27 August 2012

A Confession about GenCon

This year, as Nykki mentioned in her previous post, we decided relatively last-minute to be GMs at Games on Demand through Indie Games Explosion.. Thursday night, I got there late because I was being chauffeur for our youngest, missing my scheduled block. I helped at the table for about an hour and then ran a session of Hollowpoint at 8.

The next day, we got there for our 10 am sessions after running the youngest back to daycare. There's a line already out the door by the time we're there. I sorted out our prep materials when I heard Nykki calling over to me asking if I'm up for running Dungeon World. I said sure, as apparently there were already multiple tables for it filling up. I grabbed my materials and head over to my assigned table, diving right into a game. I ended up running it for the rest of my sessions at GenCon.

I loved how easily Dungeon World runs. I have played and run Dungeons and Dragons since high school in its various incarnations (2nd ed, Skills and Powers, 3.0, 3.5, 4.0, Pathfinder). I have a lot of experience in the genre, which I'm sure helped me out. Even so, the system and its inclusion of the players in the creation of the world really opened up new ways of playing. I have become enamored. That said, I have something of a confession to make.

Before my 10 am Friday session at GenCon, I had never run or played in a Dungeon World game.

Even finding the system is a bit of a set of random circumstances. It all started from Nykki's Kickstarter trawling. To be fair, I don't think she just randomly searched for Kickstarters to back, yet there have been a number of them that I have no idea how she found. Sometime in the last year or so, we backed Monsterhearts. It's a RPG/story game about monsters in high school using the system from Apocalypse World. I think it was the setting that got us to back Monsterhearts, originally. The Kickstarter had finished, we'd gotten the softcover, and it was put up on the shelf with other small-publisher RPGs, likely to be read when one of us had the time.

I am a PhD student. This leaves me with virtually no time for extra reading during the fall and spring semesters, but my summers are far less structured. At some point this summer, I decided to take a break from academic reading and pulled down some of the games. It took one read through of Monsterhearts and I was sold on the system. The group character gen, the far more spontaneous GM'ing, the ability for players to interact with the world in ways not done in D&D/Pathfinder; all of these fascinated me. However, we don't exactly have a very regular gaming group, so play-testing was likely not very likely. I put it on the list of games to run at the annual New Year's gaming party we go to, which is where we usually break in small-publisher systems.

Meanwhile, several of the gamers in my G+ stream had been pushing this Kickstarter for Dungeon World. All I had seen on it was that it was "old school style and modern rules," but hadn't really explored what this "modern system" was. After I had read the Monsterhearts book and poked around a bit with the Apocalypse World site, one of these Dungeon World posts wandered by and something clicked in my head. I went poking around the Dungeon World site. Oh, it's that system, my brain thought. Boom. Kickstartered. And I started trolling the Dungeon World forums (discovering the dozens of different hacks out there).

I had no idea how many games I might be called upon to run at GenCon, so I started prepping something in every system I had that wasn't 4.0 or Pathfinder: Hollowpoint, Homcidal Transients, Hollow Earth, Monsterhearts. Dungeon World was on the list I planned to prep, but I didn't have much of a scenario in mind (which is OK, since the book tells me not to prep too much for the first session). But I still hadn't played it or Monsterhearts.

One night, the week before GenCon, our online weekly group offered to hold off on running our actual Pathfinder Adventure Path and I could run something. We ended up with Monsterhearts. I got them through character creation and about an hour or so of them role-playing home room before it was time for several of us to go to bed, due to it being Thursday night. But, I had a lot of good feedback on teaching the system and character creation (mostly: pre-gen them), so I thought I had a handle on the game/system.

And then it was GenCon.

The players were all awesome. The groups worked well together. The biggest problem I ran into was keeping track of 6 players when there were 11 other tables running in the same room. (Which means that the biggest problem was the success of Games on Demand, so I'm not really complaining here.) There was such demand for Dungeon World that I would finish one game and I'd have a new table waiting in the wings. The system drew the players in very early in and there was very minimal need to explain the rules. The players very quickly got interested in what was going on, which in turn got me even more invested in the game. I'm glad I could get some exposure for this great game out into the gaming world. I am very pleased with the game and am eagerly awaiting the actual finalized book/pdf to show up.

25 August 2012

GenCon 2012: Nykki GM’s with GoD

I don't remember who started it.  

Either Angel or I at some point said "Hey, why don't we run some games at GenCon this year with Indie Games on Demand?"  And the other person said "Sure, that sounds like fun."  So we emailed the Games on Demand folks (who are awesome), and after some back and forth we were given the opportunity to trade up to GM badges for running just 7 2-hour sessions each.   In a fit of "We've got two whole days without the kids" we said sure, why not

About twenty-four hours later I realized that I'd just signed up to spend fourteen hours running games for people I'd never met before at a Gaming Con, and I nearly had a nervous breakdown.  But I'd said I would do it, and I'm always super excited about running Hollowpoint, and I had a pretty good handle on Homicidal Transients (it's not a complicated system), so I buckled down and got to work dreaming up some scenarios that I thought I could play out in ninety minutes (reserving half an hour for character generation, rules explanation, and getting people rounded up).  And all the while the imposter syndrome reel was playing out in my head: What makes you think you're going to be any good at this?  You’re not ready to deal with the jerk players who try to break things. Your narrative is going to fall flat.  Do you really know the rules that well?

I've been playing RPG's since I was rather awkwardly introduced to the concept with a D&D 2e Skills and Powers campaign in college (I was the awkward one), playing a twinked-out bow ranger with a pacifist hangup.  I've run D&D from second ed through fourth and abandoned it for Pathfinder in mid-campaign, and my players always come back.  I know in my mind that I'm a decent GM, or at least the kind of GM that gets repeat players – at least, in a fantasy setting with rules for everything that everyone has to look up that I've been playing for fifteen years.   And the imposter syndrome reel continues to play.

I've run fast-paced con-style games every year at a New Year's party we frequent, but it's in the company of friends and a number of folks who only game once a year, and it's always been B-Movie, (which qualifies as an Indie RPG in the small-publisher sense, but not so much in the "you can buy it and support small publisher" sense, since after I bought the game and three adventures in 2002 I've never seen another peep out of Guildhall Press ever).  So I didn't feel like I could bring B-Movie, and the scenarios I use there really aren't the sort of thing I wanted to bring to a con.  I've run Hollowpoint more than once before to general success – generally always with the same steampunk Western scenario, although once at a party in a drunken haze I did try to run a Star Wars ripoff that never got off the ground.

Maybe it was just the memory of that Star Wars attempt that haunted me, but the imposter syndrome reel is a hard thing to ignore: it taints everything with hints of defeatism, and I probably had a hundred good ideas that never got past the "what if I..." phase before the voice-over cut in with "and then everyone will wonder how they got the Worst Game Ever".  It took exhaustion and desperation combined with a particularly tedious work-related conference lecture after a night of hard drinking to shut the whole thing up long enough to whip out two simple Hollowpoint scenarios that I wrote down (in pen, in a notebook I was taking home) before they could get discarded too.  I showed them to Angel, without telling him that I was pretty sure they were going to be the Worst Ideas Ever, and he started chuckling before I'd gotten past the first encounter.

Hollowpoint is supposed to involve about half an hour of referee prep, and under normal circumstances that's about right; for me it involved two weeks of intense self-doubt and soul-searching followed by half an hour of referee prep and ten sessions of revising my referee prep until I wound up with exactly the same thing I started with.  Also, I was growing steadily more terrified of running this game at GenCon for total strangers who were, I was completely convinced, going to think I was the Worst GM Ever.   I had dreams about standing up in front of a group of players and forgetting how to play.

I had dreams about being That Girl GM.  I had dreams about having my qualifications challenged and I had dreams about coming to the table and being ignored and I had dreams about being the one who reinforces every stereotype someone has ever heard about women in gaming (I got into RPG's because of a boy, whom I later married).  And the imposter syndrome reel, in the background, got nominated for an Oscar and I apologized to Steve from Indie Games for being late to the GM party and having to move the schedule (I made Angel write that note) because we couldn't both take a Saturday slot at the same time because Someone Has to Watch the Kids!  And all the time I watched people around me on Google+ and Facebook and blogs talking about gaming and running games and getting excited while I was waiting – getting emotionally prepared – to fail.

So what actually happened was this:

We dropped our stuff off before Games on Demand opened at 10 am on Thursday and hung around until everyone showed up around 9:45 to get set up.  In the meantime, we unpacked the whiteboard and made a lot of introductions and then played a game of Snapshot:1969, which I may talk about in more detail later, but which has some amazing art and was a lot of fun.  Then we took off and did Con Stuff until Angel had to take off and do Kid Transport, shortly before my first session time.  By this point I had found a set of Agency dice (little yellow dice, because asking for help makes you a Little Yellow Coward), lost my prep cards for my Homicidal Transients setup, frantically made backup plans for Homicidal Transients, talked myself out of reworking Hollowpoint yet again, walked around GenCon all by myself, and the imposter syndrome reel had me so nervous I was practically shaking. 

It didn't help that when Steve asked what I was prepared to run and I said "Hollowpoint or Homicidal Transients", I had the shortest list of games on the board.  It didn't help that some GM's brought an entire list of gaming systems, complete with their cell phones and Twitter handles, and left sheets on the table in case folks wanted to get a pickup game together.  It didn't help that there was a line halfway out the door by a quarter to game time. 

What did help was that when I unabashedly admitted to a woman I'd just met standing behind the table that I was terrified, she said "You're going to be fine.  It's lots of fun."  What really helped was that I told my first group that I'd never GM'd at a convention before and got "That's okay, we've never played at a convention before" from at least three members of the group.  And then I started talking, and we started rolling dice, and wild over-the-top ideas started coming out of people's mouths, and it was Hollowpoint just like it always has been, only this time it was fedoras and Mouseketeers with Tommy guns and a power-hungry tyrant instead of steam-powered flying horses and railroad trains and the Johnson Gang. 

Hollowpoint was up for three ENnies this year, and some people came looking to play specifically.  Some people just showed up to see what games they could get into.  Every Hollowpoint table was full, even when I expanded them to five people solid instead of "four, maybe five".  Everyone seemed to be having fun.  And somewhere on Friday, between the moments where I was frantically making up answers to questions I hadn't expected and inventing complications to take on players who ignored blatant hints in order to go their own way, I forgot about being afraid. 

I gave out coupons for discounts at the Indie Press Revolution booth.  I stopped by IPR – an acronym which makes me think of PBR, and gaming hipsters, and wonder if you can play RPG's ironically – and watched the stack of Hollowpoint books slowly getting shorter and shorter.  And then, Saturday afternoon as I was weaving through a line of prospective players that stretched halfway through the elevators (amazing success for Games on Demand!), I was stopped by a frantically waving man.  "I have to tell you!"  He was obviously excited about something, and I recognized him from Friday's table, so I waited.  "We are still talking about your game!  That was so awesome!"

How much better can it possibly get?