Oshcon 2009 Report

Saturday morning Tim and I got up bright and early, packed up the car, and headed out to Oshcon. We took a wrong turn early on the highway, taking highway 26 a touch too early, driving through a podunk town, then resuming 26 towards Oshkosh. Once we got to town, we easily found the campus and our destination.

Tim and I checked into our dorm room- cheap but meager. Next year I need to remember to bring my own pillow. We came down and checked out the play space. The event organizers had us in the main room for visibility reasons, which is mostly board and card games, but let us move to the rpg room. (I think this was a key decision.) There were many sessions of board & card games, a few local gaming & hobby retailers, and a dedicated rpg room with a number of sessions scheduled. However, it seemed that at least half of the scheduled sessions did not occur. Adam, one of the organizers mentioned that con attendance was way up from last year, and the number of events had also increased.

Tim and I had reserved two tables for the whole con for Games on Demand. Two years ago, we had run it informally along with Daniel, and had a blast- that was probably my awesomest con experience to date. Last year was a little less exuberant.

Tim and I started up playing Race for the Galaxy between us, trying some variants, scoping out the place, and trying to rope people into games. I was worried no one was going to join us. But eventually, we found two brave souls willing to play Zombie Cinema.

Zombie Cinema
We quickly hit a cool setting- a Rob Zombie concert. Tim and I played single women looking for a good time, me trying to keep his character in check. The other characters were a 10 year old kid and his neighbor/chaperone. Zombies in the mosh pit! Everyone died trying to get to my character’s bunker. Good times.

Awesome Adventures
Sometime after lunch, we had three people come to our table, specifically looking for us, and to play Awesome Adventures. Sweet- my fliers were working, and people wanted to play my game. I chatted with them a bit- two were mostly into D&D, but the girl with them didn’t really roleplay. We tried to get into some character creation, and started with a Futurama inspired setting, where we had a cowardly military leader, a robot with an inferiority complex, Norman Rockwell’s head attached to a robot… and a crazy cat lady from the non-roleplayer. I tried very hard to get her to engage with the game further than that, to bring the awesome (I had some suggestions- maybe the crazy cat lady was the one who owned the spaceship everyone would be traveling on, and everyone else would have to deal with the cats- that seemed kind of cool), but she wasn’t really willing, or able to take it any further.

Having run Awesome Adventurers before for non-participants and having hated it, I couldn’t bring myself to take it any further. However, I talked briefly with the players, and was able to steer them towards Sign in Stranger.

Sign in Stranger
We set up our characters, wrote a pile of random words, and created three planets. Our cast of characters ended up colonizing a planet with sentient rainbows, working as potato farmers in a forced labor camp with the possible threat of summary execution hanging over our heads. Good times. Many laughs from the random word draws and the investigation rolls. I think playing this game instead of Awesome Adventures was a good call- it allowed the new player to collaborate, but not have to do so excessively.

Interestingly, Tim mentioned to me that she asked the rest of the table (while I was out of the room) “this is fun, but how do we win?” indicating to Tim that she had really no idea what all this was. We were both under the impression that she roleplayed, but didn’t Storygame.

Then dinner at the Thai place. Then In a Wicked Age

I asked Tim to run In a Wicked Age for me, and we got three more players, one from the Sign in Stranger game earlier, and two more from the con. I’m glad I did, because this is one of the best IAWA games I’ve played. The Oracle was a Nest of Vipers. Our characters were a Conjurer of Demons and Spirits, one of his Demons, seeking freedom and political influence, a Jaded Gladiator, and the Mistress of the Arena (my character). NPCs included a Rival Gladiator, another Demon, the Ruler of the City, and the Tax Collector.

What made this really interesting was that there were basically two teams of players, both with a master/servant relationship (Conjurer/Demon, Mistress/Gladiator), with tension between the characters within the team, and tension between the teams, but the main conflicts were directed at the NPCs. There was a complex web of shifting allegiances. When the dust settled, the Conjurer had strengthened his hold over his demons, the Gladiator had killed his rival and earned his freedom, and the Mistress of the Arena had completely dominated city politics and gotten the Conjurer to agree to serve her for five years. I pretty much got everything I wanted through sheer chutzpah and playing everyone else off each other. Everyone had a great time.

After that, the con rooms were closed. We went upstairs. Tim had bought 2 packs of the Giants minis (the ones with huges) and we pulled the Elder Red Dragon. Sweet! Then we went to the 10th floor lounge for a few after hours games. Tim went to bed fairly early. After hours games included:

ACTION CASTLE (Some people in the room loved it. Others hated it. The endgame is a little wonky, but it’s certainly fun. And they won, without even having to use a save or reload. ACTION CASTLE! I’m inspired to write my own Parsely game.)
Race for the Galaxy. I won twice. By large margins.
Jungle Speed. I almost felt dirty playing this. With new people it’s really not a challenge- I need Tim or someone to keep me reasonably in check.
Boomtown. Not my game. It’s an auctioning and dice-rolling game with mines. I had played it before. There’s a bit too much of a screw over mechanic to some of the cards, which is too bad- the core mechanic is very strong and interesting as-is.
The Great Dalmuti. We played the heck out of this game in High School. I was damn good then. I spent pretty much all but two rounds in the Great Dalmuti’s chair.

By that point, I was getting tired, and turned in.

Sunday Tim got us up far, far too early. We could have slept another hour, and still have been early for the events. We got smoothies and bagels. Mine was a chocolate chip bagel with chocolate chip cream cheese. I was recovering from a cold, but sadly, the cold weather had aggravated it quite a bit.

While waiting for the doors to unlock, Tim and I got our room checked out, and then played some Dominion. Dominion is one of the few games Tim regularly beats me at. I buy too many actions- they’re the fun part for me! But it’s money that wins games. We had a game with the Thief and the Secret Chamber in the game, and no 3-cost actions. I bought several Thieves, since there was a lot of silver buying. However, the Secret Chamber trounces the Thief most severely. My Thieves never stole a single treasure from Tim, quite the opposite, they let him tinker with his deck most effectively.

Around 10 they unlocked the doors, and let us in. We may have played a game of Race or two. At some point, I noticed non-gaming gamers in the room, sitting at a table waiting for a non-existent game to start. I invited them over to play Zombie Cinema with us.

Zombie Cinema
So, a short aside about these guys. They’re local students at UW-Oshkosh. Big into online roleplaying. Had played D&D (3rd edition) for what may have been the first time at the next table over the day before. One of them was on the couch a few feet away from me and made many snide comments during ACTION CASTLE. I’ll call him Tuff Guy. Tuff Guy and Buddy game together. They seemed to have a dynamic where Tuff Guy picks on Buddy and Buddy takes it. Tuff Guy was really into badass posturing. Buddy seemed to like to play wacky crazy guys. You know the drill. We also had the guy who played the Gladiator in IAWA with us- originally we were just chatting about games, I think.

Zombie Cinema
Anyway, our setting was Vegas, specifically a casino. I played Bruce, a Weak-Willed Macho, who was all fluster and tough-guy attitude, who quickly folded when presented with any actual human adversity (but was only too happy to fist-fight zombies.) We had a hooker, a mortician with a gambling addiction (played by Tim), the schizophrenic casino doctor (played by Buddy), and a weapon-fetishist paranoid casino-owner, played by Tuff Guy. Early scenes tended to involve the gambler and the hooker trying to get money out of Bruce, the doctor roleplaying how nutty he was, and the manager roleplaying how into guns he was. I guess it’s a legitimate way to use your scenes in Zombie Cinema, but it seems excessive. Pretty much everyone ends up in the manager’s office, where he continues to fetishize his character’s weapon collection- folding gun tables set into the walls. He offers my character a katana, and I refuse- “my Granddaddy didn’t die at Guadalcanal just so I could fight zombies with some Jap shit!” Ends up trying to offer me a grenade. (Who knows what he’s getting at.) Eventually the survivors scatter. Everyone dies. Bruce jumps on a grenade. Just like his Granddaddy.

We chat a bit about games. Tim suggests 3:16 for these guys- of course! Tim plays his experienced character- Sgt. Guido. Guido’s a badass. Like really badass. He started the session at FA 10, NFA 5. He’s almost plateaued for his advancement. Tim was worried he would overshadow the other characters, but in practice, it wasn’t an issue. Other guys made characters: Tuff Guy was Cpl. Shatter (which I gave him based on his NFA, rather than FA, since the Sgt slot was already taken), Buddy was Trp. Salty (actually named something else, but very close to Salty, and Salty stuck), and the guy who had been playing with us since SIS played Trp. Shitstorm. I love a good nickname like that.

Planet was an asteroid belt involving Shadow Beasts, tenebral creatures made of shadow. Alien Ability was Reduced Visibility- no damage at Far Range. As written, this says no side does damage at Far, but I somehow missed that- I had my Aliens doing damage at Far. However, the squad emerged quite victorious.

Narratively, Trp. Salty took the brunt of the damage, with the Black Dog/Hound of Tindalos-like Shadow Beasts frequently using him as a chew toy. After landing and digging in, the squad got a distress call from (sometimes PC) Lt. Brillo. Guido sighed, and led his squad to save Brillo, and then they took out an alien structure of some sort.

Next lunch. We had it at a nice Asian place with very good Crab Rangoon. (I order that everywhere I go. This place may have had the best Crab Rangoon I’ve ever tasted), and chatted with Gladiator/Shitstorm’s player.

3:16, Part II
For this, we had all our players from Part I, and three more, one who had played with us last year, though one dropped early in because he had to be somewhere else. Our fifth character was a clever NFA oriented guy, who saw every situation as an opportunity to use NFA, and he usually succeeded. I loved having this guy in the game.

So, what I like to do for 3:16 games is run them in batches of two planets- one pretty straightforward kill-the-aliens possibly-meatgrinder planet, and a more nuanced planet with more squad politics and emphasis on the NFA objectives. I did a couple of things for that.

One, my aliens were Corrupt Troopers. Theta Troop (the book calls them Companies, but I use the term Troop) had gone rogue, and settled on a planet and Beta Troop was sending in a small squad of badasses to deal with them. Mission objectives included taking the leader, Major Jung, alive. The Troopers had the ability of Armor which they used to good effect- the first round of every single combat, I failed, and every PC succeeded on their checks, so of course I used my Armor. Also, the players were keen to loot the bodies- I allowed them a NFA roll to either patch (recover) their armor OR gain a 1-round worth of usage for one of the weapons on the sheet. (Limited ammo packs, etc.)

So Major Jung decides that the 3:16 is being sent to worlds that pose no real current threat to Earth, pretty much just so the Xenotechnological arm of the Brigade (Xenos Troop) can do weapons research. So after one too many hell worlds and one too many worlds of slaughtering civilians, they give up the ghost and dig out a bunker somewhere under the desert.

While Lt. Guido is piecing this together and deciding what to do about it, I introduce another NPC-related arc: Trooper Johnson.

See, Tuff Guy had been accusing lots of things of being gay: Captain Perlman, their mission briefing officer, Cpl. Salty, and pretty much anything he the player didn’t like. So I wanted to see what he’d do confronted with an honest to goodness gay NPC.

Trooper Johnson was a fresh recruit. He was intelligent and well-trained, but a little naïve. He was also gay. Not flamingly gay or anything, but gay. He had a bit of a crush on his CO, Cpl Shatter (Tuff Guy’s character.) During Pod-Drop, Trp Johnson is awfully friendly, and idealistic. Trp. Shitstorm bets he won’t last. The pod is shot down. To everyone’s surprise, Johnson does not die in the crash. Cpl. Shatter pretends to be dead as a gag against the new guy, and Johnson shouts out “No! I never got to tell you-” but Shatter startles him before I can finish.

Later, Johnson is awfully helpful towards another trooper during weapons inspection. And that’s when Tuff Guy says “wait a minute, is he gay?”

There wasn’t another “that’s so gay” type remark from the player for the rest of the session.

Cpl. Shatter did pull off his fake-death trick again, and Johnson did get to tell him he loved him. Guido got to say “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Trooper.” Guido did take Jung captive after a faked surrender/prisoner-exchange, though Jung tried to get him to tell the brass they were all dead. Trp. Johnson piloted their Drop Ship during the final fight to get back into orbit, and earned a medal. Good times.

I convinced the local game store owner to give us a good deal on bulk D&D minis. He also bought four of my books (2 Awesome Adventures, 2 Escape from Tentacle City) in exchange for store credit. We went to his store, went through a big box of minis (which we got a % off on the list price), and spent an additional $80 on some out-of-print sealed boxes. Tons of minis. We’re going to need a bigger boat.


9 thoughts on “Oshcon 2009 Report

  1. Tim Jensen says:

    Another solid Oshcon. This is a great local convention.

    You forgot to mention running Action Castle for everyone in the lobby…perhaps the largest TPK I’ve ever seen. 🙂

    My only regret is that more of our gaming friends from Madison and elsewhere couldn’t make it. You should all come to Madison Games Day this Saturday instead.

  2. James says:

    That sucks, I have to do other crap this weekend. Sigh. Next week I am going out to Milwaukee for a gaming con, going to play some pathfinder.

  3. Willow says:

    It was really only like 5 people who were actually participating in that ACTION CASTLE game.

  4. Sabe says:

    Maybe I’d like 3:16 if it were you running it, Willow. You mentioned you had somebody using NFA all the time… what benefit does that get you in game? Or is it just a social thing around the table, getting patted on the back for being so clever?

  5. Willow says:

    Well, there can be several key benefits from NFA-

    Obviously it’s used for ambush/positioning pre-battle and used for promotions/requisitions after the session. But people were doing things like looting gear from Theta Troop, hacking computers, gaining information, etc. That’s probably the biggest one- gain more information, which is really all color, but it’s interesting.

    Then you might have non-fighty mission objectives, like ‘secure an alien egg’ to use a real example, that you have to use NFA to get. Sure you can ignore it and go all FA on the aliens, but it’s really less interesting. The more NFA challenges the GM initiates, the more interesting the game is. Unfortunately, there’s not a terrible amount of textual support for this- it’s supposed to be an emergent property, which is sort of nifty, but makes the text less useful.

    Also, in one situation, it was used to look for another way in, which led to me using less tokens in the immediate next battle (3 instead of 4.)

    When reduced to just the hack&slash FA game, 3:16 really isn’t that interesting. With the squad roleplay, and the strange mission parameters from command, it becomes quite enjoyable. It also really shines in a convention context.

  6. Willow says:

    Or to answer your question with a question, what benefit do you get to using skill checks in D&D?

  7. Brendan says:

    I should try 3:16 again sometime. I had some of those same problems with NFA characters, but mine stemmed in part from the fact that Lt. Brillo was so dull. I didn’t know what to do with him during firefights, which made him seem even weaker as a character. It’s nice to hear that he’s still around, though. I hope that he hooks up with trooper Johnson.

  8. Tim Jensen says:

    Indeed. Brillo and Guido seem like polar opposites. With Guido over-compensating for his self-doubts and Brillo getting involved with an enlisted man, there’s tons of room for conflict between the lieutenants now.

  9. Sabe says:

    The non-fighty mission objectives are probably a big deal. I never saw any of those.

    As for D&D, checks as part of a challenge earn you XP, treasure, quests, etc.; I don’t remember NFA having that kind of payoff in the 3:16 game I played. Individual skill checks tend more to achieve little goals that further the plot, or reinforce your character’s shtick or personal agenda in some way. You could probably do that sort of thing with NFA in 3:16, though it’s blunted by the fact that it’s just one score instead of a dozen-plus areas of expertise that help to differentiate characters.

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