MadJay Brown and I got back from our “good” Arizona gaming con last night. It was so much better this year than last! But it was also weird in its differences.
The big change was the Indie Arcade, which was RinCon’s take on a Games on Demand-type space: set time slots (4 hours), with games being pitched live before each slot by four or five facilitators. Live pitches are, for me, so much better than written pitches although it’s pretty time consuming, 15-ish minutes each slot.
It was great to have indie/story game space at this con for the first time. It was also in a basement with minimal signage, with advocates occasionally going to the other floors to spread the word. Not well signed, iffy marketing, and it still drew a solid crowd every time it was offered. And not just to the committed hippies: plenty of indie-curious conventional-game players came down and sat for at least one game.
As a committed hippie gamer, I kind of felt like a Morlock down in the depths of the Tucson Sheraton. Very little interaction with the rest of the con (that’s mostly a positive), no real sense of the rest of the activities going down. The little space we were in (three tables’ worth) was en route to the space where the roundtables and talks were being presented, so I feel like it wasn’t quite as invisible as I’m making it out to be. Folks who were already predisposed to attend talks are probably also folks who might be receptive to trying out a hippie game. Maybe I’m wrong about that. Dunno.
Had some terrific talks with the Indie Arcade organizers about things we might try next time around, and everyone seemed enthusiastic and receptive to the idea. My cynical old gamer brain thinks there will be some mild pushback if we ask for more space or visibility, out of fear of displacement of conventional games. I felt a similar small discomfort at an invitational con I did earlier this year when I pitched Inheritance, some uncertainty about having larpy things in an event put on by folks who are larp-averse. No idea how it’ll actually shake out, but fingers crossed we can continue to stake out space, time and mind share.
I didn’t pack as much into my days as I might when I’ve driven or flown a great distance, but all the gaming I did do was capital g Good:
* Ran Scum and Villainy Friday evening, because I was dumb and didn’t realize they’d moved the con start time to Friday at noon, and missed the 2pm pitch for which I was scheduled. Scum for five! All but one of whom had never played it or Blades in the Dark. Went really smooth, I’m feeling confident in my pitch and explanation, I think it was a satisfying one-shot.
* Missed out on the 9am pitch Saturday morning, so Jay and I wandered around and stumbled into a game of Wasteland Express Delivery Service, a board game. Nice guy running it, a pleasant way to pass the morning until lunch. It was fine.
* Offered/facilitated The King is Dead for a table of five (photo below). This is the second time I ran it, and Katherine Fackrell had also played before. It was huge to have had a little experience, because it was so fucking good the second time around. This may be my favorite of Vincent Baker’s games, which is saying a lot given his body of work. We had a conventional-play guy get talked into joining us, so it wasn’t even a full table of committed hippies.
I want to talk a little more about The King is Dead.
The first time my home group played, we were trying to figure out what the game did and how it did it. And it was fun, no doubt, but I felt like there was enough underlying structure to it that you could play the game more hard-nosed and competitively. So that was my approach this time around, to really contemplate the games I asked for with an eye toward building my hand for the Coronation at the end. The game changes a bunch when you play hard nosed: the stakes feel more real, more intense. I was also sensitive to good drama, so when I played a Sword to Sword game with Katherine, it was super great to feel real tension around trying to keep the swordfight flirty and not deadly. Like, we didn’t agree to that vibe at all beforehand, and it felt like a real risk to put myself at her character’s mercy.
The game was full of moments like that for me, and it was super satisfying. It was even satisfying sitting back and watching the FNGs start a war with each other. The experienced players, having built strong positions, had literally no motivation at all to get our hands dirty, and watched with grim satisfaction as they gutted each other. But the War minigame is super fun anyway, and like with the rest of the games there’s always stuff for the audience/non-players to do.
There’s a thing I did the first time that isn’t formally in the RAW but it’s really good: write down the big fictional positioning details of what spools out of the Intrigue and Muster and War games. I’d put big index cards with summaries out there, and I think it was useful to keep the game grounded, make the events feel a bit more “real” so the game didn’t devolve to a pure card game.
Anyway, totally my highlight. Super great. I’d run it any time as a con game.
* Played in Jason Corley’s Masks game. It was the second time I’ve played, and I’m feeling super jazzed about running it for my home table at some point. I’m so curious about campaign play! I played a new playbook, The Star, and made him a wholesome all-American social media personality. Very satisfying, to the point where I had to expend some energy putting the brakes on my own spotlight time so I wouldn’t just bask in it. We had a young player new to games like this (and probably roleplaying in general) and her energy and excitement was tangible. Top marks, very fun.
* Sunday, Jay and I slept past the first slot and then discovered to our dismay that there was no Sunday afternoon Arcade slot. Boo! My fault, totally, because I’m allergic to scheduling. Every con is a gamble but the only time it’s not worked out for me, really, was last year’s RinCon. At every other event, including this year’s RinCon, there’s been some accommodation for the scheduling-averse. Personally I really enjoy the sense of discovery, but I have to accept that sometimes you just wander the desert and discover nothing but rocks and cactus and Savage Worlds and Gumshoe.
Anyway, I’ve come off this RinCon feeling more optimistic and energized than ever about the local indie gaming scene. Networked and ran into more local folks than I realized were into this stuff. We’re a thousand points of light surrounded by darkness, and now it’s just a matter of bringing folks together more often I think. I’m working out the details of a local Meetup that Jonathan Perrine and I have been futzing over for months. It’s gonna happen.