Gil Trevizo (furrylogic) wrote,
Gil Trevizo
furrylogic

KublaCon 2008

This past weekend I attended KublaCon, one of the three main gaming conventions in the Bay Area. It was mostly solid, with one major hiccup. The only loot I snagged from the dealers was some dice (and a few glow-in-the-dark zombie minis from a boardgame supplement I won, having thrown away the rest of the game). I played in two demo games of the forthcoming 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, another demo of the forthcoming Hunter: the Vigil game from White Wolf, a game of Rippers from the Savage Worlds system, and what was advertised as a "modern supernatural" LARP which seemed entirely like Changeling.

Toteninsel (Call of Cthulhu): This was the fifth time that I ran Toteninsel, and here it ran really well in the face of dodgy odds. Every other time I've run this Nazi zombie survival horror adventure (think Where Eagles Dare meets Resident Evil), I've inclued a "Mature Themes" disclaimer in the booklet description. This time I left it out for wordcount limitations, which resulted in nearly half the players being quite young (mid-to-late teens). Two of them were absolutely cool and played their characters very well, but one acted closer to their age: breaking off the group, quick to violence, disinterested in their character's background except what weapons he has, etc. Nevertheless, the scenario ran really smoothly, and this group was among the first to really touch every area of what was happening and discover all of the dark secrets of the Island of the Dead. The players were top-notch, and everyone seemed to have a quite-awesome time, such that I've decided to run it one last time at ConQuest (or Pacificon Game Expo, or whatever the hell they're calling it now).

The Druid’s Grove (Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition): I never play D&D games at cons, but I wanted here to get a look at the forthcoming 4th ed. rules, and, because I succeeded in that, I can't really describe this game as a failure. Oh, but the GM tried to make it so, arriving nearly 20 minutes late to his own game. There was no role-playing whatsoever, just a series of combats, where I did get to try out a tiefling warlord. The warlord class is interesting, with distinctly MMORPG roots that has powers meant to buff other characters and move them freely into better tactical position. I can see this being a quite powerful and fun character once it has some kind of "push or pull" power against enemies. Although initially the role-playing role of the warlord looks like the leader on the battlefield, it's actually more of a team cheerleader, at least at 1st level. This was the first of two D&D 4E games I played at the con, so I'll get to my impressions on the rules later.

We Who Would Do The Hard Things (Hunter: the Vigil): I can't really say much about this game as it was a demo and I signed a NDA, but I can say that it was deliciously politically-incorrect, especially when my character [CENSORED] the [CENSORED] with her [CENSORED] through her [CENSORED]. After this and other nWOD games I've played at cons, I am quite impressed with the viability of using the system to run anthropocentric campaigns. I am also particularly interested in this new Hunter (which is supposed to premiere at GenCon) for reasons I can't get into without violating the NDA. Great game, great GM, great players: this and the Rippers game on Monday really made the con for me. I ended up winning a copy of Werewolf: the Forsaken, but seeing as how I'm never going to play that game, I decided to give it to the player that ran the leader, as I know that to be a very difficult role which often leaves less opportunity to go drama queen and hog the spotlight.

Keep on the Shadowfell (Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition): My second 4E game of the con, this one was better run and completely accomplished its goal of introducing the system, almost too well. The scenario, published by WoTC as both a quick-start demo and the intro scenario for new 4E campaigns, is meant to take characters from 1st to 3rd level, so there was no way we were going to finish the game's narrative at a satisfactory point. This was fine with most of us, who were really just there to test the 4E rules anyways; but it was still an exhausting eight hours, as we moved from one kobold-killing bloodbath to another. Here I played a dragonborn paladin, a mini-dragon without wings, which gave me some healing-based attacks but was pretty much just a fighter with the word "Holy" in the title of my attack feats.

After both games, I lean mildly positive towards 4E. The 3.5E vets suffered a lot of cognitive dissonance in the game, but 4E really is just an evolution of 3.5E, a high-crunch system where a very simple set of basic mechanics are made complex through conditional modifiers set by the environmental conditions and the powers/feats/spells of the individual combatants. These conditions are still vague and open to rules-lawyering interpretation in 4E, which slowed both games even with the minimal rules of the quick-start. There are some differences in 4E, especially that every character class now has something effective to do in combat at all times, and characters begin play at near-Exalted bad-assitude. And the game is no more complicated than 3E was when it first came out, although it absolutely demands a battle-map so it might be rougher on the GM end. However, the social mechanics are virtually unchanged and the new "action points" are simply a marginal combat buff when they could have been so much more. So D&D remains what it is: a crunchy system that encourages rules-lawyering that still benefits from a solid support base and an easy-to-understand buy-in from novice gamers. If anything, I was less impressed by the Keep on the Shadowfell book, which sounds like a pedestrian hack-&-slash.

Golden Gate (LARP): I'd had such a good time at ConQuest last year playing my first LARP that I decided to try this one as my second, and boy was that a mistake. The game was billed simply as of the "modern supernatural" genre, involving an outbreak of weirdness in San Francisco that had driven a bunch of disparate types into an abandoned building as people fled the city. The first problem was of my own making: I was drained by eight number of hours of kobold homicide, and not in my best mood to be Mr. Friendly as the hall filled with the other players, all of whom seemed to be close friends and I was not: so I started out feeling awkward. The next problem was that it took the GMs over an hour to hand out characters and I was at the bottom of that totem pole, requiring me to sit in my awkward drained silence for forever. When I finally did get my character, I was told that, because it had taken so long, the break given before the game started to allow us to read the background material would be extended; but that was not entirely true, as I discovered when I returned (early) to find the GMs already breaking people into groups and leading them into the room.

Another issue was that a key part of my character's background had been written incorrectly on my sheet. I pointed out to a GM that this created other inconsistencies in my background, which the GM didn't think was important enough to get clarification on until I pressed him. It turns out he was right, because ultimately nothing in my character background was important, as the character itself was utterly inconsequential, not simply to the plot, but to the other characters as well. The players were either Fae of the Seelie or Unseelie Court, human mages who had brought the Fae into our world through a gate in Golden Gate Park, human scientists interested in what was driving everyone mad (hint: it was the Fae) in the city, or National Guard troops come to quell the rioting. I was among the troops, which consisted of a lieutenant, two sergeants, and three privates, one of whom was moi; so, I started out as a lowest ranked of the group which was most unaware and least likely to understand the phenomena. Now I didn't let this stop me, and I did have a decent time running around trying to figure out what was happening. And I do think I did a decent job of it while staying as much in character as I could, but ultimately there was little I was in a position to do with that knowledge unless my superiors were willing to act on that information, and act aggressively as we were all so much more out of the loop than all the other groups. Still, because no plans were made and/or followed up on, we ended up as NPCs in a story meant for others. I can accept a character that starts out with little consequence, putting the onus on the player to meet and mingle to find purpose in the story on their own (and I tried desperately to do that); but, because of the military chain-of-command structure of my group and general pecking order between the groups themselves, I couldn't just run off without wholesale abandoning both my group and the character as written for me.

This really was just a Changeling LARP where only a few human characters (the mages) had an impact on the story, and I cannot understand why the GMs didn't list it as that (the Fae aspect of the characters were certainly never hidden). I appreciate all the hard work these GMs must put into these LARPs, and I don't expect them to make every single character full of RPing goodness and that there is no way to add NPCs into the mix without assigning them to actual players... but this was an awful experience. Not so much while playing the game, as I did "make my own fun", but rendered so in the after-game synopsis when it became obvious that the GMs never had a role for us nor much interest in what we did, save for how we might complicate their plot for their more important characters. I left the game feeling like I'd been jerked around, completely dissatisfied, and wondering if it was just the size of the game (35 players vs. the 18 in the LARP I played at ConQuest) that dictated that some folks were just going to get short shrift. This has honestly soured me on the LARPing experience, and although I will probably try at least one more LARP down the road, I really hope this particular LARP is not the norm.

The Haunted Harbor (Savage Worlds: Rippers): I signed up for this game as a mistake, as I thought the GM was another person who had been highly-recommended by my roommate at the con. This turned out to be a most fortunate mistake, as the GM was really good (less fortunate as it turns out that this'll be one of his last cons in the Bay Area as he moves to the East Coast). Monday games have always been more miss than hit, as everyone is too tired to role-play and there is a general ambience of winding down in the air that makes it hard to keep up the enthusiasm so vital to a good game. We had no such problems here, as the good mix of players coupled with the fine GM rolled well with the Savage Worlds system, whose "fast and furious role-playing" tag is well-deserved. Rippers is a Victorian setting concerning Masonic-style lodges devoted to studying and eradicating supernatural threats through steampunk technology, occult magic, and good old fashioned cold steel. Its a very cool setting, although like most Savage Worlds background material it doesn't seem as well-fleshed out as I'd like. Still, this reminded of all the reasons I really like the Savage Worlds system, and after the mind-numbing kobold slaughter and the chain-jerking LARP experience, I really needed this game badly. About the only bad thing I can say about the game is that I'm once again conflicted over whether to run any itch I get to do a fantasy campaign using D&D 4E or the in-all-ways-but-support superior Savage Worlds.


So in summation: D&D 4E is mostly more of the same (both good and bad), Hunter: the Vigil looks awesome (without violating my NDA, I will say that all Delta Green fans with any fondness for the nWoD system must check this game out), not all LARPs are fun, Savage Worlds is still a kick-ass system that I wish had more thickly-realized campaign settings, and KublaCon remains my favorite. Now on to GOcon in July!
Tags: call of cthulhu, dungeons & dragons, gaming, kublacon, larp, savage worlds, world of darkness
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