DEXCON 13 – Much Merriment in Morristown


Going to a Double Exposure convention is always a little bit like going home. You see friends you haven’t seen in far too long, you talk until your voice goes raw, and you smile until your face aches. Or at least I do.

We were doing convention prep until the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, so getting up early for the drive to Morristown was a bit of a challenge. Luckily it was a challenge well worth it. Kat was running Everway in the morning timeslot. She hasn’t run the game in over a year, and it’s always a treat. This time she experimented with leaving her Fortune Deck at home and running with straight karma. Her setup was the same as the “Dragon-napped” scenario she ran for With Great Power… earlier this year. It has an evil king, an innocent princess in peril, and a dragon in disguise as a knight. I (playing the dragon) got to put forward the dubious legal theory that everyone in the kingdom belonged to me, because I could eat them at any time. Since they were still alive, I must be sparing them for later and thus, they were still “mine.”

A quick lunch with Kat and Joanna, and then it was time to take to the skies! Bill White ran a playtest of his structured freeform game “Romance in the Air,” a pleasure jaunt aboard a floating airship hotel in a Europe that never was. Bill explained that it was partially designed as a rebuttal to the assertion that “you cannot make a Jane Austen roleplaying game” and that this was the very first time it saw play. It was rather rough going in places, but there is definitely potential there, and Bill is absolutely fearless in digging through the results of his experiment to get the good stuff at its heart.

Kat and I had a quiet dinner at the italian place across the street, and then I returned for a wild and crazy experiment of my own. I ran the Marvel Super Heroes RPG published by TSR in 1986! I hadn’t pulled the books off my shelf to play for about 20 years. And all the players said something similar. The power of nostalgia was strong at the table!

My initial idea for the game was to run in it with the superheroes Kat and I had come up with for the With Great Power… scenario “A League of Their Own.” We’ve been running it at cons for several years now, and I wanted to see how my nostalgic memories of MSH would apply to these great characters. An interesting experiment, right?

Interesting, yes, but an experiment quickly completed. In explaining the rules, I went through a sort of Danger Room-esque capture the flag setup. It quickly became apparent that the system was going to support more bus-throwing than these characters were capable of, while leaving their various angsts unacknowledged. Luckily, we were barely an hour into the timeslot, and I already knew what I wanted to know.

So, I looked at the guys at the table, and said “The experiment is a success, these characters in this system absolutely DOES NOT work. But, we’ve got three hours, let’s have some fun!” And I broke out the character cards for classic Marvel heroes, circa 1986. And thus we had Captain America, Spiderman, Storm, Box, and The Thing defend New York from the Hulk on a rampage, a Doombot, and a couple robotic minions. There was much laughter and die-rolling and villain-bashing and reminiscing over ancient comic book geekery.

I don’t think I need to play MSH again for another couple decades, but it did give me food for thought. Just creating the characters for the game reminded me that thinking through a character’s superpowers and how they work (which WGP currently lacks) can provide grounding to the story and worthwhile play material. Also, I refreshing myself on the rules showed me the roots of some very cool mechanics in more recent games. I’m looking at you: SotC’s zones, and BW’s Resources and Circles.

Friday morning found me running “A League of Their Own” the way it was meant to be run: using With Great Power… We had a great session, highlighted by Gerald’s portrayal of Debris struggling with the difficulties of being an ex-cop while being a woman made of living granite. Also a great scene featuring The Stalwart. Our hero, known also as the Defender of Truth, is actually living a lie: he is the Stalwart’s sidekick who has put on the Armor of Truth and claimed to be The Stalwart returned from the dead. Tim had a great scene where he’s looking at himself in the mirror, saying over and over “I am The Stalwart. The armor makes the hero. I am The Stalwart!” trying to convince himself. All the while, he’s checking his armor’s built-in Lie Alarm to see if he’s telling the truth. Good solid angst!

Friday was also Kat’s birthday. (Which reminds me: Happy belated birthday, Rob!) To mark the occasion, she ran an Everway-themed LARP called “Queen for a Day.” In it, it was the Queen’s birthday, and to celebrate, she was throwing a party for her subjects. She would even name one of them “Queen for a Day” and allow them to make a single proclamation. We got a fair turnout, and much rivalry, scheming, and mixed up birthday presents ensued. I played the merchant, with the magical ability to enchant anything imaginable, but it would only function for 10 minutes. Coming up with all the birthday presents was a blast! Plus, I got to call in a web of favors to ensure the “proper” candidate became Queen for a day! After the scheming was done, there was even cake. Remember, everyone: if you play in Kat’s birthday LARP, you get free cake!

Between cleaning up the birthday LARP and the latness of the hour, getting everyone to dinner at the Famished Frog was a bit confused, hurried, and stressful. But the dinner itself was great, as Bill Segulin was able to stop down to join us.

I had nothing planned for the 8pm slot, and that was the first of three Shock: games that had needed to be reassigned. Connie was brave enough to step up and facilitate the game, and I figured I’d help her out. Neither of us knew much of anything about the Human Contact setting, and one of the players was particularly interested in it. As it turned out, Jason Godesky was a life-saver, stepping up to explain the setting and steer the group through the rules. Thanks so much, Jason!

Stepping away from the table, I found myself with time to play a board game with Kat and Bill, and sketch some ideas about the WGP revision. The Whites had to leave the con early, so I stayed up late in an effort to fill in for Mel’s Ganakagok game, but I ended up having too few player (note the singular) to actually play.

The only negative thing about DEXCON moving to Morristown from New Brunswick was that the weekend changed. Now the con always falls at the same time as my family reunion. I skipped the reunion last year, but cleared my schedule this year so I could do the hour’s drive to the reunion and see some family members I hadn’t seen in years. Not sure if I’ll do it next year, but it was nice.

Saturday evening found us dining at the Famished Frog once more (we should really buy stock). Then, I was all set for some crowd control, as my 8PM Mouse Guard game had 5 players and 2 alternates signed up. 4 people showed up at the table, and 2 of them hadn’t realized that it was the same scenario they had played at Dreamation. This left me with 2 players in a scenario meant for 5. But, these two brave mice faced down a ravenous fox, losing a tail and an ear in the struggle, but never giving up!

After the game, I got a chance to catch up with Judd and chat about a great many things. He described his awesome plans for the eventual format of 1st Quest, which focused on bringin his strength at setting, character, and situation creation directly to the table. I heard myself saying something in reply that’s been turning over in my brain ever since: “Not every game needs to teach people how to fish in a whole new way. Sometimes people just want a fish that’s prepared in a way only you can do.”

Talking with people is awesome that way, and I need to do more of it. Even if I need to force myself to do so.

I usually leave Sundays for unscheduled car-packing, room checkout, and the like. But I’m really glad that I ran Mouse Guard again on Sunday morning. I had a full complement of 5 players, all of them awake and eager to learn the game. Only one had read the comics, and a different one had read the game. I was kinda teaching these folks the details of how to fish, and we had a great time doing it. They really sunk their teeth into their characters and chewed the scenery with little mousy teeth. Perhaps my most low-down, underhanded GM trick was to invoke the emnity clause on a Resources roll. They needed to buy medicine for an ailing governor, and they flubbed the role badly. So, I had them be sold a very reasonably priced vial of medicine from a very sleazy-looking mouse. Loads of fun.

Then there was just the good-byes. Thanks to the awesome-as-always Double Exposure staff for facilitating this great event. And thanks to everyone who came out and made it such a good time!

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