Friday, January 27, 2017

Kapcon 2017 RPG convention

Last weekend was Wellington Anniversary Weekend, as well as my return to Kapcon, Wellington's venerable annual role-playing game convention.

It had been a couple of years since I had last been to Kapcon, due in part to clashes with weddings and other events out of town, but also due in part to the fact I found myself starting to enjoy it less and less. I'm pleased to say that this year I had a great time, and that I really enjoyed the experience.

Kapcon comprises of two pretty intense days of gaming and role-playing, including LARPs, story-games, special kids session as well as plenty more. As usual it was excellently organised, and everyone I dealt with were decent human beings.

Here is a quick overview of what I played:

Session one - Monster's Brawl (DramaSystem); GM - Morgue

First up on Saturday I joined the Games on Demand session, where different GMs pitch the games that they would like to run or facilitate, and whatever gets the most support gets played.

There was a range of awesome games on offer, but I put my hand up for Morgue's Monster's Brawl, a game about inhuman monsters on the edge of society trying to survive as modern day gladiators (think pro-wrestling meets Fight Club). It used the DramaSystem rule from Pelgrane Press.

This was a great game full of strong dramatic interaction, great characterisation from the players and some pretty serious themes around alienation and exploitation. I felt that we covered a lot of ground in a short time, but the pacing never felt rushed or laboured, and the interactions between characters never felt forced.

I backed the Kickstarter for DramaSystem a few years ago, and while I have always love the concept of the game, it has never quite managed to click for me as a rule set. Thankfully Morgue's game helped it all come together, so this is now something I'll definitely give more thought to running again in the future. I can see how it would really shine over multiple sessions.

Now I think I know how you work

Session two - Shadowbrook Manor (Maze Rats); GM - Me

In the second session I ran Shadowbrook Manor, an adventure for first or second level characters (originally for Labyrinth Lord) using the Maze Rats rule set. Maze Rats is a light, free-wheeling set of rules for OSR style gaming that aims to capture the feel of early Dungeon and Dragons.

This session was a lot of fun and I had a table of players that really leaned into the themes and tropes of the session.
I mean, just look at these names...
The band of adventures spent the session cautiously (and not so cautiously) poking around Shadowbrook Manor trying to claim as much loot as possible. Highlights include:
  • All five characters splashing around the dirty water of an old pond trying to kill a giant toad and failing miserably
  • The sprightly magic user Leopold Silverless driving his dagger into brain of a fearsome zombie that was giving the party trouble (rolling a critical hit), and declaring "Now THAT is how you take care of a zombie"as it fell at their feet
  • The party, led by the Ranger Barnaby Cheeseman, sawing a cloak of alignment changing (light side up of course) onto the back of a un-animated flesh golem, before inserting the floating brain that they found in the alchemy lab into the body, thereby creating a heroic ally to join them.
Eventually they manged to conquer the manor and claim their treasure. Although I managed to get a couple of them down to one or two hit points, they all walked away (curses!)

In hindsight, the scenario was a bit too big for a three hour session, and I probably didn't need to start the characters at second level (I was feeling generous). However these are all very minor comments that didn't detract from the experience.

This was a really fun session, and one of the highlights of the con for me. The rules worked really well in terms of pushing the action forward, but without getting in the way. I can definitely see myself using these rules again for another convention game, or even just for a pick-up game with my own group, as it feels like the kind of rules light system for OSR gaming that I have been after for a while now.

There is also an active Maze Rats community on Google+ if you're interested, or pick up the rules as PWYW.

Session three - Death of LegendsFacilitator - Me

The next game I ran was my friend Dale's Death of Legends, a GM-less game of dark fantasy, in which the players tell the story of how their characters grew up to become heroic legends of the Free Territories who once defeated the Great Enemy, and who now must do so again as these evil hands tighten around their necks.

I have played this game a few times now, and it is a reliably good experience, so I was looking forward to running it myself. It does put a requirement on the players to me a bit more active than traditional games with a GM in terms of framing scenes and narrating events, so I was a little surprised when a thirteen year old and two ten year olds sat down to play and wondered how things would play out. 

Despite the young age of the players, we pushed on, which I'm glad I did, because they brought a lot of creative energy and imagination to the table. They had so many ideas they wanted to include, and detailed aspects of their characters that they wanted to share, that I occasionally had to bring them back to focus on the scene at hand.
Things at this stage are not going well
Fortunately the other old players at the table were happy to support the younger players, and we ended up having a really fun time playing up the complex web of relationships we developed for the characters.

Unfortunately the fate of the Free Territories was sealed when we entrusted the General with the weapon of power, only to have him betray us to the Great Enemy. Never trust the quiet ones!

I can't recommend Death of Legends more highly if you're looking for a low-prep game where the system does all the heavy lifting, leaving the facilitator free to join the fun. Check out the Imaginary Empire website for more information.

Session four - Beer and sleep!

Session five - Forget Me Not (Call of Cthulhu 7e); GM - Dale

I was up bright and early on Sunday morning to play in Forget Me Not, a modern day Call of Cthulhu scenario ran by my friend Dale.

The game kicked off with our characters awakening battered and bruised in a crashed van in a rural Michigan back road with no memory of who we were, or what we were doing there.

As we slowly started to piece together our memories, we uncovered that we were the cast and crew of a TV show debunking the supernatural.

However we also stated to learn the sinister truth that lurked beneath the surface of sleepy Clio, Michigan, as well as the dark relationship that the town had with a nearby abandoned farm. The same farm in which we lost our memories.

I can't say much more with giving the central story away, it is fair to say that this was a great, if pretty dark session. Dale ran a strong game, forcing us to make some pretty hard choice, and nailed the 'nice but sinister sleepy town' feel perfectly.

A great new edition of the classic rule set

Session five - Fall of Magic; Facilitator - Deana 

For my last session at Kapcon, I went back to Games on Demand and three of us ended up playing Fall of Magic.

In Fall of Magic each player uses a few key words to create a character to join the pilgrimage of the last Magus as he or she travels back to the place where magic was born,

This journey is represented by a beautiful scroll which the players unwrap as the journey proceeds. The scrolls is like a map with a number of stops, and at each stop there are prompt which the players use to narrate scenes to give some insight into their character, or the world at large.

This was a really interesting game. It had a slow, contemplative, dreamlike feel to it as the three characters undertook both a physical and metaphorical journey. This feeling was exacerbated by the raging storm that was going on outside as we played.

In many ways it reminded me of a European festival film, where the coherency of the story isn't as important as the feeling evoked during the experience.

Certainly one I would like to try again one day, as is Life on Mars from the same company.

Such great game bling

All-in-all I really enjoyed this Kapcon. All the games I played in and ran were good experiences, the people were awesome and feel I did a good job of managing my own energy levels and stress. I guess it took a couple of years of being away to remind me what I enjoyed about it.

I was even lucky enough to win a copy of Young Centurions as a participation award for playing in Games on Demand, so my sincere thanks to the organisers of the con. Keep an eye out for it at next Kapcon.

This is a gorgeous book
Most importantly, attending Kapcon has helped reminded me of how much I love role-playing games. They create an experience unlike any other, and this has really encouraged me to try and fit more of it in amongst my painting, war-gaming and board-gaming.

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