April 5, 2017

GamerNationCon 4 - Acheivement "A New Hope" Unlocked

Well, so much for plans of making regular updates...

It's been a couple days since I got back home from attending the fourth GamerNationCon down in Dallas, Texas, or as I prefer to think of it, the The True Best Four Days of Actual Gaming.  I'd posted on Facebook my initial thoughts back on Monday, but now that I've had a bit of time to recoup and consider, I thought I'd post more of why I intend to never miss this fun little con if I have any say in the matter.

Firstly, a big thinks to Phil "Darth GM" and his brother Andrew for being willing to split the cost of a rental car to help ensure that my buddy Eric and I would have a ride not only to and from the con site, but also a ride back to the airport come Monday morning rather than have to pay for a cab.  I can't fault Phil for "going Rogue" and taking a Nissan Rogue as his vehicle for a con that had a strong (or just stronger than usual) Star Wars theme.

The Wednesday before the convention is fun in and of itself.  Not only did I get some really good barbecue at an old-style BBQ pit joint, but got to catch up with friends that I'd not seen since last year, on top of getting to chat a bit with Guest of Honor Katrina Ostrander (aka Kat).  After dinner, spent some time in the hotel lobby chatting with Jim, Isaac, and Will about ideas for some new character types for Feng Shui 2, namely a Trick Shooter archetype that's less John Wu two-gun flash and more precision shooting with a sidearm; I'm looking forward to seeing the final product once they get it finalized.  Seems they also really liked the ideas I put forth for a "Drunken Boxer" move set for the Martial Artist, as I believe Jim is actually playing that character in a campaign that Isaac is running.

Okay, so one RPG setting that I very much like but rarely get a chance to play in is that of Legend of the Five Rings, formerly published by AEG but now under the stewardship of FFG.  A couple GenCons ago, I was pleased to find that Kat was herself a huge fan of the game and setting (on top of being a major anime fan), and she seemed quite intrigued at my suggestion of checking out at least the first of the live-action Rurouni Kenshin movies (it's really good, and ties the disparate plots of the first several manga volumes together in an enjoyable and surprisingly coherent manner, on top of the casting for most of the characters being spot-on, especially Kenshin).  Sadly, I didn't have an opportunity to register for either of the two L5R events she was running at the con, but fortune favored this mortal man and I was able to hop into her Thursday session.  I mush admit, I loved her method of allowing the players to create characters as part of the introduction to the game, where in I made a Kakita Bushi as part of a group of six that included a two shugenja (Kuni and Soshi), a courtier (Crane), a monk (Dragon), and a second bushi (Unicorn).  The adventure itself was more of an investigative affair, though there were a couple of scenes set up specifically for the bushi characters; I guess that Kat asking if anybody was making a duelist and her relief that I was doing so should have been a clue.  I'll say no more, as I might try running this myself and I don't want to spoil anything for my friends that read this who themselves may wind up being players.

A bit more on Kat's method of quick-building PCs, which she liberally borrowed from Apocalypse World (I may need to check that out).  She did a similar thing for her Star Wars sessions, one of which my long-time friend Linda got to play in, and she liked the concept as well.  I have to admit it's pretty inventive, and not only does it give the player a bit more investment in the character as it's one that they've made (even if the selections available are a bit limited by necessity) but it means the GM doesn't have to work as much to fill up a four hour time slot.  I'd asked Kat if she could e-mail a copy of the different character folios that she put together, one so that I could see all the different options, but also so that I could make use of them for running L5R games myself, as it'd save time that I'd have to spend creating pre-gens.

Also on Thursday I got to do a "slot zero" pick-up of my 7th Sea Second Edition adventure "An Idol Venture," which is an expansion/update of my initial 7th Sea mini-adventure "An Idol Pursuit."  Apparently it wasn't quite expanded enough, as the players completed the adventure in a little over three hours.  I suppose I could bolster up the combat sequences, as the PCs were generally able to crush them in a single round.  The players generally had fun, though sadly I think Isaac was a bit brain-fried from having stayed up to stupid o'clock in the morning the night before, as he had a hard time wrapping his head around how 7th Sea 2e handles approaches and combat sequences, which to be fair may have also been a bit my fault as well.  Still, the players had fun, even if one of them did seem determined to keep the spotlight securely on him at all times instead of letting other players have their turn to be awesome.  One of my players was Kat Ostrander, and was glad that she enjoyed the adventure, even if a few things from how I did things in the adventure through her (at least according to a Facebook post of hers).

Friday got off to a bit of a quieter start.  I made the walk with my long-time friend Linda over to Madness Games and Comics, which to be frank is less of a gaming store and more of a gaming mall, given the sheer size of the place and the volume of products for sale.  I wound picking up a pack of 10-sided dice so that I'd have a set for my own use while being able to share a set at the table for further 7th Sea sessions.  I was hoping to find a red-and-white set (colors of the Hare Clan from L5R), but settled on a gold and white set instead, as well as grabbing a couple of new shirts for myself and an Animal-themed shirt that said "Party Animal" for Linda's daughter Ari.  Then it was a walk back so that I could run my Star Wars adventure "Taris City Rumble."  I had tried to run a version of it at last year's GNC, but to no avail, so this year I preregistered it and wound up with a full table.  I'd made a number of changes from the initial version, including totally revamping the PCs, and I think it worked out for the best.  The table had fun, with an older gentleman really getting into character as the exiled Tapani noble, though I did wind up largely improvising the final leg of the module due to the players taking a rather unexpected approach to things, but it wound up being a fast-paced and suitably frantic scene with one of the PCs getting dropped and the half of the group who weren't spec'd out for combat taking on the NPC that was the major combat threat.  They did a pretty good job of holding said threat at bay until the Jedi character was able to leap in and blind the adversary with a rake of their lightsaber through the eyes with a critical injury that pretty much took it out of the fight.  The denouement at the end had the PCs sweating a bit, given the nature of who they had to interact with at the adventure's conclusion, which was fun.  Again, the players had fun, so I'd call that winning.  Still, it wound up running over, but I'm not sure if there's anything I could really trim from it without putting the party on rails, something I prefer to avoid doing if at all possible.

After that, I played in a Star Wars pick-up game run by Linda, her "Little Girl Lost" adventure which was based off an adventure she ran for the Skype group we're both part of.  Sadly, I think she overestimated the capability of the pre-gens she offered, most of whom were pretty much starting PCs in terms of XP and gear, as the challenges were a whole lot tougher than they really should of been, with Hard difficulty checks being handed out like candy, especially in the early going.  She did say that she spent some time talking with Keith Kappel, prolific freelance writer for FFG about things she did wrong and things that could be improved.  Given how much she doubts her ability to GM games, I give her a mountain of credit for being willing and able to GM for a group that was almost entirely comprised of strangers.

And to cap off the Friday night, I played in another pick-up game, this one being a D&D 5e adventure run by Brev Tanner.  I'm pretty good at improve as a GM, but I usually prefer to have some sort of outline written up ahead of time, but I was impressed at Brev for pretty much running the entire adventure by the seat of his pants.  He did use a quintet of pre-gens, with my playing a High Elf Monk (personally there's a few things I'd have done differently with the character, but I tend to feel that way about most pre-gens, and I'm sure there are folks that feel the same with the pre-gens I make; nature of the beast I suppose).  The adventure was a lot of fun, even if there were some things that were just plain wrong occurring, but kudos again to Brev for the different voices employed for various NPCs we encountered and interacted with.  I probably stayed up way too late, but it was worth it.

Saturday started with not enough sleep, but I managed to get in a brief session of Red Dragon Inn.  Normally I'm not much for board games, but I had some time to kill and the Whitson family were looking for another player to join them and Kat, and it was indeed fun.  Sadly, we had to cut the game short so that we could all attend Kat Ostrander's panel.  It was cool to get more of an insight into how she does her game prep, writes adventures, and the contrast of players who favor crunch-heavy RPGs as compared to those who prefer rules-lighter narrative-heavy RPGs and the contrast of what each camp sees as "winning" the game.  Personally, I'm of the camp that "winning" in an RPG means that every player in the game had fun, and it would seem the majority of the Gamer Nation is of a similar mind set.

After the panel, I got into yet another pick-up game, this time a Dresden Files RPG set in Las Vegas run by long-time d20 Radio alumni Tim Rayburn, formerly of the Radio Free Hommlet (who?) D&D 4e podcast.  Tim ran our group through character creation for a group that apart from myself and his wife Kate had never even seen Fate before.  It was a really fun adventure, and I had to chuckle at Tim remarking that the party (three of whom were investigators of some sort or another) were about to Greyhawk one particular scene.  I kind of feel like I took more of a lead than maybe I should have, but the other players didn't seem to mind, and it did help keep things moving, even if my PC did inadvertently stumble into a situation he really shouldn't have; it wasn't bad per se, just embarrassing.   Of course, this being set in the Dresdenverse and involving the Fae, the whole adventure revolved around a situation that could have been far more easily resolved by a couple of NPCs simply talking to each other instead of invoking an overly-complicated chain of events, which lead to my ending the session with the frustrated exclamation of "Fucking Faeries!" to the group's mutual laughter.

Saturday night's gaming wrapped up with my running a second 7th Sea 2e adventure, this one called "Once Upon a Harvest Moon."  The adventure was initially run as a one-shot for my Skype group for when our regularly scheduled game had to be put on hold due to a couple players not being available, and was itself based upon the adventure module "Lady of the Apples" for the Shadow of the Demon Lord RPG.  Set in Eisen, the adventure was generally dark and creepy, and thus slated for an evening time slot.  Overall, I think this session went a lot better than my Thursday session, with the chap that played the priest probably being the most memorable of the characters.  The one hiccup was that during the final scene, one of the players was paying more attention to her phone (trying to order food), which certainly aggravated me but I simply dealt with it.  I am seriously considering instituting a "no phones unless you're using it as a dice roller" policy at any further games I run.  I'm going to give the adventure write-up one more look-through, and then will probably post it here to the blog.

While I didn't get to play in any of Phil's sessions of his much-acclaimed Fallout module (based off FFG's Star Wars system), I did get to listen in on the tail end of his Saturday night pick-up, of which most of the players were varying degrees of inebriated, as was the GM, and I'm certain that made things lively.  While waiting for Phil to sober up enough to be in good enough shape to drive, I did get to converse a bit with a few different folks at the con, so it wasn't like I was hanging around bored.  Still, I wonder if I should have taken Linda up on the offer of a lift back to the con so that I wouldn't have another night of minimal sleep.  I did still manage to adhere to the 4-2-1 rule (4 hours' sleep, 2 full meals, 1 shower), so it's all good.

Finally we rolled into Sunday.  Apart from a last minute session of Artemis, I really didn't do all that much gaming, due to being a little out of it as well as wanting to put a few different RPG adventure ideas for next year's GamerNationCon onto paper.  I did stop over to where Kat was running her final L5R session, and for some reason to do a fairly decent impression of Samurai Jack's Aku, bellowing "Foolish samurai!"  One of the players rolled with it, and I'm not sure if Kat was more amused or annoyed; I'm going to lean towards the later as she wasn't feeling quite so hot after drinking as much as she had during Phil's Fallout module and Aku's voice doesn't exactly lend itself towards subtlety.

After the con ended was the auction, and the only item that I wanted (a pretty cool dice tower in the theme of a Death Star laser turret) went to somebody else, so I walked away with nothing.  Ah well, but at least Linda got herself a copy of the Endless Vigil sourcebook.

The con itself pretty much wrapped up with what I've taken to calling the "dead dog dinner," largely as we're all dead-tired, yet doggedly trying to keep the fun going as we have one final group dinner.  There was a bit of a hiccup, as the Italian place that Dave originally chose turned out to have been recently closed for business, causing a relocation to a different Italian place.  I joked to Dave that what had happened is that when he made his Foresee power check, he'd rolled straight dark side, with Dave laughingly adding that he also rolled a Despair.  If you're not familiar with those terms, they're to do with FFG Star Wars.  Still, it was a good dinner, and I got to spend a good chunk of time with the Whitsons before we parted ways.

Monday was the flight back, and apart from getting to the airport quite early (necessary due to Dallas morning traffic) the trip back was without incident.  No delays, no missed connecting flights, no misplaced luggage.  As I joked with Phil on Facebook, it was probably an April Fool's Joke by the forces that be in order to lull us into a false sense of security about future flights.

So yes, GamerNationCon IV was a rousing success, and I'm already looking forward to next year, to GamerNationCon V: The Order of the Gamers.  Got at least four adventure ideas that have a magic/mystical theme to them, with systems picked out for three of them (SWFFG, 7th Sea 2e, and Dresden Files Accelerated), which is probably where I should stop as I want to be sure that I've got enough time to play games; some folks might enjoy spending the entire con GM'ing, but I enjoy being a player as well.

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