KublaCon was the first game convention I ever attended, and has always been my favorite among the Bay Area cons. Even though I don't really play boardgames, miniature games, or card games, the fact that KublaCon maintains a solid balance of different kind of games means that most everyone there finds what they are looking for, creating some kind of shared karmic consciousness of geek Nirvana that buoys the spirit. And then there's the hotel: walking into the DunDraCon hotel feels like putting on a stained trenchcoat, while at the KublaCon hotel, with its beautiful atrium and bright architecture, you always feel like a perfectly normal adult, even as people walk around in leather LARP outfits and scream "KUBLA!" every five minutes.
The House that Jaeger Built (Call of Cthulhu)
The game I played on Friday evening was run by Jack Young, who I've played with many times but only as fellow players, and I was as impressed as I suspected I'd be with his GM skills. It was probably one of the two or three best con games I've ever had (I'd count the other two as a Delta Green game by mygamethoughts and a Buffy the Vampire Slayer game by Todd Furler). Like me, Jack is a prop whore, and had a Nazi document handout that puts to shame anything I've put together for my WWII-era CoC games. The setting was rather like Delta Green as an openly-known government agency, and I played a Russian-born FBI driver/martial artist. As I've been recently wasting my life playing GTA 4, this meant I get my inner Niko Bellic on, and I had a blast doing it. Jack did a great job building everything to a desperate climax, and the players were all engaging. Great start to what would be a very good con.
Oh Brother, What Art That? (Trail of Cthulhu)
On Saturday morning, I came into this game thinking it would be the Coen Brothers movie as an inspiration, only to find that most of the characters were taken directly from the film. As I let the other players choose their characters, I thought to myself that any of them would've been great so long as I didn't have to play Pete (the John Turturro character), as the film character's defining traits were being obnoxious, loud, and argumentative: exactly those traits that bad role-players bring to the table when they are at their worst. Sure enough I ended up with Pete, and while it was balancing act to try to stay true to the character without becoming tiresome to the other players, I think it worked out okay. It was definitely more comedic than horrific, but that's what I expected based on the source material, and the game was a tremendous amount of fun. A definite favorite moment was when, during a gun-battle with monstrous cultists, Pete, having hidden in a bush, walks out, sets the bush on fire, and proceeded to try to impersonate the Cthulhoid god to get the cultists to fight each other. Another great game where the players were all solid and the GM was very much on their game, I was also impressed with the ToC system. Combat this time did finally feel lethal, and while I'm still not going to say it is better than CoC, I'm ready to admit that it is it's equal.
Toteninsel (Call of Cthulhu)
I submitted this game to be run at 6pm for 6 hours, but the con staff asked me to reschedule to 8pm. These changes didn't make it to the con booklet, which meant mass confusion for awhile as I thought I would be running at 6pm, ending with much gnashing-of-teeth as unpaid and unappreciated con staff apologized for mistakes that were really out of everyone's hands. Jeannine showed up with the Cthulhu-shaped cupcakes she had made at 6pm, so we got to have some much-need and de-stressing time together before my game actually started. I had forgotten about the cupcakes by then, but when I did hand them out in the middle of the game they were a very big hit.
Now everytime I've run Toteninsel, it's gone well, and this was no exception. The players were all great, and I got to game with a friend who I hadn't played with (or really seen) in quite awhile. This was the first time that the paranoia elements between the characters got played up, and while this derailed things as one side of the table was sent on a wild goose chase, we were able to bring the story about to what I think was a satisfying end for all. There was however one major exception in the fact that, while Toteninsel usually runs no longer than 7 hours at the most, this time it ran for well over 8 hours. That wouldn't have been bad, had my game began when I wanted at 6pm; but, starting at 8pm meant I didn't get them done until 4:30 the next morning and I didn't hit the sack until 5:30. Still, the fact that nobody nodded off, all were involved (if tired) right up to the end, and everyone left happy, tells me that the game was a success.
The Last Flight of the Cathay Clipper (Call of Cthulhu)
Having not waken up in time on Sunday morning to make the LARP I signed up for, I got screw by the scheduling bugs again when I was told that I would running my next game at 6pm instead of 8pm as I had thought. This meant that I had no afternoon game to play that wouldn't conflict with my schedule, so I spent my day in my room writing up a new character for the game (to replace what I always felt was a rather boring PC). My third time running this scenario was not so charmed, although I consider the first half of the game to have been absolutely spot-on perfect. The players were completely into it, roleplaying their characters with glee and wit, and everything was an absolute joy, Once again, I forgot to bring the Cthulhupcakes until mid-game, when they were another instant hit (everyone tore out their cellphone cameras before commencing to munch). And then the game entered the "mortal danger" phase and dice began rolling and everything kinda fell to shit. The pace, which up till then, had been solid, slowed to a crawl as the players got bored, and I felt powerless to change things, mainly because whatever part of my brain that handles improvisational creativity had been fried by too little sleep from late night GMing and too much aggravation from con scheduling. Some of the players expressed (with honesty and not sympathy) that they had a really great time, and I don't think it was a total disaster, but it was almost worse for me because I feel I had created a really special gaming moment in that first half which should have ended in that rare complete success. I think what I have in this scenario is a good introduction with interesting characters, but the antagonist and climax really needs to be taken back to code so that the horror becomes more visceral than rolls against Sanity and Hit Points.
The Case of the Misplaced Magician (Call of Cthulhu)
My Monday morning game was run by an old friend of mine, and was a straightforward but satisfying murder mystery. I don't know if he'll run it again and, even if he did, I doubt that anyone who would plays it would be reading this, but I'll still be brief to avoid spoilers. I was worried about playing in an investigative game on a Monday morning, when I am always so burnt-out that all I really want to do is punch things, but, after a slow but very short start, the pace picked up and remained exciting right through to the finish.
Despite what happened with my Sunday game, which I think counted more as a flawed success more or less, I can still say that every game was fun as hell. Somehow, I lucked out in playing with skilled GMs and, most surprisingly, sets of players filled with exceptional role-players who got into their characters as well as being friendly and witty. No one was That Guy at the gaming table, and I was grateful that I never had one of my own That Guy moments. I hope ConQuest turns out the same, with the caveat that it would be nice to play at least one game that wasn't Lovecraft-related.