In the last thirty seconds, I fuckin’ leveled.

I attended Go Play Northwest this weekend. After action report and commentary behind the cut.

My motive for going was simply that I have lots of friends who are really into the so-called “indie RPG revolution,” but I’ve never played any of these games and I’m not likely to have anyone local volunteer to run for me. So this was a chance to dive in and try some new things and see if I really liked these off-the-wall, fringe ideas regarding roleplaying games. I was spurred on by moonspiralz, who is a recent convert to such games and was willing to fly up from LA to visit Seattle and go with me to this event.

Prior to the event, the organizers attempted to get some planning done through their site, which is really just a big wiki. I was really curious to see how this would work out. As the webmaster for AmberCon Northwest, and occasional cheerleader for event submission at said con, I’m relatively aware of just what it’s like to try and get people to get such information out in a timely fashion. Getting a gamebook together consumes a week of my life and that’s just for the HTML. I’m not the poor shmoe who actually organizes this stuff or assigns people to games. But it’s a logistical nightmare and I peed my pants a little in terror at the thought of just a freeform organization like this.

They first started a page where people put down their names and a list of what they were willing to run and what they were interested in playing in. Which was fine. It gave a broad sense of what sort of things people were interested in bringing to the table. Then they started a new page to hammer out specific games that people would run. No specific indicators of when they would be run were required. You could specify the day. You could specify the session. You could specify niether. And because this was a wiki, people could just put their names up under whatever game they wanted.

At some later point, they also posted a three “Indie 101” games, meant to introduce people to indie roleplaying games that had never played before. They were more specifically scheduled and I made sure I put my name down for those in addition to the other stuff I had indicated I was interested in.

Before going into how the scheduling ended up working and the games I played in, I should give a sense of what the con was like overall. Go Play NW had rented a couple of large classrooms from Seattle University. There were usually at least three to four games going on at any time in each room. At first I found that to be pretty problematic, as I’m a prissy Ambercon attendee who is used to games playing in private rooms that are really close and intimate and quiet. By the second day I’d gotten pretty used to the distraction. Each day featured three three-hour sessions of “scheduled gaming” arranged around meal breaks, with open play in the late evening. The location was really nice and well situatied near several restaurants for meal breaks. In theory the shorter slots should have been fine, as quick start-up seems to be a common feature of indie game design. In practice they often felt like they weren’t nearly long enough. We could have spent a lot more time roleplaying but often had to rush to an ending due to time constraints.

The male-to-female ratio was unsurprisingly relatively poor. I recall seeing six women present. I’d guess there were about 30-50 people attending for the weekend. (Insert obligatory joke about how “gaming with women is a sensual experience” for the sole purpose of pissing off zdashamber.)

As it turned out, none of the wiki planning really seemed to mean anything. When we showed up a little after 8 AM Saturday morning, there was little instruction given to us when we walked in the door. That came much later after more people had shown up. There were also name tags for all of us at a table a the front, but no one told us that. We found that out during our first game session and ran back during a break to get ours. There was a white board with a few games written down (two of which were just fillers for potential games). None of them looked like what I’d signed up for. (Though to be fair I couldn’t remember what Indie 101 game I’d signed up for that day and I had no way to look up what it was. D’oh.) Instead all of the organization for the games revolved around people putting up games on the whiteboard and then people putting their names there to sign up for them, and then the games happened. Which generally seemed to work well for the types of games being showcased there. Many of the games involved pregens or canned scenarios or player created on the fly, so we didn’t really need advanced registration the way you might want for scenarios at ACNW. So I guess on a certain level I’m not sure why the wiki got involved in all this. Looking back, I played in many of the games I’d put my name on but not all. And I didn’t play in either of the Indie 101 games I’d put my name on. I’m sure there’s a special hell for me.

And now, on to the game-by-game review. I’ll cover the day overall and then go into each game.

Saturday
Overall this was the worst of the two days for me. Somewhere in here I started to get a headache that didn’t want to go away. I’m not sure it was stress from meeting new people, stress from gaming in a noisy room, dehydration or what. But I wasn’t in a great mood to begin with, so that may have skewed my opinions of the games a bit.

Session 1 – Dogs in the Vineyard: I thought it only fitting that I open up the con with ZOMGMORMONCOWBOYS. Character creation was fun if a little long. We spent two of our three hours making our characters and running through the challenge that you go through during your Dog training. It was some of the best character creation I’ve ever experienced, helped to no small degree by the GM’s suggestions. He really had a feel for the setting and helped us bring a lot of color to our characters. I had traits like “Some people just need a good talkin’ to” which honestly kicks the butt of “Socialize” or “Diplomacy.” My character, Malachi Jennings, man… my heart went out to that earnest young Mormon member of the Faith. As for the conflict resolution system… I can’t quite decide if I like it or not. There were some fun unexpected results of social interaction that had lasting impacts on my character. And that was kind of fun. And I can see the value of having some choice taken out of your hands. As gamers we tend to lean towards making our characters more reliable in their decision making than people really are. But it was galling at times to lose that narrative control in the really tense final situation. I think having more time to play and more exposure to fallout would have really helped my opinion. That was the part of character creation that was the most fascinating and the part we got the least exposure to in actual play. Having only an hour to rush through the scenario probably contributed heavily to that. My other complaint was that there was little that really seemed to encourage roleplaying. Instead the die-rolling seemed to mostly revolve around how we could justify bringing in traits and the ever important question of “How far are you willing to go to win?” that comes up in some of the Forge-esque games I’ve read. I think overall I prefer that the dice have a bit less input on the story. The only gimme we got for good roleplay was the GM having characters surrender if we seemed to make a good point.

Lunch: We went down the street to a yummy little pizza and pasta place. It might have been “Kelly’s Pizzaria” but I’m not sure. They had pizza by the slice for lunch on Saturday and they had a zippy sauce on their caesar salad that was particularly good.

Session 2 – The Burning Wheel: I had amusingly put my name down for this, but didn’t remember it until I looked at the site. I just got here by chance. I had been curious about this since kolchis had gushed about it after some con or other. I mainly associated it with the Burning Empires comic book that I’d read a bit ago, so it was a little weird that we were playing elves and dwarves. After I sign up for it, I start hearing horror stories of people spending several gaming sessions just making characters and so I found myself hoping it would be pregens. I generally had a good time, though I felt like I didn’t quite get what was special about the system. The general scenario was: half the players are elves, the other half are dwarves, the elves are coming to the dwarves to help with fighting off the Big Bad in the East. The character sheet was unhelpful and required me to look up my skills frantically as we’re going through the opening maneuvers. (“What do all my special elf-songs do?”) We didn’t really seem to do much: We were formally received by the elves, we had a bit of back room internal discussion of gameplan, we jockeyed over seating at the opening feast, and then we spent the last forty minutes of the game doing a Battle of Wits, in which we had a special chart for in which we formulated our arguments and figured out in advance our argumentative gambits. The downside to this was that it didn’t matter what we said. There didn’t seem to be much of a mechanic for solid roleplay or good reasoning in this. It was all just die rolling and finding ways to insert our really good skills into the argument. Really, my argument could have been, “Dwarves eat poop. I bring up the ancient history of their poop eating in order to add dice to the big roll.” and my die rolls would have been unaffected.

Dinner: The wife picked us up and we ran off to Charlie’s on Broadway for burger type things. It was here that I finally got some Tylenol so my headache went away.

Session 3 – Primetime Adventures: We’d planned on skipping this session and just having an early evening of chocolate cake and dessert wine. But pjack had offered to run Primetime Adventures for me and I couldn’t pass that up. The downside, though, is that he ran into some logistical snafu during the dinner break and was an hour late for the game. We sort of started without him, first discussing the series we wanted to do. This ended up being a sort of Heroes meets Fables, as the human incarnations of legendary figures are waking up in the modern world to who they are. We titled the series “Once…” My character was “Jack” of assorted famous Jacks (beanstalks, giant-killing, etc.). My actor was Bruce Campbell and we decided he was currently working as a bouncer in a strip club called “Mom’s Kitchen.” You can blame pjack for the Bruce Campbell part and the strip club. I was just imagining him being a momma’s boy before pjack showed up. moonspiralz had originally offered to pseudo-produce the game for us, as she’s been playing PTA with her group in LA. But pjack showed up while we were still in the planning stages and was able to get us going on track. He also had the rules. Half remembered bits of rules got mixed with moonspiralz‘s house rules, so it got a little confused prior to then. I had an immense amount of fun with this what little I actually got to play. (Though I may be biased. I think any game where I get to use my bad Bruce Campbell impersonation is a good game.) We only really got to play out one scene each in the time we had. I would have been willing to play out a whole campaign of that. I think my only strong complaint is that there wasn’t a lot of acting in character. It was mostly a lot of just player narration of events surrounding their character. Again, this may have played out differently if we had more time.

Sunday

This was a significantly better day for me. I think the crowd thinned out somewhat so it wasn’t as noisy and oppressive in the rooms. Also, I know that at least one group had gotten into the habit of just playing in a hallway seating area where it was even quieter. I had no headache this day and I generally had more fun in the games this day. Improved health may have biased things, though. As a weird aside, the ground floor lobby this day was filled with the Impeach Bush crowd. So any time we left the two rooms that were assigned to us, we could look out on this huge mass of people there to do a reading of the Constitution and stuff. Weird.

Session 4 – The Zantabulous Zorcerer of Zo: This was a lot of fun. The GM for this brought in gift-wrapped toys and the first stage of character creation was unwrapping this toy and basing your character around whatever toy you had. My toy was some cheap “Disney Princess” roadster that didn’t seem to have the licensing to use the name Cinderella, just the picture of her in a few spots. I decided that my character’s flaw was that he thought the prince and princess he could see on his windshield would give him advice, when really it was just a sticker on his windshield. I played it up pretty strongly as Buzz Lightyear. I was fairly impressed by the guy who ended up playing the toy tea set. I don’t think I would have lent it as much charm. The GM made the game pretty player driven, with us compiling a list of story elements we wanted to work through at the start and we got Hero Points as we went through. I had a bit more difficulty with this in the game I played in the afternoon, but for something as light and frothy as ZoZ was, it didn’t really matter a whole lot. Plus the GM inserted enough twists that I didn’t feel like we were just running through whatever nonsense we felt like making up at the time. It was just solidly good and I found I really liked the PDQ system. As an added bonus, I got to game with jhkimrpg, which was fun.

Lunch: Return to the pizza place. We split a medium cheese pizza as well as a salad.

Session 5 – Wilderness of Mirrors: I was peeing my pants to play this. Because, you know, I’ve got a thing for John wick games. Which is extra funny because the only game of his that I’ve actually gotten to play prior to this was Legend of the Five Rings, so this was a pretty new experience. Sot his is John Wick’s take on the spy genre. I found out afterwards that this was a variation on the InSpectres system, in which the players roll to determine just how much they can describe of the story. Glancing at the description of InSpectres on Wikipedia, I see that there were some key differences between the two. After our GM (“Operations”) gave us the basic outline of what our scenario was and we decided what sort of intelligence agency we wanted to represent, we started brainstorming what elements we wanted to have in the mission. This ranged from the resources we want to have (jeep, helicopter, walkie talkies, outdoor survival gear, native guide) but also what sort of complications we wanted to run into (Nazis hiding in South America, supernatural elements, the the wife and daughter of the guy we were looking for being missing). Each item we tossed up earned us another chip that would be our pool of extra dice we could roll. Once we finished the brainstorming, the team leader (one of the roles for PCs) distributed the chips through the team. After that our only way of getting more chips was to add further complications to the plot that made life more difficult for the other PCs. Especially if they were the “pass a note and screw over the other players” variety. So when we discovered a dagger that was made of Lemurian steel, I decided that it was magically calling to my character and passed a note to Operations noting that. I earned a special blue chip that mean I was less trustworthy now. I think if I had any complaint… I think we had too much control. There weren’t many of the usual surprises or twists that you’d get in a conventional GM-run game. The GM was able, under certain circumstances, to toss in complications that made life more difficult for us. But we tended to roll well and so we got to describe a lot of what we found. If we wanted to find an occult tome that explained what was going on: poof, occult tome. And then we’d also have to decide what was in the occult tome. There was a certain level of “hot potato” in which we would leave things just nebulous enough for someone else to have to describe any important aspects. The secret player-provided complications could have lent themselves to surprise twists that we didn’t see coming, but they didn’t manifest that often. I think we were not quite treacherous enough. Overall, though, it was a fun time had by all. Edited to Add: I glanced at the free, basic rules for InSpectres and felt I should note that while they seem conceptually similar, the actual mechanics are very different. I haven’t actually read my copy of WoM, though, and haven’t completely read InSpectres, so I could be missing something critical.

Session 6 – Nothing!: We didn’t play session 6. We were both pretty tired and moonspiralz reported that there wasn’t really much going on the last session. So we just bailed and went to Enat for Ethiopian food.

Overall, I had an excellent time and I’m amped to try more. I’ll definitely attend any future events they are involved with. The only two games I didn’t get a chance to try that I’d really hoped to see in action were Polaris and Spirit of the Century. I had sufficient fun that moonspiralz and I discussed the possibility of doing an indie game at Ambercon Northwest. We’ll see if it actually happens. It’s not concrete till we get it in the game book, y’know.

5 thoughts on “In the last thirty seconds, I fuckin’ leveled.

  1. madarab

    Sunday afternoon, we got to play an Everway game, but the game “next door” to us involved dancing and singing which interacted with our game in amusing ways. :)

  2. madarab

    Very smart high-concept, yet possibly the most annoying simgle game that I’ve ever played. It may even beat the “young princes of Amber go of in a boat” adventure that I have complained about to you previously. Nothing we did seemed to matter. We were explicitly directed from one scene to another. We were given the information about what was going on in the last 15-minutes of the game. Without one of our party members having a fortuitous psychic power, I don’t have any idea how we could have gotten that information. I strongly suspect the GM was going to reject my solution to the game, but gave in because we were out of time. That all said, it wasn’t necessarily a bad game; just really, really annoying. I’m ok to have played in it once, but I don’t think that I’d be happy to go through anything like that agin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.