Just-dead-blogging from Indiecon [includes Steal Away Jordan]

edited November 2009 in Actual Play
We arrived at the Indiecon venue this afternoon, a holiday park near Christchurch seemingly just on the border of Dorset and Hampshire. Our chalet is bright and warm, a refuge from the rain sheeting down and coursing along every path. Simon arrived somewhat after myself and Graham, and we three emptied our wallets at Waitrose, an upmarket cooperatively owned British supermarket. Adam arrived in time for chili and tacos, which was lovely.

Dessert was a fancy chocolate souffle, followed by bubblegum. Misery Bubblegum.

This is a great game! We got going with six at the table, and the character creation rules quickly built an elaborate yet intuitive web tying us together. We realised as we cycled through that the all-male group was generating male characters, and mindful of the opportunities that a mixed cast has, ended up with majority girls. I end up playing deeply against my teenage type, a cocky motormouth who can talk around corners but is an outsider in her own mind, desperate for affirmation from someone deep and profound... unfortunately taking the school's puffed peacock anime obsessive to be that. Another of the players seemed to roll naturally into an inverted character, a dumb and shameless jock. I relished this chance to play out a different perspective; we're never more self absorbed and preoccupied with our own affirmation than our school years, so it's great to trade heads and see how those who seemed to be doing okay were subject to their own anxieties and tribulations. I wonder how it feels to go much closer to home, and play for unmediated catharsis?

Graham GM'd with characteristic aplomb - which is a relief, as I'd hate to slate him on his birthday. It's been a fun day with even a transatlantic SG 'happy birthday' rendition, which was extraordinary. Plenty of wine was also drunk, and merriment had.

Tomorrow we investigate the con itself in earnest. It appears that most sign ups are full, a little frustrating, but a stocked cellar and game bookshelf provides a happy fallback. More, perhaps, then.


  • edited November 2009

    Friday began with a decent one-shot of Polaris. Simon made snowmen, Graham ruled the deserted Remnant with his icy ghost bride, I conducted a choir of briny sea-shanty downfall. Later in the con we drifted Polaris and laughed a lot, but this was your basic satisfying throat-stabby storygaming.

    After lunch we played Trail of Cthulhu, Graham's apocolyptic scenario. This was a public sign-up but we drew the participants back to our chalet where there were fewer witnesses - I mean, where there was more space.

    The adventure was unmistakeably British, and pleasingly chilling. My favourite thing in the session was Nick, one of the players, playing a Hobo (for us of course, a Tramp) for whom the end of the world was like a month of Christmases come at once - hotel room sleeping, unattended bars and hobnailed boots aplenty. As the rest of us perished amid crumbling pillars of sanity, 'Quiet John' scarpered and who knows? Perhaps he made it.

    That evening Adam ran PTA, with Simon, myself and Nick from the Trail game. We ended up pitching a law enforcement game set in the outback, called Outback! (We thought there may be a real program with that name, but agreed that we could always add another ! to avoid confusion.) I was Harry 'Clubber' Stanley, the obligatory brute character.

    This was the first time I have ever played a spotlight session in PTA, and I got a lot out of it. I felt incredibly pampered and looked after, as everyone seemed to be treating it as their responsibility to make my story make sense. Which by the system, they were, I suppose. This wasn't to say my guy had an easy ride of it - pistol whippings, dehydration, and the appellation 'drongo' were the least of my travails. It was a fun game, probably the most fun I have personally had with the system, and I can really see how the shaping rewards longer-term play.

    There may have also been some drinking, I forget. [edit - oh, and a delicious onion and king prawn curry! num.]
    Next, Saturday, and an early and painful start...
  • How was the storm?
  • The storm was Saturday.

    To quote Graham, "the storm was AWESOME".
  • The storm actually did inspire awe. At 1am, the trees were straining upwards like monstrous appendages, a la Ramsey Campbell.

    Trail of Cthulhu went well. I was happy. Misery Bubblegum wasn't as stellar as I've seen it before, perhaps because there were five players. I wonder if four is a sweet spot. We haven't reached my highlights of the con yet.

  • edited November 2009
    Saturday am

    Steal Away Jordan, a fuller write-up

    Saturday we dragged ourselves to the convention floor for group pick-ups at 9am (really? 9am? Gawd.) for one Steal Away Jordan. The sign-up had been slow to fill and I think Graham was a little nervous before we began as he hadn't GM'd it before. We played it straight as can be, 5 slaves of the Tollington estate. It took some time to get the goals and motives in place (3 Goals with 3 Motives per goal, each motive to be executed through one Task or scene - I'll call these GMTs for brevity), with one player Nick (another Nick) expressing that he wouldn't be able to do it as it was too much content and therefore too difficult. I thought at that stage he was actually going to get up and go, but we talked through some of it and he got about half the sheet filled in.

    We were
    • Button, the cook, who had lost a child and lusted for revenge on old man Tollington. This was Adam.
    • Wellington, the strong and bad-eyed outdoor worker. This Nick.
    • Hopalong, the would-be suitor of Button with a grudge for Olivia, mother of the house. This Simon.
    • Achilles, the stableman with a yearning to breed a winning racehorse. This Robin.
    • Spaniel, the witchdoctor and barber, young, skinny, guilty looking. This Alex.
    The game calls on you to make GMT's out of earshot of the GM, which is fantastic; I was quickly put inside the state of knowing every breath of autonomy is prohibited, every dream must be concealed, every promise has a sniff of success only if it lies buried from view. I can imagine how liberating it can be for the GM as they can just get on with the uncomplicated task of making life difficult, and only considering the goals and motives when they are thrust directly at her.

    In play, some characters suffered, and suffered fast. The eldest son of the family, Jack was an overt villain; drunken, reckless and contemptuous of the well-being of others, firing at Wellington's feet and working him to exhaustion. However, the younger children turned out to be more insidious; the girl Constance playing and stalking for her amusement, sex as her weapon, idly curious if Wellington was 'proportioned like a man'. The boy Edmund, friendly and innocent but seized with a naivety bound to get the slaves into trouble. Insisting that Button teach him 'to cook for mama' led to a highly tense scene as the milk slowly drew to the boil, and conflict narrowly averted a scarring and the cataclysm that would follow. Eventually, the boy died to the kick of Achilles' prize horse, and the slave seen responsible was capitally punished.

    Interestingly, however, some characters did rather well at escaping punishment. Part of this was luck - we got 2, 3 sixes on the skull dice (a powerful mechanic that can override failure or lead to death) and no dreaded ones at all across the session. Another part was the canniness of slaves, and it was interesting to see Robin play Achilles very tactically, setting up events through other slaves and always striving to be absent and so blameless. As one example, the tragedy in the stable did not fall on his shoulders, but Wellington's, who was unreasonably tasked with keeping an eye on things at the critical moment.

    The game itself was arresting, tense, awful and wondrous. This was partly due to the good play at the table. Graham really took the GM role to town, which suited him with its combination of status, caste, and gentility, with awfulness looming at every moment.*

    Moreover, the system deserves high praise. The dice are terrific fun to play with; I'm not sure about the probabilities but more dice lead to more fun with the matching mechanic, which is reason enough to seek more through directed play. The skull dice reminds you that life is cheap, and the magic was simple and fun.

    One longer system comment on the upfront creation of Goals, Motives, and Tasks.

    This for me is certainly one of the key system areas. I generated 3 unrelated and somewhat ambitious Goals - Ruin the Tollingtons, Buy my freedom, and Send old ma Tollington insane. Next time around, I would try and keep it a bit simpler.

    There's a theoretical reason one would want to do this, which is that if you try and run about and do too many disjointed things, you will overburden the narrative.

    However this didn't happen in my case. The actual consequence of spreading myself thinly was that I would look at a task, like "get Achilles to take me to the buried gold", and have a scene persuading Achilles. I would succeed, ready my pen to tick off the task (you get bonus dice for completing tasks), and realise that I hadn't completed that task, but only a pre-task that I hadn't formally articulated. This meant I had to work longer to get my extra worth dice.

    The take-away for me is that if you want to get your worth dice and close off your agenda before everything hits the fan through the other characters, then make your Tasks immediately actionable. In fact, read Getting Things Done and apply this to your game, (and maybe your life).

    This game was one of the highs of the con. I would certainly play it again, and play it soon.

    *This is a reference to A Taste For Murder, rather than a comment on Graham's temperament.
  • Thanks for these write-ups, Alex.

    Graham, tell us about your experience with Montsegur 1244. I'm dying to find out what your impressions were, who you played, and what happened.
  • If Graham wants to talk through Montsegur that'd be great. It's taking me a while to get things up, so I will just chip in any further thoughts.

    To take us right up to there, here's the rest of Saturday

    Saturday afternoon I played the new edition of Little Fears, the kids fighting monsters game, in the convention main hall. I also managed to get quite drunk on Merlot, and as such my writeup will be brief!

    The table was agreeably rowdy, creating a vivid experience of being a squabbling kid in a squabbling kid-coterie. The game was silly, crude, and tangential to the game mystery. One of the players proclaimed we were having so much fun that people were approaching him in the toilets to ask what was going on; in any case, I left the session with laughter face-ache. I also got to meet Mike Harnish who was a thoroughly fun guy and good conversationalist. It was a perfect palette cleanser after the tension of SAJ that morning.

    That evening, Simon strongarmed the Doctor Who publisher into previewing the game at the table. At short notice, he pulled together and ran a decent enough scenario, but the system wasn't really for me (nor, to be honest, I am not au fait enough with the setting to get by on that either). On the plus side, it was agreeably light and intuitive to use: add skill plus attribute with the pairings you make only constrained by your narration, add 2d6 vs target. I was less keen on the use of Story Points as a currency: you can use them to convert failures into successes. This is pretty standard, but as some characters came with 12 or more from the off, in an effort to equalise them with the hefty capabilities of more powerful characters, it meant that any and all characters could potentially succeed at any or all tasks if it mattered.

    It made me think of Gumshoe where resolving vital clues was never dependent on the dice, but where the division of skills dictated that different characters would be the agents of different successes. That kind of mechanic builds a moving spotlight into play very well, whereas this storypoint one tends to leave that determined at the social level.

    Oh well, it ran smoothly enough and the play materials were nice, with an annual feel to the books, definitely friendly to a younger audience.
  • And Indy Pete gives us a Montsegur 1244 writeup, taking us to the end of my con experience .

    I had a great time, my best con experience. I was lucky to lodge with great people, cooks and gamers, caught up with legends like Scott Dorward (who along with Graham decided to pretend their birthdays fell within the con, the attention seeking scoundrels) and met some cool folk like Mike n Pete, n more besides.


  • I played my first proper Con game at GenCon, two more at Concrete Cow as a guest, and IndieCon was the first I've ever been to not as a rep of ProFantasy or Pelgrane. I enjoyed every single game and their were no "bad" players. I wonder if this is unusual?
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