August 22nd, 2012


Gencon 2012: The Rise of Man

By Saturday, I was nearing the end of my Games on Demand GMing responsibilities and was preparing for a serious assault on the short wishlist of games I wanted to play. Namely: Dog Eat Dog, Mechnoir and Monsterhearts (all of which I own, but have not played) and Dungeon World with Adam Koebel (aka @skinnyghost, one of the designers).

I was ready for action at the 10am slot, but none of the games on offer appealed, so I opted to wander the dealer hall and return for the noon slot, during which I had previously intended to grab lunch. When noon wandered around, I hadn't been hungry enough to eaten, but Liam was about to run a game of Dog Eat Dog, so I eagerly joined that. It turned out to be slightly over-subscribed (which may have been my fault?) so Liam facilitated for the five of us rather than playing as the fifth player.

Dog Eat Dog is a game of colonisation in the Pacific. I kickstartered it and offered a classical scenario for a pdf supplement because the premise was great, and when I received my copy of the rules, I was ecstatic that Liam had nailed the potential of the idea so precisely. In Dog Eat Dog the players take turns defining a native people and an opposition by means of descriptive phrases. Our Natives were the Goku:
  • Exo-cannibals (they ate outsiders)
  • Catamaran fishermen
  • Artistic
  • Matriarchal
  • Very practical atheists
Our Opposition (played by Marc Majcher) were The Wanderers:
  • Large steel ships
  • Massively fertile
  • Nomadic
  • Religious polygamy
  • Only eat fish
The players go around the table framing scenes of life under colonial rule, into which the Opposition can thrust himself at any time. After each scene, the Natives make rules that describe how they think the Opposition want them to live under colonial rule and the Opposition judges how well the Natives live up to these rules. Our rules were:
  • Goku are inferior to the Wanderers. (This is the starting rule)
  • Assimilation is preferable to fighting. (After some Wanderer teens joined a Goku guerrilla mural painting mission)
  • Do what you can get away with. (After the Goku ambushed, killed and ate a lone Wanderer without repercusions)
  • Don't trust turncoats. (After a pro-Wanderer Goku warned the Wanderer captain that he was about to be tricked into eating human flesh at a banquet in the Goku village)
  • Never go into the enemy camp. (After the Wanderer captain turned the tables, attempting to force the Goku to eat other Goku on the Wanderer raft-city)
The game ended in the next scene as Lance's initially peaceful artist led a purge of the Goku village and decorated the beach with the corpses of the turncoats. (Lance's account of the game can be read here, halfway down the page.) The Wanderers left, and most of the Goku became rabidly isolationist, but my fisherman resisted the cultural shift and ended up more like the Wanderers, and was eventually killed in a later purge. Great game.

I grabbed a salad on the way back to the main Games on Demand room and offered Psi*Run in the next slot. I didn't take notes on this game either, but it was particularly notable because one of the players' psi-power was to move through time. I embraced the madness and managed to keep it pretty straight despite perhaps breaking the brain of one of the other players. Not too badly though as he went to the exhibition hall in search of the game right afterwards. Psi*Run suits my impromptu GMing style really well, and is another game (like Dungeon World) that produces consistently awesome games for me.

After a brief look at the exhibition hall, I headed back to the Embassy Suites to meet Mark DiPasquali, author of several Technoir Transmissions, including Singapore Sling in the main book. We were meeting to playtest his apocalyptic cyberpunk hack/mash-up of Apocalypse World and Technoir in which digital intelligences and expert systems have overrun much of earth's electronic systems. His hack goes further than most, incorporating several aspects of Technoir's dice and tag mechanics and creating characters from multiple playbooks as Geiger World does. We played a brief two-player game that gave me a good taste of what he's doing with his game, then I explained some of the key elements of The Sprawl; it was a interesting and useful little workshop session for both of us, I think.

Not to break my trend of only playing playtests of Apocalypse World hacks at the Embassy Suites, I then met up with Jerry for a playtest of Companions, his Doctor Who hack. I'd played the Wizz at Big Bad Con, and again the Agent (Captain Jack Harkness, et al. was nabbed early by another player, so I played the Construct: in this case a faceless, eyeless, gynomorphic robot called OLYMPIA. We arrived in 2022 in time to discover and thwart an alien threat to the royal family... and the world! Jolly good!

After an hour or two chatting to new and old friends at what was probably a BarCon in the Embassy Suites lobby (certainly Ryan Macklin's flasks were in full attendance), I retired for the night while my GenCon roommate Morgan gamed on into the early hours in a seven player game of Dungeon World. I generally managed to sleep quite well over the course of the con, between at least 2 and 8.30am, which gave be time to shower, caffineate, eat and check my email before hitting the 10am Games on Demand slot the next morning. My roommates were always up later, but my various games and evening events all ended naturally and I never felt that I was missing out on anything by going to bed so "early". It all seemed very well balanced from my perspective.