Dreamtion 2009–The Unbearable Lightness of Gaming


Well, now that the nasty stomach bug I picked up on Sunday (the only bad thing about Dreamation 2009) is finally behind me, I can recap my con experience.

Thursday started off with a surprisingly relaxed trip to the con. We arrived, got our bearings in the new space (and what a great new space it is!), and grabbed some dinner w/ Bill Segulin. It’s always good to catch up with old friends.

Thursday 8pm I ran Mouse Guard for a full table of Rich, Lisa, Kevin and Eric (and four others trying to get in). My inexperience showed and that game didn’t really heat up until about 9:30 or so. Once it got cooking, things went pretty well, with the guardmice eking out a victory against the pirates that attacked their barge. Although pushing midnight, they poured their checks in the players’ turn into convincing the governor of Rustleaf to rescind her banishment of all redfurred mice.

Friday morning had me running Mouse Guard again, this time for Ralph, Julia, Heather, and Mindy. This time I had a better grasp of the system and was ready for things to heat up right away. However, my dice were horrible the whole game. I think the players only lost a single roll on the GM’s turn. Cold dice plus a few bad scripts (even when I brought in Bill to script for the mink) gave us a game that was essentially a walk in the park. Everyone achieved their goals, and completely vanquished the pirates, in under three hours. The players’ turn included them making cool mink-fur armor for themselves, ending fur-based discrimination in Rustleaf, and trying to recruit new members of the guard. That last one was the last roll of the game, and the only other test they failed. I invoked the emnity clause to have them find a bright, strapping young mouse brimming with guard potential, only to say “The guard is a bunch of losers. I wanna be a PIRATE when I grow up!”

After bringing lunch to Kat during her 5-hour With Great Power… game, I hurried down to the wargame room to run Mechaton. Friday afternoon has traditionally been a great slot for Mechaton. Not so this time. One player had signed up, but had crossed out his name before I even arrived. I waited 30 minutes, but no players. The wargame room was quite empty compared w/ previous cons as well.

That was okay, as it allowed me to help greet Michele, Dalys, April & Courtney on arrival, get them checked in, etc. Bill’s daughters Tasha and Cassandra also arrived in that timeframe, so all nine of us got to go to dinner.

Friday 8pm was the first game I got a chance to PLAY at the con. I had completely forgotten to preregister (it just never occurs to me), but luckily there were seats left in Shreyas & Elizabeth’s Mist-Robed Gate game. I hadn’t gotten a good sense of the game at CleaverCon in September, and wanted to see how it was really structured. While I’m not sure if I got that, I did get a great deal of laughter from our game, entitled “Shaolin Hockey.” The game was a comedy rather than the tense, claustrophobic action-drama we’d done at CleaverCon. It worked well enough to generate laughs for a few hours of game, but I was left not really understanding the game any better than I did before. Partially out of weariness (and partially out of rustiness) there were a few times that Thor handed my character a juicy, melodramatic setup, and I fumbled the follow-through–almost like when they try to inject the melodrama into a comedy and it doesn’t quite fit. The best chuckles came from Ralph: one in-game for his hotshot young kid’s catchphrase of “Hockey sucks!” and one out of game when Thor was doing wirework against someone else (Julie, I think) and Ralph was the only one who had not voted. He held up the two tokens, looked at Thor with an evil grin and said “Dance, monkey, dance!” Which sums up a lot of what MRG’s wirework system feels like.

Saturday morning I finally got to play Serial Homicide Unit. Ralph, Bill, Michele and I all found ourselves assigned to the small room w/ only two tables, so I broke out my Walkman and speaker and we played the game as nature intended–by listening to Russell’s instructions. Our profile was “local celebrities” so we had the host of the radio morning show who was hoping to give up alcohol; the local high school basketball hero who was hoping to get a scholarship; the local author who was hoping to reconcile with his wife, and Fireman Phil–the local fire safety educator–who was hoping that his granddaughter would speak to him again. We had great civilian scenes and, as always, it was heartbreaking that the basketball player and the radio DJ were murdered. But we brought the killer to justice (and we managed to infect the idea of serial murder into the Sign In Stranger game running at the next table).

After the game, I had a great conversation with Ralph about the looseness of the MRG game, and the difference between games the run on rules, and those that run on cues. Either can work, as long as you don’t mistake one for the other. That gave me a lot to think about, and prepared me for my next game.

Saturday afternoon, I played Shreyas & Elizabeth’s It’s Complicated game with Ryan, Bill, Arturo, Terry, and Michele. The setup was a bank heist, and with so many players hamming it up so well, things went gonzo pretty quickly. There were lots of laughs, and at the very end, we were able to bring things around to a sastifying ending. On the whole, I’d probably entitle the game “Live, from New York, It’s a Bank Heist Movie!”

I’ve found that silliness in convention games is a defense mechanism that often comes up in groups that have no history of play together. I think it tends to come up in larger groups more often simply because it’s more likely that some of the players will not have played with others. I don’t think it’s a problem to be solved, so much as a likelihood to be anticipated and planned for.

Saturday evening saw the best Indie Games Party ever! While I can honestly say that Rob throws a better party than I did, Myndy and Mendel take the cake–or brought the cookies in this case! It was great to see so many cool people sharing good food and excited conversation.

I had planned to jump into Nick Marshall’s Universalis game on Saturday night, but it turned out that Kat’s Serial Homicide Unit game had eight (!) people that wanted to play. So, I grabbed another table and took four of the players. This time, the profile was a little weak–unemployed, single people. We had a fantasy novelist hoping to get published, a construction worker hoping to be rehired by his old company, and two others whose hopes I cannot recall. I served as rules guide (since the speaker wasn’t about to be audible in the crowded ballroom) and occasional supporting character (because I love to play supporting characters). The game was pretty good, but we struggled to find a good suspect.

Saturday midnight I had scheduled another game of Mechaton in the wargames room. No sign-ups or show-ups. I think I’ll retire the game from the convention circuit for a while–until Vincent comes out with the role-playing rules, at least.

Sunday morning also had me back in the small room for Serial Homicide Unit. Our profile this time was academics, so we had an Indian biochemist hoping to avoid an arranged marriage back home, a theater professor hoping to have his play published, a philosophy professor hoping that he and his wife could get jobs in the same city, and a straight-laced chemistry professor hoping to retire in peace. Unfortunately, he retired in pieces as our first (and only) murder victim. As there were administrative fires to put out in prepping for the Indie roundtable, I unfortunately did not get to take part in this game as much as I would have liked. I missed some great drama in the civilian scenes, but am glad that the players had fun.

After that it was kicking off the roundtable, eating lunch, coming home, getting sick, sleepwalking through two days of work, and waking up this morning to realize it’s Wednesday already.

Overall, I’d say this was the most successful Indie Games Explosion yet. We scheduled over a hundred sessions, and I only heard of a handful that didn’t attract enough players to run. That’s quite an accomplishment. I’d like to thank each and every publisher, GM, attendee, con organizer and staff member who helped make that possible.

I’ve only had a chance to barely scratch the surface of the kerfluffle kicked off by Vinny’s remarks on Sunday. I’ve seen some people like Judd, Fred, and jason Morningstar saying very sensible things. I’ve seen other people say some very inflammatory things. Such is the way of the internet.

I’ll weigh in on some specific points later, but right now I don’t know the best way to reach our common goal–a continually-improving Explosion–but I do know that we’ll get there the same way we’ve gotten to where we are–with good ideas being put into practice through effort, communication, and cooperation.

18 Responses to “Dreamtion 2009–The Unbearable Lightness of Gaming”

  1. I’m sorry I didn’t get to play with you, Michael, or hang with you more. Still, playing beside you worked out ok.

    • Ditto. I really dropped the ball as far as conversing with people goes. I barely chatted w/ anyone. I need to get back into practice.
      Plus, with so many people and games, it’s impossible to fit them all in! We’ll have to make a point of it next time.

      • I know. It’s distressing how many wonderful people they are. I like to squeeze every ounce of joy out of the people I really like so there’s NO ONE I can spend enough time with at a con.
        I mean, I shared a bed with Judd for 3 nights and I still didn’t get enough of him.

        • I mean, I shared a bed with Judd for 3 nights and I still didn’t get enough of him.
          That might be a bit too much information, Rob. You never know what Janaki might be reading!

  2. I’ve said both sensible AND inflammatory things. I like to cover my bases!
    Great to see you there, man. 🙂

  3. Silliness

    I’ve found that silliness in convention games is a defense mechanism that often comes up in groups that have no history of play together. I think it tends to come up in larger groups more often simply because it’s more likely that some of the players will not have played with others. I don’t think it’s a problem to be solved, so much as a likelihood to be anticipated and planned for.

    This is really interesting.
    I love the super-heroes that you and Kat make up for WGP. They are always splendid.

  4. I’ve friended you, BTW…
    I read on story-games dot com that you weren’t going to go to GenCon at all this year. Neither am I, or Jeff, or Judd (I don’t think, but it’s 159 days away, so who knows). Dreamation is way more fun, IMHO. Anyway, my anti-GenCon vision is to rent a big house in the Outer Banks for a week or a long weekend around the same time in August, invite gaming buddies who are also boycotting GenCon, and game, go to the beach, eat the yummy seafood, drink the tasty micro-brew beer, swim in the ocean…that’s my suggested alternative (and it’s cheaper too).
    It was nice to game with you.
    -Julie L.

    • Re: I’ve friended you right back.
      That’s a nice anti-GenCon vision. Certainly nicer than the “mope around the house, drudge through work, pine at the computer screen” vision that some of us may or may not have practiced last year. 😉
      If the vision gets closer to reality, keep us posted. Having a daughter in college keeps the budget tight, but you never know…

      • Re: I’ve friended you right back.
        This might seriously happen. First, I talked to Jeff, who said, “great idea, hon.” Then I talked to Judd, who said it was a “beautiful idea.” Then, I e-mailed, PM’d and whispered to a whole lot of other people who are really into it (esp. the Durham 3 as it’s in THEIR state)…it could actually happen. If it does, it will probably happen the weekend AFTER GenCon, but absolutely nothing is set in stone right now.
        However, if you are one of the interested people, I’ll need to know your e-mail address so I can keep you in the (rapidly expanding) loop. Mine is tenacitydrader@aol.com if you want to give me a buzz.

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