Monday, June 17, 2013

Origins 2013: General Update and GM's Report Card

I started doing GM's Report Cards for con games a few years ago, and while I've never managed to recapture the magic of the one year that I played a bunch of games at Origins that were all fantastic and all well-run (seriously, lightning in a fucking bottle), this year was pretty spiffy. Let's begin!

We left Cleveland on Wednesday morning and got to the hotel without incident, with a stop at Grandpa's Cheese Barn because duh, Grandpa's Cheese Barn. We arrived at the hotel and Michelle picked up her trusty steed.

Wait, what? Well, Michelle had a little gardening mishap last week and sprained her ankle, and the doctor recommended against walking too much. As you know, "walking too much" is an Origins staple, so she got a scooter:

Scooty-puff junior? 

Meanwhile, we had dropped Sarah off at the entrance to the Convention Center with our booth stuff, and I met her in the exhibit hall to set up the booth.

 The booth in its larval form. I hadn't seen the exhibit hall during set-up in a long time, and it was kind of cool to see everyone unpacking boxes and getting ready for the craziness of the weekend. Little did we know, the craziness was already in the house.

Sarah and I heard a loud boomy kind of noise, but I figured someone just dropped a big box or a pallet or something. But then we saw that the lights were out in half the exhibit hall, and then they told us to evacuate. Whoa.

We went outside, figuring it was just a blown transformer (do not Google that phrase if you value your childhood). And then came the emergency vehicles.
All of them, I think.

I apologize profusely for catching this woman in this pose, I just wanted the fire truck.

So Sarah and I sat on the grassy knoll (not gnoll) and waited. And then we got bored and walked around to the Hyatt so we could catch up with Michelle. We eventually got back into the dealer's room and completed the booth:

Note no copies of Tragedy, which John helpfully drove down later that evening.
I was scheduled to play in a game of All Flesh Must Be Eaten, but it got canceled, so we went to dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse. On the way there, we saw protesters.

Because nothing says "God's love" like "passive aggressive emo violence."
I have no idea what they were protesting. Maybe us, but that'd be a first. Maybe Pride, but that's a couple of weeks away. Maybe just immorality in general. Michelle's comment was: "I want to walk up and tell him, 'I'll listen if you let her talk.'"

Anyway, after delicious meat-face (ever been to a Brazilian steakhouse? Let's just say it's not vegan friendly) we went back to the hotel and crashed out for the evening.

Next morning, I had a Games on Demand slot to run, but there were more GMs than necessary (this would be a repeated theme), so I wound up playing in a game of Psi-Run. Now, Psi-Run is available here, and I just bought it, and you should,, too. You're playing a group of psychic folks with amnesia, chased by sinister agents who want to bring you back. What's "back?" You need to delve into your own memories to find out (you make characters by posing questions about your powers, your weaknesses, and your past).

Our game was pretty darned cool. Three players: Myself, and then a guy and his son. The kid did pretty well with it; a little excitable, but not at all age-inappropriate, and he seemed to enjoy it. He wound up captured and we broke into the prison to save him, and all wound up captured, but then teleporting to the other guy's uncle's cabin in Vermont.

The GM made it cool, but unfortunately he was also the one kind of hosting the GoD booth, so he wound up getting up and dealing with GoD-related stuff, which made it hard to build any momentum. In a game that's basically a long chase scene, momentum is pretty critical. That said, one of the reasons is was so frustrating was because the game was so much fun, so that speaks well of it (like I said, just bought it, planning to run it for some of my players).

GM's Grade: B+

The kid is lying down because his character is unconscious. 
So from there, we got some lunch, and the Michelle and I got to play in a game of Rotted Capes. This is basically Marvel Zombies: The Unlicensed RPG. Well, that's maybe not fair, because MZ has a lot of backstory and tone that Rotted Capes doesn't, but it's still a mashup of super heroes and zombies. I'd backed their Kickstarter, and wanted to try it out. I got to play Arc-Lightning (or, as the character sheet, "Arch-Lighting"), an ex-super villain archer.

This game was a lot of fun. The GM wound up being a little late, having literally just rolled out of bed, but once he was there he kept things moving and responded well to player suggestions and craziness (and considering it was his first time running the scenario, I'll forgive him reading directly from the text). He knew the game well, and since Rotted Capes has a not at all simplistic system (it's not overdone, it's just involved), that's good. I was a little frustrated that while my character could hit accurately, damaging zombies was an issue, but that's maybe something I could fix with a few tweaks. Michelle really enjoyed the game, so I might wind up running it for my folks at some point.

GM's Grade: A-

That huge pile of dice is mine. They weren't all necessary. SHUT UP.

So then we got some dinner at the food court and I had to go back to Games on Demand, where I had priority since I didn't get to run in the morning. I had folks there (a couple of whom had played in Rotted Capes) who wanted to play curse the darkness, so who am I to argue?

The game was set in Cairo, and the characters had rigged up an irrigation system...only to see the Nile stop flowing (I know, right?). They investigated, but the first Removal Challenge came after they procured camels;  the beasts stampeded, dragging one of the characters down the street and killing him, which is our first camel-related fatality in curse the darkness.

The second Removal Challenge, though, came off with no fatalities and everyone making the essential choice, and they discovered a man in the Between, comatose, apparently keeping a big enough shadow Open to let the Nile flow into it. The Opener they had with them closed the shadow, and they rescued him. The story ended with more questions (like, how long had he been there and how'd he do that?), but that's how I roll.

Everyone seemed to have fun and a couple of them came and bought the game afterwards, so I'll call that a win. :)

Watch out. They spit. And kill.

 That was Thursday, then. Friday I worked at the booth for a little while in the morning, and then got some lunch with David and Filamena and their kiddos, which was nice. We had to get back for a game of Cold Steel Wardens, which I'd also backed on Kickstarter. No pictures this time, I'd forgotten my camera.

So, Cold Steel Wardens is based on Iron Age comics; Dark Knight Rises, Watchmen, and the kind of grim, grittier superhero stories that we all know and love. Characters, therefore, are supposed to be somewhat darker and willing to, y'know, murder. And that's all fine. I enjoyed the game and I'm looking forward to seeing it finished. I have a few issues, though.

First, the system (roll a dice pool of d10s, 6+ is a "hit", 1s cancel hits) has a lot of what Michelle rightly referred to as "design remnants". Things like 1s cancelling successes, which was a bad idea in OWoD and it's a bad idea in general, because it's a) one more thing to remember and b) makes you worse at things as your pool gets bigger. And the game has a lot of that, little extra fiddly things that could probably be cut in the service of focusing the game a little more. Which leads me to...

...the system doesn't serve the game very well. As is, it's a servicable supers engines, but there's very little in it that marks it as Iron Age. That said, I don't have a suggestion right offhand, but I personally feel that a game's mechanics should reflect what it does, rather that the game engine just being a physics engine and the game's text doing the work of creating the narrative.

Also, some (not all) of the characters we had were too derivative. Michelle's characters was introduced as "basically Rorschach." Well...that's kinda lazy. I mean, "inspired by" is fine, "like," is fine, but for one thing Rorschach is a complete bastard and he's hard to play, and for another, it serves your game better to make up characters that showcase the game well.

That said, my character was pretty cool - former EMT who developed the power of phasing and fought crime as Sawbones, wearing a surgical mask and a trenchcoat. I didn't like a lot of the flaws he was given, but the concept was neat, and lent itself to some fun tactics.

The game was basically "ambush the drug dealers and kill them," so we did that. The GM obviously likes his game, so that's nice. Five demerits for not letting us keep the character sheets, though.

GM's Grade: B

So then I worked the booth for a while, and then went to Games on Demand, hoping to run Demon: The Descent or A Tragedy in Five Acts. Problem was, while there were a lot of players, there were also a lot of GMs, and I wound up without a table. I knocked around a bit trying to find something to do, but in the end decided to stay up in the room with Michelle and watch a movie on Netflix and recharge. That was a smart decision, as it happens.

So then Saturday! I spent a lot of time in the booth on Saturday, as my friends Andrea and Corey got married at Origins (like, it was in the event book and everything), and Michelle and Sarah both wanted to go. I did, however, see Daredevil wandering around (though I assume he didn't see me).

Hooray for Blindy!
During my booth-time, I Tweeted a bit about wanting to run Demon. And lo and behold, someone hit me back and said he was available. I just had a game of CthulhuTech to play first.

Well, actually, no, it got cancelled, so we played Demon: The Descent that evening at the Games on Demand room. The game was fun; the Integrator betrayed everyone and gotten ripped to shreds by the Destroyer and the Psychopomp. And then said Destroyed exploded because he bit the head off an angel right after the angel had activated self-destruct (weird game). 

We finished up fairly early, and wanted to play Pandemic with our amigo and contributor to The Road to Hell on Earth, Jonathan Lavallee. But he was stuck in a game of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, as Rocket Raccoon.  

No, really.
Here's the thing about running Marvel: If your GM is sitting on 5d12 in the Doom Pool for an hour, it's time to fuck off and play Pandemic. So there ya go! We saved the world from disease. You're welcome. 

So then we hung out for a while, chatted about game design and our upcoming cyberpunk game, and then eventually crashed out.

And then Sunday. Sunnnnday.

I had the 9AM shift at Games on Demand again, and once again, lots of players, but lots of GMs. But I wasn't taking it lying down this time, and got a little more assertive about running, and boom! I got to run Demon: The Descent again. Four players, with very different spins on the characters than last time (they also glommed on to Agenda a bit more than the others). One player had to duck out early, so got stuck in a Solitary Confinement caused by a cell phone, but the others destroyed the Infrastructure forming on Port Angelus and then got the heck away before more angels showed up. The fellow on the right in the picture, by the way, is Peter Adkison, who was a lot of fun to play with.

Angels don't tap their feet to the music. Demons do. 
After that, it was all booth all the time until 4PM, when the booth closed and it was time to pack up and head out! We took turns doing some shopping; I picked up swag, which I will show you:


Board games.

Origins was good this year. Our first year with a booth, and so it was expensive. But the gaming was good, we got to hang out with some awesome people, and I'm hoping we can figure a way to get some booth space next year.