My favorite event of RinCon was Marissa Kelly’s Epyllion game. I went in expecting spun sugar — the premise is that you’re all baby dragons — but came out of it with a lot of complicated thoughts.
Explicitly PG: I did not expect to like this, but I really really did. Epyllion, at least as Marissa ran it but I think also procedurally, plays out like an after-school special in many ways. Your advancement incorporates lessons you learned from your friends, for example. The in-game currency — friendship gems — are granted among the players when their dragons live up to a value (honor, curiosity, creativity, etc.) you call out. More on that thing in a second. There’s no death and no damage track at all; the drama comes from fulfilling expectations, facing failure, intergenerational tensions, and the constant (thrilling) tug of giving in to dark urges.
The setting is filled with uh…Pokemon, for lack of a better description. Rather than real animals, everything in Dragonia is a chimera and you make them up on the fly. For example, we had to deal with buzzlebuns or something, half-bee half-bunny critters. And the adventure centered on easing the suffering of a bird-lion-elephant thing. So there’s a gentleness to that, I think.
And the main superbad that all of Dragonia is unified in fighting is The Darkness, which is explicity undefined and vague. You spell it out in the course of setup.
All those things, to me, add up to a really interesting take on childhood drama, without it coming across as childish. There’s still tonal room for interpersonal drama, hard feelings, even going full Sith (which I did, and it felt both dangerous and just plain moody, like the kid with the long black bangs that nobody understands but everyone likes anyway).
Table Engagement: Stras Acimovic already called this out as Epyllion’s killer app, but I want to talk about some other aspects of it. The game’s internal economy is friendship gems. They’re color coded to the player. Each player gets a batch of 10, and during setup you answer questions that result in you taking or giving the first three. Nice enough. Then during play, you’re responsible for giving more of them out based on a virtue you’ve stated (picked from two that are part of your playbook choice) as important. And they’re generally virtuous: creativity, curiosity, discretion, stuff like that. There are a few that are a little grayer — ambition was in our game — but I didn’t see any that went full dark (sadism! rage!). Again with the PG tone of the game.
While you play, the gems count as your current Hx toward the character whose player gave you the gem. So if I have 2 clear gems, I get a +2 on the roll to help/hinder the clear-gem’s player. Nice and visual, very clean and also constrained to the circle of friends (the uh…Clutch I think). You can also cash in a bunch of them to cast your Moon Magic, which looks to be the super-powerful “now we solve the problem with the magic of friendship” play; it’s too expensive to just, you know, toss around. There are five flavors you start with, and you lose access to flavors as the characters age (didn’t see it in play, and I’m concerned that advancement is so slow that we might not see the full cycle).
Your own stock of friendship crystals does nothing for you, so there’s literally no motivation at all to not be generous with them. But it’s a weird new procedure; I broke the ice at our game by quickly tossing one out for “creativity.” Other players quickly followed suit.
What I really like about this is that a) if you want crystals, you shape your play toward the values that the other players have called out and b) it’s better for your crystals to be deployed than sitting in your bank, so you’re motivated to stay engaged with listening even if you’re not in a scene. It’s nifty, but it takes both a) and b) happening I think for the cycle to fire off.
Tonal Range: Despite the various measures that feed into the after-school PGish feel, I really liked how the Darkness allows for a range of negative stuff (but not super-dark). The counterpoint to Moon Magic is Darkness magic, which gets better the more “shadow marks” (is that what they’re called) you take. They’re conditions, Mouse Guard style, like Anger and Shame and stuff like that. The four conditions are the extent to which there’s any kind of “damage” at all, and when a mark is inflicted on you, you’re also compelled to act on it.
When all four marks are filled, you take on your Shadow Form, which is a nasty version of you. Kind of in line with the Monsterhearts transformation, I think; again we didn’t see it but I’m sure it works fine.
Darkness magic, whatever the heck it’s called, is a universal “get something done” effect. It’s more flexible than Moon Magic, especially as you age out of access to all five flavors; you’ll need to cozy up with the Darkness to bridge that gap. Using it also marks you, so it’s an instant power-up but in doing so you’ll be a shitheel because that mark compels you. Actually, there was a lovely moment at the end that both fulfilled a mark I took — shame — and was entirely organic to the scene: my emo dragon invoked the Darkness to summon a rain storm and chose “shame” as the resulting mark, so he quietly wandered away from his circle of friends (“distance yourself” is one of the shame options) to make that happen because he knew they wouldn’t like what he was doing. It was perfect and totally unforced, a tiny moment that just felt right.
But anyway, I dig that there’s some tonal range to explore inside the after school special space. I also dig that there are limits to that range.
I’m not sure I’ll get much traction among my local players on this game — we generally prefer a harder-nosed R/NC17 level of melodrama, chaos, and violence — but I love that this exists. I think it makes a strong convention game, and a strong option for trying out a game completely not about murder for money, dysfunctional relationships, and the drama of negativity.