Monday, November 7, 2016

Metatopia 2016 Con Report & Game Commentary

In today's post, I'll be talking about my experience at Metatopia 2016, the event I mentioned in my previous post about being a con playtester. This will not be an actual play report, but will include discussion of the games I played and a little about my own time there. I will not be mentioning everyone by name because some of you I don't know your names, some of them I will have trouble remembering, and some of everything is lost to the winds.

First and foremost, thank you so much to my fellow attendees, and to the event organizers, for making my experience excellent, and for being supportive for me in my time of grief. Going to the convention was a challenge for many reasons, and it was even harder going with the recent loss of my grandmother. You all made my time much, much easier. So, thank you.

Some awesome people.

To the timeline!

I arrived Thursday evening to a bustling lobby and plenty of friendly faces. I mostly just planted in one spot and sat that evening, chatting with friends, and meeting new people who like my blog (hiii!!!). It was a good night to not worry about things. I set up plans for the next day, and conked right out eventually.

Friday morning I woke up earlier than I tend to like for a breakfast with Darcy Ross, who is awesome and you should definitely keep an eye out for the work she's doing. We were joined by none other than Ron Edwards, the designer of Sorcerer (among others) who also coined GNS theory, who I'd never met.

As with most legacy designers, I was a little apprehensive, since I'm still new and I have a lot of Opinions and Thoughts. My fears were rapidly dashed because Ron was a pleasure to talk to, and initially he, Darcy, and me talked about the game design landscape, tools for content control like Lines and Veils and Script Change (the latter of which both Ron and Darcy said wonderful things about and made me so happy to hear), and what we were playing. After Darcy left, Ron and I continued to the Big Board and further discussed social issues in games, feminism, and a number of other things. It was pretty great! I was happy to meet Ron and I'm hoping I remember as much as I can of what he shared with me, and I hope he finds what I had to say just as valuable.

I didn't have a game until later, so I mostly just bounced around until then, meeting new friends and seeing older ones, and geared up for Glenn Given's Something is Out There, a storytelling game told in third-person inspired by shows like Stranger Things and the movie IT, where young kids are the ones who have to deal with the spooky scary things happening in town. Glenn had asked if I'd play over Twitter, so I luckily got in to try it out.

more here>>>>

Glenn doing prep.

It uses a fun tile-and-dice-based mechanic, somewhat board-game like in mechanism but very narrative otherwise. From the description:
[Something is Out There]...and only you can stop it. Something is Out There is a cooperative storygame of coming-of-age horror in the vein of Stranger Things, IT and Monster Squad. As childhood friends you are the only ones who can defend your community against an unearthly terror stalking your town. For fans of Fall of Magic, Companion's Tale & The Quiet Year.

The character actions are shared, which makes the story really flow differently. One thing I particularly liked is character creation, where you describe your best childhood friend, and choose their three main traits, then reverse something about them (gender, race, orientation, behaviors). It made the characters both memorable and interesting, which can be hard to do (for me) with children as characters.

In case you were wondering, the baddie was a giant, irradiated, star-nosed mole. We did win after someone blew themselves to allow another character to take out the monster.

The following evening I was lucky enough to have dinner with Kimberley Lam and her wife, along with my husband. Kim's current project is Blood is Thick, a live-action game about the Cambodian genocide, described on the Metatopia site:

One family struggles with unresolved pain years after the ousting of the Khmer Rouge's brutal regime by Vietnamese invaders in 1979. "Blood is Thick" is a small group LARP about struggling with the lingering impact of genocide on a family where victims and aggressors reside side by side.
I have heard only good things about the playtest experiences, which is pretty great. Kim has done a lot of research for the project, and I hope this game goes off well.

This weekend carried one unsurprising thing: I would be playing a game by Will Hindmarch. The surprising thing is that somehow I managed to land in three Will Hindmarch games over the weekend: Databank, Adventurous, and Chroma (a follow-up to Always/Never/Now). Will is a great designer, and I always enjoy his game master style and his games, so I'd tried to get into all of them, figuring I'd only get into one. Surprise! I played Databank Friday night, Adventurous Saturday night, and Chroma on a very sleepy Sunday morning.

Databank was really, really cool. From the description:
Don't dream like an electric sheep. Remix yourself, body and mind, into the person you want to be, whether you were born an android or not. On this derelict colony planet, everything you need to be who you want to be is in the databank, where the top percent lives. You just have to get it.

Each character has a psyche, where you have your general personality, memories, and some basic stats. Using certain tags lets you add dice, and you roll mainly with a d20, adding d6s. The cool part came next.

When Will pulled out the whole character sheet, which is your psyche laid over a body (the chassis in which your personality is housed), I teased a bit because I've been messing around with this exact character sheet layout and setup for a shapeshifter game in private. This is actually kind of funny because I like that a lot of what Will does is what I think quietly that I'd like to do (aside from that whole card mechanic situation in Project: Dark ;P), so it was another moment where I felt lucky to share any part of my design sense with someone I admire.

There is interaction between the body and psyche, including gaining memories and therefore abilities from the body into your permanent psyche. I really dug the game, and there are multiple types of bodies that you can switch out, including - I shit you not - a centaur. Now, how the bodies look is up to the players, and we all got very creepy, I have to be honest. So when I saw the centaur body type, I knew I had to have it, so we stormed the location where the bodies were held, and I yoinked it, then described it: a half-formed bio horse that they had to give up on making because it didn't work, so they added a robotic upper body (why? because science, that's why!) and started using it for violence. In the end, I got the centaur's memory from the horse body - the horse body with the skin stretched taut and hydraulically opened compartments in the torso, mind you - of the horse being created, and it gave me battle disadvantage.


I took pictures at a somewhat-off-books Goth Court that will be released after I gain permission from the creators and attendees. I generally ask permission before taking photos, and when I take them in closed games, I prefer to check before I post them.

I spent the night with good friends and good company. It was a blessing, honestly, to be near so many wonderful people. Special, deep thanks to Anders Smith for his kindness, generosity, and shared experiences that will never leave me.

Anders is the best!

The next morning, I had the absolute joy of playing Storybox.
A cooperative storytelling game that has players randomly drawing physical objects from a box at specific moments to help them tell their tale. Everything associated with the object in hand, from physical descriptors to abstract memories, is fair game for adding details and establishing elements about the story. Designed for newcomers and old hands of story games alike, Storybox blends the familiar with the new, creating a uniquely inspired story each game.

I got to play with two people I adore: Jason Morningstar and Amanda Valentine. They're really great people and really good players, and the designer, Roe Nix, is a fantastically kind and intelligent person. The game is relatively simple and somewhat early in development, I think, but I liked it! You build characters and setting around pieces pulled out of the box of objects, and then pull more to inspire scenes. Did you know you can find junk drawer boxes on Etsy and eBay to play this?

We constructed a kind of heartbreaking story about a family tied around a piece of property and a cobbler's shop, with three very age-separated children whose parents had just passed and an apprentice of the father who had owned the cobbler's shop. In the end of the story, we discovered that the parents had sold off the mineral rights to the land and that it was worthless. This kind of game is really my jam, and playing alongside Jason in story games is such an amazing experience for me, every time, so having a game that allowed that to happen without me worrying that the mechanics wouldn't support our story was great, and I'm really happy about it. I can't wait until Storybox is in my hands and on my table.

We told a gorgeous story with these items. 
I told Roe once they finish the game, I'm going to hack it to make a con-floor game. :)

To be honest, most of the rest of the day is kind of a blur. I did the Con Wellness check-in, which went pretty well. Not many people showed up for any particular purpose, but those that were seemed to appreciate the space. I'm hoping to do it both days I'm there all day next year.

I saw a lot of people I loved to see. I got to chat with new friends. I also spent probably over an hour talking to people about behavior in games, conflict types, accessible formats of information about conflict resolution and player behavior for GMs, and a whole bunch of associated stuff. Poor people.

That evening another Hindmarch was up - Adventurous!

Stranded beyond our world and outside of time in a mystical netherworld, the only way to survive is to explore. Delve into ancient tombs. Recover futuristic treasures. Build a new home. Discover hidden secrets of the Islands of the Never. Together, we'll fist-fight evil and learn how (or why) an airplane got inside an ancient pyramid.  

This was really fun! Will has done some interesting things with pacing in regards to having peril that you have to challenge with die rolls to whittle it down, but allows you to add to it by using key phrases on your character sheet. You also use Fate dice!

The +, -, and [blank] all matter to the way the game plays. The + rolls count as successes and can be used to knock off peril and the peril descriptors, and can also be added to the tracks on the table to gather experience for upping stats.

Overall, I really enjoyed the game! I think it did great with pacing for the theme of the game, the characters were really fun and interesting, and I certainly enjoyed when Kevin Kulp's (of Timewatch) very-well-performed character fought a dilophosaurus-velociraptor hybrid using old batteries. For further reference, Kevin is a hell of a roleplayer - I discovered this at a Bluebeard's Bride playtest two years ago, and it is still very accurate.

A small note: During this playtest I was introduced to the Edgewise card. The Edgewise card is an accompaniment to the X-card like the O-card that I've spoken about before. The purpose of the Edgewise card is to make people aware that you want to interject into a conversation without interrupting. While I see the card has uses and I hope people find it useful, I'm not a huge fan, but unpacking it will have to wait for another time. I just know that the tool was brought up this weekend and wanted to make sure everyone knew I know about it, and that I'll explain why I personally won't be using it at some point in the future.

Saturday night I freaked out for a while about being in a room full of femmeness before I was, in fact, in a room full of femmeness. I did makeup and took pictures for the Crystal Council, a late-night event where a group of attendees played Tales of the Crystals, which is effectively a boxed live-action game for children. When I was around... 6? Maybe? I remember seeing it in stores and desperately wanting it, but between lack of money and lack of friends, it didn't happen. Seeing it brought up on Twitter by Glenn and Meghan Dornbrock made me super excited, but I admit that I slowly realized that I'm not 6 anymore, and that with my current gender adjustments, being in really femme spaces can be pretty fraught. So, I elected to just take pictures, and it was great to watch everyone play the ridiculous game in their tutus and tiaras. I haven't gotten permission to post the closed-door pictures yet, but I did take some of the play materials.

Play materials from the game box.
Player-contributed materials during the game.
There were also cupcakes and mochi. That made it very much a good time!

I then stayed up inappropriately late, misbehaving as I tend to. I woke up to go to Chroma and I was sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeepy. But thankfully, Will was great and excused my almost-sleeping-at-the-table fuzziness. I promise to be better next time!

Chroma was a great time. It enabled me to play my character going from masquerading as a bumbling intern at a high tech organization to John Wick-ing the shit out of the place. I killed many. I gave no mercy. *evil laugh*

Chroma has some Lady Blackbird in its lineage, I think, using various narrative tags to add dice to your roll. The experience system looks really fascinating, though we didn't get to try it out overmuch. We had a really interesting crew of characters, and I want to note that Will has - in every game I've played of his that I can recall - included a nonbinary or agender character. It sounds simple, but for me, it's really great to see.

The big interesting thing for me is the pacing mechanic Will has included.

The game has a small flowchart-esque map, with different stats identified by differently shaped boxes. Each box is a section/room with a challenge of some type, and you can overcome them with tests that match the stat associated with that box. I admit to missing some of the details here due to fuzzy brain, but I really enjoyed it and felt like it did a great job setting pace for the session and giving structure to the adventure.

I want to point something out and I really hope that the people I played with will read this and identify themselves to me here or privately, but, that session of Chroma had some of the best player dialog behavior I've ever been a part of. While I can definitely be a dominant player, I can also easily be steamrolled. I play with my friends more often at cons to avoid that experience, and at Metatopia I always have to branch out. The fellow players of mine at this table were amazing. We shared the discussion both during the action and when we were giving feedback, and I was so happy to see that people gave each other space to talk, and not just one or the other of us, not just a gendered permissiveness.

There were multiple times where I made the indication that I wanted to speak and instead of someone else taking an opening when they also wanted to talk, indicated that people should listen to me, and I saw that around the table. Even when we interrupted, we apologized, and gave each other space. This was amazing, and inspired my heart into desiring to play more games with these people, so much. Unfortunately, I lost track of all of their names (thanks sleepy brain). Still, it was wonderful, and gave me such a good end to the con.

I left Metatopia really satisfied with all of the games I'd played, and I was so happy to see all of the people I cared about. It was a hell of a con, and I can't wait until next year!

Want to have a cup of coffee with me next time? Let me know, and we'll make plans.

Soy milk, please.

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