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Benjamin Terry
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It's nice to see evidence of continuing fandom for White Wolf's old Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game. Also, that anyone is enjoying SF:20!

GenCon Round-up 2014

Yesterday I got back from my trip to GenCon and I managed to play a decent amount of games. Games On Demand made this awesome and simple for me. Some of my friends expressed frustration with the Games on Demand set-up because they had certain games they wanted to play in particular and slots would fill up on them. I also think everyone else felt the need to stick together and play the same game as everyone else who'd come, but I had a broad array of games I was happy to try out or take a chance on something unknown, on my own. Anyway, here is a review of my gaming, from my least to most favorite of the sessions!

#8 - No Country for Old Kobolds

No Country for Old Kobolds is one of those Apocalypse World system based games. This one focuses on the plight of a village of Kobolds who suffer under the stress from adventurers and surrounding kingdoms. You need to protect and grow your village while going out into surrounding kingdoms to satisfy the needs or relieve the pressures on your community.

I played this one in a 4 hour slot with the whole bunch of my friends that went down. I have to say it really didn't work well for me. The main thing is that, at least as it was played, it felt like a mechanical game, almost to a board game level rather than being very RPG-like. The role playing space is "You're a put upon generic D&D Kobold", which isn't a space I'm likely to have a lot of fun in for long.

The other thing about all of the Apocalypse World based systems is that it seems like Apocalypse World has some decent enough character types and moves designed to push hard dramatic character choices and story game style role playing content, but most of these variants are not doing that thing at all. Like I said, this game was very structured and board game-like. I think the mechanics for Apocalypse World make for very boring board game rules. While we role-played up our encounters a bit to keep the interest, the cycle was basically:

1. Your village is in trouble, you need stuff. Which stuff do you want to get?
2. Go to the place with the stuff. Roll 2d6 using your abilities to get the stuff and kill/be killed by opposition (and maybe that kingdom's champion).
3. Returning Kobolds may spend experience to help the village. A new generation of Kobolds replaces those that were killed in the last raid.
(Goto 1, until you all die or get tired of the game)

I think we ran through that cycle about 5 or 6 times before our village eventually met its demise.

#7 - Dungeons & Dragons

Here, we all decided to play one of the demo games of the new Dungeons & Dragons. So far I am really liking the new D&D, but this session was a short one hour deal that was part of an adventure path. It almost isn't fair for me to rate this session, because 1 hour is a pretty short time. While I can enjoy me some D&D, generic gamer fantasy is kind of my least favorite genre. There are a litany of tropes and fights and some leveling up.

This session basically amounted to "Here is a generic 'Stranger in an tavern offers you a job' intro. Take the job, there is a double cross, your minis fight on a map using the rules of this new D&D". Towards the end, the DM kind of took over and made everything we were doing more "bad-ass" than it really was to finish on a hollow high note. I think we burned down a barn. It was an OK demo with a sub-standard but not awful DM and gave a taste of D&D.

#6 - Danger Patrol

Danger Patrol aims to recreate the feel of an early pulp sci-fi serial. There are a couple different play-test versions of the rules available on PDF, and the version we played had simple character creation that started in a form I like. It was one of those "Choose something from Column A, combine with something from Column B" deals that isn't unlike the most recent Gamma World or Numenera. After that, there are only a few dice types to assign to some stats and you are off. I ended up playing this with a totally unknown group and played a "Ghost Explorer" though you can end up with combos like "Two-Fisted Professor" or "Robot Commando".

The session proper starts with a player stating a sentence of what happened in last week's episode, followed by each player contributing a sentence until all have. That sets the stage for the current scenario, which also helps the GM establish some beginning threats the players need to deal with. As players deal with the threats in wacky high adventure ways, failure can lead to the introduction of new threats. Threats can also have timers on them that must be dealt with before they go off or else it can lead to more trouble for the party. Overall I liked this game. It is one of those games that are collaborative with the fiction, in that other players can contribute danger to other players' tests, which often means they are contributing new elements to the fiction. The key to how well this works comes down to how much the players are on the same wavelength and the introduced elements actually feel like they are there to make the scenario more interesting rather than something that barely fits the fiction but is just being introduced so a player has another Danger Die to add to a test. In the session I played there were about half narratively cool, half "I guess that's worth a Danger Die" feeling element introductions, which isn't too bad for a group of people who don't know each other and don't have experience with the game.

My Ghost Explorer talked with a goofy "Boo... I'm a ghost" voice and the GM was pretty cool. Danger Patrol is the first on my list I'd say was definitely an alright time!

#5 - Numenera

Here is another game I played with the full group I went down with. Numenera is a... I suppose post-apocalypse/weird sci-fi/fantasy game. The game itself is beautiful and all of the books are high quality. Also, the monsters and baddies are satisfyingly weird and messed up in a fun way. I could see using this game to play a wide variety of games, from something as silly as He-Man, to some weird scenario from a Heavy Metal magazine comic, to something Samurai Jack-like. It even has a decent resemblance to the most recent Gamma World in that you have a "Choose a class, choose a template: there is your character!" character creation element combined with characters having a variety of weird tech they come across that is not unlike the weird tech you come across on cards in Gamma World.

I am somewhat undecided on the mechanics. Most of the resolution involves you rolling a d20, perhaps getting some +3s due to applicable skills or equipment, then deciding if you wish to expend effort on your task. You have (I seem to recall) Might, Speed and Intellect pools from which you can draw effort. Your character can have edge where it costs them less to expend effort from one or more pools in relation to the others. Expending effort pulls down the same pool as your opposition attacks, so expending effort has to be done tactically so that you don't weaken yourself so much that you can't deal with your opposition scoring victory on you. You can recover spent effort through some resting for a short (then progressively longer and longer) time. I really like the character creation and the setting, but I'd need more time with the mechanics to know for sure how I feel about the resource management and tactical aspects and how cool or potentially annoying they were. Given how cool the setting and character creation are, however, I am pretty interested in finding out how those rules play after spending some more sessions with them.

The scenario itself was decent. The GM was surprisingly new to role playing. He had come to GenCon last year playing other games and was introduced to role playing. He didn't have anyone local who would run, so he started playing online Skype games and got into GMing there. In fact, we were the first group he had ever played with in person! Given that fact, he did an exceptionally good job. We were sent to investigate a city that convoys had stopped arriving from to see if something was wrong. When we got there (after an encounter on the way) we saw that everyone in the city was acting a bit mind controlled. After some cool visuals and exploring of this ghostly city full of zombie-like mind controlled people we entered a sci-fi factory complex the people were bring materials to. Eventually we discover they are bringing materials to generate large amounts of power, and come across some mind controlled priests excavating this... titanically giant creature? that looks like Galactus with a giant fishbowl head that contains a "City of the Future" inside it. We ended up in a decent fight against some Tron-like holographic baddies that then merged into a stronger baddie, got to deal with being surrounded by a city full of mind controlled folks, and eventually made it out alive. It was a good time. 

#4 - Trash Planet

Wormholes have been discovered that lead to beautiful new planets! All of the rich people left Earth and nearby planets behind and you are the poor saps left on what is now a Trash Planet. This game (or at least the GM) really kept a focus on just how poor you were (aside from owning a barely functional spacecraft). It was a dark comedy tone. Reading up online, it looks like the GM (who goes by the name of Shoe Skogen or Shoepixie) is actually the gal who wrote the game.

The character creation and overall mechanics are pretty easy and are card based. Honestly, I can barely remember the mechanics, as it felt like they were just a little bit of something gamey in the background that kept the story moving forward. The game had some dark stuff in it like a poor guy who was only a torso because cannibals had removed each of his limbs and ate them like some messed up Nazi experiment, and roofies were involved... etc. On the other hand, as dark as it was, the NPCs were either... like goofy petulant kids or very polite people/rats/etc. with a kind of British hospitality? Also, while being a planet full of trash, it felt like all of the creatures were friendly (if dangerous) puppets in an 80s Jim Henson movie. Tonally, in the end my character lost a limb and it was my head. When another player asked if my head was alive, she looked at me and shrugged like, "It's up to you man. Wanna be a talking head?" So, it was silly and fun. While the tone could have gone wrong, the GM was pretty good about making sure we were OK with her tossing date rape drugs and amputation into the mix... and the players were all decent. More than the mechanics or the game itself, I think it was just the combo of GMing and players that made this session work for me. It's actually pretty hard to convey the details, but it was nice.

#3 - Dungeons & Dragons

This time it was our hotel room. Andrew's friend Allison came as well so there were 6 of us (including Andrew) playing an Andrew run session. The scenario was set in a mash up of an old "Broken Lands" setting Andrew and my friend Rich had used for some 3.5 D&D along with a current setting we are using for an ACKS and RuneQuest 6 campaign. We made up some 5th level characters with our new Players Handbooks and went out looking for the Maguffin on an Atlantean Isle.

The fun in this game was that it was nice and relaxing back at the hotel. Also, we got to play with and explore more of the new mechanics in a stress free way. There was also a lot of comedy and insider joking fun we had. I played a Lizard Man fighter who smashed shit convincingly and reliably. Dragonborn is an awful race, but if you do a mental search and replace with "Lizard Man" they are totally cool again. We decided that "Dragonborn" was a racial slur and shamed anyone who would use it.

In many ways this was a standard D&D game I think, but the Atlantean Isle... and dinosaurs, and Lizard Men and jungle wizard's tower with a giant zombie lizard inside gave it all a fresh Sword and Sorcery vibe and it is just fun to role play with your friends in a relaxing environment outside the Con.

#2 - Leverage

As I'm sure most people know, Leverage is an RPG based upon a show called... Leverage. Apparently it is (was) a heist or "A-Team saves the day for some people in trouble" kind of show I have sadly never seen. The character types and game structure are closely modeled on the structure of the show itself. I'm pretty sure there is a "Let's Play" type video Wil Wheaton made of this game on his one gamer show he does.

Games like this feel different from the more standard RPGs, so I always feel like I need to play them a few times to get good at making the magic they are designed for happen with them. Fortunately, I chose to play a Face character, so I was able to keep things moving and had a lot of influence on how things went down. The GM was great, and he used the new HBO show "Silicon Valley" as a basis for the scenario. His RPing of people from that show was pretty spot on, and having seen some episodes myself I knew how to get in the zone. The story is that the sad main character from the show had his brilliant start up idea (Pied Piper media compression) stolen from him by the guy who runs this ridiculous company called Huli, with all of the funny overblown start-up/TED Talk/Silicon Valley apps/geek culture vibes going on. As part of my scheming I went into Huli to have an appointment with the guy as a representative from Google Ventures, and we had this great back and forth where the guy knew Larry Page and Sergy Brin, and I was calling him on his bullshit because Larry Page told me he'd try these tactics and so on.

When Huli went to demo their new (stolen) product at TechCrunch, we made sure it all went wrong, and somehow cops and the FBI got involved, and the highlight scene was the feds pulling this guy off stage as he screams out "Larry!" as if Larry Page had somehow screwed him again. I swear, as the scenario wrapped up all I could hear in my head was the music from "Curb Your Enthusiasm" as I pictured Larry Page from Google with a shit eating grin on his face somewhere in the crowd, this unlikely stream of events involving people he didn't know once again leading to his inevitable satisfaction. The whole thing was like a perfect television show episode. Top marks to the GM, and the Hacker player was pretty good too. The Mastermind and Hitter also had some good stuff that contributed to the crazy conclusion.

#1 - Dirty World

Dirty World is a One Roll Engine game (that I believe was introduced in Godlike), which aims to recreate the vibe of film noir stories. I think the game works best when players are at slightly cross purposes and are working each others outlooks against each other. I think it could lead to some cool story game type character development. In this case, however, we were 2 players and the GM and we fully cooperated. Regardless... the other player was a guy that looked kinda like a Michael Madsen or Chris Penn in Mulholland Falls but cooler and 20 times more Noir. He played a Detective with a dirty past, and I was the Rookie Cop on the force that was a good kid but had a secret of his own.

We played this case involving some dirty cops, a sexually assaulted nun, an idealistic commie, a nurse and some trumped up drug charges. Basically, the Detective was hired by a concerned grandmother who's son had gotten locked up (the commie), and it led into this whole dirty scenario. The tone was just perfect and noir as hell. The GM cooked up a great scenario, but it was the other player that made this one magic. I think the GM and I were just trying to keep up with all of the greatness this guy was throwing around.

I love when a game comes out with great role playing and makes you feel like you were a part of a cool movie after it all wraps up. Both Leverage and Dirty World did this for me, but the Dirty World game won the Con for me. 

Conclusion -

So, that was how gaming at GenCon went down for me. In addition to dealer's hall browsing and enjoying the company of friends, I also got into a couple Panel Discussions.

The first was on World Building to fit a story. There were large parts of this panel that didn't have much interesting to say, but then Bill Willingham (the creator of the comic book series "Fables") opened up and he had some good ideas to toss around, and everyone on the panel was able launch off from what he had to say to close out the panel on a good note. Also, the moderator was very good and she managed to get the session wrapped up well so people could get to their next events.

The other discussion was regarding Feng Shui 2 with Robin Laws. It was great, and I managed to ask Robin Laws a couple questions which he nicely answered, and we got to see some layout of pages and art and an update on the game. It is going to be on Kickstarter on September 17th and I am definitely in!

Yay, GenCon!

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