Metatopia 2013

04Nov13

What a good, good convention Metatopia 2013 was. Despite the continual growth in size, the culture of critique and improvement has remained strong. While it’s never easy to talk about what parts of games aren’t working, almost everyone had a great attitude about both giving and receiving suggestions. Thanks to Vinny, Avie, and the tireless Double Exposure staff for continuing to put on such a great show.

We got to the convention on Friday in time for Andy K’s panel on the replay culture in Japanese RPGs. Fascinating stuff about how play culture has spread in Japan through replays. Lots of food for thought.

Next, I had my first focus group on the character and setting creation mechanics of the With Great Power revision. Kay, Rishi, and Adrian gave generously of their thoughts and insights into the needs of superheroic games. I filled several pages of notes, but the single best suggestion to come out of this session was that we should have each player describe their character doing their super-awesome super heroic thing, and then the rest of the players take on the role of the media and give the hero a name based on that description.

Next, I was on a panel with Kat, Amanda Valentine, and Cam Banks, about working with family and friends. There were only a half-dozen attendees, so we rearranged the chairs and gathered everyone into a loose circle–a more intimate arrangement of space for a more intimate topic. I thought it was a very interesting and informative discussion about how things can get complex very quickly when personal and professional relationships overlap. Remember: Communication in both directions is key! Asking is better than telling.

After lunch I was able to return the favor to Rishi, by playtesting his game Variance. It’s an interesting premise that has characters leaping between alternate-world versions of themselves, somewhat like Quantum Leap crossed with Sliders. I think that Jody and I were able to offer some solid suggestions, particularly that if the world-leaping is the central premise of the game, then the in-fictional reason and consequences of that should be central to what happens in the game.

Friday night found me in what was certainly the best, most complete game of the con. A great group of Jim, Andy, and Brendan played Keith Stetson’s Ill Counsel, a game of political deal-making. It was fun to just posture and pontificate as arrogant nobles working out the problems of a fantasy kingdom. There’s a few things that Keith can do to tighten up procedures and adding a map will be a big improvement. But the core is good and functional. While this is fun on its own, I could see playing this as a supplement to an ongoing campaign as a way to generate new political situations in your setting. It was so thought provoking it kept me up for hours when I was supposed to be sleeping.

On Saturday morning, I playtested Mark’s character and setting generation rules for his cyberpunk game Headspace. The procedural clarity of the game is a far cry from the disorganized “make stuff up” appeals that current WGP has, and was a great insight into a structured paradigm of guided creativity. I really enjoyed the process, and I hope our suggestions were helpful. I’m interested to see the game when it’s finished, as the team of highly-skilled operators who share skills, but also the emotionally charged memories that forged those skills, sounds really interesting.

Saturday afternoon was the block of RPG panels. I went to great presentations on Kickstarter, game retailing, and ebooks. I should probably mention that if anyone wants help creating epub and Kindle versions of their games, they should contact me. I actually make ebooks as part of my day job.

Saturday evening I played a narration-passing game called Boneyard where you have a handful of dominoes and how they fit together prompts you to tell a story. Vinny had really packed it full of people and there were eight of us playing, I think. It’s odd to be the only person at the table not having fun. I didn’t feel that the dominoes added anything, and the main thing the game did was give everyone the social permission to be creative within a particular genre. The one playtester suggested it would be a good warm up exercise for role playing. I can see it useful in that sense, but not really my thing as an activity in its own right.

Saturday night I had another great panel on WGP character/setting creation with Mark, Will, Amanda, Joanna, and Darren. Ideas flew thick and fast and again I filled pages of notes. I appreciate everyone’s enthusiasm and insight and I hope that I made sure everyone got time to speak. There was so much good advice in this session that’s its hard to pick out just one. The one that leaps to mind is to not shy away from constraint, that superheroes are too broad of a genre to handle all of them. I should take my slice and do that slice really, really well.

After some good after hours conversation, and a decent night’s sleep, Sunday morning had my actual playtest of With Great Power. The rules were less than two weeks old, as I had completely revised the game yet again since BurningCon. They were at the point where I would normally take them for a brief spin with Kat, just to see if the general amounts of dice are right, that the incentives are pointing in the right direction, and so on. Instead, I kicked the tires with Krista, Brendan, Rich, Joe, and Darren. And it was a beautiful, informative disaster. “Disaster” insofar as the dice mechanics themselves do not sync up at all with the goals of the game. “Beautiful” and “Informative” insofar as the goal of the game was discernible by all the players and they could suggest better ways to get there. I filled pages and pages of my notebook again, but the game will be stronger for it.

Thanks to everyone I played with, talked with, and waved to in passing. Can’t wait to see everyone again at Dreamation!

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