Go Play Northwest 2012: After Action Report

After missing last year’s Go Play Northwest due to a case of getting married, the wife and I returned to Go and Play this year.

The Venue

This year GPNW returned to the same place it started: Seattle University. Though not in the same building, it was definitely the same stomping grounds as before. It was, essentially, the bottom floor of one of the dorms. There was a ballroom with tables set up across it, a lobby with some conversation areas and tables, some private study and entertainment nooks, and tables outside. Games filled up these various locations through the weekend, with varying levels of quite available as needed. Those staying overnight for the convention roomed in the dorms upstairs.

Overall I enjoyed the venue space, though other groups were using the dorm rooms and sometimes had to pass back and forth through the lobby while games were going on. These were usually mobs of teenagers in groups of about twenty, which was a little annoying at times. But otherwise I really liked the venue.

In addition to our access to the event, membership provided us with food on Friday night during the social as well as free lunch in the cafeteria. I’m guessing the school also provided the catering for the social. For university cafeteria food it was okay. Not spectacular. But okay.

The Games

The whole convention sort of snuck up on me. I didn’t prepare anything to run and I didn’t get to the forums to sign up in advance for anything. Almost everything I wanted to play that had been posted filled up by the time I saw it. Because I haven’t thought much about indy/story games over the last year or so, I didn’t have anything I felt like I could run. I mean, aside from Amber. But I felt awkward offering that. So I threw myself on the mercy of the Magic Doughnut for most of the slots. For some reason I thought it worked differently in previous years, but I find no mention in previous blog posts that I can compare against. So who knows.

The Magic Doughnut involved forming a circle. Those who were willing to facilitate a game moved to the center and made their pitches. Then people swarmed the facilitators to get into the game they wanted. In general it worked out for me.

Because we were both tired from a long day at work, my wife and I didn’t play in the Friday night slot after dinner. So we fast forward to…

Saturday Slot 1

In the Magic Doughnut I threw myself into a game of Fiasco run by my friend Lee. I first tried Fiasco a couple years prior, and had a lackluster experience. So I didn’t understand why people continued to gush about it for the next couple years. So this was me giving it another shot. For those not familiar with it, Fiasco is a game of bungled heists and other criminal activities. A common point of reference mentioned is Fargo. It’s GM free and uses a bit of dice rolling to help generate hooks between characters, plot twists halfway through (“the Tilt”), and generating how your character ends their story.

We had a total of four players, which was a much smaller group than before. Used one of the playsets to portray down and out would-be criminals in small-town Alaska. It was bizarre and strangely a little believable. We had animal smugglers, disputes over inheritance, a bigamist who had both a wife and a transvestite husband. I died in a blaze of glory at the end. I really had a lot of fun. I wouldn’t say I love the game. But it was definitely a good time.

The main appeal is really the randomization of connections between players so that the story is different each time. I’ve free-formed a game like this with a group, but our character creation involved a lot more of just “what would be a cool character to be in this setting.” And so we totally lacked any significant connection. We went through the basics of a plot structure, so that aspect wasn’t necessary. But the random elements in Fiasco definitely helped also set tone.

Saturday Slot 2

For the afternoon slot, they mixed things up a little and there was The Lottery. We all put badges into a box and had our names drawn out into groups of four. We then figured out what we would play as a group. What we ended up doing was a one-shot of Dungeon World. It bills itself as old-school dungeoneering with new school game design. The game definitely had a feel of that dark fantasy common in Conan, much like In a Wicked Age. I’m not sure how much of that was the GM and how much is built into the game. Even with that caveat, there were a lot of really nice touches. Some mechanics that stood out:

  • The same die mechanic was used for almost every action in the game. There were also partial successes.
  • The GM did not make any die rolls except for occasional damage. Players rolled an attack roll when they had a basic attack they wanted to do. They made a defense roll if they were doing something risky. If they only had a partial success, then they opened themselves up for consequences.
  • All of the attributes, even though they matched the same stats from regular D&D,  felt like they had value.
  • The spot/perception roll, called “Discern Reality” in this game, gave a list of specific questions players could ask based off of the success of their rolls. These were really big questions to like, “What should I be on the lookout for?” or “What here is not what it appears to be?”
  • Your ability to aid someone else in an action depended on how much established background you had with that character.
  • Your alignment provided a specific way to gain more XP for acting in accordance with it, and did not seem to have any vague restrictions for players that the GM was expected to enforce.
  • We didn’t get to it, but there were also explicitly define mechanical aspects for what you could do during downtime for characters.
  • You get XP during the game by totally blowing rolls.
  • Unlike a lot of story games, this game contains mechanics for advancement. I’m a big fan of the ongoing campaign, but many indie games seem designed with the one-shot in mind. So I was very pleased to see this in place.
  • All of the abilities your character had, plus several levels of advancement, were contined on 2-4 sheets of paper. You just checked off what powers you want.
I liked it so much I jumped on the Kickstarter for it in the last few hours. It will be interesting to see what the final product looks like.
We had three hours for dinner, so we drove up to dine at the Elysian Brew Pub. I tried out their poutine and a Dry Soda (blood orange flavor). Sipped from a few beers to try them out. For assorted reasons, we opted not to stay for the third slot that day. The wife had errands to run the next morning, so I didn’t make it back on Sunday until…

Sunday Slot 2

Back in the doughnut. There were a lot of options that sounded sort of interesting. Mostly I just walked forward until I came across a facilitator who didn’t have a mob in front of him. This resulted in me finally getting to play Shock, a game that examines culture in reaction to future shock. We were supposed to play this in half of Grindhouse a few years ago, but incidents conspired to prevent it from happening. (We freeformed it instead.) It was nice to actually put the game through its paces.

The beginning of the game was basically a structured brainstorming session, where we decided on the new science that will impact society (the  “shock”), issues that arise from this that we think are interesting, and flesh out details about the setting. Each person created a character that interacted with one of the issues, the player to their left played their primary antagonist. The game is GMless, with play revolving each player setting the scene for their character, and their antagonist coming in to ruin the character’s day. The scene then built till there was some conflict and establishing of stakes. The interesting thing is that both the protagonist and antagonist had to define goals they had that were not mutually exclusive. If the protagonist’s goal was “I want to rescue bunnies” the antagonist’s goal couldn’t be “I don’t want him to rescue bunnies.” It had to be something like, “I want to have the warhounds released.” With the die rolls, then, you had d10s that were used to accomplish your goals and d4s to thwart your antagonist’s goal. So the end result could be very complicated and ugly.

Overall fun.

Sunday Slot 3

I couldn’t make it through the weekend without playing Anima Prime. This is one of the most fun games I’ve ever played. My only complaint from poking through the rules is that there isn’t a strong advancement system. From a gaming perspective, I like being able to get new powers and stuff. The game provides options, but not having played an actual campaign of this I don’t know how it would go in the long run.

This time we played a reskinning of the rules to allow us to play in a Star Wars setting. The GM called it “Coruscant Prime.” Set right after the Republic’s victory over the Separatists and the Jedi purge, our characters were an odd mix of Jedi and former Separatists that were looking for some sort of power that would give us an edge against Palpatine.

It was ridiculously fun, of course. We had speeder bikes chasing us through lava tubes, with bikes exploding against stalactites. This would have been impossible to run in the d20 rules for Star Wars, and really damn hard in the d6 rules. But in this setting over-the-top action is the assumed default. There’s no fiddling with relative speeds or risk of falling when jumping. In general if it sounds awesome and it doesn’t seem out of line for the setting, you can do it.

This is everything I wish Exalted was like. A quick google turns up a hack that someone did.


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