DEXCON 12–Too much to do, too little time

14Jul09

DEXCON 12 was only half a con for me, due to my inability to get any time off from work. It was a good time, but I couldn’t seem to get up a head of steam that would have made it a great time.


From my perspective, the con seemed to run smoothly. I was told that attendance was good, but with the new, larger venue, I couldn’t really mentally compare it to previous DEXCONs. The con staff did an excellent job, as always.

We got stuck in the fifth circle of h–I mean, one of the renovated hotel rooms. It was clearly designed by someone who thought functionality was for the weak and only appearance mattered. I can’t think of a positive thing to say about it, actually. Hopefully the entire hotel will not be done by Dreamation and we can snag a non-remodeled room.

WEDNESDAY
Kat and Michele went to the convention on Wednesday night. I didn’t.

THURSDAY
Thursday was Kat’s birthday. We stayed in touch all day by phone and text message, and after work I surprised her by driving out to Morristown to have dinner with her. We had a nice dinner at an upscale Thai place with Michele and Joanna (who had brought Kat a batch of birthday cupcakes). I then drove home because I had to go to work the next day. It was a busy day, but well worth it to spend some time with my sweetie on her birthday!

FRIDAY
Friday was a full day of work, followed by rushing to pick up Dalys, a few last minute items, and navigate New Jersey traffice once again to get to the con.

I got to sneak a look at the proof of Bill White’s awesome Ganakagok. It now looks as good as it plays, and the cards sure are pretty.

We arrived with enough time to unpack before my 8pm game of Serial Homicide Unit. Playing were Dave Petroski, Michele Mishko, and Luke Crane. The room was far too noisy to use Russell’s excellent recording, so I taught the game from memory. This reminded me that I *need* to make a rules-teaching summary because I always forget something important.

This time I forgot that the profile should be something that the players can all potentially care about. So we chose “Wealthy Tourists renting huge seaside homes in a beach town.” Nobody minded much when the serial killer started picking them off. We made a decent case as the investigators, but that sense of tragedy that I love so much was missing from the game.

Afterward, Luke and KAJ and I talked about the game. Luke said some things that I’ve known, intellectually, for a while, but that become much more concrete when spoken by somebody else. Most notably: “SHU is not a gamer’s game. Don’t sell it to gamers. Get it in non-gamer bookstores. Plug in to the murder-mystery market.” Easier said than done, but important to make the effort.

SATURDAY
While I was tempted to play in Luke’s experimental Poisonous Ambition scenario, I wasn’t feeling my inner orc. Instead, I checked out a game that I’ve been hearing good things about for the past few years: Misery Bubblegum. Tony Lower-Basch has crafted the game to emulate the melodramatic goings-on of shojo manga–which means it can be easily stretched to any sort of melodrama with love triangles, gossip, and the like.

The scenario we played was “Space Station Trinity” about a hospital space station that provided treatment for all sides in an interstellar war. There were amusing characters and secret desires aplenty, from my hospital administrator who was actually a spy, to Sean DeArment’s android Nurse Betty who wanted to be human.

Unfortunately, I came away with only a glimmer of understanding about how the game worked. It seemed that we were creating melodrama because we all knew how to do that, but I didn’t quite feel that the game was enhancing our melodrama much. BUT, I think it WOULD if I understood the game better.

Y’see, Tony had previously mentioned that he’d had maybe 6 hours of sleep out of the previous 96 hours. The man was tired. So, when I didn’t understand something, I was prone to let it drop rather than push the issue. But the game has intrigued me, and the cards look great, so I’ll definitely have Michele buy a copy for me at GenCon.

The 2pm slot found me running an old favorite: inSpectres. I brushed up on the rules over lunch since it’s been over a year since I’ve run it. I think I misread the Teamwork rule, which made for a game that was less difficult for the players than it should have been.

But, I did have 6 players, and everyone seemed to have a fairly good time. Some were new to narration-trading games like InSpectres and some had played several of InSpectres’ descendants. They created a franchise called DUCK! Paranormal Consultation Specialists (or something like that. With 6 players (and a bit of rustiness on my part) we got off to a slow start. We only got through two missions, rather than the usual three I race through in a convention game. The extra franchise dice from playing characteristics given in the confessional put the 2nd mission in the black, despite me stepping up the stress rolls. Regardless, the team managed to put to rest a group of ghostly Royal Canadian Mounted Police that were pursuing a long-dead outlaw. And they also defeated a cult of worshippers of the Elder Gods based out of a local women’s shoe store.

It was only well in the 2nd mission (about 2.5 to 3 hours into the timeslot) that the players’ contributions began to build on one another and reincorporate previously introduced elements. I think that’s partially a function of six players needing to get used to one another’s input and patterns. Plus, while the Confessional was used to hand out a lot of characteristics, it was almost never used to open up plot twists. This was almost certainly because I described the plot twist use of the confessional horribly.

In retrospect, I recall that most of the characteristics handed out from the confessional formalized bits of characterization that the receiving player had already made, rather than adding a completely new angle to the character and making them stretch for it. I see now that in previous games, the “out-of-left-field” quality of the characteristics got the players into the habit of riffing off one another’s input more quickly.

I like that I’ve been running this game now and then for the past 6 years and i still learn new things about it!

Saturday dinnertime resulted in an urgent note to self and others: DO NOT go to the super-convenient pizza joint directly across the street on a weekend. Their staff can’t handle the influx and the service is terrible.

Saturday 8pm found me doing something I said I wouldn’t do again: running Baron Munchausen at a convention. Fortunately, someone else was running several Munchausen games at the con, so I didn’t experience the onslaught of a dozen players wanting to play.

However, while we were settling in, the exact same player who had taken his story beyond the pale at Dreamation 2008 came up and asked to play. Before I could say anything, another of the players welcomed him to the table with a smile. I wasn’t quite sure how to handle the situation. Dredging up issues from 18 months ago on the spot didn’t seem like it would improve anyone’s mood or play. Instead, I stressed the honour and nobility of the tale-telling characters, and readied myself to take control of the situation and stop the game if the need arose.

It turns out that the need did not arise. The defining difference between this session and the ill-fated session at Dreamation was the presence of two women at the table. When the player in question started to move his story in a racy direction, my blood pressure rose and I started figuring out just what to say, and much to my surprise, he said “and then things transpired which are best not discussed in mixed company” and that was it. Women rock!

Plus, they tell better stories that I do. At least the tale of how the Lady High Executioner started the French Revolution on a bet was far more concise and infinitely better-told than my own long, rambling tale of how I saved the Czar’s daughter from the Moon-men while at the same time accidentally inventing the spatula. Also of great interest were the Captain’s tale of how he had surfed off the edge of the world, even though we all know the world to be flat; and the Grand Imperial Emperor’s tale of how he invented the tomato. But the champion tale of the evening was that of the Iron Chef: Explaining why it was that when the Colossus of Rhodes had become animate and traveled to Africa, that the Iron Chef fled in the opposite direction all the way to Antarctica. It was quite a tale, involving the world’s most poorly located curio shop (at the South Pole), a king’s ransom in chocolate, an elevator to Mars, and the blinding of half the African continent.

The remainder of Saturday I spent with Dalys in ::gasp:: the Board Game Room. Therein, a stray comment from Michele led me to realize one vital piece that the revision of With Great Power… will require. It will need to TEACH people, through play, how to set better Stakes.

SUNDAY
With both Kat and myself coming down with colds, Sunday was filled with chitchat and farewells. I can’t wait unti Dreamation (when I will hopefully actually have time to enjoy the convention!).

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6 Responses to “DEXCON 12–Too much to do, too little time”

  1. Hey Michael,
    While I’m sorry I didn’t get to play with you, I did enjoy talking to you. Especially the conversation that you, Kat, and I had at the end of the con about how to run the assplosion next year.

  2. 2 Anonymous

    “SHU is not a gamer’s game. Don’t sell it to gamers. Get it in non-gamer bookstores. Plug in to the murder-mystery market.”
    While i think there’s useful information in there, i think the front end is not necessarily true. perhaps it’s not a direct quote, and that’s fine. i like the game and i game. the kernel of truth in the above is that SHU has immense crossover potential. gamers are beginning to experience it and already enjoy it. a bulk of your efforts promoting it need to include the outside world.
    sorry i missed you at the con. i had to come home on friday.
    best, eric

  3. Did you get a room with 2 out of 4 drawers in the dresser being fakes? Where the bathroom door opened out into the room door opening in?
    So, that was Baron Munchausen you guys were playing on Saturday. I heard snippets about the Colossus and the curio shop and Mars during the Deadlands game I was in, and I thought you all were playing Spirit of the Century.


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