Monday, January 23, 2012

Kapcon 21 - Part 2

In Rounds 3, 4 and 5 I ran the Love of Money, a recent Esoterrorists release. In December I was looking around for a published scenario to run as a second Kapcon offering and picked this after a skim read – in retrospect it wasn’t the best game to take to a time limited ‘con. Firstly Esoterrorists is a complex setting, I lost 35 minutes to establishing the setting and system alone. Secondly the pre-generated characters were very detailed (3 full pages of text). I don’t think they were overly complex (with one exception) but they were, perhaps, over written. As an existing team of investigators who have established relationships, who find themselves in a bad spot, there was probably more detail then I think could easily be absorbed in ‘con conditions.

Finally, the plot, which had several cool scenes, was overly complex, and unnecessarily convoluted. It prompted the players to think it was even more convoluted then it was, which chewed up a lot of time. Finally, investigative games are a tough ask in a ‘con. Players inevitably engage with the investigation more thoroughly than is anticipated by the scenario, and even in a fairly tight setup where the clues are guaranteed – like Love of Money – there is a fair bit of doubt and second-guessing which slows the scenario down.

After the playtest, I had taken steps to address some of the problems, and managed to cut the scenario down from 4.5 hours to 3.5, and with a little effort 3.25 hours, although this inevitably truncates the climax, which is a shame as this is a much better scene than the longest scene (the intro). Plus, I prefer to have my games come in on time, for everybody’s sake.

How did it go? Well, the averaged response is good. I think most groups enjoyed the game and had fun. But some games felt like they dragged, and some players played a less active role than I’d have liked, while others were better as the players managed to dig out some characterisation and conflict from the pre-generated characters. As a GM I found running Love of Money really, really hard work, and wished that I had offered Sundown to replace this for 2 of the 3 runs. It wasn’t a bad game, but I don’t think it lived up to my normal Kapcon standards. I think this is entirely my own fault for trying to force a square peg through a round hole, and I’ll certainly look to take some lessons away from it.

In Round 3.5 I was going to simply go and have a drink with some of my regular Cthulhu group to debrief the first day of the ‘con, but that wily salesman and veteran GM, Mike Sands managed to sell me on Psi-Run a game where people with psychic powers and amnesia are hunted down. It sounded cool, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Much like Geiger Counter, this game starts a little rough - from a cold start you have to make a number of character decisions that you might wish you could rethink once you understand how the game works – so subsequent runs would be fun, but it’s tough on the first run-through. Also, like Geiger-Counter, the system seems to not account for a player’s natural desire to have their character ‘succeed’ (which in this context is remaining on the lamb) at the expense of other elements – so on most of the tests we made people didn’t prioritise answering questions about their characters amnesia which prolonged the chase. This is reinforced by the fact that having the chasers get closer affects all the characters - regardless of their circumstances - so there is an additional social pressure not to screw everyone with your decision.

However, unlike Geiger Counter, Mike acted as GM and did a great job of contextualising the chase, setting and the inevitable psychic surges. This helped structure the game to a point where most of the player believed that actually it might be better if the psychic escapees were recaptured, rather than continuing to wreck havoc on the world. In my opinion, the weird mix of complete creative freedom, which is then straitjacketed by an overly dictatorial dice mechanic. All in all, I had a lot of fun playing this, and would recommend it to others in the hands of a GM who loves to improvise.

For Round 6 I ran Piledrivers and Powerbombs for 8 players. In retrospect I think 8 might have been a touch ambitious and I probably should have used a variant of the ‘royal rumble’ party rules. Needless to say I will tinker with it to try and get a slightly more coherent approach for the next outing. It was a really great time, and a great way to have some silly fun to close out the 'con. I’ll cross post my remarks from NZRaG:

Kapcon Summer Slam in round 6 was epic-level insanity - the players were screaming, cheering, jeering, waving hillarious signs, smack-talking and scene framing until they could wrestle and game no more. I salute your ridiculous, magnificent, amazing wrestlers:

- Rainbow Warrior (Sophie)
- Polar Bear (Nick P.)
- Jolly Roger (John B.)
- G.I. Joey (Liam)
- Baseball Boy (don't remember your name, sorry)
- La Cucaracha (Stephanie)
- El Diablo (Andrew M.) *Crossover character from D.O.G.
- Drunken Truckie (Grant)

And, all of their hilarious and tragic nemeses.

You can read my report of Kapcon 20 here and here.


  1. Psi*Run is probably my second favourite game of the last five years (behind Dungeon World) and they both sing with zero prep.

    Which decisions did you want to rethink?
    What do you mean by a "dictatorial" dice mechanic?

  2. I placed a series of limitations on my characters powers, unaware that these would make the play challenging. A number of us picked similar powers, not really thinking about the possible scope of what we could do.

    As for the dice system, it felt the rolls were frequent and the forced allocation to things like surge and memory often seemed inappropriate given the circumstances. I rolled both really high and really low, but rarely in between meaning that frequently a single action forcibly had massive repurcussions for everyone.

    To be clear, I'm not saying it's a bad system. Just that (in my opinion) there needed to be an element of moderation possible by the characters (e.g. you could choose to apply the results of a roll to a unique table with more outcomes focussed on developing your character 3 times during the game, or the players can add 3 to the results of a single dice 3 times during the game etc.)

    As for zero prep - yes, to an extent. But you'd want to be very good at improvising. The complete freedom of the characters to interact with everything, as and how they wish, would rapidly deplete my spontanious narrative abilities, especially if the players fixate upon trying to secure an 'escape' rather than adding to the narrative. 6 players going in 6 directions would stretch me from the get-go.

  3. I'll have to read the published rules and ask Mike how he runs it, I think. It sounds like the way he did powers was different to what I'd expect (i.e. a question alludes to one power, so restricted by nature).

    There certainly is an interesting dynamic with the kind of dice arrays you want and get. I think it's up to the GM to make the failure fun and not frustrating, but depending on personal preference, it might be frustrating anyway. I've only _played_ once and when I did I just about always prioritised Questions of Success, and I frequently push players in my games to do the same. After all, using the Chasers is fun! *cackle*

    How much did your group split up? I find that groups _usually_ stick together for the most part, but even when they don't I usually run 3 or 4 player games, so it's not so bad. But you're right, it is a game for GMs good at improvising.

  4. I'm sure Mike can fill you in on the details. We immediately split up as two characters had movement powers, so activated them immediately and transported other characters. From the it was a parallel game. So it was effectively 2 games. We also split again later, but joined together (although I think this was probably a player contrivance rather than realistic character action).

    I certainly think, assuming you use a modern metrolopolis as a back-drop, splitting the group is highly likely. Followed by finding clothes, food and shelter.

    In our defence it was round 3.5 and people made some very fruity characters of the sort you wouldn't want to hang out with, so the general fatigue of the players may have been a factor.

    It is a cool game though.

  5. I usually set the Crash in the woods actually, for some X-Files-style torches-in-the-forest chase action! That might have something to do with it.

    I think I'll try a city next time and see if they scatter!