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Live from Origins 2012

Today was the first day of Origins Game Fair, the second largest gaming convention in the world (after GenCon). This is my third time going to Origins (you can read about my experiences last year with what I ran and what I played parts 1 and 2). I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while.

Although the convention date has been moved earlier this year (and conflicted with many school schedules), it fortunately didn’t affect me and it seems like we’ve had a good turnout so far. We’ll see how it winds up affecting attendance for the con as a whole.

Play in a game from them and you won’t regret it. And you’ll get a free d6 with the logo on it!

Today was a bookended with two RPG games run by the fantastic Matinee Adventures. Bright and early was Avatar Book 0: Rescue (using the Ubiquity system). Set 100 years before Avatar: The Last Airbender, it involves six teenagers who can bend the various elements that are caught in the middle of the Fire Nation’s invasion. Turns out that story was based off the events of the game I played in last year, so our primary objective was to rescue the Fire Nation girl who stayed behind to allow us the time to escape in that scenario.

Ending the day was Paranoia: You’re a Time What?. Paranoia is set in a dystopian future that’s a cross between 1984 and Monty Python and the typical characters are Troubleshooters who are tasked with killing Commies, Mutants, and members of secret societies. But it turns out that you all are commies, mutants, and/or members of secret societies. For this scenario, we were sent to investigate a big blue box that showed up outside* of Alpha Complex. Yup, The Doctor came to Alpha Complex and his psychic paper revealed that he was Ultra-Ultra-Violet clearance! I wound up using up all six of my clones by the end of the session, so it seems like I was playing the game just right! 🙂

A sample (and very powerful!) Knightmare Chess card

In between, I tried something new: running board games. First I ran Knightmare Chess, which takes a standard game of chess and adds all kinds of interesting cards to replace your moves. I’ve always had difficulty finding players for it, so I was shocked to find three people preregistered for it and two more who showed up with generics! We had an odd number of players, so I got to play against a player who enjoyed the game as much as me, but had always been short on players. Everyone had an absolute blast playing it and several of them were hoping that Steve Jackson Games would have it available at their booth this year. I sure hope so!

The game actually comes with sunglasses for El Presidente!

I also ran Junta! Viva el Presidente, a tongue-in-cheek game from Z-Man Games where you are all vying for control of the República de las Bananas. Throughout the game, you’re funneling foreign aid money in order to backstab each other and vie for becoming El Presidente in order to eventually become the strongest power in the island. Three players came to that, so I joined in as well so that there would be some more interesting diplomacy (and I lost horribly both times). The players had the right mentality for the game and I think that this is probably the best session of the game I have ever had.

Overall, I found running board games to be very fun and not very stressful and I will definitely consider running more if I ever get a chance to run games at Origins again.

I’ll be doing a lot of role-playing games over the next few days. Tomorrow I’m playing in a game of The Avengers (using Mutants & Masterminds 3e) and running both A Traveller’s Guide to the Galaxy (using Traveller) and Stargate Universe: Rescue (using Savage Worlds). Should be fun!

*We did get to venture outside, which is usually forbidden. My first death happened because Friend Computer told us about outside, which I knew was (normally) treasonous knowledge, so I went ahead and shot Friend Computer. I was of course vaporized on the spot!


GMs to Love and GMs to Hate

This week, I’ve decided to have my first forray into the RPG Blog Carnival, an organized event where once a month an RPG Blog poses a topic and other RPG Blogs write a post addressing it. Nevermet Press posed this month’s topic: “things to love and things to hate.” I’ve decided to write about GMs I’ve loved to game with and GMs I’ve hated to game with.

GMs to Hate

Now I’m using the phrase “hate” pejoratively because it’s part of the theme, but I really mean GMs who had a detrimental effect on the game. The book Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering states that “at least 70% of the success or failure of a gaming session depends on interactions between participants,” especially the interaction between the GM and the players. So I might say that those GMs I “hate” are those who ran a game that didn’t get anywhere close to a 70% success.

The GM Who Didn’t Bring Any Enthusiasm to the Game

My first (and so far my only) foray into Pathfinder was a convention game that turned into one of the worst convention games I have ever played. The GM wasn’t enthusiastic in the least. He read the text in a deadpan tone, didn’t give any eye contact to the players, and just went straight through the motions. During combat, he would move an enemy figure and, without saying anything, roll more dice and announce damage. The adventure’s only social encounter went like this:

GM:  In the middle of the room you see a dwarf hammering at the forge.

Player: I use Diplomacy. [rolls] 19.

GM: He tells you that he’s a prisoner here and the only way to free him is to destroy the necromantic altar on the floor above him. Do you guys want to go ahead and go up there?

Nothing at all inspiring about this GM. Afterwards I heard him chattting to one of the players saying that his primary motivation was the GM rewards program for the Pathfinder Rewards Program. Now I’ve got nothing against GM rewards programs, but clearly this GM didn’t have his heart in the game. Bottom line, a terrible game (and that’s not even bringing up the situation where a player pulled out the Pathfinder book to show the monster’s statblock and prove to the GM that he was using its attack wrong).

The GM Who Hated the System He Was Running

You would think that a GM would run a game with a system he liked. Not so here. This GM was part of a larger group which had a good reputation over all. I was excited to play in a game with a cross between some meddling kids, a dog, and an Elder God. The fact that it was run using Savage Worlds with Realms of Cthulhu made it even more appealing.

But apparently, the GM hated Savage Worlds. He said so himself as he was flipping through the books to something up. He didn’t know even the most basic rules either and had Fighting rolls directly dealing damage (ignoring Parry), bad guys who were mysteriously rolling “dodge checks,” and the GM spending bennies to make the players reroll. I really got the impression that the GM hated the system so much that he just did a quick skim over the rules an hour before the game.

Perhaps the GM was required to run Savage Worlds by the group he was part of, but it was no excuse to be running a system he absolutely hated. Too bad because I think it could have been a great game.

GMs to Love

Fortunately, for every horrendous GM, there’s a fantastic one. The ones that make you want to immediately come back and play next year (or even make you want to go run down to the dealer hall and buy the book for the system they are running). There’s a few experiences in particular that I’d like to point out:

The GMs Who Let the Rule of Awesome Trump Everything

Especially in one-shots, it’s important to let the players have fun with what they are doing and let them go with whatever cool ideas they come up with. The GMs from Matinee Adventures totally do that. I played in two games with them last Origins and they were probably the highlight of my con. One was a game was a 7th Sea game based on the Scarlet Pimpernel where we were musketeer-style nobles who went in disguise to save other nobles from the guillotine. The players had lots of great ideas and there were some really epic moments like jumping through a window in order to do a leap attack against some bounty hunters down on the streets below. The GM totally let us do those things and we all had fun!

Another adventure from Matinee Adventures was an Avatar: The Last Airbender prequel using the Ubiquity system where we were teenagers (like in the show) who were saving a child from the Western Air Temple. The GM totally could have set it up where we were limited to only doing certain maneuvers with our elemental bending. But instead, he had us describe whatever we wanted to do, even if it was way over the top, and let us roll for it with some difficulty modifiers. Some really awesome stuff happened there too.

The GM Who Went All Out for His Game

There was a GM who decided he would make the best Stargate SG-1 game he could possibly make. So he used his incredible modeling skills and made this:

Doesn’t this just make you want to play? Now I probably should make it very clear that I am not at all expecting for every GM to make elaborate minis like this. I just want to show the amount of enthusiasm that this GM clearly has for his game. He created a great scenario and went all out to make it as fun as possible for everyone at the table, which for him meant creating great visuals. If you’re a Stargate fan and have the opportunity, definitely play in this guy’s games.

So those are some GMs I’ve loved and GMs I’ve hated. I think that both groups have certainly had an influence in me becoming the JourneymanGM that I am today.

Origins 2011: The Games I Played, Part 2

In the previous post, I began to share about the games that I played in at Origins. This is the second part detailing the rest of the games I played and how they went.

An Earthbender bending some earth

My character got to do cool stuff like this!

Friday began with another great game run by Matinee Adventures: “Avatar: Cliffs of the Western Sky” using the Ubiquity system (the core system of Hollow Earth Expedition). This was based on Avatar: The Last Airbender, not the James Cameron movie, and took place about 100 years before the show. Each of us played a bender (and we had all four types in our group with me playing an Earthbender). The scenario was that we were warning the Western Air Temple that the Fire Nation had declared war on them. Of course, they followed us at the speed of plot and began their siege soon after we arrived. The elders of the temple charged us with safeguarding one of the children (which I’m sure will turn out to be Aang) and we were able to escape to safety.

The GM did a great job with this game and was willing to play it fast and loose. Element Bending was divided into three general skills: Bending-Offensive, Bending-Defensive, and Bending-Manipulative. We declared what crazy stunts we wanted to do, the GM set a target number, and we rolled it. Personally, I really like this style over the myriad list of spells and special abilities many systems have and in the end I thought it worked really well. The GM plans to continue next year with more scenarios being built off the events of this year’s, but being standalone so new players can jump in. I had a good time with this and I may join in on one of them next year.

Scooby Doo

Ruh-roh! The players were good, but the gamemaster could have been much better...

In the evening I played in “Scooby Cthulhu” run by Amorphous Blob (who haven’t updated their website in ages) using the Savage Worlds system and the setting rules from Realms of Cthulhu. The game started out on a great note, with the GM passing out Scooby Snacks to everyone and all of us getting right into character (I got to play Scooby!). The gang was teamed up with Adam West and Burt Ward (one character) as Batman and Robin. We started at the First Annual Coolsdale Automotive Car Show (which also had the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile there) and eventually investigated a series of strange events.

The players were great (especially the one playing Adam West and Burt Reynolds) and the scenario was decent, but I have to say that the GM ruined the game for me because he didn’t have a clue how to run Savage Worlds. Sure, he got the basics down like rolling the dice, but he was having Fighting rolls directly dealing damage (rather than being to-hit), all the bad guys were mysteriously rolling “dodge checks” when we attacked them, and the GM was spending bennies to make players reroll. Definitely not Savage Worlds.

I know that Amorphous Blob prides themselves in “roles, not rules,” but this was ridiculous. The first few times he slipped up, I let it go and didn’t let it ruin my fun. About the time he declared “I really hate this system” I was frustrated and the game was ruined for me. If he didn’t like Savage Worlds, he shouldn’t have chosen it! My experience was further soured when we ran an hour over our alloted time and didn’t really have a satisfactory ending. It’s a pity too because Amorophous Blob has a reputation for running really good games (and for that reason I’m still willing to give them another chance). I’ve sent an e-mail to them explaining my dissatisfaction and I hope I’ll have a better time next year.

Saturday started with a GIANT Settlers of Catan game. It was the second win of Catan I have ever had in my life. I was thrilled!

Proof that I actually won in Giant Settlers (I'm the yellow player). Look at that longest road at 11 pieces!

In the evening I took part in “Savage Saturday Night,” an informal running of Savage Worlds games hosted by Pinnacle Entertainment. Being the Savage Worlds poster boy that I am, I was excited to go. And I was fortunate enough to play in a Deadlands game run by Shane Hensley himself! Shane is the man who created both Savage Worlds and Deadlands, so it was really a privilege to get to play in his game.

We were working with the Collegium to defend a portion of Slaughter Gulch from Hellstrome’s automatons.  I personally had a lot of fun with that playing a Shadowstepping Huckster. When Shane asked me to name him, the first name that popped into my head was “Biff,” so we had Biff the Huckster. Biff fought alongside another Huckster, a Texas Ranger, a Mad Scientist, a Buffalo Gal, an Agent, a Martial Artist, and a few others. Unfortunately my Huckster made the mistake of trying to shadowstep into the church (completely forgetting that dealing with the devil to get into holy ground was a really bad idea). With a nasty roll on the backlash table, he wound up getting really paranoid and Shane told me that Biff was convinced that the Texas Ranger in our group was leading the assault. A missed Soul Blast attack on him meant the Texas Ranger had a chance to put me down. But before he pulled the trigger to put Biff out of his misery, the Ranger quipped, “Typical of a Huckster to bring a card to a gunfight.”

I got to finish up the session bringing the padre into the fight who was surprisingly effective at whacking automatons with his smited hickory stick. In the end, we were all able to work together to save our portion of Slaughter Gulch. Everyone seemed to have a great time at the game and I’m already looking forward to next year’s Savage Saturday Night.

Zombie Survival Box Roll

A very innovative concept for Zombie Survival: roll some dice and see where they physically land. A total of 6 on the body or any number in the headshot ring kills the zombie.

Sunday was a brief day with demoing the boardgames Zombie Survival and Deadlands: The Battle for Slaughter Gulch, both of which were made by Twilight Creations (the Deadlands game was licensed). Zombie Survival was fun and innovative. I really liked some of the mechanics like how you kill zombies (as shown on the left). The Deadlands game was sort of fun but cumbersome (although fairly innovative). The weirdest thing was that you were one person, but you could be in up to 6 places at once. To gain more people, you recruited townsfolk, but then they suddenly gained all your stats once they joined you. I think I’ll pass on that board game because without the Deadlands name to it, I thought it was an okay game and “Okay doesn’t generate sales.”

So that concludes my long list of games I played at Origins 2011. All in all, I’m happy with it. Most were good, a few were okay, and I was disappointed with only one. As a quick review of my experiences:

  • Both games run by Matinee Adventures were awesome and I’ll be looking forward to gaming with them in the future.
  • “Okay doesn’t generate sales.”
  • It can be a big turn off to the players when you don’t understand the basic mechanics of the system you’re running. You don’t need to know every detail, but make sure you actually know the basic rules.
  • Despite my usual poor luck in Settlers of Catan, I actually won!
  • If you game with Shane, you’ll have lots of fun, but your character will most likely die a nasty death!
So those are my Origins adventures. I’d love to hear experiences from anybody else!

Origins 2011: The Games I Played, Part 1

Yesterday I blogged about the games I played at Origins. I enjoy GMing, but really enjoy playing too and it’s something I don’t get to do enough of. A lot of the games I played this time around were with systems I was unfamiliar with, but I’m always willing to try new stuff.

7th Sea GM's GuideWednesday of the convention started with a game I knew little about called “Scarlet Pimpernel: The Trap is Set” using the 7th Sea system. The scenario was based on The Scarlet Pimpernel (a novel I was previously unfamiliar with) involving a league of English aristocrats who secretly rescue French aristocrats from their appointments with the guillotine during the early stages of the French Revolution. The 7th Sea system caught my eye because it advertises itself as a “swashbuckling and sorcery” game and still has a pretty strong fan base despite the fact that it has been out of print for 6 years (it’s still available on DriveThruRPG in PDF format though).

The sorcery aspects were almost completely ignored for this scenario, but the GM did a fantastic job of highlighting the swashbuckling nature. We were slicing tapestries and throwing them over our enemies’ heads, shattering second story windows as we leapt to the attackers below, and doing spinning attacks while taunting three foes at once. There was also a great deal of social interaction as we bartered with individuals, found our ways to safe houses, and even attended a royal ball. All in all, the game was really enjoyable and was my first positive experience with the Matinee Adventures group of GMs.

Mutants & Masterminds 3rd EditionNext was “Paragons: Project Paragon” using the new Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition system. I’d played 2nd and 1st edition once each (and in that order) so I figured I’d give this one a go. The system was more streamlined and largely felt to me like D&D 4e for superheroes, but without the powercards (which is a tad ironic given that these guys actually did have “powers”). In all, I liked the simplicity of the system and would definitely be willing to try it again.

The Paragons setting was a bit like the TV series Heroes in that ordinary people wound up discovering that they had extraordinary abilities. I wound up playing Nathan Blackmoor who was the only one who didn’t look normal: in addition to his panther-like powers, he actually looked like a panther. Starting out at a safe house for supers, we wound up tracking down an organization trying to steal information on Project Paragon, a program to artificially create supers. A certain woman was our primary antagonist, but we soon found out that there were a number of clones of her, all hunting us down. The scenario was alright (didn’t have much of a resolution though) and the GM wasn’t very enthusiastic or engaging, but there wasn’t really anything that I feel hurt the game. Not the best game, but it could have been better.

Iron DynastyThursday was my Savage Worlds day starting with Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin, a Savage Worlds setting with the same name. Iron Dynasty is largely a mix of historical Japan with magic and ghost stories come to life. For instance, we fought a Ghost Lantern, which lured travelers to their deaths. This scenario was run by the creator of the setting and we ran an introductory adventure he wrote.

At the end though, I thought it was okay. I didn’t see anything particularly compelling about the setting and the GMing style was decent, but not inspiring. I was given a $5 off coupon to buy Iron Dynasty, but decided against it. As the Platinum Warlock put it, “Okay doesn’t generate sales.” To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever pick it up, what with so many other great Savage Worlds settings out there that I find much more interesting…

…Like Deadlands for instance. Later that day was “Clint’s Rock” using Deadlands Reloaded, which as I’ve previously mentioned is a Savage Worlds setting I greatly enjoy. I got to play a Mad Scientist who, along with the other characters, was hired by Hellstrome Industries to kick Clint off his property, forcefully if necessary, in order to make room for the new railroad. Little did we know that the ol’ coot had learned a bit of magic in his time away from society and we had giant spiked bears and walkin’ dead to contend with. Only after I torched his house with my flamethrower did we discover that the dynamite he was throwing at us was magically appearing in his hands! In the end, though, Clint met his fate and we were able to claim our bounty for completing our job.

Clint's Rock

The final state of things as we took out Clint. The Pinnacle demo team did a great job with minis.

I think that’s enough explanation of my games for one day, so I’ll leave you on that and say: “To be continued…”

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