Sunday, August 8, 2010

Confusion 8

So this Saturday past I attended Confusion 8 a relaxed one day roleplaying ‘con. For various reasons I had offered to run 2 games, which I initially had cause to regret. First, I somehow managed to get sick on Friday night; I had a fever and only managed a handful of sleep hours. Also, the weather on Saturday morning was not exactly hospitable. Just to top things off I was having a lot of trouble getting my head around Castle Bravo, and felt woefully unprepared for it.

However, I had pledged to run games and take Fright Night registrations, and was still capable of functioning, albeit with diminished capacity, so I braved the rain and headed to the ‘con for the first round where I was to run Mutants and Masterminds.

Round One – Running the Proteus Plot
This is a fairly straightforward published scenario with a neat twist. To keep things interesting I had made some additions to put a lot of focus on the characters, which are created using templates and some randomly assigned elements, then fleshed out a little using some light collaborative method. It’s a bit challenging because I really ask each player to work with me and flesh out some initial scenes, requiring some up-front engagement and creativity - A big ask first thing in the morning.

As it happened, I had the maximum load of 6 players sign up for the game, which wasn’t ideal for this style of game and in light of my diminished capacity. On the plus side they were all talented and experienced players with love for the genre. On the downside, the collaborative hero creation process was a little rocky for some, but I did find that we got a cast of really great characters who really added more interest and depth to a simple plot. The Supers created included:

- The Spirit of Justice, a billionaire body-builder with a troubled marriage
- The Crown Prince, an elderly dad with a utility belt of 1980's gadgets
- Rain, a wealthy party girl turned dark avenger with a predilection for gun violence
- Crisis, a time travelling bad-ass loner with electricity powers and a stray cat
- Edge, a psychic investigator with a crummy day job and a rocket powered skateboard
- Beast/Simon, a man and monster fused together with a helping of anger issues

It was, for me, the fun romp that I had envisaged and I think every player got some decent spotlight time, and had a measure of fun. I don’t know if it hit everyone’s buttons, as there wasn’t a huge amount of investigation, combat, relationships or grand ideas, which I know some people really dig. I was fading a little toward the end, so was not really able to push for an epic cinematic ending of the type I think supers ‘con outings deserve, but all things considered, it was a fun game for me.

Round Two – Playing Apocalypse World
I missed out on the signup having chatted to people, then trying to take more notes for Castle Bravo while I ate lunch, so I arrived in Apocalypse World by default. On the plus side Mike (the GM) was really enthusiastic about the game and setting, and there a number experienced veteran players at the table who I enjoy gaming with.

I was nominated to be the Hard Holder, which was the gang leader in a Mad Max (2) style world. Accordingly I modeled my character, Calibre, after Lord Humungus, and took a fairly brutal approach to gang management theory. Unfortunately the dice betrayed me at several crucial moments, my captive escaped, some of my bodyguards tried to kill me, my ruse to uncover traitors failed and during an epic battle my gang turned on me and handed me over to the enemy gang and I was seriously injured (okay I can actually only blame one of those on the dice).

Thus, Calibre spent the later stages of the game confined to a hospital bed, being tended and often sedated by our ‘Angel’ or medic when she disagreed with my ideas. In all fairness, the real roleplaying hammer fell on Mash’s character Spice, who was the hottest guy in our gang, and also the unlikely vehicle of our salvation from a more monstrous foe.

It was a really fun game, despite my characters incapacitation, and I must give kudos to Mike for a great setup and execution while also allowing us an effective ‘sandbox’ approach to the game. The only real downside was that one of our number played a character that was really very creepy, even by Mad Max standards and was effectively ostracized by our characters, effectively cutting him out of the main action. I felt even worse when my character executed his character at the end for a perceived assassination attempt.

Also, my Calibre voice, really tore up my throat in a way that left me concerned about whether I’d be able to last out Castle Bravo.

Round Three – Running Castle Bravo
As I have alluded to, I was concerned about making sure I understood this scenario adequately. It is written as a series of increasingly bizarre events leading to an epic crisis point. This is set against nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll during the 1950’s. It was also my first experience at running Trail of Cthulhu (although I had previously run other GUMSHOE games). I had a full house again (6 players) which again, was not really ideal for the mood and pacing of the scenario – but them’s the breaks in the big show.

It was also the last slot of the ‘con, and a late one at that. We kicked off close to 6pm and I could see many of the players were wilting fast.

Overall, it went surprisingly well from my perspective (perhaps because I had so much anxiety about the detail). I think I managed to convey the creepy and bizarre against a backdrop of ever more dire circumstances. Most of my efforts were centered around the major NPC, which worked out fairly well. Despite their tiredness the players all engaged with the elements well, and worked with me to really push things along - particular kudos to Henry one of the few unfamiliar faces at the table who engaged really well with the plot and his PC.

On the downside, because this is a ‘purist’ scenario the players are left without the real opportunity for ‘victory’ and really have to settle for a much less decisive outcome. Also some of the more important information that is imparted to the players at the beginning didn’t really come out until the end, which meant I had to push things along in a more direct way than I’d prefer. Whether or not it’s reasonable to expect the PC’s to dump this info in a single scene, as envisaged by the scenario, is perhaps more of a question. Also providing some real detail and ambiance to the setting of the aircraft carrier was something I don’t think I really executed well.

In either event we made it without anyone falling asleep, or me losing my voice entirely, so I’ll call it a win.


  1. I really enjoyed the supers game. I imagined my character more as properly aged (70s) and dragged back out of retirement by the need to avoid the chaos at home after starting life again with a much younger woman. :)

    I don't think that scenario will provide a reliably entertaining experience. i.e. I think it depends almost entirely on the players for its fun, since the actual plot is thin on the ground. I think in the hands of someone like you, you could probably get fun out of it with even a semi-zombie group, but I can easily imagine the game-as-written crashing badly with such a group.

    For a game so dependant on player energy, I think a bigger group is possibly better. There was a huge amount of us just riffing off each other, which is a bit harder in a small group. There's usually one loser at the table that I think could have been jettisonned, but TBH, from that game it's hard to see whose contribution I wouldn't have missed.

    So... overall: I had a huge amount of fun, and wouldn't really have wanted to change anything about how it actually played out.

    In terms of Apocalpypse World... I thought that was a very good game. I don't think I explored the full potential of my character or situation; I was fumbling a bit about the genre, and about how far to push things. It's a game I'd be pretty keen to revisit too.

    I really liked your Hardholder. Favourite moment was the attempted nailing. That's how to run a post-apocalyptic gang! :)

    The Brainer was creepy. When Michael said he was trying to play it warm and friendly, not creepy, I was pretty surprised, because I found it pretty hard to see how it could have been creepier! I think he really isolated himself to a certain extent, but I also think it must have been hard for him not to, because everyone else at the table had played with everyone else a lot over a long period, and he was the new guy.

  2. Agree that the Proteus Plot as written is thin on the ground, which was why I like it as a simple outing for my hero creation system. The best bit is often getting to confront the PC's with my take on their characters at the end - which when you actually created the character, is cool.

    With a smaller group I would have pushed more to develop a couple of more meaningful NPC's in your characters life, which would have helped me get some more details locked in my head (like your characters age for example) and then used them to really bring the drama in the twist - but you're riht, there's not really a character from that game I'd have done without.

    I agree with your assessment of the Brainer. I guess it's worth noting that we went out of our way to create a strong trust relationship between our characters during the initial spending phase, whereas he took an opposite approach, and ultimately reaped the consequences to an extent. I still felt bad about it though.

    Also; the look on your face when Donna's character confessed she's injected you with 'slow acting poison' = priceless.

  3. I also might have gotten a bit precious and unrealistic about manifestation of player enthusiasm to my games : )
    When I ran 'The High Price of Spandex' in Canberra I had a spontanious ovation at the end from the players - it's like GM heroin - I must have more!! ; )

  4. I had an awesome time at your Mutants and Masterminds game. I rather like Rain, and if she wasn't incredibly derivative character I'd like to play her more :)

  5. Yeah, I totally think Rain would warrant an Electra-style spin-off; she's totally made for hollywood combining two female archetypes that seem to sell so well!

    Today I found myself thinking about the next Council of Champions installment for Kapcon. Curses!

    (For those who have no idea what I'm talking about: )