Elizabeth, Noam, Geoff, and Sam.  Guest starring Chris Hanrahan as Johnny Marcone.
System: Dresden Files

Gentlemen Johnny Marcone has finally been brought to justice. And wouldn’t you know it, over a civil offence! It’s a classic. Never mind that he killed your partner in cold blood and probably caused one sort of hell or another for nearly every cop in the precinct. Tonight he’s in lockup until he can be transferred to a federal penitentiary. You lonely few have nothing else to do but keep the coffee hot, listen to radio chatter, and make sure that under no circumstance, Marcone walks out the front door until the Feds come to pick him up in the morning. He’s the loaded gun.

This was my morning game at Good Omens Con. The game was so much fun to run, I don’t even know where to start. But I’ll try.

An explosive situation: Anyone who knows anything about Dresden will know that Marcone is not a figure that sits behind bars easily. His mere presence will disturb forces political, psychological, criminal and supernatural.

Cool characters: All of the cops in the story had something they really wanted out of this case. To prove themselves, to get revenge for their murdered partner, to see justice done, to get through the last two days on the job, etc. Several of them were corrupt in one way or the other, and it turned out that those two ended up causing as much chaos as any other force in the story.

My Ace in the hole: Well before the game started I had planned to make one of the players be Marcone.  I was warned against this idea though, what if nobody wants to play him or players don’t want inter-PC divisions like that?  I really didn’t want him to be an NPC controlled by me because that would a) take up too much of my brain power and b) make it very hard to differentiate between an extremely powerful character and the GM using my control of the narrative and fate chips to get what I wanted.  It was important that he started the game with 0 fate chips.  Marcone is a monster.  And to do that monster justice I put him in the capable hands of Chris from Endgame.  And man… Chris was awesome.  In the end he walked out of that jail cell without ever going so far as intimidating one of the cops.

Props: Do I love props? Oh my how I love props. Here are some of them:

First, the box the game came in.  Which included all the other props, and was a prop itself:

The obligatory Mag light  and skull full of fate chips (6 pointed badges for the mundane cops, 5 pointed for the not so mundane)

Evidence in bags: Case files, confiscated records, Marcone’s watch, media from years of recording (disks, cds, and a flash drive)

Character Sheets (with options for either gender):

Character “tents”

The chief’s Holy Grail (inside I had an actual print off of a scanned image of  Al Capone’s guilty verdict.

Part of the police chief’s attire for his meeting with the Mayor (after arresting Marcone).  He looked very sharp!

Finally, Sir Not Appearing in this Post also include coffee and donuts, which felt perfect for a cop game in the morning . No picture because we already ate them all!

Amazing players. I was tickled pink when Teryn and Elizabeth both picked the dirty cops and Randy was sitting in between them playing the true believer. It was such good interplay. Also Geoff did an excellent cop bent on revenge. And Noam was so great a playing the underestimated cop who “couldn’t keep criminals behind bars” (his trouble). He actually took the compel to just let Marcone walk free (this was of course after they decided that otherwise everyone in the precinct was going to die, but still). Finally Sam played this great pessimistic old timer who was just aching to get out and get on with his pension.

Compels. I know I saw this all the time, but I think compels are the engine that make Fate/SotC/Dresden run.  They give the GM (and the other players) the power to twist the game in interesting ways that stay true to the world and the characters.  The nearly always eliminate the need for Deus Ex Machina and the weave the characters into the fiction like nothing else.   I say it all the time, but I love compels.

What rocked

I don’t have enough fingers and toes.

What could have improved

I should have done a bit more rules explanation (I jumped in pretty quickly).

We got in a time crunch at the end that forced two encounters into one. It ended up working out a lot like the books (a ton of things happening all at once) but I felt a little on the edge as I was trying to keep three different conflicts all running at the same time.

Actual Play – Into the Wild – Spring 1152 (7/18/2009)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Brent Sturdevant, Jon Edwards, Noam Rosen, and Shaun Hayworth
System: Mouse Guard

I ran my Mouse Guard game (which I had run my play test for a few weeks ago. AP report for that here) at Good Omens Con on Saturday evening.

I had four awesome players in my group. Brent Sturdevant, Jon Edwards, Noam Rosen, and Shaun Hayworth. I had gamed with all but Jon, but as it turned out he is running a Mouse Guard game of his own and so was already familiar with the system and setting. This meant I had all my players pouring a ton of creative energy into the game. As I’ve said many times before, the thing that makes a great game is great players, so I knew I really couldn’t go wrong.

That said, I was pleased with the game but also frustrated by my lack of proficiency with the system. My group needed very little prompting to run with the story and yet if felt that my implementation of the rules reined them in more than it encouraged them to blossom. In the end I think there was too much GM time and not enough player time. I’ll break that down more below.

I’m not going to give a recount of the actual game because frankly, even with the minor frustration above I had a blast running it and I want to run it again. I’m going to review the warm up exercises and then jump right into the pros and cons of the game.


I started by thanking everyone for being in my game and I think for the first time I had a table of players who all thanked me for running it (that was cool). I told them we would be doing some warm up exercises that would help us get into the mood of the setting, learn the rules and establish the back story for our characters.

That last one was really a selling point. In the discussions with Willem and Jason (posted about over here) and on the Myth Weaver’s episode, one thing we all have discusses is player buy in. Sure, you’ve got these great games to get people warmed up for the game but you don’t (as a GM) want to make the pedagogy of play a pain. It should all be part of a whole expereince so that it naturally transitions into the game as published by the author. I took some advice from Willem by starting the game announcing my intent and making sure the players at least tacitly agreed. Most gave me somewhat neutral responses except for Jon who was feverishly taking notes.   I got the impression they were all saying “Cool, lets see where this goes.”


Our first game was Mouseball, derived from an improv and team exercise “Soundball.” We had a little plush Liam that we tossed around spouting off things a mouse would encounter. We did what mice fear, what they like, what they eat but really got rolling when we talked about what mice hide in. The answer was apparently LOTS of places.

Epic Journey

The next game was the Epic Journey describing the trials and tribulations of the old guard (characters who were mentors to the cast of characters played). I read the quote “Send any mouse to the job and it may or may not be done. Ask the Guard to do the task, even death cannot prevent it from completion.” I explained that this has a real “in game” effect that a mouse of the guard never fails to achieve his goals, he just faces complications around the way. I reviewed the twist and condition results and then we got to telling a story.

This introduced a lot of mechanics. One player would draw a mentor to play and the player to his left would draw an obstacle card (Animal, Weather, Wilderness or Mice) and then present an obstacle. Based on the skills I knew the characters had I would tell them what skill to use and what the Obstacle was. We started with a single roll using only traits. Since this roll failed I then introduced a twist. The next roll involved a skills, traits and teamwork and as it failed I introduced a condition. The next roll introduced wises to the mix, etc. With each roll we built on the mechanics and the story of the Mentors.

Group Conflict

I read the motto “It’s not what you fight; it’s what you fight for” and we jumped into a fight that the Epic Journey had been building up to. Fights are the easiest conflicts to explain because the weapons are on the conflict sheet and all the actions make intuitive sense (Attack, Defend, Feint and Manuver). Once the Goals were written and disposition was rolled I asked each character to Narrate a bit of awesomeness that had done, then I did the same for their opponents and then I told everyone to cut their disposition in half, rounded down.

The reason for this is that a) conflicts can go long and I didn’t want to drag this one out, b) I wanted to make sure the players were familiar with making concessions and c) I wanted the “Defend” maneuver to be immediately useful (which is generally isn’t when you are at full disposition). The conflict was bitchen and the results really charted the game from then on. We got more practice using skills, wises, teamwork and traits. We also introduced conflicts, fate, persona and compromises.

I See

Probably my favorite game, though not one that engaged the system much was “I see.” Each player picked a character and then was handed three stickers with traits on them. The player went around the table assigning each other those traits, which were stuck to the character tents for all to see. Why is it that everyone makes Dain the fat one? Hard to say. This process we talk about how the traits could be used to help or impede the mice and what the benefits of that are.


The last exercise was “Accomplishments.” This was probably my least favorite. I gave each mouse a trial they had to face with the aid of a single other mouse. It was really an arbitrary test with the goal of giving them a meaningful challenge to form a belief around.

This introduced beliefs and skill advancement as well as reiterating the olds stuff, plus gave them a chance to earn more player checks by impeding themselves (as they had previously been playing their mentors so we didn’t track the checks they earned). I’ll talk more about this below. It introduced some important things, but of all of the exercises this one felt the most GM directed and exhausting for me. This might work better if I prepare the accomplishments in advance but I’m thinking about dropping this all together.

Then we proceeded to the first GMs turn and the Mouse Guard kicked some butt and took names. Details on this part will be revealed in another post when I finally put this adventure to bed.

What rocked

As I said before my players were awesome. They really brought the game to life and made it a joy to run.

The props were so worth it. I put a ton of energy into preparing them and loved it every time I handed one to a player. I’ll take some pictures of them and then post those up in a separate post.

I started catching on (remember me talking above about lacking proficiency myself) that the cool way for the players to take more narrative control during the GMs turn was for them to earn two checks and then spend them to take an action I hadn’t previously described.

Some of the twists were just a blast to play out. The first one in particular was a lot of fun, I’m glad it came out both in the play test and in the con game.

The finale was not at all what I expected and probably not something that will ever come out again. It was a total blast and felt like the perfect merging of fiction and mechanics, with both of them reinforcing the other.

What could have been improved

In the Epic Journey I encouraged people to use traits to impede themselves but had no good way of rewarding that as we didn’t have a Players Turn following the Epic Journey. Maybe I need to treat the Accomplishments as a Player Turn so as to introduce that as well and reward them for impeding the mentors.  Also, during the Epic Journey I didn’t give an explicit goal for the mission.  I think if I did that it woudl be easier for the players to frame obstacles for each other.

The accomplishment felt oddly out of place. I like the idea of the characters playing themselves as younger mice earning their cloaks, but I want to put it more in their hands. I think next time I will treat it like a Players Turn and let them tell me how they earned their cloak and take a test accordingly. Also, this would give me the option to use twists again to have a second mouse bring in their accomplishment as part of the twist if the first roll is failed. Either way, putting more control in the hands of the players would be good at this state. Much of the rest of the game, I have a very heavy hand.

I had players wanting to do a lot more than the GM turn called for. I mitigated some of this through narratives (“cool, describe how you do that”) that were not tests and then (as pointed out above) figured out that if they really wanted to have a mechanical impact, I would encourage them to build up player checks so they could take the actions they wanted during the GM turn. Still, I did feel that I had to stifle the players some. Some of this follows the conceit of the game; the Guard isn’t free to do as it wishes. Some just felt artificially biding.

Overall, many thanks to the players for making the game so much fun for me to run as well as for your fellow players to be in. As I will probably try to run this at Game on Demand at GenCon please let me know if you have any suggestions for making it better. I’d love to hear them.

Actual Play – I’m an 8 Year Old That Doesn’t Like Mustard and You’re an International Bank Robber? (7/18/2009)

GM: Paul Tevis
Players: Sean Nittner, Justin Evans, Mike Bogan
System: A Penny for My Thoughts

Saturday morning was great in a lot of ways (see my previous post for some of those details). One specific way it kicked butt was that Paul Tevis, author of A Penny for My Thoughts introduced Justin Evans, Mike Bogan and myself to the game and we played a few hours of it.

Part of the genius of this game is in its simplicity. I’d feel bad that my AP report will tell someone all they need to know about how to play the game, but Paul (er Peter) has already done that on the back cover the book… and on his website… and in about fifty other places. So if you read this and think “Awesome, I can totally play that game now.” Sweet. Play it. Just make sure to swing by IPR and drop $15.01 into the kitty jar while you’re at it (which will incidentally give you a whole lot more awesome than I can offer as well).

I’m also going to skimp in a few places because the actual actual play was recorded and Virtual Play style will be cut up into little snippets that along with our follow up discussion will create Narrative Control, episode 35 (arriving in two weeks to an ipod near you).

So, with all that said… here was the recap of, you know, the game we played.

Paul was our Reader. Mostly because I wanted to get some recordings of him, but in truth any of us could have done it.

The Reader starts by telling us that we are all patients in the Orphic Institute and we’ve all lost our memories. We’re going to work together to rebuild those memories and ultimately decide if we want to know who we used to be.

The reader shares the Facts and Reassurances document. A document to set the ground rules for what genre we’ll be playing with. In the default setting we assume the following. The world is the contemporary one we know. We’re not in the future. There are no super powers or supernatural phenomenon. None of us are action heroes. Essentially, we’re all mundane individuals. Yet still we’ve all done something than caused us to lose our memories. The cool thing is that this is just one setting. The book has an alternate sheet in the back for a Bourne Identity spy setting, another for a Cthulhu setting and the website (Orphic Institute) gives ideas for creating your own.

We are also presented with a questionnaire (which like the Facts and Reassurances document, varies based on setting). In our case we were asked to recall one pleasant memory, one unpleasant one and finally what caused us to lose our memories. The format for all three is “When I think of _____ I remember _______”

How we answer those questions is the game itself. We start by all writing down five “Memory Triggers” on separate slips of paper. These can be anything or idea that might evoke a memory. The examples of triggers that were drawn were “The taste of strong mustard”, “The smell of fresh baked cookies”, “Canon in D”, “the sound of a bell tower ringing” and “shouting”. There was a really obnoxiously loud squeaking door to a bathroom right next to us so one that I put in (but wasn’t drawn) was “The sound of our basement door squeaking”. Everyone writes their memory triggers, drops them in a bowl and then the Reader starts off the game by telling us each to take a penny from the jar and say “A Penny for My Thoughts.” Once we all have a penny, he hands his to one person (called the Traveler), who begins a journey that his fellow guides help him with.

I was the first Traveler. I drew a memory trigger out of the bowl and got “The taste of strong mustard”. After that my fellow Guides the other three players asked me questions that I had to answer “Yes, and…” to. This started the memory. After three questions we found out that I was 8 years old at a baseball game with my father his new wife. I had just taken a bite of hot dog but spit it out because the taste of mustard was too strong. I hid it from my step mom because I knew I would get in trouble if she found it, but she caught me and I was grounded. Having nothing but “The taste of strong mustard” and three questions from my Guides, that because the start of my memory. The whole thing was going rather poorly for a while, but eventually ended up with “When I think of the tastes of strong mustard I remember having ‘guy time’ with my dad.”

My memory was very mundane, but it was meaningful to me as a player. My dad died less a year ago and I’ve only recently started processing some of the emotions that come from that. Addressed a father and his son bonding, even though I never went to a baseball game with mine and never had a step mother (they were married until he died), still had a powerful impression on me. I don’t think this is an intentional product of the game, but it was something I took away from it.

The next memory, Justin’s, was shorter. Unlike me (I’m very verbose, if you couldn’t tell) he kept things brief and directed. His memory was baking cookies and deciding to open up a family bakery with his husband. Mike’s was similarly pleasant. He remembered eloping with the woman of his dreams just days before their wedding because he just couldn’t stand to live another day without being married to her. When it came around to Paul though I decided to take the kid gloves off. The other two guides had just asked him questions that placed his memory (of bell towers ringing) as reuniting with a friend he hadn’t seen in years. My question (the one he has to answer “Yes, and…” to) was “Did you chase after her when she started running from the police?” Paul elaborated and quickly we all realized he was an international bank robber. Yeah, good times.

We ended up breaking and then not getting much farther into the game (Mike’s second memory was shouting at his newlywed wife and ending up at the “Donkey Show”) because of time constraints. Afterwards Justin and I did an interview with Paul to talk about the game play that Penny creates and its origins. If you’re interested, stay tuned to Narrative Control as the episode will be coming out soon.

What rocked

The sudden shifts in the game brought the memories to life. I really had no idea what my memory would be about when I read the trigger but by the end it felt very real to me.

Each player can get what they want. Mike was clearly telling starting with a fairytale love story of the woman of his dreams. I (being a character masochist) kept giving him options that would damage or change that relationship but other players picked up on what he wanted and made him offers that fit better with the story he was trying to create. This gives all the players involved tremendous control over the narratives, but always in meaningful ways (i.e. no random aliens coming down, only actions that follow from the last thing that happened).

Playing with a net still feels like playing without the net. During the start of the memory questions like “What that when you were in rehab for your heroin addiction?” or “Was that after you stabbed your mother?” are all fair game. We started by taking baby steps “Did you get caught by your step mother” but graduated to “were you shouting at your wife on your honeymoon” pretty quickly.

The game never leaves you hanging. Sometimes as a Guide it hard to think of what the Traveler should do but you never ask “umm… what do we do now” as I’ve found myself wondering in some games. There are clear steps provided by the Reader and the flow of the story is very natural.

I would love, love, love to run this as a prelude for another game. Spy or Mythos genres would be cool, but I could see it equally in Supers or Fantasy as well. Ooh… I just thought of another. Samurai waking up after the Rain of Blood. Rock. Okay, back on target.

What could have been improved

I wish I was a little more with it. One down side of being so excited about the con is that I was having a hard time focusing. I kept looking up to see how things were going with the other gamers, at the store and with my wife. A couple of the answers that I gave were less than inspired.

I wish we had a little more time to play the game through. As is I had a great time but would have liked to see where all our characters ended up.

Thanks all for playing Penny with me. It was killer.

Good Omens Con 3 – A Rocking Good Con

Good Omens Con was last Saturday. We had 14 games and somewhere around 50 players. Included in that roster was guest GM Carl Rigney who ran Don’t Rest Your Head in two sessions. Also we had the author (Paul Tevis), editor (Ryan Macklin) and photographer (Jeremy Tidwell) of A Penny for My Thoughts there to sign the game.

Put all that together at EndGame (who graciously hosted us) and you should have a rocking good time. For me though, there was something else going on. All the work I had put in to making this con happen had paid off and I felt like I was walking on air that day. Every time I got to see a gamer that I knew who told me a story about what happened in their game, or that I didn’t know and we were introduced for the first time, I felt a little more content, a little happier.

I was watching everyone gaming at one point, seeing faces of people laughing, sniggering, thinking or anticipating and thought THIS is what I was meant to do. I work a 9 to 5 job in IT that pays the bills. It’s not half bad, but it’s not what I love. I’ve been self employed before (for a little over a decade in fact) and I know that it isn’t and easy lifestyle. Work is never done and at the end of the day, you’re always the one on the line if something goes wrong. All that said, I never feel as happy working IT/IS as I do running games and putting events together.

Something that Paul Tevis has said a number of times.  “A lot of people want to have written a book, but don’t want actually write a book.”  I feel that about a lot of things.  Sure I’d like to have written a game, or published a game, or created some great piece or art work but I don’t have any inclinations towards actually doing those things.  What I do love doing is making things happen.  I love the prep, the execution.  I even love the wrap up (breaking down tables and all).

Will I lose my love if I turn it from hobby to career? Maybe, but I doubt it. I know cool people like Fred Hicks and Chris Hanrahan who have forged a career out the gaming industry and still love to play. So for me, Good Omens Con 3 was a great time but it was also a wakeup call. I’ve GOT to do this more than once a year.

Thanks everyone for making the con not only a great success but also a very clear message to me: “Sean! Do what you love!”