Tuesday, September 3, 2013

PAX Roundup!

This is from the Raichu Fandisc, a thing by Salvation By Faith Records. It's pretty good. I snagged a whole bunch of SBF stuff, so this is a good one.

PAX Roundup.

This was my very first PAX. It was kind of mindblowing. Let's hit some stuff and summarize my adventures:

So I had myself a 4-Day pass! Except, well, I didn't pay for it. No, Games On Demand provided me with a pass, given the stipulation that I run games in three four-hour slots. After an initial brief period of hesitation, I jumped at it, because shit, I was probably going to do that anyway.
And do it I did! And far, far, more.
Let's be very clear about this: I spent a whole two thirds of the con in the GoD rooms. I ran games in and out of my schedule, and played multiple games. Let's narrow this down:

* Friday morning I got in on a Dungeon World game! I played Theseus the Good Ranger and his companion Gar'On the bear in The Frozen South (using the dungeon starter of the same name). I, uh, murdered the fuck out of everything with lots of arrows and a fucking BEAR. Being a Good Ranger means hunting down unnatural threats, so a Frost Giant baby is unnatural, right? Snow elves are really unnatural, right? I hope so, I killed like 12 of them in their sleep. I kept acing Volley rolls and dealing around 10 damage per attack - nothing survived me. This game also had the lovely innovation of the Cuddle Puddle!

* Friday evening a guy named Don wearing a VIP badge came around looking at games, and was interested in The Quiet Year, which wasn't on anyone's menu at the time. so I decided to jump in and run the game for him. It ended up a 1-on-1 affair, and it was the fastest Quiet Year I've ever played by a lot at an hour and forty minutes. The game was by a river, and was full of ghosts and weirdness. I'm the first to admit that I seriously go for the freaky supernatural stuff in my Quiet Years.

* Saturday I showed up at 2:00 and asked for my session to be moved up to then instead of 6, because of a storm of players who wanted to play Monsterhearts and a lack of MCs, so I decided to go for it. It was a full-up five player game (which I  keep being warned against at these cons and keep running with pretty good results)! We had a Fae named Aislyn who was exiled to the human world by Perseph of the Faerie Court, a Witch named Brianna whose family was all witches, and she had a Book of Shadows that let her be the toughest one there, with a Sanctuary in the library. We had Brendan the Werewofl whose wolf was almost entirely mental, like a mind-state change that makes him feral and wild, which was super intense, since he went Darkest Self. His family also knew what he was. We had Burton the Queen and his gang of Sammy, Gina, and Rasputin. Burton was a drug dealer whose supplier was his dad, and all of the security officer, math teacher, and principal we had in the game were all buyers, it was great. We had Iggy the Ghoul, whose father had killed him and his fraternal twin sister, composed them into one person, and reanimated them, with Iggy as the dominant mind. Iggy hungered for chaos. Iggy had a bit harder of a time fitting into a lot of the action since Alex (the player) was very tired, but he came up to me today and apologized (unnecessarily, it wasn't a problem) for being tired and said that it was an incredibly fun time, plus offered to put me up when I'm going down to Portland at the beginning of October for Technicolor Dreams. The game ended with Perseph manifesting physically in Daria's sanctuary due to her meddling, Aislyn and Brendan and Iggy showing up, and Perseph dragging the whole sanctuary into the Faerie Realm, with Burton coming across the empty secret room with Aislyn's backpack outside it. Also Brendan hospitalized a Gina in full view of a ton of people while The Wolf was in control.
Saturday night I spent prepping the not-so-Secret-Idea document.

* Sunday morning I showed up bright and early for my slot to find that Secret Idea would have to wait since I was already signed up for Monsterhearts! This time I had only three players. The first was Cassidy ("Cass") the Werewolf, a cross-country runner who had been mauled by a wolf and hospitalized last year, which was pretty public. He may be an alpha jock, but he's got a pretty plain-looking brainy girlfriend Tiffany (why do I not suggest boy/girlfriends more often?!). Daria is a witch, using hodgepodge magic learned from a ton of sources, who once threw a hex that overextended and turned the former cheerleader Ashley into a quadriplegic. She has a crush on Troy, the cross-country captain. Rowan is a Selkie whose pelt was stolen by Cass, though he doesn't know it was a pelt. He was curious to a point of recklessness, without caution, and is super unaware of how people act. Rowan has a bunch of fangirls, led by Cass's younger sister Brittany, cuz he's super hot it seems. Cass got in a huge fight with Troy then had a big fight with Tiffany about it. Daria got over Troy and ended up nearly killing him, with Rowan stopping her. By the end, Rowan went Darkest Self and was going to drown the world, but Daria brought him back with love, and Daria helped put Troy and Cass back together. It was a much more uplifting ending, and felt like the story could have been left there, no major cliffhanger.

* Sunday afternoon I played Monsterhearts, run by Robert. I got to play The Doppleganger, the skin I wrote, for the very first time (after running maybe five one-shots for it at various time). Taylor functioned exactly as I wanted it to. Taylor admired Drake's confidence and social prowess. Mouse was a Sasquatch (a skin from Jackson Tegu's Second Skins), who didn't understand how people worked, and faded into the background a lot. We were pretty similar, and Taylor kinda liked her. Drake was a Queen, and a drug-connected leader. The game didn't take place at school, but afterward, as the lead-up and action of a huge party Drake threw. Taylor set up  a drug deal as Drake that went bad and he was stabbed and had a knife at his throat, but managed to get out and accidentally killed him, immediately taking the form of Drake. He brought an enormous bag of weed to the party (as Drake, since Drake was incapacitated by his own super-drug), and was hitting on Mouse (which real-Drake had done earlier too) when she gave me a love potion and we had, uh, it was basically spiritual sex. We didn't really decide if it was also real sex because we didn't need to, but I'm kinda thinking it wasn't, it's less weird and rape-y that way. I mean, it's still a little under-false-pretenses, but Mouse did drug Taylor into it. In the end, Drake was taken away by the police for lots and lots of drugs and soon will be up for murder, and stole the super-drug from his dad (and put some in my pocket), and I was at 3 harm. It was crazy and suspenseful - I would watch the show that this was a pilot for.

* Sunday evening, before I went to dinner, I played a game by Ed Turner called Synanthropes Lite. A very short game about talking animals post-Humanity. It was a 15-minute experience. I really liked it and I want to play the full version!
This is Ed's blog!
This is Synanthropes!
This is Synanthropes Lite! (business-card sized!)
I played a Gecko named Cah-Rul, and Ed played a Raccoon named Audi, and we were having a debate about this mysterious human artifact (actually a can opener Ed pulled out). Audi, as a Raccoon who loves technology, thought it was a key or component of some kind of machine and wanted to take it back and study it, and was adamant  that humans never ever hurt each other. As a gecko, I consider human technology dangerous, so I was sure that it was used as a weapon - geckos love their fingers, and the handles were were crushing fingers, with the cogs for grinding them through them.
It was really fun. check it out, Ed's got something sweet going on!

* And Sunday night, the Secret Idea manifested: I ran Avatar World. Saturday night I'd compiled the playbooks into really loose documents and there were folks really excited to try it, so knowing it was going to probably be a bumpy ride, we went for it. We played in a world not-quite like the world of avatar, but quite similar. The four characters were Haa, a female airbender tired of monotonous life at the temple, Flamio, a poor teenaged Firebender who had accidentally burned down a bunch of the city years ago, and wants to be super famous, Kai, an older earthbender who has taken some responsibility for Flamio's wellbeing, and a nomadic Waterbender named Bokonnon who wants to claim a piece of land for his family (as the Water Tribe lives on an armada of ships). I don't think Eric realized I totally know where the name came from, as a huge Vonnegut fan. The game was in the capital during the Spirit Festival, which is ruled by the Phoenix King. I totally forgot that's what Ozai called himself! In this case the name was more about the immortality of the emperor rather than the fire. No one knows what bending he has, as rumors abound of all of them, but no one has ever spoken to someone who has personally seen him bend. His second, the Phoenix Prince, is an annually selected role based on a tournament to defeat the not-current but previous Prince, and is always a firebender. The group decided to go to the Holy Mountain to gain the treasure and fame from defeating the great beasts there and claiming the treasure, but they get lost and wind up in the festival, where Flamio is put into the tournament by Haa and he fights and defeats the older Prince. He is then publicly and personally addressed by the Phoenix King, a very rare event, to task him as the first Questing Prince in many, many years. He is to go and restore the balance of the Mountain, and re-establishing the Phoenix as the dominant spirit.
There were a lot of flaws in the game! I have holes to fix up, but a LOT of the issues came from the way I presented everything. I need to learn to GM it better. the main thing is to come up with and even script the way I intro the game and build the world and stuff. I also need to examine the Basic Moves and figure out how to make them work for significant non-combat as well. A big one is I want is we tried a stealth-type thing and I should at least have some way of sneakily moving around inside of Move With Intention. A lot of the moves and most of the Oaths could use more support dictating what happens in the fiction - Robert thinks it would be better to narrow down a lot of the things into main categories rather than leaving them open-ended, and I'm inclined to agree. Also, the Airbender (which he was playing)'s moves could use some more direct link to the fiction.
I definitely need to find a good way to explain Chi.
Basically, huge learning experience, and everyone said it was really fun.
I will not be making the PAX Edition document available immediately. I want to do a bit of repairs, and then compile it into something a bit more pretty than two dozen sheets of paper covered in plain-text Times New Roman. Soon though! The goal is still to have a full document around by the Gamerati Game Day on the 21st.

* Monday morning I ran more Monsterhearts! As Jay said, I was kind of a Monsterhearts-running-machine. This time we started with four players (though one had to go a bit early), and two of them were the same people who played Daria and Rowan the day before! I had introduced them to the game, they played again later, and then came back for another game I was running this morning, so I feel pretty damn good about that. This game had an even crazier relationship map than the others. We had Mara, the flesh-hungry Ghoul, awake for only a week, living in a cemetary. I started this one off well, with a burst of action, of Mara waking up on the day and the groundskeeper coming, and she hadn't eaten since the first day. She ended up tearing him apart and it was a visceral opener. We had Abel the Infernal, minion of Hastur, and a really optimistic guy who just wants to help everyone. We had Bethany the Queen, with her gang of Cody, Annie, and AJ, and they deal drugs. She likes Cody cuz he's hot and has the best car. And lastly we had Kard, the Hollow. Give me a sec here.
Let's talk for a moment about a way I feel like I failed as an MC right here. I consistently forgot to give the Veil conversation until just before play started, and in this case, Kard was the product of a wish - a wish by middle-age Todd who wanted a hot young girlfriend, but she came out imperfect; physically, she's everything he wanted, but lacks completely the personality he wants. And there's definitely some sexual abuse going on - and the moment the player said that, my brain skipped a step and I realized triggering content had gotten its way into the game before I brought up the Veil. Everyone seemed okay with it, but I still think it's a bit of a failure on my part that it even got through, because there could have been an issue. Not everyone has the Veil already to keep the game safe. In the future, I'm gonna make it a hard and fast rule that I say the Three Things About Storygames before every game with any people I don't already know and have gamed with, regardless of the game.
Anyway, can I mention that it was actually pretty uncomfortable territory for me? Not for personal reasons, but of course I run a lot of nasty people as MC, but this one definitely made me feel the most uncomfortable. It was really strong material and I wanted to do it, and we never had any negative personal encounters with Todd, but his influence was a constant in Kard's Gazes Into The Abyss, feeling his clammy hands all over her, not gentle like they used to be... It was fucking disturbing. I feel messed up having played it. But I think it was really good material and made the story that much better. It's just an early experience for me of really pushing my villains into dark territory. Anyway, this game ended with Hastur swallowing up Mara, Abel, and like a dozen NPCs.

So to summarize: Dungeon World, Quiet Year, Monsterhearts, Monsterhearts, Monsterhearts, Synanthropes Lite, Avatar World, Monsterhearts. Sounds like a party! I loved it. I nearly doubled my required slots. The Doppleganger worked exactly how I wanted, and Avatar World was a very fun learning experience (or so I was told, I spent the whole thing with my mind spinning a million miles an hour managing and often panicking - I probably could have been even better by just relaxing).

Monday night all the GoD folks got together at the Capitol Club to debrief and discuss what went well and what needed work, and we got some good ideas coming out.

Long story short: this was a fantastic experience, thanks so much to Morgan for offering the spot to me, and I will 100% be doing this next year, and hopefully also at ECCC, and also at anything else in range of me. Hell, this thing has actually boosted my confidence in GMing by quite a bit, and I already was getting used to running in public at Story Games Olympia!

I saw some cool shit. I can make a rare claim: I stood in no lines! That basically means I skipped anything from a major developer other than Nintendo (whose lines were pleasantly short for everything but Wind Waker HD thanks to a large array of devices being used for the demos - even Pokemon X & Y had super-tiny waits). I did, however, really enjoy the Indie Megabooth! Lots of really cool stuff and brand new folks! I only actually demo'd a couple games, but there was a lot of really cool stuff. Here's some of them!
* Always Sometimes Monsters is a non-combat rpg. It looks like a bold direction to take things, and seems strongly character driven.
* Audiosurf 2 (of course) looks brilliant. I'm a huge fan of the original. I really hope Pedro Macedo Camacho is back to do the themes again.
* Barkley 2! Barkley 2 is fucking crazy, and it's going to be both amazing and gorgeous, with the pixel art done by Francis Coulombe, aka Frankiesmileshow, who is simply a brilliant artist.
* Bit.Trip Runner 2 is just great. I just talked about that like a week ago!
* Crypt of the Necrodancer is insane. Move through a dungeon to the rhythm for more points, also you're doing it on a DDR pad and fighting monsters and collecting treasure! I mean, you can do it on the computer, but fuck, why would you?
* My bro bought Electronic Super Joy and its soundtrack, which looks like a wicked hard rhythm-based platformer. Mashing up rhythm into other genres seems to be a thing.
* Even The Ocean was one I demo'd, and I was really impressed. It's tough, but has the sliding scale two-sided health bar that's a really smart idea.
* Christine Love had her visual novels Analogue: A Hate Story and its "sequel" (really more expansion apparently) Hate <3 and="" been="" befor="" both.="" bought="" bundle="" couple="" d="" ei="" first="" good.="" i="" it="" just="" lp="" lparchive.org="" night="" of="" on="" p="" plus="" reading="" really="" screenshot="" so="" that="" the="" them="" up="" updates="" was="" went="">* Ironclad Tactics, by Zachtronics (the SpaceChem guys!), looks to be just as tough and interesting as its predecessor, this time built like a deck-building action real-time board game.
* Legend of Dungeon looked simply gorgeous, with visuals very reminiscent of Sword & Sworcery to me. It's not the Superbrothers, but it looks great still.
* I didn't stay around to check much about Tengami, but it looked neat.
* Same deal with The Stanley Parable.
* I bought They Bleed Pixels pretty much immediately. I've been telling myself to buy the damn game for months.

Outside of the Indie Megabooth, I spent a lot of time just looking and browsing. I bought a Mew-Genics shirt from Team Meat, and Tommy Refenes signed it! I'm actually really proud of that, weirdly. Edmund wasn't there though. Next time! My bro tried the Oculus Rift and said it was basically life-changing, that it was easily the coolest thing at the show.

My one let-down: I had ONE game in mind that I wanted to buy at PAX, but Monte Cook and Shanna Germain was nowhere to be found! Damn.

Overall, PAX was just super super fun and I'm ready to sleep. I start classes in a week, I have the Gamerati Game Day on the 21st, and Technicolor Dreams on the 5th and 6th of October. Things are moving!
Later folks.

End Recording,


  1. Hey, thanks for the kind words about Synanthropes! Sorry we couldn't get a full version going at PAX... too many games, not enough time, inevitably.

    1. That always seems to be the case, doesn't it? But I was glad we could even play the Lite version - I'd been reading the pitch the day before and thinking how cool it was but how my schedule was gonna lock me down, but I felt so excited when I heard you had a 15-minute version of the game you could do immediately. Brilliant idea, made me so happy to be able to give it a shot. Thanks man! If you're ever in the Olympia/Tacoma/Seattle area looking for a game, give me a shout!