Wednesday, September 4, 2013

DragonCon 2013: The Games I Played

My DragonCon began Friday morning with a train ride into Peachtree Center station and a walk up the longest stairwell I've ever seen in person. That was followed by a race-walk to the Hilton, which is where the gaming is located.

Game 1: Old School D & D.

The first game I played in was billed as Old School D&D although the exact version wasn't clear from the description. As it would turn out, it was a mash up. Quite a mash up.

The DM was new to b/x and to running a game at a con. His biggest flaw was his refusal to say "no" when someone walked in wanting to play. The result: 18 people. 

It was like a small army going into the dungeon. It was also the first time I have ever played in a group that legitimately needed a caller or two.

Needless to say, he wasn't prepared with characters for that many people I'm not sure how long character generation took, but it was awhile. It seemed like every time he thought he was finished, someone else would walk in.

Mistake number 2 was not really explaining b/x and how it was different than 3.x and 4e which, it seemed to me, was most everyone's starting point, save a handful of us.  Before you could blink, there was a drow magic user, an elven thief, a barbarian? (i think someone mentioned they wanted to play paladin or ranger or some such). And then he rolled out the battle mat.

He made an attempt to explain that it wasn't about where your miniature was on the map, but that's a foreign idea to a lot of people with 3.5 and 4e backgrounds and it became inevitable that we were playing just that kind of game. The minis, on the other hand, were classics from the 70s and 80s and that was pretty cool.

Other things that didn't sit well with me: Clerics had unlimited casting (he referred to the cleric more than once as "the healer" which, to me, is a modern take on the class and not a b/x take on it), magic users got unlimited casting of their one spell as well, and death was at -10 or -CON (i can't recall).  To my mind, the unlimited casting broke the game.

18 people in the Caves of Chaos and not one death. Or a wandering monster for that matter.

The DM did an admirable job wrangling 18 people (combat took forever), and I had a great time despite my criticisms - he was funny as were many of the other players and I laughed a lot (how could you not when you play a game that included "Spit on the dwarf" as a solution to a problem). I even liked my character, a thief  I named Bumble the Bouncer (T:1).  i bought a 10' pole and was tapping around for pit traps constantly, until i went blind and then it was for navigation. But, it just wasn't what I thought I was signing up for; i felt like the love of my gaming life was tremendously short changed. 

Game 2: Malifaux Demo

They were running a number of miniature game demos in the basement of the Hilton throughout the con. I got pretty excited when I saw Malifaux in the program, as I've mentioned here before.

I got to squeeze in a game Saturday morning before a panel I was looking forward to.

The game, for those that don't know, is based around a range of miniatures and as such, is not something you'd pick up to use with other manufacturers' products. There are several factions, but unlike many games, the requirements for a faction are fairly small - literally a handful of figures suffices for play.

You also need the rules (2nd ed is due out in September or October, I forget) and a Malifaux Fate Deck - you could use ordinary cards, but the decks are available for under $5 online.

I had done some reading about the system and one thing it's not typically used for is fights to the death where one figure remains at the end. Typically, scenarios are built around multiple objectives. But for demo purposes, a no quarter given fight is probably the easiest thing.

The guy running the demo was not totally familiar with the 2nd edition changes, but he was just filling in for someone who couldn't make it, and he did a good job explaining everything else, that it really didn't matter.

The fact that the game uses cards not dice made it all the more appealing to me, given my penchant for card based systems. The low investment in miniatures is nice too - a starter box is pretty much all you need to get playing. Have I mentioned that the miniatures are beautiful?

While the rule book isn't cheap, it's not outrageously priced either.   

So, I took the plunge and ordered two factions and 2 decks on Sunday night when I got home from the con. This and Flame of War will give me two social miniatures games to play.

I'll wait to order the rules since they're pre-order right now. In the meantime, I can paint up the factions.

Game 3: Games on Demand - Fate: Accelerated

This group was just 5 people plus the GM so already a better set up. We had a choice of 4 different indie systems and Fate: Accelerated was the winner at our table.

I had tried to read the Fate Core rules in the past with little luck but playing it this way, it made so much more sense. 

The setup was that we were mixed lot hired to recover a downed airship. I played a goblin pirate and failed mutineer. Other party members included an elven thief with huge debt, an itinerant human priest, a human wizard's apprentice with a penchant for pyromania, and an orc mercenary that took his contracts seriously. Very seriously.

I'm not even going to try to explain how the game is played but I'll note that, combat is slick in that it's just one opposed roll basically (although we had almost no combat). The game is about story telling first and foremost. You can define any kind of character you could possibly want. Advantages and stunts are pretty cool and I found myself trying to play the character as circumscribed by these items on the character sheet, in order to bring those things into the game. Rather than feeling game-y, it felt like they encouraged characterization.

It also seemed more collaborative than I usually experience as well, but I don't know yet if that was the GM or the rules. I'll know soon enough - I bought the rules and 4 sets of FUDGE dice (which Fate uses), I liked it that much.

Game 4: Portal Beneath the Stars - Dungeon Crawl Classics

This was my final game of the con and it was my favorite. 

Portal Beneath the Stars is a Dungeon Crawl Classics 0-level funnel. I've only played DCC once before (Sailors on a Starless Sea), but I love the funnel concept and couldn't wait for this. I only wish I had signed up to play some of the GM's other sessions!

Our GM, Brandon (SavageGM on Twitter) was full of energy and enthusiasm for the game. He knew the rules and the adventure like they were his own, rolled dice in the open and spent as much time standing up and pointing out where features would be using the room we were in, where statues were and how they were posed, and acting out various bits, as he did seated behind his screen. 

Even though I was exhausted, not once did my attention wander. It couldn't - he was riveting.

He was also totally inspiring - I wanted to go home and run a game right away (Sadly, that didn't happen).

This was what playing a game at a con should be - it should pump you up so that you go back to your home group fired up to play, and give you new ideas to improve your own GMing or new story ideas or just renewed enthusiasm.

Gaming at DragonCon was better than I could have imagined. It was such a downer to realize on Sunday night that I wouldn't be going back downtown to play another game.

I can't wait for next year! 

With some better planning, I can probably squeeze in another game or two, or maybe, I'll run Labyrinth Lord or b/x and try to convey my excitement for the game to others.


  1. Sounds great. I never really did b/x. We tried it when I was 10 and it didn't stick. AD&D at 12 made much more sense. Glad it pumped you up, look forward to reading about stuff with the new inspiration.

    1. Those are about the same ages I was when I played both of those! I ran a bunch of AD&D but never got to be a player. In b/x I did both, so I wonder if that explains my preference.

      The recharging has been definitely worth it from my point of view. Hopefully it pays off in some interesting reads here!

      One thing that I have been inspired to do is to write up a guide to solo rpging or at least dungeon crawls, so that anyone can try out my methods without having to sift through the blog.


  2. Love the session recaps.

    Regarding B/X: Eighteen players?! Holy guacamole! I played B/X with some dedicated 4e players and it was such a trip. They were so flummoxed by the lack of skills, daily abilities, surges and what not. They were really nice people, but struggled to grasp the B/X mindset. 18 players? Wow!

    Regarding Fate Accelerated: One of my early concerns about the game was that aspects and stunts would facilitate a kind of 3x/4e metagaming, but your quote sums up the issue nicely: "Rather than feeling game-y, it felt like they encouraged characterization."

    1. May I never play in a game with that many players again!

      The closest I've come to 3x/4e is Pathfinder (1x) i couldn't stand the focus on the character sheet and "what can i do with my powers/can i use this power now?" But Fate, or maybe the way the GM handled it (the characters were pregens), felt very different.

      Powergamers/munchkins probably won't like Fate but most other player types will be able to find something for them.

      I'm not generally someone who does deep characters, being more of a "butt-kicker" than a method actor or storyteller, but I found it surprisingly easy to get into the role of Gormon, the failed mutineer pirate goblin and illegal practitioner of magic.