Gen Con 2013

I don’t have a lot of time to recover as I have a business trip, so I’m going to be less coherent than usual.

Redeye to Indy gets cancelled.  Get on more normal time flight … on other airline.  Amazingly, luggage is there.  No other logistical issues.

Though, room was small and not so great for other reasons.  Don’t want small when have four people in room.  Will try harder to book a double, next year.

Thursday 9AM

HoR3.  Glimpse Beyond gets replaced with Your Heart’s Enemy.  At first, Chris, Mike, Andy, and I all at same table.  Chris and Andy pulled off for second table.  The question is whether to avoid spoilers or not.  I guess I can since the actual goings ons in the mod weren’t all that.  My HoR2 main would have been all over what we end up doing.  But, it wasn’t a bad fit problem, it was more a too much to do problem.  Wasn’t opportunity to have a lot of amusing things happen, we ran an hour over the time slot, and we didn’t really play things out completely because of the time.

It also had awful rewards.  It reminded me so much of part four of Shipping Lanes from HoR2 – great idea, set up for an interactive, terrible payoff.  Now, this was much better in terms of the stuff you get to do, but the mod seemed hell bent on trying to punish you.

Thursday 2PM

One of the issues this year for me was that I had a very tight schedule, having 11 games in the “eleven slots” – morning/afternoon/evening Thursday/Friday/Saturday, morning/noon Sunday.  I was going to hit the exhibit hall after the morning game, but, instead, was rushing to my 2PM, which I was 15 minutes late for.

I found the GM.  Nobody else showed up.  But, two of the GM’s friends filled out a table of Gods & Heroes.  Not sure what the official name is, but it’s the same game I played the two years previous.  The concept is that all mythologies share common features of challenges, character archetypes, etc.  You can easily reskin the game.  So, two years ago, it was Greek Mythology, last year, Norse, this year, Indian.

Now, each game was completely different.  The Greek game was wild (and the best).  The Norse game was far more dour.  This session was just silly.  Indian elements were sparse.  And, I think that’s a problem of embracing the reskinning idea too strongly.  I really wanted to play this to see what an Indian Mythology game would be like, not to be shown how you can play the same mechanics in a vaguely Indian setting.

I’ve also grown less enchanted with the mechanics.  Legend Points are too sparse, in that you get one for the whole session unless you can activate your fatal flaw.  I like playing the Cunning Hero, not just because I like trying to be cunning, but because the Cunning Hero gets a good number of skills.  I played the Wise Hero for the first time, and, while I could do magic, I felt skill deprived.

Why was this silly?

We start out with the Ganges drying up and the Raja or Sultan or whoever wanting heroes to go fix the problem.  So, two NPCs present themselves.  We try to argue for us being deserving of the honor by having our Strong Hero face their Strong Hero.  Ours loses.  We follow the other two hoping they face all of the difficulties for us and I detect the Monsoon (“The Storm”) coming, so we head for shelter.  We end up at an idyllic castle with only a mother and daughter and a husband who is out.  Our Strong Hero is an incredible lech, so he keeps trying to make moves on the women, only to discover that the mother is a witch who takes the form of one of the demonic statues out front.  Our Fast Hero discovers the daughter is a witch.  I mostly help the Fast Hero – electrocuting the daughter with a lightning bolt, for instance.  We loot the place and flee before the father shows up.

We camp in some ruins where a monkish dude is dicing with a rakshasa.  We convince the monk that the rakshasa is cheating and they both disappear.  We take some god money as it’s obvious the monk is Ganesh.  We find out that a rakshasa prince is drinking the Ganges, and the way to take him out is to be purified, so we go looking for a temple.  Ka (sp?), the talking snake, talks to us, offering a deal to give the location of a temple in a lake for helping it get some treasure from the Garuda “people” (bird people).  We sort of agree and climb up the tree to the Garuda village.  Ka goes for their eggs when I was promised gold and stuff, so we turn on Ka.  After the Fast Hero gets some coals down his throat, he dies, and we are Garuda buddies.  Our Strong Hero tries to have intimate relations with one of the birdfolk, and we are flown to the temple.

The other two burned the boats to prevent us from following, but that didn’t stop flight.  We fight them in a very, very long fight.  Realizing they are the actual heroes and we are the ones who will write history, we chase down the fleeing Wise Hero of their party and torture and murder him.  Then, because it’s why we were here, we get purified by the priest.  We head off to the rakshasa prince and take him out, with me finishing him off with a holy rock.  Ganesh appears to explain that he lost a bet on ownership of the Ganges due to his gambling problem and we take the bones of the rakshasa back to make a shrine that will improve our fortunes.  By the by, the Strong Hero used a Legend Point in this fight for a very not suitable for children or non-perverts attack on the rakshasa prince.

Amusing but not as compelling.

Thursday 8PM

Before this game, I actually have 45 minutes or so to hit the exhibit hall, which is the only time I ever spend in it.  I bought nothing at Gen Con.

I’m also already fading as I slept like crap the night before, a consistent problem.

This game ends up being Kuro, a Cubicle 7 game.  Cubicle 7 takes French RPGs and translates them into English.  Kuro is modern Japanese supernatural horror.  Being tired, I’d prefer to play either the male model or the salaryman, but two others want to play them, so I end up with a role more suited for when I’m in a more regular state of mind – 17 year old schoolgirl.

Along with a detective, we all end up on a bus.  I miss my stop because “OMG, Sho-kun!!” is on board.  We all end up in a cemetery, then in a pocket dimension.  Takes us a while to start exploring as the detective is all like “this is weird”, which I never understand.  Look, either the weird world you are in is real or it’s fake (dream, nightmare, drugs, whatever).  Either way, why would you act differently?  I got incredibly tired of Jon-Tom Merriweather and Thomas Covenant going on and on in their books about how the world wasn’t real.  So what?  Either way, be awesome!  Don’t waste your time being a curmudgeon.

We start exploring and realize technology won’t help much and that there’s this daughter who committed suicide and the bus driver was her father, who got murdered by locals because the locals thought he was molesting her.  Feral dogs live in a market.  We end up at a warehouse where a bunch of victims of an oni (because I can’t escape Japaneseness) are sealed up.  We let them loose and put a salt ring around us.  They are zombielike.  We are trappedlike.  One thing my character is awesome at is running and dodging, so I sprint out of our circle to distract them so that the rest of the party can do stuff to get us out of oniworld.

That works well.  I run by the market calling out “meow, meow” to get the dogs to attack the “zombies”.  The others get the daughter’s body and put her on the bus, which means her father can drive us out of here.  Except, the detective is rear guarding and gets swarmed.  I run over and try a kick to a knee and get grabbed.  Detective facepunches that one and tells me to run.  So, I hit the bus.

The Salaryman happened to be a Shinto expert, which is the only reason we have an idea of what’s going on or how to solve the problem.  He’s praying in the bus, so I start praying.  Sho, the adorable cuteness, stops propping the bus door open when the detective gets his jaw ripped off, and we start moving.  Oni pulls out katana and swings at the bus.  Salaryman and I do not roll well on our praying rolls, so the GM gives the other player an option.  He can either get killed by the oni or he can drag me in front of him.  He goes with the latter, and I get half-decapitated.

Sho and Salaryman escape.  What was particularly amusing about this ending was that I kept trying to hook up with Sho but Sho kept touching the Salaryman for various reasons, so it was a true happy ending.  Western audiences kind of hated it, though, what with the virgin getting slaughtered.

Sadly, in the interest of brevity, I can’t go into all of the jokes about my trying to figure out ways to make myself more appealing to Sho.

Friday 9AM

Back to HoR.  One Will Fall.  I let the table know I have a game at 1PM, so we try to move relatively quickly.  Solid experience.  Chris played at my table and he got the most exciting stuff of jumping over the front line in combat to go after a shugenja only to get Strike at the Rootsed … and never hit again.  Still kind of weak rewards but not the hose job for how we played it.

What was interesting was that three of the people playing were players I would play the Battle Interactive with, so it was good prep.

We finished just at 1PM, so I had to rush over to the other hotel, again.  I really hate the JW Marriott because of its location.  Everything else about it is nice, I heard the food is good, not that I ever have time to check that out, but it’s so inconvenient.

Friday 1PM

Psalms of Atlantis is a game that the GM is writing.  It’s ancient Greece as part of Atlantis.  I was an extra player by the time I arrived, so two of us had similar abilities.  Mechanics were offputting and stuff that I would have found more interesting – use of astrological signs, for instance – didn’t figure that prominently.

The plot was that our diverse group – couple Athenai, Spartan, Ephyrean, Kadmiean, Kadmiean fearer – were gathered together by a priest of Athena (Olympian Gods disappeared 30 years prior) to investigate disappearances.  The Cult of Morpheus was suspected, but I couldn’t figure out why.  By that, I mean, in character, I asked why they were suspected.  Other than the cult “infiltrating” and being “nefarious”, I never found out what they had actually done to be considered nefarious or suspect.

We talk to some folks who know the people who disappeared.  Kadmiean and his women (the two female PCs) hang with other Kadmieans, well known disreputable sorts.  We all converge on an alley, where we get ambushed and the rest of our party ambushes the ambushers.  We win easily, with my never attacking anyone.  We get clues that lead us to a private spa.  We hang there for a bit.  Guy who pretends to be retired magistrate gives us info to find the secret dream entrance where we don’t have enough time to fight the minotaur.  We free folks.  Guy turned out to be a thief.

I talked to the GM a bit about his game.  This was one of two games I most wanted to sign up for.  I liked the setting.  The mechanics were just kind of awkward.  It didn’t help that characters get much more competent and we were playing newbs.

Friday 8PM

Big break, not that that helped me much.  Really could have used a nap, but I was too lazy to go from the HoR area to my hotel.

Qin, The Warring States.  Same GM for the other Cubicle 7 game.  Same couple of players from the night before.  Same situation of one of the players wanting to play the same character I did.  I commented on it after the game as I thought it was so funny to find someone with such similar tastes in games and character types.

Once I realized this was going to be Qin (I prereg so far in advance of the con, I don’t remember what I signed up for), I was quite interested in this, as I actually own Qin but couldn’t get a feel for the mechanics from reading it.  The mechanics seem okay, with a clear exception.  Two of us had dice manipulation abilities, and they seemed horribly broken.  I didn’t need to use them, but the other guy (playing the only female character pretending to be a guy) used them all of the time because 1 Chi for a power is cheap.  He created tons of crits and the flip a positive result into a negative result is crazy swingy.

I played an alchemist.  The others were badass martial artists.  I was the healer.  I got off a decent joke early to our boss, not the humorous sort.  We set out to get his bride with a bunch of tribute.  We knew we would pass the bamboo forest, where bandits lived, so we knew we would face the bandits and their leader, Yellow Crow.  Knowing that, I suggested we try to pretend our tribute caravan was a trap, leading to the situation of being essentially a trap since we are heroic level martial artists that is pretending to be a trap.  My spiritual clone of a player decides to make up a song about Yellow Crow.  So, we get lyrics rhyming Crow with slow and chap with trap.

My other main contribution is that the others go stealth mode while we dress up some gold statues or whatever as people and I lead the caravan into the ambush point.  Wei Tai, a giant man with a giant hammer, with a foot on a giant log blocking the road, approaches me.  He asks me about the caravan and I start describing the tribute as, “Made of gold and rubies or something.  Beautiful noblemen daughters are watching the silks and furs.”

I ask the GM if I can use my alchemy to do the opposite of my schtick – do poisons rather healing potions (for physical and spiritual health).  He’s cool with that.  So, while the others are fighting in the woods, I share a drink with Wei Tai.  We toast to the famous bandit Yellow Crow.  I ask the GM if I can get a second “alchemy action” since the others get multiple martial arts actions.  He’s cool with that.  So, I propose a second toast, “To the Empress’s dimples!”, a joke that Chris will get.  This is anti-Chi draught, btw.  GM asks me how much Chi loss, and I decide on -6 per drink because I’m a genius and have 32 Chi to start out with.  As it happens 12 Chi is what Wei Tai has and he collapses from lack of spiritual energy.  I replace the tarps and wait for the others to win their “fights”.

They do and come back and we have to decide what to do with out prisoners.  They decide to keep Yellow Crow but lose Wei Tai.  To speed things up, I take him into the woods and stab him repeatedly in the eyes.  Coming back, I point out that it’s appropriately taoist to murder others because “Not murdering people is also an action.”

Normally, I’d have other stuff to do once we got to the bride’s palace, but another player did a bunch of the stuff I would normally try to do – my fault for not playing the only chick in the party – and a bunch of soap opera stuff sort of happened.

A key thought after the con was that games that end well are thought of more highly than arguably better games that don’t end as well.  Both my Cubicle 7 games, with Clinton Boomer (author) as GM, were among my first tier of games this con, but the potential for this one was a lot higher, as romantic martial arts suits me better than horror.

Saturday 9AM (kind of 8AM)

Battle Interactive.  I sat with Darin, Sheryl, Stephen – three I played One Will Fall with – and their friend Laurel and Andy.  We went after the Temple District.  With four rank 3’s and two rank 2’s, we didn’t try to get crazy.  We started with a rank 3, found that easy, went to rank 4, which was so easy that the GM threw more stuff at us to give us more to do, then did rank 4 to wrap while the next table did the special rank 5 for the Temple.  They were much stronger than us, so that made sense.

Darin and Stephen play rank 3 Hida.  Sheryl a rank 3 Isawa Water that is married into the Crab.  Laural a rank 2 Isawa Fire.  Andy is still rank 2 Void Shugenja.  To balance that brokenness, I’ve been a rank 3 Suzume Bushi for a bit.  So, Hida Maro, Hida Ada, Kuni Reiko, Hida Matsuro, Asako Otari, and Moshi Shigeo.

Really, this wasn’t the most interesting BI.  The first fight’s most amusing moment was the fire shugenja fireballing the gongringer to cause the gong to fall out of the watchtower.  After we cleaned up, our GM, Ben Fredericksen, let us roll Engineering to beef up the barricade we had to get past, which was cool, especially when I didn’t roll badly, something I seemed to do a lot of at HoR at GC2013, and got a 46.

The second fight was straight up and really weak for a 4, so Ben threw more guys at us, which hurt some due to their leader being skilled.  Otari was able to Tempest of Air off doors to the inner city and crush some nameless horsemen to finish things up.

Final round, we had to guard the door to the inner sanctum.  Kept being told that if anybody got past us, the other table was dead.  Things did not go well, as Otari failed an Honor Roll on a Tempest of Air to knock some dudes over.  Maro took enough damage that Ada dropped Blessed Wind to heal him.  That hurt when archers did 26 wounds at the end of a round, putting me in Out.  We thought we might be done when a priest shows up and starts exploding the remaining bushi.  Maro almost dies.  Sheryl thinks to heal me, but I suggest Matsuro instead, which is far more useful when he gets a bunch of damage and has to be the evil wizard tetsuboer.  Reiko finishes off the last regular dude with a wakizashi, when everyone else is less than functional, and we win.

But, even with the last encounter being challenging, it still didn’t feel all that compelling.  I think it also hurt that the Unicorn table wasn’t close to being done with their mission, not finishing until more than half an hour into the next slot, which was 1.5 hours over theoretical end time (interactives should always be the last slot of the day because we know that they won’t finish on time).  The announcements were also not that enthralling, nor were the rewards.  Gee, I’m sailing under my clan champion to fight the Empire’s enemies and I don’t rate a couple points of Status?  Not that Status means much to me.  Getting back some Honor from pointlessly losing it in Your Heart’s Enemy would have been better.

Saturday 2PM (well, 2:30PM)

This was unfortunate.  I was playing Divide and Conquer, the new introductory mod.  My new goal with my alt character is to play every introductory mod with him since I have no incentive to go to rank 2.  I might have already achieved that goal, playing him in New Beginnings, Ancestral Dictate, and Divide and Conquer.  The unfortunate bit was that at least four of the other players had pregens and no particular interest in HoR.  So, for me to be the only one both interested in the back story of the mod and interested in the events, which I was ridiculously well suited for, as everyone knows Tattooed Monks are experts on go, poetry, iaijutsu, and hawking, was not as fun as playing with people who cared about HoR and their characters.  I ignored the combat, as that gave other people things to do.  I did pick up a dai tsuchi, which I was ready to use, but the combat ended.

I think it was not terribly satisfying for the others, which decreased my enthusiasm.  After all, being good at stuff is all within context.

Saturday 6PM

The one better thing about the previous slot was that we finished up quickly, so I got to my 6PM on time.  I showed up earlier than anyone else, in fact, except the GM’s helper.

This game was truly awful.  It wasn’t the system, which was Supernatural (Cortex).  It was the lack of coherency of the plot, the reliance upon NPCs, the frequent conversations between GM and assistant (playing) about stuff that happened in their home game, disengaged players, and general bizarreness.  I haven’t watched Supernatural in a bunch of years.  I do know they spend a lot of time with one or more angels and that they have changed over time (they being Sam and Dean).

But, and I won’t do justice in my description here as I need to get to bed, I don’t think a voodoo priest (my character) being summoned by an angel spell, having Mabh, The Fae Queen of Air and Darkness, show up after ditching an angel, figuring that being teleported to Colma by an angel is less costly than by the Queen of the Fae, channeling a Reaper (which is what?) who kisses her knowledge into Jim Colt, Sam Colt’s descendent, who ends up in a vault in Heaven where an Eclipse in a Bottle that will send the world into the Abyss, which is being sought by Asmodeus, the last lord of Hell and Lord of the Abyss, which is no longer protected by Diana(?), who is bleeding out her angel juice, that the three of us who aren’t demonspawn suck out of her, …

Eventually, I would have gotten to how I swapped the Eclipse in a Bottle for a Dos Equis or how Bobby and Jim looted Heaven’s vault before Mabh showed back up to help slay Asmodeus.

Whatever.  Sucking Diana’s Angel Grace (which is?) while she lay dying and while a really stupid angel comforted her – does it get any sweeter than that?

So, what’s the lesson?  One problem had similarities to the previous slot.  Having one player know vastly more about what’s going on is not fair to the other players.  Having NPCs be essential to everything is bad, which is why a lot of GMs have the conceit that NPCs who should be more useful aren’t.  Having a game based heavily on an intellectual property is not a problem … until you start having your home campaign have its own stories that only one player knows.

Sunday 8AM

Pure storytelling game.  This was okay, but it had way too many players.  The main problem for me was that I’m not as into these sorts of games as I used to be.  I enjoy the creative storytelling aspect of that to a degree.  But, the been there, done that of it all makes me less interested.  Also, creativity at 8AM on the Sunday of Gen Con is not optimal.

Was sword and sorcery themed.  I could explain a bunch of things, but it will only kind of depress me.  My concept was the firstborn prince who wanted nothing more than to retire to the clergy.

I didn’t do a whole lot, having to constantly be respectful of other people’s time.  That was kind of a theme of GC2013 – I didn’t do that much, even in games I did things.  In HoR stuff, I didn’t roll all that well and didn’t do much personal stuff.  In Kuro, I had little to do until I started running and dodging.  In Psalms, I was a clone of another PC, so I tried to let him do things I would normally do.  In Qin, all I did was poison myself to victory.  In Supernatural, I had little idea what was going on much of the time.

Sunday 12PM

The third of my better games.  This was another RPG written by the GM.  Babylon is set in historical Babylon with a bit of a Shadowrun thing going on in that necromancers can access all knowledge through talking to the dead, in that there’s some theoretical technology running around, and in that there are professional black ops agents running around to prevent the employers from being identified by the dead.

The mechanics were a lot more interesting and, seemingly, a lot more playable than Psalms.  Resolution used dominoes, which was a nice gimmick.  Characters were created without a lot of difficulty.  They were more competent than they seemed.  My taking Reincarnated, which allows the PC to spend a stone (resource mainly used for modifying domino values) to know any Knowledge or Craft skill, as a Gift was hugely useful.

We were all invited to meet with some dude.  Turned out the dude was dead and other dudes tried to kill us.  Our group made little sense prima facie, being a former slave, astrologer, necromancer, barbarian, and myself, a skilled surgeon.  Turned out that an idol got stolen by a thief who was captured by the king’s guards.  We needed to get the idol.  Turned out the thief wasn’t a murderer and had been framed.  The wine shop owner of the shop we were supposed to meet our employer turned out to be a member of the Cult of Mechanicus, and was the bionic woman.  I used surgeon skills and some Reincarnated engineering to shut her down, and we went looking for the idol (machine).  We faced a robot that I identified weak points on, and we got the thief released and got paid.

This had a better sense of place.  I’m a big fan of historical/historical supernatural, if not being terribly interested in technology.  This level of robots and cyborgs was okay as long as it wasn’t the main thing going on.  The necromancer got to talk to the dead.  The slave and barbarian fought.  The astrologer did a bit of magic but probably had the least to do.

I was extremely tired, but I couldn’t think of anything that was particularly wrong about the system.  I did think the game needed more Hubrises (disadvantages – a lot of my GC games used the term Hubris).

Finale

My non Steak and Shake food was nothing to write a blog post about.  My first tier of games was not great.  HoR was … subdued?  Muted?  I’m just not enthusiastic like I normally am after Gen Con.  I do think a horrible game is better value than a mediocre game.  Mediocre just gets forgotten.  Horrible is only painful for the hours it is being played.  Horrible makes for amusing anecdotes for years.

Reasonable Gen Con, but the lack of great games is concerning.  I might need to shake things up more and do some other types of things, whether that be different sorts of RPGs or non-RPGs.  Though, I actually did pretty much what I wanted to do.  I played six RPGs I’ve never played before.  I’d happily play more Qin or Babylon.  Kuro isn’t so much my thing, especially outside of a one-shot, Psalms may end up working okay or not, pure storytelling was a lot cooler back in the day, and I don’t think I need to play Supernatural ever again.

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