Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Week in Stories: Breakout Con Recap, Part One

Oh goodness. It's been a week now, and last week I was too tired or busy or wrung out to manage to sit down and capture my thoughts on my first gaming con. So I'm going to try now, even a week later, although I can already feel small details slipping away. (Luckily a few people have already done extensive recaps of at least two of the games I played!)

First and foremost, I just want to thank the organizers for doing so much work and emotional labour and putting together what was such a great experience! I was nervous going into my first real con, unsure what I'd find, clinging just slightly to the security blanket of having at least one person in each game I already knew. (Some of that was coincidental, but it's the way it turned out.) I had a fabulous time, and came away feeling like not only had I had some great gaming experiences, but also made some new friends, and started to be part of a larger community.

I also came back to London charged up to get back into our gaming, which has been a bit sporadic the last half year. Seems like everyone was feeling the same itch, either caused by the con, or just being ready to get at it, so I'm looking forward to the next few months!

I'd also like to thank all the designers whose games I got to play in, opening up their worlds and showing me and others around, letting us get our paws all over neat mechanics and interesting ideas. It's cool to get to play games in various stages of development.

Since the con, I've been nudging Bill to think about maybe taking his Twin Peaks-inspired RPG there next year to try with players who haven't been at our table extensively, or finally play the game that made him a Game Chef English language Finalist a couple of years ago. Designing may not be my bag, but I like to encourage it in my husband!

Also, the people I got to play with were fantastic! At every table, I found people of kindred spirit, wanting the same kind of deep character play and exploration that I enjoy. I wish all of them were going back to groups as amazing as the one I'm privileged to belong to, and I hope to see them again next year!

On to the games, and the things that stood out to me about each!

Friday night, we played Fraser Simons' The Veil, cyberpunk PbtA, with the central stats being about emotional states. I decided to try out the religious playbook, as I'm often interested in characters with strong beliefs, religious or otherwise. While I was making my playbook choices, Bill mentioned the documentary The Interrupters as a potential source of inspiration, and I went right for that idea like a hungry wolf. (Also, great documentary.)  I decided her religion was based on the idea of intervention, stepping into emotionally charged or perhaps violent confrontations in an effort to defuse them, and convince others her way of non-violence was right.

So then when I had to pick an emotional state as her primary one, Peaceful seemed obvious, but not necessarily that interesting. Walking calmly into danger and taking the consequences is great for serenity, but not necessarily great drama. So I decided to make her primary stat Scared, loving the idea of being terrified every time she intervened in violent situations, but fervent enough in her belief that she still did it.

(I hope it wasn't disconcerting for Fraser that he had a whole table full of people who knew each other. It wasn't on purpose! But Bill and I had been planning on gaming with our friend Matt from Toronto in a game that was cancelled due to illness, and the game that had open slots and was interesting ended up being the one Amanda and Mike were already in.)

The game itself centered around the mystery surrounding the death of a mystical warrior (Matt was the last of the order), the cyborg who had no memory of killing him, but blood on his hands, and the release of the dead man's essence/concentrated computer data, sought after by Amanda's hacker. Bill was a tiger-guy, dying, who I think had worked for the murdered man at least once.

It was a bit squishy for time trying to get everything in, but it was a very fun evening, and at the end, we discovered that although the cyborg may have killed him, it was for very good reasons! In the meantime, I got to be both scared and brave a whole bunch, as well as nearly run over at least once. Also, Fraser does cliffhanger moments very well. Lots of fun!

Saturday morning and early afternoon, we went to a bunch of panels, which were enjoyable and informative.

Saturday afternoon, we played The Watch by Anna Kreider and Andrew Medeiros, run by Anna. I try to explain this game to people and am at least half reduced to earnest hand gestures that cannot possibly capture its awesomeness.

This is because of two things - one, it is an amazingly great game, with meaty mechanics that beautifully support what it's trying to do. Two, Anna Kreider is a kickass GM, with a deft touch pushing at the perfect moments, and sitting back and watching at other points.

I just...it's....SO GOOD.

I was playing the Lioness playbook, so, charismatic, beautiful, and arrogant. I liked the pairing of her being the ranking officer with actually having a -1 to Training - playing on the idea of her having been thrown into an authority position on the basis of charisma and talking well, not necessarily on the merits of having been the best choice for the position.

Bill was playing the Bear, an older trans woman named Dralla, who had lost her lover in the first wave of Shadow attacks. The Bear absolutely seemed to me to be the most stable character at the table, so when the connections went around, I chose for Lanec, my character, to be suspicious of the Bear, because I liked the juxtaposition. In my head, that was because Lanec was mistaking bravado and flash for substance and not seeing the substance that was there in the Bear.

Duan, who played all the Watch games he could get into at the con, and also in the Veronica Mars game I'll get to in a bit, was the Eagle, and in the first round of assigning roles, with the Eagle and the Bear matched for the relevant stat, I chose the less experienced Iomae over Dralla to take point. (We also had a Fox, who was instrumental in everything mystical we needed to get done, and an Owl? (or Spider) who liked to pick away at others.)

Everything went badly, and I suddenly ended up with my Weariness track entirely filled, so we got to see that mechanic in action almost right away, as I had to choose a relationship to attack out of emotional and physical exhaustion. Lanec lashed out at Iomae who hadn't done anything more wrong than be enthusiastically on her side at a time that needed calm consideration. Whoops.

The fight against the Shadow went on, and the pressure rose, culminating in an attack on the camp. Two more (wait, three) moments I want to mention:  Iomae and Lati the Owl sparring, with Lati using verbal jabs and Iomae trying to let off steam, but not, in the end, forgiving Lati's words as mere camaraderie. It was a neat and complex interplay.

The moment that almost brought me to tears involved Treni, our Fox, as she sought to release an elder from the grasp of the Shadow, and the shade of Dralla the Bear's dead lover appeared and sent back one final loving message. (Bill teared up too! My heart!)

And the capper, when Dralla the Bear grabbed Iomae and Lati as the group seemed about to tear itself apart in a bear hug and told them the time for division was past. It was so needed and so perfect at that exact moment.

I can't wait to get my hands on this and run it or play in it for my London group.

Okay, this is getting long, and since I played in four games, there's an obvious break. Check back next Tuesday for Part Two!

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