Thursday, July 2, 2009

Origins 2009 - A GM's Report Card, Pt. 4

And now, the exciting conclusion.

So, Friday night, we sang, other people danced, we went to bed. Saturday, we woke up, and headed downstairs for more gaming!

Saturday morning, my 10AM game was Edge of Midnight, the second of the games that I ran. I've been running a chronicle of this particular game since December 2008, and I'm really enjoying it. Partly, that's because I've run little else than World of Darkness games for a long time and it's nice to keep the dark but play with a new setting and genre (noir), and partly that's because Edge of Midnight is just an awesome game and it's a hell of a lot of fun. So getting some new people to play it was a good plan, I thought.

The scenario was a murder mystery. Basically, prominent citizen dies at a club, and the PCs have until sunset to figure it out or else the victim's fans are going to riot. Oh, and the victim (and said fans) are gaunts, and a riot would tear the city apart. The characters got a chance to play with magic, investigation, learn about the city of Terminus (much like New Orleans, which is where my ongoing chronicle is set, too) and generally a good time was had by all. If I have one regret, it's that I didn't find a way to work in a more involved fight, but I hadn't set up the scenario to include combat and I didn't want it to feel forced (no orcs, thanks). I think the players dug it, though.

Following the game, Michelle and I headed to the dealer's room again. I scooped up a copy of Ars Magica, Fourth Edition for all of four bucks, and I finally bit the bullet and bought Unhallowed Metropolis. I've played UnMet a couple of times, I've really enjoyed it, and it's the sort of game I should own. And I've got players that I think would really get into it.

I also talked with Filamena Young and her husband, and got a chance to meet their delightful little girl, Tina (sadly, my family had already left by that point, so we couldn't see the singularity of cuteness that would occur if Teagan and Tina got together - maybe next year). Too brief a meeting, but I had a 6PM game to get to.

And that game was...Hollow Earth Expedition. Last tabletop game of the con, and the one I had the highest hopes for.

See, Hollow Earth Expedition is a pulp game, but unlike Spirit of the Century, it gives you a very specific setting - the Earth is hollow (bet you figured that, yeah?) and there are natives, dinosaurs, Amazons, the whole bit. I bought and read the game last year following GenCon, and I've been very keen to play it ever since. This particular game had a blurb that involved dinosaurs and capturing a tar pit. Awesome.

Warning sign right off: The GM hadn't made characters for the scenario, but had just photocopied the pre-gens from the book, put them in plastic sheets (OK, this is maybe just me, but I think it's cheap when players can't at least keep character sheets from con games), and handed us a great big stack. I picked on at random (the Big Game Hunter), and we started out on our airship in Hollow Earth.

Yep, just like that. No attempt at backstory or group cohesion. No explanation for why these characters were together. Just, here we are, on our airship, and then the air pirates attacked.

Now, at this point it's pretty clear we've into beer-n-pretzels, and that's disappointing, but OK. I co-opt Jonathan's Hyde's character from Jumanji to inform my portrayal of Col. Stanley Admunson (I promplty get a style point for naming my character, which encourages everyone else to do the same) and we get down to the business of killing air pirates. We win, but our ship is damaged badly, so the Fortune Hunter (played by a 16-year-old boy, who seems to have the emotional maturity of, say, 13) puts the ship down. The rest of us don parachutes and bail the heck out.

Splitting the party is fine; I do it all the time. But five to one isn't a split I like, because it puts too much focus on one dude, and that's especially true if the one dude is being...well, a fishmalk. So while the five of us are fighting a T-Rex, he's met a tribe of crazy Amazons (led by a woman named Sinestra) and patching the hole in the blimp with a bag of monkeys.

Things, clearly, are getting out of hand.

Eventually, we meet up with the other tribe of Amazons (at which point the GM makes it a point to tell us that some Amazons remove one breast, but not these Amazons...sigh). The gamer OMG GIRLZ is getting a little thick, especially for Michelle. I remind the 16-year-old that there is, indeed, a woman present and maybe he should be quite so juvenile, but his dad (also playing) is encouraging it a bit. We keep things on track, more or less, fix our blimp and land in New York City with a crew of Amazons (this is a shift from the GM's original intent, but it was the ending we liked).

Now, a little GMing theory: If you've reached the end, stop. We landed in NYC, the blimp burst through the subway tunnels, we're given applause and fame, awesome. That's the end of the story. Except, just then, not only did the Amazons reveal themselves to be the bad Amazons, but the freaking T-Rex jumped out of the hole and attacked. It had been tracking us. From the ground.

GMs, not every game has to end in a fight, even at a con. Here, watch this episode of Dexter's Laboratory.



Note that when DD runs the game, she keeps things exciting, she pays attention to what the players want for their characters, and she doesn't waste words or events? That's good GMing. (Yeah, she needs to learn the rules, but that'll come in time.)

Thoughts on the game: Pre-gens, cookie-cutter story, villains that show up once and never again (what happened to those ors, er, pirates?), gratuitous breast references, and an overdone ending scene? Man, it could have been so much cooler. My grade: D+

After that, I had to rush downstairs to play Rising! Only I didn't really have to rush, because the 10PM game didn't have any players but me. So I arranged to play in the 11PM game, which was a VIP event (and turned out to be all kinds of fun), went back upstairs for a while to watch Michelle sing karaoke. I didn't get to sing; the rotation was insane at that point.

Then, back downstairs for Rising. The VIP event involved them handcuffing us, blindfolding us, and letting us fight our way out of the lab that was doing experiments on us. They even took our pictures and did up little dossiers (apparently, my previous occupation was "cartoonist", which is funny if you've ever seen me try to draw). I played an engineer, which means I got to solve puzzles, and I discovered, now having played all four classes, that I'm happiest with Marksman. Engineer's fun, but I don't really solve puzzles under pressure all that well. Hunter isn't bad, but I like guns. Doctor's OK, but then you can't fight as well and you rely on other folks for protection. Nah, gimme guns.

Thoughts on the game: Rising isn't strictly an RPG. It's a LASH (Live Action Survival Horror), and mostly you don't really play a role as much as play yourself with some weird skills and rules with zombies trying to eat you. That said, Zombie Buddy Productions went the extra mile on the game, so RPG or not, it was bloody awesome. My grade: A

So the scenario ended, I survived, got my swag bag (awesome), and headed the heck to bed.

Sunday: We got up, got packed, took our stuff downstairs, and hit the dealer's room one last time. We (Michelle and I) had originally been scheduled for a game of Eclipse Phase, but that got canceled, and our other choice just didn't happen. So we wandered a bit, played some demos, did some more shopping. I picked up a copy of Agone for $2 (even if it sucks, that's less than a cup of coffee some places) and a copy of Trail of Chthulu, which I'm informed doesn't suck. That brings the total of new RPGs to five; that sounds good. Also bought a cool board game called Gemlok, which Heather enjoyed and wanted to grab.

All in all, lots of fun this year at Origins. Definitely got me in the mood to start serious essay writing about GMing again, so I'll get right on that.

Meantime, next con is GenCon, even if only overnight. We'll see how the grades fall out there.