Last night I attended the eight instalment our local one-night horror RPG 'con Fright Night. I know there were some volatility in numbers this year and some last minute sign-ups, but overall attendance was reasonable (if slightly down on previous years), with 3 fully subscribed tabletop games each round. Local game designer Mike Sands also generously donated a copy of his well regarded Apocalypse World adaption Monster of the Week to every attendee, which was very well received.
Round 1 - The Woods
In the first round I had signed up to play Mike's game 'The Woods' which used another Apocalypse World hack Black Stars Rise. We played characters in the small Southland town of Otautau who witnessed harrowing murders which echoed killings which had occurred in the town two decades earlier. I have, perhaps, played too much EPOCH of late, so I spent a lot of time early in the game trying to develop interest in my character - a local reporter for the Otautau Advertiser, who was clearly living beyond his means and closely entangled with several other prominent townsfolk. However, around half way through the game I realised there was an implicit expectation that all the characters should investigate the mystery and did my best to insert myself and follow the lead of Morgue's amateur detective Percy.
I had a great time, and the game had a high level of carnage for which the characters (particularly Stephanie's level-headed, if trigger-happy, farmer Andy) were responsible. The final scene was suitably epic, if somewhat grim. My other observations is that some of the characters basically stayed in the periphery of the horror, seeing no reason to risk their lives in the pursuit of a mystery which should properly be investigated by the authorities (I fell into this camp initially), and therefore I wonder if this is something the system or scenario needs to address given the specified setup for Black Stars Rise:
"The player characters are caught up in the setup, we're here to see how they come out of it. They may try to get out, try to get to the bottom of it, or just try to survive—whatever makes sense for the player characters"
Ultimately, if the players are not on the same page, it seems that this could lead to a fractured and frustrating experience where characters focus on different priorities (investigating vs survival for example). That said, The Woods was a fun time and a compelling story.
Round 2 - Harvest
In the second round I ran my scenario for the forthcoming EPOCH Companion, Harvest. The selected scenario setup framed the characters as a group of friends travelling to the remote seaside town of Hudson's Point to scatter the ashes of a recently deceased friend.
The characters that were created were fairly extreme, and not really, in any sense friends, but they create some amazing backstories, which pushed the tension and drama between the characters to the forefront (which is what the system aims to achieve). Against this rich backdrop of heavily armed mercenaries, clandestine government operatives, drug smuggling, former child stars, cross-dressing, debts and tax evasion, and ghost riders, the actual horror story was somewhat eclipsed by the energy and enthusiasm of those at the table.
It was a great game, even if I was stretched to try and keep up with the plot twists and drama unfolding at pace around the table.
The 'con was well organised, and (from my perspective) seemed to go without a hitch, and I congratulate Andy and Grant on putting together an excellent night. The communication before the 'con was top notch, and I think helped ensure people were thinking about the 'con in the lead-up to the night and probably reduced the number of last-minute cancellations. The reports I heard from other games were also very positive.
As for the future, I guess we'll see. The fragmentation of the Wellington roleplaying community (for reasons I previously described here) seems to be continuing, with the active calendar of LARP events diminishing interest in tabletop events, leading to only a few remaining viable - however, it is possible that a new roleplaying store could rejuvenate interest in tabletop if it showcases new RPG releases. In either event attendance at Kapcon in early 2015 should provide a further indication of the relative health of the tabletop RPG community.