This is my forth year attending Seattle's little jewel of a con Go Play Northwest, a one-hundred person convention that focuses on tabletop RPGs, LARPs and story games, with a few board games in between. Though usually I attend only Saturday and Sundays, I attended Friday for the feast and games this time! With familiar faces from PAX and other story telling events, I joined a Monsterhearts [Buried Without Ceremony, or Avery Mcdaldno, who wrote one of my favorite games, The Quiet Year] game where I played one of the new skins, the Sasquatch and experienced love as a teenage monster. My favorite part was a player mentioning that in his Monsterhearts game players would trade index cards as messages. I never thought that I'd ever want to draw emojis, though I did have fun saying "alligator bread cactus octopus"! It was a wonderful start for the quirky weekend I was about to have! Having a 300 year old ghoul asking her selkie classmate "what's a basic bitch?" or the arrogant outcast witch discovering the gaggle of popular girls is actually a very powerful coven is divine.
I arrived at noon for lunch. Morning slot was spent making sure my friend's cat was alive and fed. The first thing on my list was a LARP- SIRAI, a "sci-fi civil war." I knew nothing about it other than it was one of Jason Morningstar's games, of Fiasco fame [Bully Pulpit Games]. As 2pm rolled around, I went to the first floor of the convention building and found electrical tape dividing the space into what looked like a boardgame-type city map. Blue tape divided it in half with two laminated paper bridges linking one side of the city to the other.
SIRAI is a sci-fi LARP where you play a character that belongs to a faction, with both personal and faction goals- and tools to achieve them. I for example, was the Lady of the Martys, a leader of an old religion whom have been oppressed and replaced by a newer religion in the history of the city. I started with a fanatic militia and a nuke. The game is timed, which really adds drama and tension on top of the already established conflicts.
The game is divided in a few phases which create a day in SIRAI. We played about 10 turns.
First is the News of Sirai. The observer (facilitator/GM) announces to the room objective headlines which happened around the city. News of my hunger strike, for example, was announced here, as I was imprisoned and couldn't RP directly with many characters. News includes major unit clashes and their results, destruction of property, captures or releases, just to name a few. SIRAI's twitter feed in the morning...
Next is Deployment and Movement, which is about two minutes, where characters and factions are allowed to place units down onto the board. They all indicate where they are going next. They can only move one tile at a time.
After this is Free Play, a five minute chuck of time to go around the "city" and talk to whomever you want. This is the drama. The stress. The political intrigue. The bargains. As our pilgrimage got more violent and unruly with the passage of time, I was traded in as prisoner to insure the safety of civilians, political leaders, armies, people. The Observer blows a whistle (losing track of time will happen) and wherever you stand is where you start next day.
Faction Communiques happens at the end of the day, where factions or leaders announce to the city invitations, denouncements, declarations, treaties. It's a good way to keep everyone in the room involved and aware of actions that did not directly involve them. Here for example, my brethen denounced the faction keeping me imprisoned and urged them to release me. They later kidnapped one of their leaders for a one to one trade (it didn't work... I was assassinated at the end. Mostly because I used an EMP during a major battle.)
This was a very, very fun game. I hope to play it again!
The evening donut brought me to The Carcass, a game created and GMed by Jim Pinto. It takes place in a post-apoc world of our choosing- in our case, swampland- where our leader has just died. And we all want to be the next leader. It was fun fucking around in the swamplands, making projects, making sure projects don't get sabotaged, arguing with other players, and not getting shot by Dogmen! I really liked its Drama Point system, which I haven't seen before. Each character class stars with 2+ drama points, which are spent for roleplaying actions or spells, but especially add more dice to one's dice pools. The drama point is then spent and given to the player on the right (the Foil - they describe your success or failures). It's a cool way of distributing power. If you keep 10 drama points you can spend them for more abilities. This makes sense considering it's competitive! I had fun!
Sunday morning means church: in this case, playing Orthodoxy, a story game by Joli St. Patrick [wonderful poet and game designer, find her stuff at Gently Press], based on her dysfunctional experiences with organized religion. The character making session begins with describing our congregation and our core believes. The first three below we picked, and I added a forth.
God is love
God is holy
God is masculine
We were made in god's image
Love one another
Abstain from sin
The female should serve the male
Love your body as it is God's
Perform loving acts in God's name
Don't condone sin even implicitly
Ordination of male ministers only
Do not alter, pollute, or modify your body
These will guide our stories and characters. We then get into character creation. We all hold an office in the congregation of some kind, marking us as part of the church rather than mere "churchgoers". It's our community and we have responsibilities and ties- through Kinship (family), Formal (mentor, boss, pastor), and Informal (friends, acquaintances). We go around the table figuring out what makes sense- for example, a player was creating Thomas, a board member of the church, and as he was figuring out Thomas's family life, we decided I could be his daughter. Mike, played by our facilitator Joli, was the youth leader, and thus my formal tie: I study religion and ethics under him. Ash, played by another player, was a new congregant, just in college and eager about changing the world. Since I was 16, it made sense he was my crush.
Lastly, we write our doubts. We are, after all, Doubters in a see of Believers. All NPCs are Believers unless you leave the church. More on that later! Lily examplified the injunction of "Made in God's Image" - she is athletic, responsible to her body, takes care of it well. She struggles with "The Female Should Serve the Male"- she wants to go to college, but her mother focuses mostly on her future marriage. She is also annoyed she can't get a higher position of Altarboy. She doesn't want to be a wife. Or a mother. She wants something more.
She hates being a girl.
Or, at least, hates being a girl in a boy's world.
We then start with an opening scene, which is the community together. In this case, it was mostly us establishing our daily lives, our personalities, and our relationships. Then we take turns directing scenes. As director, we pick the characters and NPCs that will play in the scene, as well as describe the setting, time of day, or event in which they are in. As the director listens to the scene, they are to pay close attention and point out doubts (specifically with the phrase, "It sounds like you have a doubt!") Once a doubt occurs, players stop and pick a card from their hand. Believers only have "Correct" and "Cover." To Correct is to reinforce and enforce the community's beliefs. To Cover is to let the doubt pass without comment, with a hidden concern, with ignorance. Doubters have one additional card however: They can Confide. To Confide means to be vulnerable to the corrections of others.
The last turn Thomas, Mike, and Lily picked Confide. It was cathartic not to hide and confide, even in game form.
Once each player had their turn, if a player Confided in that round, they can choose to leave the church. This is the way the game introduces more Doubter NPCs and thus scenes outside the community. Both Mike and I left. Thomas and Ash stayed. Overall, a wonderful game to play, especially when the trauma of religion lingers on.
The last game I played was Tomb Priestesses [a game by Jonathan Walton - Corvid Sun], a "never played before" playtest in a very ethereal, solemn and spooky world, of an order of Sisters who walk that thin line between the living and dead. We each played as a unique sister with beautiful, sometimes tragic stories. I played as Fujuna, one of the newest members of Order. I was 52 years old.
In the LARP you are either a Sister or the Dead. The Sisters act out a scene drawn from a deck, and they select who will be with them. Scenes can be from 1-3 sisters. You can have up to two scenes at a time. The rest of the players are then the Dead. The Dead wear masks over their heads and "speak" to the priestesses. Though the Sisters can't hear them, they can feel them, often changing the tone of their conversations, their housechores, their rituals.
One particular scene we had was with Sister Yamo. She was doing a ritual in the tombs (the office section of our floor- it was a perfect tomb: hallways and dim lighting) while me and another Dead whispered sweet nihilist nothings: "You never cared about us." "You don't respect us." "You're happy to be alive aren't you?" "You'll die soon." "You are alone."
Yamo then starts to cry. She asks for the forgiveness of her dead mother. We Dead then respond. "Your mother is here." "Come closer." "Come join your mother." "She's here." Yamo then walks deeper and deeper into the tomb. The scene ends with her finding a slab and laying on it in a weird ecstacy. We lingered around her welcoming her home.
It was creepy intense.
I finished the day playing two quiet games of Splendor- in a quiet conference room too!
I'm excited to read about and discover the other games played at GoPlayNW. There's so many I missed, especially with the two slots I didn't play any RPG/story game. Brain turns into sludge after two RPG in a row. It's a lot to think about!
Thanks to everyone who made this con always fun, always a learning experience, always meaningful.