September 9th, 2012


Gateway 2012: Friday

After pushing to finish an externally-playtestable alpha version of The Sprawl last Thursday, I wound my way through the streets of Los Angeles towards the LAX Sheraton for Gateway 2012.

First slot was an off-schedule playtest of Rob's Asterisk World, his deconstructed playbook-less point-buy version of Dungeon World. I played Rapido, one of Los Hermanos Pies (with Morgan's Fuerte), a pair of halfling luchadors. I was a Monk with a suite of different cool-looking abilities which I didn't really end up using at all. Asterisk World is being designed for Rob's home game, and it definitely feels like a game that will suit a particular kind of group, namely one that prizes character flexibility over strong archtypes.

As usual, Friday's dinner was pizza delivery in the Barcon suite.

In the evening, I kicked off Living Dungeon World III with an in medias res sabotage mission. The characters were Golden Axe Jones (Rob), a human fighter from a mercenary franchise-family; Humble (David), a human thief who was run out of his homeland without his buried stash; Cassius the Younger, a human Paladin dedicated to Gildor, God of Blades; Azraebelle (Kryssie), an elf bard with harpy ancestry; and Sinestro (Sayler); an elf druid. All of the characters were mercenaries from a minor border region called Neustria and in this mission, they were employed by the Derelian Empire against the city-state of Magnamar. There was a battle atop a tower mounting the city's great ballista (including a great moment when both Cassius and Golden Axe Jones jumped off the tower to catch Humble who had been thrown off by an ogres), a stand-off in the thieves guild then a midnight heist of their former allies, and finally a knife fight between Humble and a drunken dwarven pirate captain for control of the ship they needed to blow open Magnamar's sea-gate.

Oppan Turtle Style!

Sayler and I were supposed to run two parallel games of LDW in the 8pm friday slot, but we were a little short on players, so we combined the games. In another situation, maybe I would have stuck with a couple of two player games.

Gateway 2012: Saturday

Saturday was playtest day.

The morning session was The Sprawl. There were four players and we created the following list of corporations:
  • Virtual Interface (Data storage and cyber security)
  • Aeon Nova (Translation Software)
  • IrisTech (Optical technology and consumer electronics)
  • RadCom (Hazardous waste disposal)
  • Vaser (Manufactured goods)
The characters were:
  • Mé Moi (Gina), an articifically sweet looking Killer with a metallic cyberarm. Her father was a corporate exec for Virtual Interface; after he was killed, she was raised by the corporation (owned x2).
  • Taylor (Jim), a Hunter with an tacky augmented reality visor implant (cheap cyberware); disowned from a wealthy family.
  • Spectre (Mook), a small Infiltrator, utilitarian and nondescript down to the cybereyes. Indentured to IrisTech.
  • Shard (Nicco), a burned-out ex-simsense star gone open-source Pusher. Hunted by the holder of all the copyrights on his 24/7 life experiences, IrisTech.
Unsurprisingly, IrisTech and Virtual Interface featured heavily in the Links phase:
  • When Shard still worked for IrisTech he filmed an exposé against RadCom (Taylor found where the malpractice was occuring; RadCom clock at 1800).
  • Mé Moi assassinated an IrisTech exec who had come into possession of VI proprietary data, and recovered the data (Spectre was the exec's bodyguard; IrisTech clock at 1800).
  • Spectre was sent by IrisTech to steal the data back! (Shard distracted the IrisTech security; Mé Moi was investigating the security breach; Virtual Interface clock at 2100).
  • Taylor investigated a Vaser VP's personal life (Mé Moi was having an affair with the VP; Vaser clock at 1800).
None of the clocks were very high, so there was no pressing need to alter the mission accordingly. Character generation had taken 1:15.

I've run this mission (The Essilor Sterilisation) a couple of times before and it has played out quite differently each time. On this occasion, the team spent about an hour in the Legwork phase investigating the site and gathering resources. It seemed to take a while for them to make a plan (possibly because the Infiltrator was hacking the facility's system, but not very well!), and they eventually settled on a frontal assault with an EMP blast to knock out the extensive camera system. A couple of key misses (and hard moves) resulted in a well advanced Legwork clock (2200), so the target knew they were coming.

Security was quick to respond to the breach and a bloody firefight erupted inside the building as the team met the internal security forces, and outside, as the external security forces arrived in force and outmatched Shard's enthusiastic gang of open-source simsense fans and activists. Shard himself took several bullets, going down. In the final assault, Taylor put a bullet through the head of the the guy they were supposed to extract. On the brink of failure (Mission clock at 2300), the team evacuated the bodies of Shard and the target; the former was rushed to a hospital by his fans, but too late; the latter was rushed to the meet with their employer. They handed over the body and received their payment, but as they looked, somewhat unbelievingly, at the briefcase full of money, they were bathed in the light of a dozen or so halogen spotlights. The credits roll to the sound of safeties clicking off; Taylor had missed the Getting Paid move. (The whole mission played out in about 2 hours - I rushed the end a little as I incorrectly thought we were running out of time.)

It was the first time I'd seen a non-Hacker use the Matrix rules, and it was good to see that it worked, but was suitably difficult. It was also the first time I've seen the team miss the Getting Paid move; previously the clocks haven't been nearly so advanced at the end. So a good playtest.

After lunch, Rob and I ran a couple of playtests of Conquering Corsairs in the boardgaming area. The first was with Strategicon guest of honour Antoine Bauza (designer of 7 Wonders and Ghost Stories) who gave us a lot of really useful advice and feedback. Following that game, we spent some time brainstorming some changes, then over the rest of the con we played with the old rules, wishing we had time to make some changes! On Monday we playtested some rules changes and the resulting games were a lot tighter and quicker.

Our second game of Conquering Corsairs went long, so Rob and I missed the convoy to Pann's. We phoned in our takeaway order, talked Conquering Corsairs, then ate our delicious delicious chicken (thanks, Colin!). I hadn't signed up for a game in the evening session because I was meeting Paula at the airport. As it turned out, her flight was delayed, so I could have played most of a session. Instead, I sat in on a live recording of an episode of the Happy Jack's RPG Podcast and had beer with Will, Gina, and Jason. Paula and I got back from the airport in time for Barcon to be closed down by hotel security (thanks in no small part to the Sheraton messing up our room block booking), but we took the party to the lobby.

Gateway 2012: Sunday

Sunday morning was more Conquering Corsairs playtesting in the main boardgaming hall. All I'll say here is that people love pirates! I discuss the playtests in slightly more detail in the previous report.

Piracy is serious business!

I hadn't pre-registered for anything in the afternoon, but I saw there was a slot free in Chris Czerniak's 6 (ugh!) player MonsterHearts game. Fortunately none of the alts showed up, one player was a no-show, and another spent a brief time looking at the playbooks before deciding it wasn't his kind of game and bowing out. SURPRISE 4-PLAYER MONSTERHEARTS GAME, YAY!

I outsourced much of my chracter selection to Twitter; a couple of people suggested The Queen very quickly (Thanks Hans and Jenn!), so The Queen it was (perhaps I'll play The Ghoul next time, Colin)! Jenn also suggested I play a rock star in a high school band, so that's what I did. Drake, The Queen (Hot 1, Cold 2 [H], Volitile -1 (raise to 0 during play), Dark -1 [H]; The Clique and Many Bodies; Streaming gained during play), vocalist and lead guitarist of Strobe Panda Hypothesis (thanks to Hans and David for suggestions), Dan my rhythm guitarist, Kylie on bass and Savage on drums. He would earn his name by the end... The other players were Lucian the Vampire, Damien the Infernal, and Lenora the Ghost.

The first two-thirds of the game took place in the high school with the usual high school antics that make MonsterHearts great: popularity contests, social politics, sexual tension, watching people watching people have sex with people you hate, making pacts with the librarian servants of dark masters, rocking out a pep rally to lure into a trap, and attempting to claw the face off the people who you blame for your death. Then shit got wacky. The final part of the game took place at a high school football party which my gang (by this time including Lenora and Damien) attended to get back at the linebackers who beat up Drake. Things got violent immediately and, except for a brief patch in the middle where Drake restored order and led the gang out of the party only to have things go to shit again in the street outside, the rest of the session was an all in brawl. Savage knifed a linebacker in the knee; Kylie, Savage and Drake all got baseball bats to the face; Lenora was chasing after a pair of vampire hunters who were trying to kill Lucian; and Lucien dug out the heart of the linebacker with the bat with his bare hands (on the second attempt -- under the ribcage, not through the ribcage). Good times!

After MonsterHearts, we piled into the Magnum and headed to Pann's for more fried chicken before returning for the finale of Living Dungeon World III in the evening session.

And just like that, it was time to finish our little Dungeon World arc. With only three GMs this time, and neither of the other two being able to run games in the final session, we only had a single game to finish the arc. Because of that and the game registration confusion, there was rather more demand than I could handle. I had five players registered and three alts for a four player game. I usually end up accepting an extra player when I run Dungeon World, so it was no problem to take all the registered players, but we definitely could have filled a second game.

In the end, I had three characters who had played through previous sessions: Lanethe the Younger (Gina), a third-level city elf Ranger with a pet rat; Golden Axe Jones (Rob), the human fighter from my first session, now fourth-level and with a young griffon mount; Menoliir "Grimjaws" (Jason), a third-level high-mountain wood elf druid with a proclivity for shapeshifting into the form of a cave bear. Then there were two new characters: Rath Berict (Mook), a wandering elf Wizard; and Sigrund Twice-Born, a dwarf cleric of Gildor (God of Blades from my first session, now defined further as a god of bloody conquest).

As the session started, we found our heroes employed by the Derelian Empire to search out a magical weapon factory in the mountains north of Neustria (homeland to all the characters). They found the site a battlefield, littered with the bodies of Golden Axe warriors and elite soldiers of the Kingdom of Sethran, the great rival of the Derelian Empire. Inside the mountain, they found further signs of battle and a vast underground chamber, robbed of the magical weapons they sought, but containing a giant, explosive-lightning-ball-throwing stone golem animated by magical gems. A titanic struggle began, which ended when Golden Axe threw his axe at the creature, striking a critical gem holding the powerful magics in place and triggering a massive explosion (he rolled a 6-) and flinging Menoliir against the wall like a rag doll, even in bear form. Fortunately, he rolled a 10+ at Death's Door and having glimpsed the dark future that threatened Neustria, he awoke surrounded by the concerned faces of his companions.

The group had found signs of survivors of the battle for the factory and they followed these through the mountains towards Neustria where they caught up with a small band of elite Sethran guard and a pair of Golden Axes. They ambushed them: recovering several crates of magic weapons and discovering a plan to use them to strike at the Derelian Empire through their homeland. But why were the Golden Axes involved?! Abandoning their Derelian mission, they hurried back to Neustria, equipped the border guards with this new supply of magical weaponry, and scoured the land interrogating Golden Axes and attempting to root out the treachery. Finally they prepared themselves for an assault on the Golden Axe fortress.

They infiltrated the outer keep through a riverbank sally-port, crept through the castle to a sewer tunnel leading into the keep, and made their way to the grand hall of the Golden Axes atop the keep. It was only when confronted with the golden doors that their plan was discovered and they soon found themselves surrounded by Golden Axes, including the kung-fu styles of Golden Axe Jones' one through twelve. Epic battle commenced! Sigrund and Menolirr moved to protect Lanethe and Rath respectively while Golden Axe Jones (now revealed as Golden Axe Jones #181) summoned his griffon and flew at Golden Axe Jones #1. Numbers two through twelve formed a whirling vertical circle of kung-fu badassery. Between the bear form of Menoliir, the archery of Lanethe, Sigrund's mighty blade, Rath's charms and missles and the golden axe of Golden Axe Jones #181 #172, the corrupted Golden Axe Jones #1 was forced to flee for his life. As #1 fled, Golden Axe Jones #181 #172 threw his mighty axe after him, but only succeeded (6-) in breaking a hole in the wall through which #1 could dive into the river far far below. Golden Axe Jones #181 #172 was hailed as the new #1 and the land was saved!

Gateway 2012: Monday

As usual, I hadn't scheduled a Monday morning game. I was prepared to run The Sprawl, but Rob's flight would have made for a very short game, so we played a couple of rounds of Conquering Corsairs to test out some of the new ideas that had come out of the playtest with Antoine and developed over the weekend. Expect a much more quick playing and focused game in the next iteration.

The con finished with a hat trick of Pann's which was also a hat trick for fried chicken (although this last serving was as part of a breakfast waffle order).

So that was Gateway 2012. Hopefully not my last Strategicon, but quite possibly it was. I've had a good run of them over the last few years, and through them I've made a lot of great friends and done a lot of great gaming outside them, including most of the other cons I've attended while I've been in the US, especially the Nerdly Beach Parties. Game on dudes!