GenCon’s Apocalypse World KristaCon Event

I had the privilege of attending GenCon this year. I was a volunteer for Games on Demand and a regular player at Games on Demand.

One of the events that I was eager to join was the Apocalypse World KristaCon-style game, run by Mark Diaz Truman and Travis Scott. Earlier at Origins, my son had the privilege to play in a Dungeon World KristaCon-style event run by Travis and Mark. He had such a fantastic time in their game.

For the uninitiated a KristaCon-style event eschews the convention-style one-shot session in favor of something more involved. In the case of Origins and GenCon’s KristaCon-style events, this meant two GMs coordinating three sessions with many of the same players playing in each session.

The result was a mini-campaign where player characters were moving between tables, building the game over the course of 3 sessions.

Barf Forth Apocalyptica

At the table was Mark, Derrick, and sadly 3 other players whose names slip my memory. I had previously played a very memorable game of Dungeon World with Derrick, Travis, and Mark. Derrick and I had played Apocalypse World before, though no more than a handful of times. The other 3 were new to the game system, but quickly proved up for the task.

Mark kicked things off by having us sketch up a bit of our world. We spent about an hour defining our little piece of civilization at the end of the road. Thank you Derrick for kicking things off with your vivid descriptions; It sets the tone for everything. Everyone remained quite engaged, leaning into the game, ready to give but also eager to hear how other things were going.

I ended up playing Found Spider (Hocus). I was a bit confused early on thinking I was grabbing the Brainer, but it turned out a better fit. I based Found Spider loosely on Pennsetucky from Orange is the New Black. Found Spider was a religious nut job with a following.

Found Spider’s followers were her family, congregating near her. They were hungry, desperate, and diseased. But also dedicated and were a powerful psychic antenna.

Three Sessions in Brief

Over the course of three sessions, I watched the fortunes of Found Spider ebb and flow. In the first session Found Spider was quickly on her heels as one of her followers committed a senseless act of destruction – that desperation tag flared up.

In the second session, Found Spider had only 15 minutes of screen time, but it was so very creepy and defining of Found Spider’s character. In those moments I really grew to understand Found Spider and the lengths she would go to.

Most people may howl at having only 15 minutes in a 3.5 hour game, but I was captivated by what was transpiring amongst the other players and was quite content to hear the story unfold.

The phrase that so very much summed up Found Spider was “A spider web requires something sturdy and permanent as its anchor.” This realization that Found Spider was in fact a team player helped to position Found Spider in session three.

In the third session, Found Spider became the euphoric zealot, driven by love. Mark and Travis had some interesting custom moves for the game, one was related to “doing things out of love”. Found Spider stood beside Chairman Proper, fighting for the coffee shop at the end of the road.

Denoument

The KristaCon-style event provided a framework for seeing Apocalypse World in its best light…a continuing series of sessions, in which characters develop in interesting and unexpected ways.

I went into the game knowing that Found Spider was bat shit crazy, but I didn’t realize how bat shit and desperate Found Spider would actually be; Nor did I know at the outset what Found Spider’s actual driving force was.

One of the challenges was making sure that our table focused on the story and not on digging through playbooks to find our next advancement; We addressed that for session ethree, and things really sang at that point.

After our massive confrontation, Mark closed things out by asking for an epilogue for each of our characters. Found Spider ended up marrying Chairman Proper, changing from a religious nut-job to one driven to create a better place – mechanically speaking Found Spider likely shifted to a Touchstone.

Cthulhu Dark – GenCon 2012 Edition

Cthulhu Dark GenCon 2012

Cthulhu Dark GenCon 2012

Having wrapped up a Dungeon World session and concurrently facilitating two games of Fiasco for Games on Demand, I was ready for playing a game. Fortunately, Terry Romero was recruiting players to join in a session of Graham Walmsley‘s Cthulhu Dark. Stras Acimovic, Ryan Roth, myself, and a native Indianapolis GenCon volunteer with a penchant for 1930s history – her name eludes me.

This was the first Cthulhu RPG that I had played. There was a session or two where a D&D campaign villain had a god of knowledge named Nyarlathotep, but I hardly think that counts.

Bare Metal Cthulhu

Graham Walmsley groks the intersection of Cthulhu and gaming. He even wrote the book on it – Stealing Cthulhu (of which I IndieGoGo-ed). His wonderfully concise Cthulhu Dark distills several important concepts that I believe are integral to a Cthulhu game: Insanity, Investigative success, and you can’t beat the creatures of the Mythos.

The insanity mechanic simultaneously creates an impending sense of doom, a resource you can risk, and a means of abating disaster. But the cold truth is, sanity is fleeting.

The investigative mechanic is simple. If you roll the dice, you will succeed, but the degree of success is uncertain. You can risk your sanity, but that is a precious resource.

And you can’t beat the mythos. No matter the weapons at your disposal, the mythos can kill you if it chooses. But more likely, you will be its play thing.

The game is elegant and simple. A game that so adeptly models the desired play of a Cthulhu scenario.

On to the Con

Our characters were in motion, with common cause. Son, childhood friend, rival, and current friend. Each thrown into a bizarre scenario. Unprepared for what came.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but I will add my observation. Having played several games of Fiasco I found myself ready to embrace catastrophe for my character. In fact, my character made a bee line to Insanity 4 while the others maintained their sanity.

As the scenario played out, I worked hard to determine when my character would be lucid and when his insanity would manifest. Terry kept moving things forward even though I was seeking a bit of self-destruction for my character.

The scenes that stuck out were the paired scenes. First was Stras’ character still technically more sane than my character puffing at pipe on a cliff’s edge. My character approached to calm the doctor down.

Then, as my character slipped further to insanity, I took a cue and had my character puff on a pipe to calm. Stras then reversed our roles from previous scenes, providing succor.

Early on, I decided I was going to write session notes, and use my normal handwriting for moments of lucidity and ever degrading handwriting as the insanity took hold. I now have an artifact that I can keep in memory of a great Cthulhu session in which my character didn’t escape.

Unrelated but Useful

If you are a pen and paper and not on Google+ consider joining, as there are LOTS of us interacting. You may need to do some work up front, but I can assure you there are lots of conversations going on.

Adventures in Adventure Conversion

This year, I’ve signed up to facilitate and/or run at least seven 2-hour time slots for Games on Demand at GenCon.  I’m planning on bringing Hollowpoint, Fiasco, Lady BlackbirdDungeon World, and possibly Durance.

In preparation for Dungeon World, I’m going to bring at least one adventure for a 2 hour time slot.  So this weekend, I began my preparation.

I decided to take this opportunity to review several of my old D&D 1E adventures. For the most part, these are adventures that I have not played in and have only recently acquired – traded for within the last 3 years. I’m likely going to convert one of these adventures.

I thought about going easy, and grabbing MJ Harnish’s conversion of U1 – Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, but decided I do a little work for the community and convert another module.

A1 – Slave Pits of the Undercity

The first adventure I pulled off the shelf was A1 – Slave Pits of the Undercity. It was originally designed for GenCon XIII (1980) tournament play.  I figured that would be a great start for reading.

The first section of the adventure is a very linear dungeon crawl, and felt very inappropriate for Dungeon World.  It was specifically designed for tournament play using D&D; Many of the set pieces were tightly dependent on the D&D rules.

One thing that turned me immediately off was the extremely linear map.  Dungeon World is about playing to find out what happens – exploration.  And plodding through a linear map is the anti-thesis of exploration.

Kingdom of Ghouls – Dungeon Magazine #70

For a brief moment, I flirted with converting this adventure. But quickly realized the scope of the adventure is too grand in scope to properly convey in a 2 hour time slot. That said, I may still consider a micro-conversion.

The challenge for this adventure is that the players are going up against an army of ghouls and need to muster troops to assault the growing plague. With the “War” Kickstarter stretch goal for Dungeon World, I may yet convert this.

T1-T4 Temple of Elemental Evil

I picked this up a month ago, and had yet to read it. I have heard numerous tales of the Moathouse, so I figured I’d give it a read through.

I love it.

It has a narrow-broad-narrow dungeon design, that is to see the front door is easy to find then things open up, but ultimately steer you towards the “exit.” There is room for exploration without loosing site of the final goal.

The random encounters feel very much like the soft moves described in Dungeon World – some are noises in the distances, others are monsters revealed.

There is more than one thing going on within the Moathouse, not quite factions, but certainly a handful of overlapping themes.  Each of the rooms provides

B2 – Keep on the Borderlands

With Wizards of the Coast releasing the Caves of Chaos for the D&D Next playtest, I thought “Well maybe I should spin this through the Dungeon World centrifuge.” For a 2 hour time slot, this looks like there are too many rooms to account for.

Observations

In reading these old modules, it becomes clear that exploration and clever play is at the fore front of earlier incarnations of D&D. The adventures are extremely compact, with little space devoted to each room. D&D 3.5 and 4E adventures change their focus and instead worry about creating “memorable” set pieces – placing monsters and hazards within a room.

Yes those conflicts are memorable, but as a whole can feel disjoint. Contrast this with an older adventure, where the dungeon is the set piece. Implied motion permeates the adventures – random encounters and alerting other areas – and as such the concept of a single room having a combat map is somewhat absurd.

In reading the adventures, it is clear that the adventures reward smart play. If you tip off the monsters that there is a strong force attacking, they flee, taking their treasure with them.  Or if you may choose to carefully explore a tangential place in hopes of grand treasure.  And remember, in older versions of D&D, XP primarily comes from treasure not slain monsters.

Old D&D rewards the “leave no stone unturned, so long as your turn it over carefully” kind of play.  Very different from the slash your way to victory that I have seen in so many later incarnations.

Even the texts of the adventures encourage exploration by the DM. There are subtle environmental cues – a greased door, a barrel of vinegar – that tell a larger story, but only if the DM explores those relations. These old modules have a minimalist approach with subtle flavors and textures.

Postscript

I believe I will be using the “On Set Design” blog post from Hack & Slash’s blog as a template for the conversion.

GenCon Games on Demand – Bulldogs!

Having played Dungeon WorldLady BlackbirdHollowpoint, and the Tower of Gygax, I was a happy convention goer.  On Sunday, we went again through the exhibitors’ hall, hoping to score some good deals.  We did pick up a few boardgames for dirt cheap.

The highlight however, was Jenny saying “We should go to Games on Demand and see about playing another game.”  Almost reluctantly, I followed.  In my head, I think I was wrapping up this year’s GenCon.

We purchased two more generic tickets for the 12pm to 2pm slot.  As it turns out, the creator of Bulldogs!, Brennan Taylor, was going to run an adventure.  Immediately, my spirits perked up.  There would be one last hurrah!

Brennan ran his Jaws of the Barracado scenario.  The scenario was kicked off by with the captain accepting a package that needed to be delivered to a pirate planet…no questions asked.

I’ll skip the scenario details, as I’d rather people play the game than listen to my recounting of the plot.  Instead, I’ll focus on our tables interaction.

Excluding Brennan, we had 6 players at the table.  Two of us had read Bulldogs!, 2 of us had played a Fate game, one of us was a regular role-player, and one of us was a new role-player.  Brennan did an amazing job of providing help and insight for the newer players. He was patient, and I believe did a great job explaining the rules as they came up.

Brennan explained that each of the characters had signed three years of their life away to embark on dangerous cargo deliveries.  Clearly we were a flying hive of scum and villainy.

The table ended up choosing their characters, and I grabbed Gloop, a Tetsuashan systems expert.  The Tetsuashan are a small, slug-like race with the following racial aspects:

Begin Open Game Content

Aspects:

  • Short of Statur, Strong of Will
  • Slug-Like Form
  • Space is Home
  • Omnipresent
  • Fearless
  • Inscrutable

Stunts:

  • Slime Trail – Can walk on walls
  • Squish – Can squeeze body to extremely small size
  • Resilient – recover consequences faster; once per scene may clear away one minor consequence
  • Regenerative Power – can regrow lost limbs
  • Poisoned by Salt – salt inflicts extra stress
  • Reduced Speed – Movement costs more
End Open Game Content

Having practiced lots of Dr. Zoidberg impersonations, I opted to use a modified Zoidberg voice for Gloop.  I also decided he was somewhat petty and a real schemer.

Being the systems expert, Gloop kept the ship warm and humid, much to the chagrin of Prbrawl, a Ryjyllian pilot; The Ryjyllians come from an ice planet.

Gloop reprogrammed the medical robot to be a better meat shield than a doctor and systems expert; After all, having regenerative powers, Gloop didn’t really need a doctor.  And if Gloop wasn’t head and shoulders the best at systems, they might replace him.

The interaction with the other players was fantastic.  Prbrawl, the pilot, was played as a brown nosing second in command to the drunken captain.  This created a wonderful moments, as each of the crew worked to undermine Prbrawl’s self-appointed authority.

By far, this game was my favorite one that I played at Games on Demand. Brennan gently prodded the adventure along.  More importantly, he wisely yielded narrative control to the players our group, as we were clearly enjoying establishing our characters and the relations to other characters, and playing a day in the life of our disfunctional ship.

Burning Wheel Gold – Initial Impressions

While at GenCon, I picked up a copy of Luke Crane’s Burning Wheel Gold, an update to the Burning Wheel Revised.  Mercifully, the changes do not invalidate existing material. Here’s looking at you Dungeons and Dragons.

Changes that are immediately evident upon a quick read:

  • Perception is no longer open-ended.
  • No more moving quietly within Circles.
  • Minor lifepath tweaks (i.e. Young Lady can become a Physician, Song Singer gains Vocal character trait, etc.)
  • Bleeding from wounds is now based on scene economy instead of elapsed time.
  • Mounted combat has promoted from a wiki page download to core rules.
  • Armor tweaks to create a more linear progression (I believe these changes were in the Adventure Burner).
  • Resources can now be “banked”; You can make a resource test to generate a bag of gold to give you one time bonuses to resource tests. (Ob. 2 test yields +1D, Ob. 4 test yields +2D, etc.).
  • Sorcery brought inline with other skills.
  • Minor adjustments to Fight maneuvers.
  • Expanded Range and Cover to bring it inline with Fight! and Duel of Wits.
  • Reworking of the Fight! positioning mechanic.
  • Better explanation of Surprise and Ambush for Fight!
  • It is now a gorgeous hardback that still costs $25.  Seriously.
  • More clarity.  (i.e. Each skill has a schedule of suggested Ob. Racial resources have more description.)

I assume there may well be other tweaks, but I haven’t yet noticed them.

What has me particularly excited is the streamlined Fight! mechanic.

Sidebar: For the uninitiated, Burning Wheel’s Fight mechanic requires the combat participants to secretly and simultaneously script a few actions during a combat exchange.  As Luke Crane explained in his Fear the Boot interview, the purpose of this mechanic is to simulate the utter chaos of combat.

The streamlined Fight mechanic removes the scripting of position for each volley of an exchange.

Instead, before the first exchange, combatants make positioning tests.  With the tests resolved, characters are either engaged with a combatant or disengaged.  Disengaged combatants have the privilege of not being poked and stabbed by other combatants for the entire exchange.

Before each subsequent exchange, players vie position.  This time you may either attempt to disengage from your attacker(s) or improve your position against them.  Having not played this new mechanic, it would appear to solve the challenge of multiple combatants (you are either engaged with a combatant or disengaged).

I’m certain when next I run Burning Wheel Gold I’ll have questions about the Fight mechanic.  However, this does not detract from the improvements that Luke Crane and BWHQ have made.

GenCon Games on Demand – Dungeon World

After our Lady Blackbird session, Jenny left to prepare for a client interview for her freelance writing. I stayed on to join a Dungeon World game run by Jason Morningstar, creator Fiasco.

Having just played Snargle and Gobbo, I elected to play a dwarf fighter.  As I was making my character (a 3 minute ordeal), I paused to think about his alignment.

The options were:

  • Good – When you defend those weaker than you mark XP.
  • Neutral – When you defeat a worthy opponent mark XP.
  • Evil – When you kill a defenseless or surrendered enemy mark XP.

Dungeon World rewards my character’s development if he adheres to his alignment.  Awesome!  I elected to make my dwarf fighter good, figuring that I’d be defending the halfling rogue and elf wizard.

We finished up the character creation by selecting my character’s bonds.  Below are the character’s bonds that I filled out.

  •  _______________ owes me their life, whether they admit it or not.
  • I have sworn to protect _______________.
  • I worry about the ability of _______________ to survive in the dungeon.
  • _______________ is soft, but I will make them hard like me.

With the bonds set, and the other player’s highlighted my character’s Strength and Dexterity.  This turned out to work rather well.  First, my fighter was going to make lots of Strength based moves.

Second, every time I would Dey Danger to charge in and get in the fray, I would mark XP.  And finally, if I chose the Defend move to save another character’s skin, I also gained XP.

In combat, my character quickly marked XP, and as per Jason Morningstar’s house rule, after 5 XP, I gained a level.  This is contrary to the rules as written of after 10 XP times your level (i.e. 10 at 1st, 20 at 2nd, 30 at 3rd) gain a level.  Jason said that in short games, he prefers to bee-line advancement.

Observations

Dungeon World, and it’s fore-bearer Apocalypse World, were immediately awesome.  I could see the value of the moves and keeping the dice out of the hand of the game master.  However, the finer points of running a conflict were just outside of my initial comprehension.  But once Jason began our first battle, things really started to click.

We eschewed detailed maps, instead focusing on hastily drawn rooms and approximate location.  Instead of showing the goblins that were flanking the wizard, the game master informed the player that his wizard was flanked because the wizard’s previous failed move.

Another excellent component of the game is that there is no need to worry about rolling for initiative.  If the players are dawdling, it is the GMs job to make a move from their list.  Otherwise, the first person to “do it”, “does it.”  Which means if I say “I’m charging the goblin” then my character is in fact charging in, before anyone else might even respond.

This works because Dungeon World instructs the Game Master to only make moves when the players aren’t acting OR when the players fail one of their moves.

In the example of charging the goblin, the Game Master must wait for the results of my Hack and Slash move.  If it was successful, I do my damage, and the goblin does nothing else.  If I fail my move, the goblin does damage.  Given the probabilities, I am likely to have a partial success in which I do my damage and the goblin does it’s damage.

I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Dungeon World.  Dungeon World is most definitely on the short list of games that I will run for one-shot dungeon crawls.  I think it will also be a wonderful game for longer term play.  We’ll see.

GenCon Games on Demand – Lady Blackbird

Friday of GenCon, I was itching to get back to Games on Demand to play a couple of different games.  When I arrived, I was again greeted by Steve Segedy.

I asked Steve what the game options were, and he said it looked like there was a Lady Blackbird game about to start, though they only had 3 players.  So I eagerly grabbed Jenny’s hand and we joined the table.

I ended up playing Snargle, the goblin sky-sailor and pilot.  The one with the trait of Goblin, and tags of Warp shape, Glide, Nightvision, Agile, Quick, Tumbler, Teeth & Claws.  Needless to say I was very excited with this development.

While everyone else had their conflicting agendas, Snargle simply wanted to charge into danger so he could quickly get back to flying Snargle’s…I mean the captain’s…sky ship.

The whole session was full of lots of great role-playing moments as Snargle continuously defied danger by drawing fire to get the guards to shoot out the grappling mechanism; Clawing his way through guards to get to the warning station before the other guard could sound the alarm; Diving from the Hand of Sorrow to try to get aboard his now sinking airship.

Heeding Fear the Boot’s advice, I’m going to skip over the details of those stories. Instead I’ll write my observations about Lady Blackbird.  If you haven’t already read Ryan Macklin’s post about Lady Blackbird and Implied Setting, please do so now.  Are you done?  Good.  Because Ryan’s article sums it up so very well.

John Harper’s Lady Blackbird is a masterpiece.  It is immediately playable and immediately accessible.  I had everything I needed for play on my character sheet.  I could glance at my character and quickly see what made him tick.

One thing of note, Lady Blackbird isn’t about cool combat sequences and tactical encounters, but is very much a “Play to see what happens” kind of game.  As such it is firmly in the narrative game system camp.