DEAD OF WINTER DECEMBER 2011 AT THE OAKLAND AIRPORT HILTON (wait, what?)
FRIDAY AFTERNOON TO EVENING --- THE MEET AND GREET
FRIDAY AFTERNOON TO EVENING --- THE MEET AND GREET
This year's DOW was a B plus. My rationales for the grade are at the summary at the very bottom if you want to scroll down.
The Brookdale shut down a few weeks before the convention, forcing the host to scramble to find a place fast and because of connections with the Oakland Hilton we went over there. This was the same hotel that hosted the opening debut for Big Bad Con in mid October. It was a B minus to B sort of hotel but not really the place for a horror con. That said, we needed something that wasn't gong to charge us outrageously so it worked fine, especially the fact that our room was private and right next to the bar and restaurant. Free popcorn from the bar always helped, too, though I would have preferred to have put my own lard on my popcorn.
Frank F. was off on Friday so he tempted me with good pasta, promising to treat me to one of his favorite restaurants in Alameda (Linguines) so I fought traffic and got in around 5pm. The meet and greet didn't even begin until 7pm so we had a lot of time to catch up, talk about gaming and make our way in a leisurely enough fashion to the Hilton Bar. Probably the best two conversations we had were about us getting back into an American Civil War game played on Vassal online and a list of the pros and cons of all the conventions us spoiled gamers have available to us. It's gotten to the point that you can actually attend a con almost every six weeks in any given part of the year.
|(A view of some 66% of the room. Notice Kris is striking a pose for the camera putting all models I have known to shame)|
The Meet and Greet had a few early people and I found myself forgetting about a Werewolf game I was going to host because the conversation was interesting enough and then some. Last year the bar at the Brookdale was loud and dark so it seemed harder to talk to people and some of us soon found ourselves stepping out to play some card games. Best to be prepared in case things got boring.
But this time around it was just fine. I knew everybody attending this year so when I wasn't chatting with one person I was in another conversation with another. I'd say some of the highlights for me were talking to Gil T. about doing multiple points of view (an idea I have for one of my Cthulhu Dark Ages games) so that a player can experience a character on different sides of a tale and talking to Matt G. about video games and setting up outside games with Jack Y. and Gil T.
I told Kristen S. and others I was leaving around 10am but further conversations kept me there until about 1am.
What can I say? It isn't a good con unless you are sleep deprived and pressed for time.
WARNING: I am not listing the details of any games in which the GM is planning to run again. That said, some of the pictures may give minor spoilers to some people so if that bothers you just skip down to the summary. I doubt any of the pictures will give things away but for the very picky, well, you should skip down.
|(This helped my hunger pangs at times but all that lard. Man.)|
SATURDAY MORNING --- BRYAN H'S SAVAGE WORLDS HORROR GAME --- CAMP WICAKINI
The counselors at Camp Wicakini didn’t sign up for pissed-off spirits and zombies, but that’s what’s in store for them in this Slasher/Zombie homage. Got brains?
Bryan put out some excellent props before the game started, got us geared towards understanding the rules and then told us we would all die before the end of the game. I'm not sure if we all took that in at the table but we were in for a surprise.
I have to say I was impressed with how a lot of us played our characters, especially the gay, lispy oh so fashion conscious character played by Matt S, who even brought the South Park Michael Jackson joke into the game at one point. And, as far as how I had the most irritating character that people delighted in seeing dying, well, without giving much away I'll say my death by manual typewriter was an awesome idea on the spot.
|(Gorgeous map of the camp grounds)|
That said, I have to say the story and structure didn't develop much to my expcetation. I'm pretty much in agreement with what Morgan H. said about the game at his blog here:
|(Initiative comes down to poker cards. A joker is the best thing that you can get though it didn't do me any good when I got it)|
In Bryan's defense, however, he had very little time to prepare and this was a canned module he grabbed. See he was on the waiting list and didn't even know he was attending the con until about two weeks out (most gamemasters plans their games out months ahead of time with playtests).
Additionally, he was trying for something very simple but afterwards told me he realized the con tends to attract complex games so I expect his next DOW game will be just fine. I've played in two of his other games and enjoyed them immensely so look for this guy's game in the con circuits. You won't regret it. Okay, that puts a lot of pressure on Bryan H but ya know ya love the publicity, bro.
SATURDAY EVENING --- DUANE'S PUTRESCENT SEVEN/SHAMBLES
“What do you do if you’re a poor farm village being harassed by heartless bandits?You hire the toughest, hungriest zombie gunman you can find and have a showdown. We’re going to riff off The Magnificent Seven and Seven Samurai, zombie style. You’ll be playing the Seven zombie gunmen set out to save the town. Don’t expect a straight re-tell of either movie but come prepared to be heroes.”
SHAMBLES is a game created by Duane which is pretty simple, using a group of D6s based on your ability. You typically need to get a “6” per die to get one success but a poker chip can push a “5” up to a success as well. I didn't find the system to be anything especially interesting compared to all the other games out there but for the most part it didn't get in the way of the rolling, especially when Duane house ruled on the spot that a “5” could be pumped up to a “6” with a chip (Sean contributed to this rule, by the way).
This game was the one that stood out for me. Ironically, I had no idea it was going to be so awesome so it was a wonderful surprise. I had expected something very similar to the movies but the way it was set up and especially the manner in which we were given characters and the the little things that Duane placed in the game were truly awesome. I'd say every player at the table was good or better and that is just something you rarely get at con tables.
There was a chilling moment in the middle that I was able to bring up to the point of pissing characters off. Felipe's character tried to take a crack at me with a fist punch but I was able to withstand his fury. The build up of tension and realization of the horror that was present in this town came out quite gradually in character of the NPCs who eventually told us the horrible details.
Sean got to play a trickys gambler who was considered legendary with a gun and in competition with Tom who was probably the best gunslinger out of us all; I played a similar gunslinger but more of a former marshall type who wanted to do the right thing and didn't mind saying things others didn't want to hear; Luke played my solid “older brother” type who made observations I never got; Jill played the young gun trying to prove himself to us and pulling the wool over our eyes a few times because of awesome rolls on her part; Felipe played the half Indian guy who had a soft spot for children all over the world and Patrick played an unlucky gambling type who seemed to get into more trouble than the lot of us combined. Did I mention we were all decaying zombie types who had remembered our past lives? That added some nice depth as most of us were doing some soul searching in regards to our mortal lives and were trying to decide how far we would go in attaining our personal goals as well as how badly we wanted to save the town against an Evil that I can't detail without giving spoilers.
Overall, an awesome game and one to seek out as Duane said he would run it for people outside of a con.
SUNDAY MORNING --- FRANK'S DREAD GAME --- CALLING ALL HANDS
Description: Attu Island, an isolated, windswept, cold, and desolate place at the end of the Aleutian Island chain. Not a great place to be stationed when you’re in the Coast Guard, but even less accommodating in the winter months when darkness and snow cover the landscape… And, something goes horribly wrong…
|The tower becomes unsteady|
|And even less steady. That's my guy on the right. Appointed leader against my will|
I was truly impressed with the props Frank used for this game as well as the Coast Guard details, especially ranks in the hierarchy. There was a lot on the military setup that helped everybody get a feel what they were doing. I can't give too much information as he's going to run this at other cons but I have to say the catalyst that got the story going was very well done and incited a moment of crisis reflected in the Jenga Tower.
Our characters didn't fully mesh at times. I think that if Frank put in more questions about the relationships and such that it could have been more interesting. I think the middle incident should have required more pulls, especially for The Chief, and the Boss Battle should have been more deadly. In essence, only one person died and I think he sort of was open to the idea so he was pulling like a demon.
I already emailed the GM with more detailed feedback and he's going to tweak it to make it more interesting and deadly so look for this game as well if he offers it up again.
|(Standard look of a Hasbro Jenga Tower. Most groups can pull in the upper teens to lower 20s before it collapses)|
|(The cast: front rank played by Jack, Noam and Lisa. Back would be yours truly, Ben and Felipe.)|
Speaking of the Jenga Tower the basic mechanic is that you pull from the tower to achieve various outcomes. Anything not detailed on your character sheet is up for grabs. If you collapse the tower you're dead or removed from play or put into some other bad situation by the GM. It's arguably one of the better gaming mechanics for building tension and it's also simple enough to be used for various stories. Oh, and seeing the top of the tower dangle back and forth while someone desperately tries to pull is an awesome experience.
|A map of where we were going|
SUNDAY NIGHT --- MATT'S FEAR ITSELF --- INVASIVE PROCEDURES
(No description as this took the place of a GM who had to cancel)
|Would you trust these doctors?|
FEAR ITSELF uses the Gumshoe system in which you automatically make basic rolls but have to decide if you want more info by spending points. Note that this doesn't apply to general skills which are straight rolls with bonuses that you can declare before rolling.
Matt's game was a fill in as stated above because Travis L. got sick and had to cancel attending DOW. The adventure itself is based on a module and as Matt is going to run it for other people in the con circuit I don't want to say much about it.
|Kris said I would never post a picture of his feet on my blog and I'm showing him up in a truly juvenile gesture. I regret nothing. Heh.|
|My stoned out teenager who made great jokes but died in the end for being irritating and he probably had it coming|
|Played by Basil, Kris and Noam|
Pictures of other tables here and there.
|(Sean's beloved PvP game. Rumor has it he is offering some variation of it up at the next Minicon. Get in line, much?)|
OVERALL GRADE: B plus (based on the quality of people attending and the overall community feel as well as some notable games)
- Consistent group of gamers equals a potentially good or better gaming experience with the GM and the players;
- Strong networking possibilities, especially for playing games you missed at the cons each year;
- Brookdale let us down so we had to stay at a mundane horror style hotel;
- Felt misled by the sign up process (which is probably good for the group overall but still a letdown nevertheless) and I wasn't the only one;
- Missed the smoky log cabin;
- Matt took some money out of the surplus (or his own pocket) to have the hotel stock us up with lots of coffee and cookies (I probably would have given it a B to B plus otherwise heh)
|(Morgan's many pictures of mostly creepy people. Rumor has it I made a cameo but didn't save anyone. Apparently getting Gil, Matt G and Muldoon in the same game means teabagging galore. Just when you thought it was safe to go outside, eh?)|
|(The ever picky Felipe told me that I was in for a treat when I played Jack's game next year. He must be going soft on me because he complains about every game. Heh.)|
I would say hands down this con is easily in the top third or higher of cons I attend. The first year was totally awesome for me in games and I think any DOW has been hard pressed to compare but that's okay and maybe I was biased the first year, too. I don't know. Another issue that comes to mind is that I went to a ton of cons this year so I might be partially burnt out and jaded so maybe I need to step back some. More on that later.
Like others I spoke to we were disappointed that signing up early didn't get us into all of our first choices and while I can understand the host is trying to make everyone happy it would have been nice to know ahead of time that you might get your top choices for two slots but not the others. Some people suggested that Matt let people list their top three games for the whole con which tends to sometimes differ from the slots. I have to agree. One slot had three games that all interested me and I could only pick one. In other slots I had done one or two of the playtest for the game so my options were more limited.
|(So that's why it's called The Bones of Autumn)|
Of course, I've also concluded that the people I get can make the game so I'm going to be asking some of you which games you signed up for and adjust accordingly. Moreover, some of the games that didn't catch my eye turned out to be some of the top games at DOW so I'm thinking my judgment calls aren't always accurate.
And on a bigger note DOW is becoming more and more about the community and seeing people you just enjoy gaming with so the quality of games meter isn't as important to me as it was back in the day. Moreover, if you hear about a game being good to great there's a good chance you can ask the GM to run for you outside of the con though one person I asked didn't seem open to the idea.
|(Dice & detailed map for Jack's game)|
Regardless, as it's now obvious to me that I probably won't be getting into my top choices that opens the door for me running something at DOW next year. I am leaning towards it being Cthulhu Dark Ages but six hours may be too short for one of the Searcher Series so I may offer that up at Celesticon or BBC. In the interim I'll probably do a shorter Cthulhu Dark Ages at one of the Minicons and then offer it up at Khubla.
And as for the games I don't get into don't feel bad for me. I know where most of the Gms live and can track them down to run for me and others outside of the convention (I'm looking at you Gil and Jack). ** insert evil laugh here **
Next up is likely going to be the January/April Minicon or the Improv Con (I am on the waiting list) or Dundracon. It all depends on various factors which I'd rather not detail in a public blog.
|(Morgan's Tower of Doom; rumor has it the tower really got Gil going)|