Here’s some art I made up for tonight’s game of “Land of 10,000 Gods”:
Here is my yearly report on Big Bad Con, the premier roleplaying event of the Bay Area and possibly the world!
I love Big Bad Con. Its an incredible experience for a roleplayer. I await it every year in much the same way that small children look forward to Christmas. Celesticon is good. Dragonflight is good. Kublacon is good (so I have heard, haven’t been there yet), Pacificon is… Pacificon has some lovely people who attend and some wonderful people on staff and, oh never mind. The POINT is that Big Bad Con is far and away the best. It has the best planning, the best design, and attracts the best GMs and the best players of any convention I have ever attended. It gives the sort of experience that roleplayers have always wished their conventions would give them but could never quite achieve because they were lumped in with the tabletop gamers and the miniatures gamers and the eurogamers.* But Big Bad Con is just for us. Plus, Big Bad Con is socially conscious – donating to both local food banks and Doctors Without Borders. I think this is a great idea, and am continually surprised that more conventions don’t do this.
So once again I was all giddy and excited as the date grew closer!
…before getting into Big Bad Con proper, I need to talk a bit about the day before Big Bad Con. I often get pre-game jitters, but before this Big Bad Con I had them bad. I am not sure why. Partially I am sure that it was due to the problems I had with my Apocalypse Pony game a couple of years back. Partially it was because I had filled my schedule pretty full this year in an attempt to get as many buttons as possible. So I was nervous.
I was also up very late trying to get everything together. I had stuff to print and files to sort and cards to find and stuff to pack and dice to select and all that sort of thing that you do before conventions. And of course this meant that I was up until around 2:00 am.
Originally I was supposed to be at the convention at 10:00 am to help with set-up. But at the last minute Sophie got tapped to do a CostCo run for the convention. CostCo opens at 10:00 am, and since I was riding in the same car as Sophie, this meant that I was going to be late – very late. On the one hand I told myself that I shouldn’t worry about this because if the convention gurus decided they needed the CostCo run more than they needed me moving boxes, well, they knew what they were doing. On the other hand it was my first time working with the staff coordinator and I wasn’t keen on having to write to tell him I was going to be late.
Why am I telling you all this?
Because I am laying the groundwork to explain my mistake.
Knowing that we were heading for CostCo, knowing that we were in a bit of a rush, running on little sleep and a lot of anxiety, I did something I knew I shouldn’t do. I took my morning meds on an empty stomach. I rationalized that we were going to CostCo, and I could get food there. But what happened instead is that I couldn’t stomach the thought of CostCo hot dogs and so decided to wait until after the CostCo run when we would get something for the road. Then I compounded my error by thinking that burritos were a good choice, then discovering I really couldn’t eat one in the car without getting drenched in salsa, and so holding off until we got to the convention.
So of course by the time we got to the convention I was horribly, horribly ill. And it was absolutely my own damned fault.
So about the first thing I did when arriving at Big Bad Con this year was throw up in the parking lot. Anyone observing me must have thought I was some sort of drunk – not an auspicious start to the convention. What was worse was that throwing up did not make me feel immediately better. It DID mean that I started to gradually improve, and eating part of my carne asada burrito also helped, but throughout Friday I was in the process of going from feeling horrible to feeling merely wrung out. Bear this in mind when I talk about Friday.
And with that somewhat unpleasant introduction, off we go!
*And at some conventions consigned to a hallway far away from where the rest of the convention is occurring. Not mentioning names here. Just expostulating.
So here I was at Big Bad Con – my favorite gaming event of the year. I had just thrown up in the parking lot, my ears were ringing, my stomach barely in check, my cheeks were burning from embarrassment, and in a minute I was going to have to sneak by a horde of gamers smelling like barf in the hope that I could get to the bathroom and rinse my mouth out before I had to actually talk to someone.
For me this was absolutely the sort of introduction that would make me get back into the car, go home, and text Sophie to tell her that I would pick her up at BART and Sean to tell him I was sick and needed to cancel my events. Which was close enough to being true that it would fly, but not REALLY true in that I knew what was wrong with me and I knew that it would get better and I knew I would be fine by tomorrow as long as I didn’t do something stupid again.
But here’s the thing – I did not do that. I made the decision that I was going to tough it out, and stay at the convention. Because Big Bad Con is that sort of magical place. The sort of place where even a guy like me, embarrassed and sick, feels like he’s with his tribe, and that they will take care of him in their own weird, wonderful way. The sort of place to feel at home, even if I can’t remember the names of people I have seen gaming before and I feel crappy and my ears are ringing. Because my tribe is cool like that – they’re the sort of tribe that watches for signs of weakness and trouble not so that they can abandon or prey upon the unfortunates, but to buoy them up and support them. That’s my tribe.*
So I went in, cleaned up, ate my burrito, and got ready for my first game of the convention.
Sophie’s FATE of Agaptus game was out and boy was the book ever beautiful! Its a work that she has every right to be extremely proud of. I had been helping some with the writing and the playtesting, and had signed up for or been promised a space in several convention games over the last couple of years while it was in design. However, in many of those cases I had decided at the last minute to give up my space in order to accommodate another player figuring that I would have an opportunity later. Consequently, though I had GMed the game quite a bit, I had not played the game all that often, and of the games I had played, two of them hadn’t been in the setting. Well not this time, I said to myself. The game was playtested, proofread, and published – it was a done deal. And THIS time I was going to play! And I was going to play my character – Kuri! I had mercilessly browbeat poor Sophie until she agreed to let me play him, taking full advantage for once of being the GM’s spouse. And now, here I was at game time – sick, dizzy, tired, and wanting little more than to go to sleep for a few hours.
But I had a great time anyway. The guy who played Iva (Kuri’s mother) really got into the spirit of the thing, and all the other players did their characters really well. It all started off with a bar fight (or rather a mugging in a dark alley following a bar fight) between us and members of the Vidaar pirate crew of a rival captain of Ulf. We discovered that rival was off to a secret island where he expected to get a great treasure. Of course, being the good Player Characters we were, we gave chase, pursuing him to his secret island. In the meantime our resident priest, Schmoe, got us all into trouble by rolling “++++” on an attempt to contact the gods, a roll I termed “catastrophic success”, which brought the eye of Agaptus** down on us and almost sunk our ship. When we finally made it to the island, we discovered that the Vidaar pirates knew of a secret cave (what kind of pirate adventure would it be without a secret cave) in which was hidden a whole big chunk of Murmadon rock. Sadly, we ran out of time at this point, and didn’t get to battle the huge nest of Kuld that was in the secret cavern worshiping said Murmadon rock, but I know the battle would have been epic, and Kuri would have been supremely annoying both to the Kuld and to his mother.
I came out of the game still not feeling 100% but much better, and pleased with the idea that I had managed to get through the entire game a) without actually attacking anyone (I put all my efforts into creating advantages, like a dutiful child) and b) without any in-character statement except “HEE!” and “Grrrrrrr!”
After the game we went back to our room, and I prepped for my first game while Sophie went and got me knishes.
By this time I was feeling a lot better, but was still wrung out and a bit queasy. Because of this I think I didn’t bring quite the energy and enthusiasm to the game that it and the players deserved. Big Bad Con sets a very high bar for GMing, and I admit to feeling self-conscious when I think about not measuring up. At any other convention I would have felt that my game was very successful. At Big Bad I thought it was pretty run-of-the-mill.
The players were all quite good and enthusiastic. We had the Taicho, the Migi Ude, the Kusawaki, and the Hahaoya in play, and the scenario was one I had run previously. We did go through the First Founding and a discussion of the war. This was the first time anyone introduced mutations or mutant powers into the game – the Kusawake had perfect night vision and the Taicho could see the future. Everyone came up with ties to Green Village – the Taicho had to kill the village guard because he was getting old, the Kusawake was a sex addict who had to be kept away from the local brothel, the Migi Ude had a fortune in gold buried in the area that on one else knew about, and the Hahaoya had a sister who disapproved of his Motobushi lifestyle. The pack drove out the thugs who had taken residence in the town and then confronted their foes the War Pigs who had come under a flag of truce ostensibly to honor the ancestor of their great enemy (this was true – I decided that I would play it totally straight to see what happened. As I suspected the PCs provided sufficient treachery that the War Pigs needed none). Probably the most interesting twist in the game came when the Taicho saw two futures ahead – one in which he and the Taicho of the War Pigs died, and one where both of them lived. It was the future where both died that was the better of the two, so the Taicho set out to slay his rival. However, the duel didn’t go his way, and the head of the War Pigs won (barely) and spared both their lives. The Kusawaki was eaten by radioactive coyotes, but came back as a vengeful ghost. In the end both Taichos lost their positions in their respective packs and formed a new pack together, while the Kusawaki took to the roads as a vengeful spirit until such time as both the Taichos would betray one another and die. The Hahaoya became the new Taicho supported by the Migi Ude and the remains of their pack and the War Pigs joined together.
All in all the game was, IMHO, a good one. And although I felt my own GMing wasn’t quite up to what I knew it could be, I was happy nonetheless because I think overall the players had a good time.
Then I went to bed.
*A Hillfolk game in which your tribe is a bunch of gamers in a large hotel for a convention would be awesome.
**Or Akka-Maas if you prefer. Or maybe it was just a coincidence. Hee!
This weekend at Big Bad Con I am going to be running my first session of Free Hunters, a hack of Night Witches. Like Night Witches, it is a game about women pilots in World War II. But Free Hunters focuses on a small number of women assigned to a men’s regiment. It is a more intimate story than Night Witches, focusing on some specific people in a specific place and time. It is also more focused in terms of time, covering only late 1942 through mid 1943. This was a pivotal time for Soviet aviation, as they sought to wrest dominance of the skies from the Luftwaffe. When the series opens the Germans have near total control of the skies. Less than a year later, at the battle of Kursk, Soviet aviation absorbs the last major blows of the Germans and establishes air superiority on the Eastern front once and for all.
By the time this happens, every single one of the major characters I use in Free Hunters are dead.
Here are the characters I am using for Free Hunters. These are of course drafts, and will likely change after the initial playtest.
Here’s my report on Celesticon.
This was my very first Celesticon. For various reasons I have been attending Pacificon rather than Celesticon down here for the past several years, but this year was different! So off Sophie and I went.
Celesticon 2015 was held at the Freemont Marriott, a nice mid-sized hotel with comfortable amenities. We didn’t book a hotel room, but the one room I saw looked snug and comfortable. The restaurant had hotel restaurant prices, but the food I had there was of decent quality, though limited selection. I had no trouble finding parking, despite the high attendance.
My first impression upon arrival Friday morning was that everyone who was there seemed energetic, enthusiastic, and overall just plain excited to be there. This isn’t unusual for a convention of course, but there was something in the air that I couldn’t quite identify at the time that made this a bit different than some conventions I have attended. More on that at the end.
Registration was manned by some enthusiastic volunteers who were pleasant, polite, and just plain seemed glad to see me even though they had never laid eyes on me before. The registration process was quick and easy, and I got my badge and program. I eyed the shirts (and later bought one) and the design seemed on par with most convention tees – a bit nicer than some, not quite so nice as others, but overall good for a memento and use as plumage at future conventions to show off my tribal affiliations.
For various reasons that would be boring to go into, I had scheduled a game of Motobushido for Friday at noon. I knew when I did it that there would be a good chance of the game not filling, or even running – it’s a tough slot. But I dutifully lugged my gaming materials up to the room and prepared for my game. One nice thing about Celesticon is that they have big rooms assigned for their RPGs. It is more common for RPGs to get stuck in converted hotel rooms, which I sometimes find a little cramped due to the excess furniture left in the room when the bed is taken out. At Celesticon I had a very nice small conference room with a big, round table and comfy chairs. I also noted that signage was plentiful and helpful.
Alas, Motobushido did not attract any players, which was disappointing but not particularly surprising – like I said Friday noon is a tough slot. However, just as I was thinking of wrapping things up, Johnathon Wright dropped by my room. He was running his FATE Core game of Mecha vs. Kaiju a couple of doors down, and had only one player. I was feeling the usual “Aw, my game didn’t run” letdown, so my initial inclination was to decline and go off to sulk somewhere, but it dawned on me that if I did that I would be screwing up someone else’s game in addition to mine, and that I had come here to have fun and not to lurk in a corner somewhere sulking, so I agreed – and I am glad that I did.
Johnathon Wright’s Mecha vs Kaiju game was a lot of fun, and highlighted another nice amenity of the hotel. He had a large wall mounted monitor, on which he cycled art from the game throughout the session, which I thought was very cool, and could be put to great use by a GM for all sorts of things. I made a mental note to request a room with a screen for next year. We had a Kaiju-smashing good time, uncovering a sinister Kaiju cult, an unscrupulous businessman using said cult for his own nefarious ends, and eventually having a major slugfest against a giant, burrowing, seemingly invulnerable Kaiju. We even managed to contain the damage to a single major oil refinery! Mr. Wright was an enthusiastic GM, well-versed in the subject matter and his game was well-prepared and flowed well. He was also highly amenable to rolling with the zany ideas of his players, which I always count as a major plus!
I checked the schedule for other games of interest, and saw several, but in the end I decided that after a long week I wanted to be home to spend time with Sophie, so headed for home after another quick tour of the convention to see how things were shaping up. Conference rooms seemed to be filling with RPGs quite well, there was a seminar going on, and both board gaming and open gaming, while not yet full, were filling with enthusiastic gamers.
Again for various personal boring reasons, Sophie and I decided not to attend the convention on Saturday. This was a bit of a disappointment to me because Saturday is usually the day gaming conventions hit their zenith, and I felt like I was missing out on important and vital experience that I would need in writing up my review of the convention. But there is a very valid argument to be made for not spending an hour and a half in the car in order to write a paragraph in a blog entry.
Sunday morning is another tough spot for running a game – everyone is tired after all the fun on Saturday and disinclined to get up early. But, again for reasons that seemed good at the time, Sophie had scheduled her “FATE of Agaptus” game for that time. We got up early and tooled over to Freemont, and were set up in the same room that I had played Mecha vs. Kaiju. Alas once again the game didn’t go – the FATE players having been sucked into Jay Louck’s FATE – Bureau 13 game next door (which sounded like a lot of fun!). We did some socializing and hanging out with friends, met a few people, toured the Dealer’s Room (which was full of enthusiastic, though clearly somewhat groggy dealers), purchased the X-Com Board Game.
After that we spent the day with a friend of ours playing a couple of his homebrews using the Apocalypse World engine. The first was an adaptation of Sentinals of the Multiverse, and the second was an adaptation of Mass Effect. Both were a lot of fun. I got to play a Krogan. Krogans are cool. I don’t see any reason to ever play anything but a Krogan.
So what can I say about Celesticon? In part I feel that I can’t be entirely fair, because I missed large portions of the convention (Saturday, Monday). Neither Sophie’s game nor mine got enough players to run. Given both of these negatives, however, I still felt that the convention was a good one. It seemed well-organized and dynamic. Staff was enthusiastic, everyone seemed to be having a good time all weekend (at least from what I saw). Miniatures games and board games seemed always to be doing well. Roleplaying games had nice, comfortable rooms that helped keep the noise levels down.
Summing things up, Celesticon felt very much like a new convention. While it may have lacked the polish of longer running events such as Pacificon or Dragonflight, it more than made up for this with a more familiar, homey feel that longer running conventions seem to lose after awhile. It was less like a convention put on by old hands who know their jobs and have done them many times, and had more of the feel of a bunch of friends getting together and saying “Hey, lets put on a SHOW!” And to be honest I like that feel better. I think there is certainly a place for slick professionalism at conventions, but I really appreciated the atmosphere that I was surrounded by a whole bunch of friends who I just hadn’t met yet that I got at Celesticon.
I would recommend Celesticon to anyone in the Bay Area who is looking to attend a gaming convention during Labor Day weekend.