Well, Gamex 2013 ended a few weeks ago, and I have finally recovered enough for … post-convention wrap up time!
Short version is, I pre-regged for 8 games but only managed to play 5 1/4 (due to feeling like poo on Sunday). I still had a great time, though.
The vibe was much more chill than the other two Strategicons — fewer attendees meant it didn’t feel as crowded and frenetic, and it was also 37 times easier to eat in the bar (though the service was, of course, still lackluster). Beyond that, even the games themselves felt just a little more relaxed and laid-back, as though The Dude himself were there, abiding and spreading Zen chillaxitude™ behind the scenes.
It is common for me, in the months and weeks before a con, to vacillate back and forth over whether I want to run a game or two. More often than not, the deadlines come and go without my having got my act together, so the decision is made for me. But when I actually get to the con, and hear other GMs talk about the games they’ve run or are getting ready to run, I mentally kick myself (not as easy as it sounds) and vow that “next con will be different.”
So possibly at Gateway in a few months (Labor Day weekend!), I’ll GM a few more GURPS games. But for Gamex, I was flying Player Only (once more feeding into the cosmic mojo pool of relaxation), and looking forward to doing nothing but playing, eating, and sleeping for three days or so.
Note: there may be spoilers below for some of the games I played in. Be careful if you are a regular Strategicon attendee and might play them in the future!
Also, if I got your name wrong, misspelled it, the secret service advises you have it redacted, you don’t want your Twitter feed linked, whatever — please let me know.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough vacation time to take both the day before and the day after the con off, so I ended up working from 11:00 PM Thursday night until 8:00 AM Friday morning, then racing home, showering, shoving food in m’hole, and heading to the hotel with Gina and JiB. But hey, that’s what Monster is for, right? The ride up was a lovely chat-fest about all things geek and wondrous.
We checked in around noon, stowed our bags, grabbed Subway for lunch, and joined the flock of vulture-like gamers waiting, just like at OrcCon 2013, for the sign-up sheets to arrive and be set out so they could, you know, play a game at the gaming convention.
As it turned out, I was already sitting around with the GM and half the players for the game I pre-regged for, so when the time came we wandered off to find a room for…
Steel and Flesh
I had never heard of the rules set this was based on, Rivers and Lakes, but it’s apparently a very fast-moving wuxia-style game. The dice mechanic is unusual (at least to me), using sets of matched numbers to determine successes, e.g., three 5s are better than two 5s, and four 5s are even better. These sets are compared against one another for opposed actions like combat, with the higher, bigger set taking precedence.
At least, that’s the way I remember it. It did take me a little bit to fully grok, and it’s entirely possible I’ve had some neuron misfirings since the game. But that’s the gist. I believe the character sheet is a Mike-original — it contains both character creation tools and game rules on one side of a page!
One rules-fiddle I really liked was the mechanic for taking risks (on the character sheet above, lower-left corner, under “Choose a Risk”). Instead of performing an action normally, you could gain a bonus by choosing to risk injury or even death as part of the consequences. Fits very well in this kind of narrative-driven game, but could probably be hacked into a more simulation-style game without much trouble (all roads lead to GURPS!).
We spent a few minutes coming up with our characters and decided on:
- Rodrick, sneaky thiefy type (played by me)
- Sultana, martial artist (Gina)
- Jovan Baraz, pirate king (Morgan)
- Sujak, sword-wielding warrior (James)
- Temurian, ranger (Ben)
This is probably the only complete player list there will be with the game descriptions, and I’m not 100% sure it’s correct. As cons draw on, my notes invariably get more and more spotty!
We started in the city of Haven (blame me for the name), the next target in the sweeping campaign of conquest led by the evil Spider King. It was clear to us adventurers that the key to the city’s survival lay in its legendary Secret, a mysterious, closely-guarded treasure found deep beneath its streets. We fought and bluffed our way into the Great Archives, staffed entirely by blind monks, to discover that the city’s Secret somehow involved a hidden chamber beneath the city regent’s throne room, and a magic shield, crown, and key.
The blind monks were fascinating to us, out-of-game. Their order just seemed so perfect for the task they were vowed to perform. They couldn’t read the texts they were charged with caretaking (though they could identify them through a braille-like system of raised characters), further shielding all sorts of confidential information from being compromised. They could also keep the Archive chambers in total darkness, a great boon to defense, with the side benefit of decreasing the danger of a fire to the flammable scrolls. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make a reappearance in some future Strategicon game.
We took our new-found knowledge to the young regent of the city, and put it to good use in the cavernous chamber beneath his throne room by defeating an enormous snake guardian and activating the spell to awaken the dozens of gigantic snake protectors that would go on to maraud through the Spider King’s armies. Though my own dear Rodrick was slain in the battle against the guardian (mostly because I had fallen during the long descent into the hidden chamber and taken beaucoup damage before the fight), I will always remember the image of Jovan Baraz riding the giant snake into the throne room like some crazed Major Kong from Dr. Strangelove (at least, that’s the way it played in my mind).
Steel and Flesh was an awesome first game for the con, just totally fun and relaxing. It should have been called, “Welcome to Gamex! You’re gonna have fun!” I knew most of the table already, have had many fun hours playing alongside them before, so it felt much more like just hanging out with friends and playing a weekend one-shot than the sometimes-awkward convention game with unfamiliar faces. I left the game in great spirits, looking forward to more ahead and happy to be once again firmly nestled in Strategicon’s ample bosom.
Attempting to get back to our rooms, we quickly discovered that only two of the hotel’s five elevators were currently working. This is awful for many reasons: you cannot use the stairs (the doors are alarmed); we were on the 11th floor, anyway; and finding time to cram food in your gullet between game slots is often already hectic enough when all the elevators are working.
Waiting 5 minutes or more for an elevator that actually has room is, granted, not exactly like surviving daily famine or a life-threatening disease. But it is really, really annoying.
Regardless, we managed to grab some pizza with friends, despite a minorly-traumatizing Mook Pas (this is the phrase I’ve coined to describe faux pas that, to normal people, barely register, but that often stick in my mind being cud-chewed and examined for days and weeks). Belly full and Sims “Social” bar filled to green, I meandered (20 minutes early, due to the elevator situation) to my next game…
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness
I was really looking forward to this game, because A) Morgan is awesome, B) Fate Core is awesome, and C) TMNT & OS is awesome. I was not disappointed!
Much to my (and our) delight, there were no pre-gens. The best part of playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was always rolling on all those crazy random tables to find out what your character was. One of my favorites was a six-gun shootin’ armadillo (ultimately slain by a beaver with katana, as I recall). So I was psyched to discover we would be rolling our characters randomly just like in the Good Old Days.
After slinging the dice and consulting the tomes, we ended up with the following party:
- Foom, a “duckoid” dinosaur accountant from an alternate dimension (played by me)
- The Muskrat, a muskrat apprentice Timelord from the future (Unsure of player)
- Rosemary, a walrus from the ancient Egyptian Old Kingdom (Josh)
- Oreo, a very small, devolved humanoid from the future (Mike)
As common for Fate games, we had a lot of input into the game itself. As we began, all of our characters found themselves suddenly in 1984 — Oreo was pulled from the future; Rosemary, from the distant past; and I was caught in the resulting unstable timeline when I tried to hop dimensions from Cynosure to my office job. The Muskrat was sent on behalf of the Timelords to figure out what happened and to correct the tangle in time.
We fought a squad of ninjas, members of an ancient order of protectors dating all the way back to the Egyptian Old Kingdom, the same time period in which Rosemary was mutated by the god Imhotep. It also turned out that Oreo, the future star baby, was an enemy of the Imhotech corporation in his own time. Further research led us to conclude that Imhotep was the one responsible for the time knot that brought us together, a result of some powerful spell he was trying cast on the timeline (using the resources of the powerful corporation he created, Imhotech).
We traveled into the Imhotech headquarters with my commuter’s dimension hopper, being pulled a few months into the future at the precise moment Imhotep was attempting his ritual to summon vicious time creatures to lay waste to everything. Fighting our way through hordes of red ninjas, we ultimately defeated Imhotep by knocking him into his own summoned time vortex and letting it close behind him.
By the time this game ended at midnight, I had been awake for about 27 hours straight, so it’s possible I missed some details. But that’s the broad strokes!
It was a crazy, over-the-top adventure, with equally crazy characters, and I loved it. It had all the best parts of the TMNT games I remembered, coupled with the creamy goodness of Fate. It, too, had that same kind of “just hanging out” vibe.
Two for two, Friday was a fantastic first day of the con. As the cherry on top, when I got to the elevator banks to haul my weary butt to bed — all the elevators were working perfectly! Collapsed into bed, slept soundly, and woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for…
Slot: Saturday, 9am – 1pm
My Character: Usagi “Sage” Yoshida (hacker/techie)
Dice mechanic: 3d6, roll low
Most folks are aware that GURPS is my one and only when it comes to GMing. At conventions, though, I don’t really play a lot of it. I certainly could – the Strategicon events list always has a ton of GURPS games to choose from. But I usually prefer to play other systems in my precious time slots, because:
- I am already super-comfortable with GURPS, and have a well-worn style with it, so picking up system-specific tips from other GURPS GMs has become less a priority
- I enjoy taking cool parts from other systems and GURPS-ifying them
- Choosing a particular game because it is GURPS isn’t nearly as wise as choosing a game because the setting or story sounds fun. As a generic system, GURPS is designed purposely to not have a signature “flavor” (this is instead left to the GM to inject). The rules are meant to be neutral, the way all national news anchors speak with the same non-regional (lack of) accent. So, given the choice between “GURPS: The Mediocrity” and “FATAL: Wicked Cool Special Forces Ninjas,” it’s Ninjas all the way
So I pre-regged for Aspire, not because it was GURPS, but because it was about human government agents assigned to protect the unsuspecting world from all manner of supernatural beings like vampires, werewolves, etc. Sweet! Being GURPS was just a bonus.
The Aspire setting is a shared-world used by many of the Steve Jackson Men in Black at the various Strategicons, so there was a binder full of pre-gens we could pick from, which was nice. The party we assembled was:
- Usagi “Sage” Yoshida, a super-hacker and technophile (played by me)
- Alexis, a fellow hacker (Unsure of player — but we definitely had the tech end of things covered!)
- Shannon Gray, a psi with useful abilities like x-ray vision and shrinking down to 7 inches tall (Michael Sh—)
- Captain Svenson, a tough-as-nails ex-soldier gun-bunny (Phil)
- Danny, an ex-soldier as well (Michael Sc—)
The mission assigned to us was to investigate the cause of a suspicious “event” at an Abbott International Foods warehouse in Louisiana. Many workers had been injured and the facility evacuated, but details of what, exactly, the problem was were scarce. We were to investigate, contain, and report back with our findings. What could possibly go wrong? (Especially once Captain Svenson requisitioned a man-portable minigun.)
Given false identities as CDC workers, we made our way through the military perimeter around the facility grounds and began our investigation. On our way, we did a little hacking – I breached the Abbott International corporate intranet and discovered workers mentioning “a weird black sludge in one of the labs,” and “bite marks” on some of the injured workers. Alexis downloaded the current schematics to the building, indicating a high-security research lab beneath the warehouse.
Once we made it inside, we discovered strange vines growing on everything, and a few bodies (actually, we knew about all that from outside, thanks to our psi). There was also the “black sludge” mentioned by the workers here and there. When analyzed, we discover it contained both human and plant DNA — never a good sign. Then we came to the massive, locked door leading to the research lab — the metal had been bowed out, as though something very strong tried to smash it down. Being PCs, we naturally proceeded anyway. Svenson rigged an IED out of a propane tank wrapped in nails (inadvertently referred to as an “IUD” more than once, the image of which cracked me up every time). We cracked the door, threw it in, and backed away just as the evil plant monster came shambling out (porcupined with nails).
We shredded that sucker, particular Svenson and his “ol’ faithful” minigun, and headed into the lab area, with Alexis grabbing up every hard drive she could lay hands on. After a lot more investigation and a little more combat, we ultimately reached the final lab. Inside, our psi could see three more of the crazy-strong giant plant creatures we had fought near the entrance. Rather than fight them, we rerouted the freon lines from the warehouse’s refrigerated storage into the lab and froze them into stasis. Radioed back to our superiors with mission success and a request for pick-up — Case Closed!
The plot was, being a con game, fairly linear, but Julie did a nice job of “Yes, And…” GMing so that most everything was driven by player choice (the Dead Gamer’s Society folks are just cool like that!).
- Our hacking and research rolls were a great channel for providing us clues about what was going on, even when the info provided was tangential to what we actually looked for
- Before we entered the building, a pair of activists crashed through the facility fence in a jeep and drove towards the warehouse (we thought they might, based on earlier hacking rolls). The thing is, we players weren’t all that interested in dealing with them, so rather than intercept them ourselves we simply radioed their position to the military and they swooped in with choppers to arrest them. The GM didn’t force the encounter on us, just let the story unfold according to our cues
- The best example was outside the final lab. Clearly, it was set up as a climactic final battle, but when we decided to just freeze the damn things from outside and call it a day, she didn’t say we couldn’t do it, or have the plant monsters suddenly break out (of doors that had up to that point contained them), or whatever — she just said, “Okay, cool. Your Aspire superiors commend you on a job well-done and say they look forward to reading your reports. Well done”
As I wandered from the table in search of yummy food, I realized that so far I was 3 for 3 at this convention, and things were looking rosy. After unhinging my jaw like a snake and cramming down a 12″ Subway sandwich, I headed for my next game, which was…
A surprise! I will say it was probably my favorite game of the weekend, but this post is already long enough, so I’ll call it quits at three games and review the rest in Part 2.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the recap so far. I always have a great time at the Strategicons, so am always happy to recommend them to others! See you for the rest of the games next week.