Timehop coughed this up today. This is Bret Gillan​​, Carly Knight​​, Alexander Newman​​ and I, several days into Hurricane Sandy (context: NYC for BurningCon 2012). Killing time over Agricola because we think it’s maybe just gonna be some heavy rain.

I was so very stupid in the days leading up to the storm rolling in and seriously wrecking shit. Walking out in the hurricane with Carly for the lulz. Laughing off what would turn into a really dicey week. Dumb. Embarrassing.

That said, I’m so grateful for the friends I’ve made across the country. All because we love to pretend we’re wizards.

Bleed

Thinking about that Montsegur 1244 game from the con this weekend. I’m suddenly feeling a little self-conscious and intrigued by what Nathan Paoletta and Jason Corley were saying about the varying levels of engagement at the table.

The tl;dr (so you don’t have to read 200 lines of me gushing) is that I was super-wrecked during and after playing Montsegur 1244 and I may have been the only one at the table going through that.

I don’t know how else to ask this. Is it weird to have that happen? To have one player at the table engaged at a completely different depth than everyone else? Maybe we need to unpack “weird” in that sentence, too. Let’s try (pick one or more): uncomfortable, distracting, impolite, confusing.

Further complication: table full of strangers. Further further complication: table full of dudes.

I say “depth” rather than “agenda” or “stance” up there because I don’t know that they’re on the same continuum. I don’t want to talk about emotional investment vis a vis gamism, nor do I really think it’s as simple as actor/director.

This is larp shit and I don’t have the vocabulary for it. My recollection of the blow-to-blow play decisions I was making was that I was striving hard at being directorial, looking for emotionally charged moments and imagery. But of course every time I came up with something (my character, a mother, just standing quietly with her estranged husband staring at their dead baby; finally figuring out what Phillipa fears most is death, so she starts screaming when the fire reaches her), that just further pushed my own buttons.

Anyway, not looking for therapy or advice at all. Just want to talk right now about what it’s like when there’s uh… wide emotional variety at the table. It seems like it could be as detrimental as major agenda disconnects. But maybe not! It didn’t seem, from where I was sitting, to be nearly as rough sailing as sitting at a Fiasco table with a player frustrated that he can’t calculate his encumbrance.

New Mexicon
The Inevitable Self Indulgent Debrief

It’s been a long and awesome week. Here are some thoughts that have stuck with me about the games I was part of:

Friday

Montsegur 1244 was the first go, and it was a pre-con game at the space. I’d never run it before but I’d read it. Got all strong players at the table, but I’d never actually played with most of them (Ara Kooser, Nathan Paoletta, Eric Mersmann and Phil Lewis  were all new; Jason Corley I had met and played with previously). It’s a “set a scene and go” type game, which I’m iffy about if I don’t know who I’m playing with, and sure enough we had a lot of first-act fumbling around in the dark while we figured out characters and hot lines of conflict and relationships.

It was a really affecting game (I was an emotional wreck afterward and I suspect Ara was as well) and I don’t know that I’ve got the stomach for it a second time for a while. There’s a lot of emotionally manipulative stuff baked into the course of play, but there are also lots of pressure release valves built in as well — if you don’t want to dwell on your dead child, hey it’s the Holy Grail lolwhut? But fucking everyone was all yahhhhhh tragedy let’s dump more sads on Paul! And they did, and it was great, and it’ll be a while before I set myself up for that again. Hell of a session headed into what I feared would be three straight days of events just like that.

The palate cleanser was running Mutant: Year Zero that night. Phil Lewis, MadJay Brown, Eric Mersmann and Ara Kooser jumped into the pseudo-playbook thing, did up a relationship map off the choices, doodled up their Ark and I drew and improvised off the Threats to the Ark deck. The whole setup was 90ish minutes, which I think is not unusual for this kind of con game. It was ridiculously fun and high energy and certainly the “funnest” game of the con. Watching the players jump up and down and scream when the dice didn’t murder them outright with radiation The Rot out in the Zone was infectious and energizing and fun. I had a very hard time winding down that night!

This was the first time I’d tried MYZ as a one-shot and it’s definitely going on my short list of go-to one-shots. You have to leave a lot out, just like Burning Wheel and Apocalypse World, both of which somehow work just fine at conventions. My one challenge, which turned out to be very easy, was to make sure they got a taste of both the in-the-Ark political/interpersonal acrimony, as well as the in-the-Zone procedural grind. I just love that shit. I looooove how they inform each other. Fun, easy to run, a+++++ would Mutant again. Hell, I even tried to organize a side game to continue where we left off.

Saturday

Started with Dog Eat Dog with Derrick Kapchinsky facilitating/offering and Daniel Lofton and Isaac Milner and I at the table. My first game with all of them, although Daniel and Isaac and I had had a chance to meet and talk beforehand. I knew the basic shape of the game from an earlier read-through and I was curious to see how it played out. I think at least some of me wanted to dismiss it outright as a message game, about which I have many complex feels I’ll unpack at some point.

Well so DED is a message game, but it’s well executed for the most part. It does what it says on the tin: the occupation, even if well-meaning, is doing irreparable harm to the locals, and the locals will either let themselves lose everything or will die defending it. So it’s kind of on-the-nose that way but, yeah, it offers pretty solid play. Not much guidance on how to really juice it, make it hot. I feel like it’s the kind of game I could come back to with a better idea of how it works, and facilitate toward harder choices in the scenes as well as the “rules you put yourself under” bit that the locals do. 

Middle game was me running Tenra Bansho Zero. It was not a good event for me, despite knowing I’m my own harshest critic. C- effort. There was some heavy lifting involved with teaching the game as well as pulling players along (MadJay Brown, Derrick Kapchinsky and Nicholas Hopkins were completely fine; I don’t have names on the other two). But I just couldn’t seem to get the engine revving. Some poor prep on my part, as well as having not run the thing in a couple years. Sorry playas! Even rockstars have off concerts.

Last game of Saturday was Cartel, run by Mark Diaz Truman with Isaac Milner and his (very funny, slightly bonkers) wife Jenny/Jenni/Jeni…however you spell it, and Katherine Fackrell. It’s a late-stage beta, and it kind of feels that way, but it was a fun time. I’m still thinking analytical thoughts about it because it feels like it is reeeeeally close to what I’d consider great. Having a hell of a time putting my finger on where I’d do things different.

So our session was fun, for sure, but also sort of asymmetrically fun. I chose to play El Narco, and proceeded to pick all the very safe options. So hey, yeah, he’s in a pretty safe spot. (But should a playbook even have a “safe” build?) Kind of a passive role, lots of delegation and very occasionally yelling at underlings, but mostly chilling at the pool being a sweet old grandpa. Who occasionally orders hits on his enemies. 

I also wonder if Mark ran Cartel kind of in uh…demo mode, if you know what I mean. I feel like there’s a lot of room to really escalate the brutality and shocking audacity…among friends, at a home game, no fucking recording for later podcasting, etc etc. Anyway, successful and a good time, especially at midnight.

Sunday

One event and it was fucking killer: Sagas of the Icelanders with Stras Acimovic, MadJay Brown, Kit La Touche, Marissa Kelly and Justin, one of Magpie’s posse but not once did I dial in his last name. WHO ARE YOU JUSTIN I WANT TO PLUSSSSS.

It was my second go at one-shotting it and once again it was magical and awesome. Marissa played the Man, Kit played the Woman, Justin was the Seidkona, Stras was the Shield Maiden (third time IIRC and completely dialed) and Jay was the Huscarl. There are so very many killer apps inside SotI but the first and most useful one is how the relationship map plays out. Jay discovered my most powerful super-sekret awesome GMing tech, which is a big, visible, theatrical relationship map in the middle of the table. So many boxes! So many lines! Oh hey here’s some room for an actual map as well! It’s my very favorite thing to do, everyone should do it.

I know the game is magic when the successes and failures all come so easy. You know what I mean? I’m totally ready to high-five and celebrate the hot successes, I’m ready with good ideas on the 7-9s, and the 6- moves feel inevitable. That’s exactly how our game felt. I was also so very lucky that Kit and Stras had lots of Icelandic historic stuff in their heads, and that was incredibly useful. Thank you thank you for being on-the-spot with the weregeld angle.

Final analysis: SotI had the most solid collaborative-storymaking outcome, MYZ was the most deliriously fun, and Montsegur was the most personal experience.

Last Thoughts

I’ve never done a con where GMs/facilitators/alpha nerds pitch games to a live audience. It’s interesting! And I feel like I’m especially suited to it. So it was fun and flattering to be the belle of the ball, with players having to actually resort to their priority system to get seats. It also gave me squirmy feels when someone couldn’t fill a table. We’re all grownups I suppose, but all sympathy to those folks.

The facility was good. I’m all about the private room play spaces, although I wish the tables were bigger and the beds were gone, Big Bad Con style, but whatevs, wishes/fishes/horses. I could not deal with the central shared play area, though, and apologies to Derrick and eveyrone else who came in contact with my pretty pretty princess tendencies (noise, smell, vibe, feng shui, I can feel the pea under this mattress etc.).

I know Mark, Marissa and others are talking about a change in time, and I’m on board with that. I hated having to choose between this and Big Bad Con the previous weekend. Embarrassment of riches and all that.

The hosts were uniformly gracious, helpful, friendly and awesome. I cannot say enough good things about all of them.

So. Yeah. Sign me up, I’m in again.

Urban Shadows

Man…usually I jump for joy when the players roll failures in PbtA games. But you can get too much of a good thing, I guess: my home game (with guest star MadJay Brown​!) so thoroughly screwed the pooch, like literally all night, that I was mentally exhausted from dumping awful shit on them every 15 minutes. Please don’t roll again AAAAGH YOU ROLLED AGAIN aaaand there’s the snake eyes. You fools.

Fun session, a perfect guest appearance (ie the kind where the character dies beautifully), and now my home game is in an entirely new place.

More details tomorrow. Or not! I’m pooped. Lots of make believe packed into a week. Con drop here I coooooooome.

Cartel
New Mexicon

Mark Diaz Truman​​​ nearly moving too fast for the camera to capture, telling us why drugs are bad.

Interesting game! The moves are less programmatic than I thought just from reading. Looking forward to actually running it someday. But yeah…drugs are bad. Also cops, wives, grandfathers, children, pretty much everything in Mexico.