Go Play NW 2016

Another Go Play NW has come and go.  And here I am writing about weeks later. Go Play is one of my favorite events in Seattle during the summer. A low-key, very inclusive game convention (though it is noticably still mostly men) with an intimate, innovative, and positive gaming environment. 

Friday night feast meant seeing old friends and playing Spartacus, a board game based on the TV show- and it looks it from the cheesy graphic design. It was, however, a very entertaining strategic game with a very fun bidding system and combat.

After going to bed at a reasonable hour and rising at too-early-o'clock for some coffee and tiny donuts, Saturday begins with a small game by Brendan Ankins called Loose Leaves. This poetic game grows from the dynamics between the "leaf" and "wind" roles, characterized by skill versus cunning, beauty versus obstacle respectively. The leaves and wind ask each other questions, shaping the story with each answer, which is chronicled by the third player on a piece of paper. At the beginning of play, each player draws a card which contains a prescribed phrase only known to that player. These phrases, such as "This is where we part" or "This is what we came for" not only signify the flow and end of game, but bring closure, resolution and direction to the story. They are statements, not dancing around the questions asked. We made story about lost children, cursed villages, empty seasons and ravenous woodsmen.

Following this was the second playtest of my partners game The Emperor is Dead, a game of political intrigue, hidden agendas, and subverting influence, which I'm guessing I will write about at length as we continue to playtest it. 

Last was the star of the weekend, Amidst Endless Quiet, a game by Ben Lehmen, ran by Max Hervieux. By far the highlight of the con. 

This session will be very hard to top in a long time. 

To set you up: It is a 6 player game, one whom plays the AI of a ship which is damaged and declining fast. The other 5 players are passengers in the ship in deep sleep. These are not ordinary people- but are living relics from all walks of life. The AI has 20 turns to listen to their dreams, their stories, their convictions, their reasons to continue living, before deciding to load and launch the one and only remaining life pod.

The five characters are well varied and really lend themselves to a variety of philosophical discussion on a life's worth.  

Our direct setting was key to the mood.  We ended up in a small dorm study room on the 12th floor of Seattle U's dormitory. We entered in twilight, with the sun's rays dying over the city, suburbs and Cascades. Max placed twenty black dice in the middle of the table. Then started reading the rules... In the voice of Elios, our beloved but declining ship, one which we will later argue with, feed information to, and dream with. 

Elios has twenty actions, which hinge of the GM's knowledge of arc, pace and giving players equal influence over the story. Elios can watch two character's dream together, dream with another character but as that character's companion, read about the public background of a character, read an encrypted block containing confidential information about a character, wake up a character and speak to them directly, load a lifeboat, and launch a lifeboat.. A lifeboat was really never meant to be used...

 An impression of our game space and mood. 

An impression of our game space and mood. 

 As Elios placed us in dreams, and us in ours, the dice kept leaving the table. The room darkened. Moments of intensity, sorrow, and thirst for knowledge. The five characters, having different ages, species, and occupations, lend themselves to very telling dynamics and conversations. What life is what worth preserving? What values and thoughts does Elios want to preserve? The scientist, though in his seventies, has seen millions and millions of years of human and non-human development, seen as a prophet by some for his discoveries. A courtesan, "revived" every generation to raise and love the sons and daugheters of a tall, handsome man. A sculptor, lighthearted and eager for perfecting the imperfect shells of all creation. The scholar, middle aged and invested in teaching and mentoring the gifted youth... Which happened to be my mentor and future caretaker, a seventeen-year old "experiential subject."

One of my favorite moments was a very tense one- Elios had woken up the sculptor, Sorrel, with about 6 turns left. After some banter on philosophy, chaos and form ("the universe is just all clay"), Elios breaks the news that everyone is going to die.. Save one. Elios then sheepishly asks for any last words. Sorrel laughs angrily, demanding in hopelessness and desperation, why Elios would ever think it is a good idea to be woken up. Gritting his teeth, he spits: you expect me to create my legacy moments before death? Elios cannot answer.

 My character sheet. Our personalities and values arose from interactions in dreams. 

My character sheet. Our personalities and values arose from interactions in dreams. 

Sorrel, with nothing left to say, wants sleep. Elios cannot return him to sleep. No dreams left, but full consciousness of imminent demise in the vastness of quiet and lonely space. 

I'd like to point out, that as this confrontation was happening, fireworks were going off behind our GM, over Lake Washington. We all turned to look at them, but dared not to disrupt. It was kind of surreal, being a dark room, with one of my greatest fears and questions played out in front of me with sparks and joy beyond. 

Suffice to say, that was one of the top five roles playing experiences of late. After our game, we stepped out of the little study room. Around us a LARP had finished, and other RPGs were wrapping up around us. We wondered if, like the tallies and statistics Tell Tale games would display after every episode, the youngest member was saved. Is hope the balm to our reptilian brain?

Sunday began with us running in late, but getting into a small game of Rogue Wizard Warrior, a game where characters of traditional Dungeon and Dragons worlds get into the wrong module...say, running a bakery. 

Next was a Dread session, Fury Road style, ran by Andy (who was Sorrel in last night's game). Very vivid fill-in-the-blank character creation with mechanics which directly reward high-adrenaline stunts- one pull of the Jenga blocks versus two pulls required for a safe and mundane action. To top it off, Andy decided to turn on the large industrial fan in the corner of the room (it's Seattle summer, meaning fan city as buildings here normally do not have air conditioning) as we were chased by a giant hovercraft. Which is fitting of course... until you realize the fan is pointed at the precariously wobbling Jenga tower. I had to move to avoid looking at it- the tactility of the tension was too much for me to bear.

We finished the weekend with a game of Eclipse. Essentially my current favorite 4X game (as Kayla says, "Extreme, Extreme, Extreme, EXTREME!") One of these days I'll reign the universe without a single iota of war.

Myra's GenCon 2015 Schedule!

Go Play NW 2015: This time as volunteer and attending Friday!

Friday

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.

Saturday

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.

 City  map with faction controlled areas and major landmarks. The room was divided like so. I started on the lower right, as a Khergist: the Lady of Martys, leader of a fanatic religion.

City  map with faction controlled areas and major landmarks. The room was divided like so. I started on the lower right, as a Khergist: the Lady of Martys, leader of a fanatic religion.

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. 

 One of our faction's first political moves was starting a religious pilgrimage to the original site of our holy land, now home to the new religion of the city.

One of our faction's first political moves was starting a religious pilgrimage to the original site of our holy land, now home to the new religion of the city.

 The room was divided in sectors. Conversations had to happen in that sector, and not across boundaries. Everyone is tuned in to the news right now, listening to the observer for game reports.

The room was divided in sectors. Conversations had to happen in that sector, and not across boundaries. Everyone is tuned in to the news right now, listening to the observer for game reports.

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!

 A much needed debrief. We all went around in a circle talking about moments we liked, moments we didn't like, how we felt, feedback and war stories. This game takes a maximum of 22 players.  DEFINITELY  play it with 22.

A much needed debrief. We all went around in a circle talking about moments we liked, moments we didn't like, how we felt, feedback and war stories. This game takes a maximum of 22 players. DEFINITELY play it with 22.

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

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.

Belief
God is love
God is holy
God is masculine
We were made in god's image

Injunctions
Love one another
Abstain from sin
The female should serve the male
Love your body as it is God's

Customs
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.

 

FUJUNA

You were orphaned mere days before your garland ceremony, but the bond between the people of your home village was rich an evergreen, like the ancient forests. You were apprenticed to the apothecary but taught little of the world beyond.

In time, you fiercely loved a young man, but his life marked a different course, an the distance caused by his travels exhausted your storm to a warm breeze.

Soon, your master waned and you took over. Over the years, you prepared and buried dozens of villagers. But one stranger who wandered out of the forest with a young weeped black and his flesh turned grey. When his body was still, no one would help you wrap it.

In dead stranger’s belongings was a book that told of the tomb-lands and their secrets. And so you left: a yearning or ensorcellment guided you here. Despite the lines on your face, you feel that your life has just begun.
— Character co-designed with Gray Pawn
 

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.

Apocalypse World Houston

Apocalypse World
Ain't No Ark for the Wicked
OwlCon XXXIV | Sat 8pm to 12am

Thanks to Midnight, Shade, Jack O'Connel, PowerShift (and Fred, his car), Dr. Lou and Requiem for an awesome game!

Thanks to Dagan, Eli and Brian for feedback/playtesting.

This was my first DMing experience with strangers- and I survived! The last time I ran a game was in 2009 with two Rifts one-shots. That was among friends though, which is a completely different dynamic! First, I will talk about what I learned:

  • Snap-to-grid encounters are the easiest to DM at conventions - it pulls you away from needing to be constantly making story. This makes me want to run Pathfinder or another combat-orientated RPG. 13th Age seems to be the sweetspot between roleplaying and strategy.
  • I need to practice the cadence, narration, and consequence of combat with this system. 
  • I need to bridge between major parts of the story in a more player-driven way, which I mean...
  • ...I need to let player ideas succeed more rather than stay true to character all the time. I may think that this NPC would not divulge information so easily, but that doesn't matter: I need to edit the story in real-time to keep it flowing.
  • I need to learn how to hint solutions. "You remember that Stark told you about that hidden path..." etc
  • I need to learn ways to regroup split parties.
  • I need to not outnumber them, and if I do, to throw logic down the window and remember that Stormtroopers miss a lot.
  • I told them to be badasses: I didn't allow it enough, which is because of...
  • ...I took on too many players. I need to lower maximum players to 4. 6 was too many for me to pay attention to as a DM. 4 would be ideal. 5-6 seems to encourage spiting, and I lose sight of their special abilities.

Many of these things I did due to lack of experience. I also haven't learned the proper tools of storytelling- the suspence, the pacing, the diction - thus failed to fully address their badassery and creativity. This will happen in time and with practice.


 Houston, Texas, the two loops with 20m of sealevel rise + permanent floodplains. 

Houston, Texas, the two loops with 20m of sealevel rise + permanent floodplains. 

50 Years Ago

I set this story in a flooded Houston. I'm not one with alternate history experience, but I've applied my knowledge of history, politics, economics and sociology for this timeline.

The apocalypse happened 50 years ago

[70-100 years ago] 
All over the US, major storms, earthquakes, blizzards tear up major cities. The government supports major financial centers leaving many cities in a state of anarchy. It is overwhelmed.

[70 years ago]
In Houston, while NYC, LA, and Chicago are swallowed whole, the flooding begins gradually, but sped up 10 years prior to total, irreparable environmental meltdown. No one really cared about Galveston, but once the flooding got worse rather than better (pray the flood away), communities started to panic. Some fled, some banned together. Things just seemed wetter, a little more crowded, but business as usual. The Texas way.

[65 years ago]  
In fear of the feds using state surpluses, Texas succeeded unanimously, spreading more panic throughout the US. "We have it better here," a prominent congressman wrote, "we must protect our resources for the betterment of our people." You don't need education, mail, and money when it rains every goddamn day and things are falling apart, they argued. 

[55-60 years ago] 
As the flooding increased, people moved westward, slowly becoming part of the remaining, somewhat-functioning neighborhoods. Those that had something to offer or a familial/friend connection were taken in, but many were turned away. They are mostly scavengers turned mad by rejection, hunger, and disease. Some turned into fishermen, which allowed them some dignity and role in society.

[50 years ago]  
Total government breakdown. Even Texas can't keep itself afloat. It's a full-on energy crisis. Due to the constant rain and flooding, the grid in constant disrepair, only small and highly laborious oil rigs are operational. Some warlords have “invented” (by invented, I mean stole then fucked with even more) corn-based gasoline, but whatever the hell they added to it makes it highly flammable. There's many bombed cars around the city from this fuckery. Have a bike? Here's a generator. Have fun.

Main food sources depend by tribe, but fish is common, rice is common and so is any water-loving vegetable. Wealthier communities have gerry-rigged generators for indoor harvesting. These are kept secret in fear of gangs. Fields are guarded by snipers and/or militia.

People are out for themselves. Sometimes, someone exceptional comes along to stir things up- whether in brute force, in shaman-like qualities, in unparalleled brainsmarts, or charismatic-as-shit leadership. Until then, business as usual in H-town.

NOTE: Since I am planning to run this game again in the future, and therefore perfect it, the above timeline and background may change!

 A zoom of the play area. Lakewood church is on the right.

A zoom of the play area. Lakewood church is on the right.


Ain't No Ark for the Wicked

AN EXCERPT
 

[Temperance X escorts you to the meeting room. It is a tent in the center of the watertower made up of lush and rich fabrics. A large and low ebony table lies in the center, with four censers lit making the room smell like a forest in rain. You see symbols of fertility around- some ancient, some modern. Multiple medical drawings of women's bodies hang up like sacred tapestries. Slightly wilted flowers hang below these.]

CLARITY

My name is Clarity. Would you like clean water? Coffee? Tea? Whiskey? What do you wish?

I asked Rashmi for the best. I probably didn't need to ask him, he knows what I need. Loyal that man, but snakey. You have to repeat yourself from time to time. Memory is like sand, melting like rubber, hissing like rain…[mumbles]

Anyway. You know what we do right?.. The cult?

[ PLAYER KNOWLEDGE: From what you've experienced, you know that women no longer get pregnant. Children have not really been on your mind lately, but you know the function of the Cult. We need them. All the women that can conceive have gathered together into a cohesive unit for protection and power and offer fecundity for resources. This is how tribes replace their dying. Only if they wish and can afford it, of course. ]

CLARITY

And as if the apocalypse didn’t curse us enough, our chemistry’s changed. We’re the same, only a little more damaged.

[motions to her left] This is Elend, Maria, and Leadhead Dusk.

GM

A man and woman nod. It looks like they are clutching to each other, though their bodies are not intertwined. They might as well be scared little mice. Leadhead Dusk is a rather older man, a browned face with pronounced features, a little hunched. He wears a pistol on his belt.

CLARITY

Leadhead Dusk made the most gracious offering to Our Divine Fertility a few weeks ago. We accepted graciously. Kara, one of our firsts, was to carry out her duty. … Perhaps you don't know how we work here. Ritual keeps the body level. It's how we remind ourselves of our Gift. We usually send our women to the tribes. To walk among them. To make sure they are ready for such a Gift. After some time, our woman then selects a couple. The criteria is hers to execute. Kara chose Elend and Maria. It was to be their child. [pause] On the night of the implantation, however, she was captured. Kidnapped. Stolen. Someone dared to disrupt this sacred order. We found out through the eyes and ears of loyal subjects of this vile enemy. It's them, the religious hoarders, the damned righteous recluses of this flooded waste.

I was told they saw the garments they wear. The clean whites, pastels, and khaki. They took her, how dare they take my blood! [angry]

The Lakewood Compoud is highly guarded. I thought they weren't supposed to be outside, with us,the so-called tainted. I thought they were rumors. But perhaps these are true. They are starting to leave their nest. Just to mess with MINE. [she looks at Elend and Maria] With OUR nest. [she hysterically laughs] Do they want to start a war? The Fruitful aren't taken. WE take... to GIVE. The fate of the human world resonates in our bodies. Slowly, less and less of us can conceive. We refuse to perish. Until this curse of humanity is lifted, we MUST protect the fruits of our womb.

You must get them.

[She eyes you all fiercely. Nails gnarled into the table. Elend and Maria nod and look at you for a response.]


Urbanist Implications

Houston urbanism before and shortly after the flood would remain relatively the same, especially with anti-density, pro-parking, environmental deniers in political power. Due to no zoning, developers are trigger-happy, building megablocks of parking, retail and apartments. I would imagine this developer-centered growth is what will keep happening in the city, especially with its projected growth. In my fiction I imagined two scenerios: one where the church of density pushes a Cerda-esque top-down operation. It's not unheard of for large swaths of land to be cleared for better, newer, and bigger things. Say Houston decides it's time for a change, clears out some strip malls and opts for a Barcelona courtyard block, as in the image on the left.

 Barcelona

Barcelona

 Sao Paolo

Sao Paolo

This was before the apocalypse of course. Houstonians living in more "urban" settings with their highway not so far away. Oh, and of course, everything has underground parking. Once the flood starts, from Galveston up towards Houston, the West moves East. Flash floods are a Houstonian past-time, only this one won't go away. Many joked it was Alison's evil twin sister. Where would you go?

The majority of empty spaces in Houston, TX are parking lots: large surface lots covering a whole city block, or ringing around strip malls, monoliths of stacked parking, parallel parking, unpaved dirt lots behind that club. Would people camp in their cars in these lots, then slowly evolve into a favela-like mass? It's not like the economy works anymore once half a city is underwater- at least, not the formal economy. 

I added this urban fabric to the map, as well as a megastructure coming up from SE of River Oaks. This megastructure has no fiction attached to it yet.


Womb Power: Feminism & Fiction

In my very casual playtest, my friend Dagan brought to my attention of the the once-again, damned-sexist damsel trope: my major conflict revolved around a kidnapping. It doesn't make it better than I, a woman, wrote this. But it is a product of the setting I've created: women can no longer conceive save a few special women. And it's exactly this specialness that makes them commodities, or, the possibility of being thought as such. And we have been commoditized throughout history. Constantly. Female slaves had more worth, because they can make more slaves. A fertile woman makes more workers. Keep a ring on it and they'll produce all your heirs. Here's some playthings for your pleasure. Let me sell- I mean, marry- my daughter out to a man that can pay.

I wanted to turn this on its head. Especially in Texas.

Texas has a problem with women where a fetus has more rights than the body which creates it. The New York Times posted a dismal map of all the abortion clinics in the state: as early this year, more than half of them have closed in the second largest state. With the new law, which requires abortion clinics to be licensed as ambulatory surgery centers, only 7 clinics will be open total. The closest one to Brownsville, my hometown, the southernmost tip of Texas, would be in San Antonio, 277 miles away. The border is a few steps away- walking distance even. And if there's anything we do know and can depend on is that people make economic choices not necessarily rational or safe choices- especially in dire and desperate situations- and this is already happening in the Rio Grande Valley. Misoprostol use is on the rise in areas with recently closed abortion centers, which disproportionately affect the poor and mostly Hispanic population. These are also areas with not only sub-par education in the entire country, but have little to no sexual education. With high religiosity and social conservatism comes sexual taboos and these are hard to break when public schools do not teach children and teenagers about safe sex.

In this fiction, I wanted to tap into this context, to give power back to women in a land where gender roles continue to keep many "in their place" (removing reproductive choice is part of this dynamic- a political move enacted by men). And how precious and powerful is a fruitful womb in the face of human extinction, especially when women hold the choice of reproduction, the choice of keeping humanity alive. Men are not seizing. Men do not control all aspects of reality. Women defend their bodies. Women reign their bodies. Women also have control. 

Together, Dagan, Eli and Brian helped me capture these ideas into a better story- one which does contain the damsel trope as conflict, but reverses it wonderfully in the end. All parties retain power. This I will write about later as I refine the story for the next time I run it.

In fictions, one can explore the ugly side of humanity safely. The more real and human a story it is, however, the more intense its affect. We know how people act. We know what feels "real" and what is mere fantasy. What is out of character, what is in. Apocalypse World demands grit- it wants the grimy truth of human the animal: nothing is black and white, everything comes with a price. Due to my inexperience GMing games, I couldn't add this weight, this desperation, this uncertainty, these tensions, but with practice, this story will be more vivid. I'm excited to continue this little project. Stay tuned!

OwlCon XXXIV

Thanks to all attendees! The grand totals are 696 unique souls attended our con. See you next year!

 Gaming in the RMC!

Gaming in the RMC!

 All Quiet on the Martian Front

All Quiet on the Martian Front

Quiet Year @ OwlCon 34

Quiet Year
OwlCon XXXIV | Sunday 3pm - 7pm

Thank you to players Ben, Sabrina, Ray, and Todd for great story and a great time!

 A chill game for the last slot at OwlCon XXXIV.

A chill game for the last slot at OwlCon XXXIV.

For this session, I played with very lax rules and allowed players to ask questions or add details out of turn. I find this is best in terms of keeping new players engaged (quick feedback, unforseen potentials brought to light through questions) but still let the player keep control, as they have final say on what's story and what's not. It's also fun! Our story had many neat little details, so many that we ran out of time- four hours was not enough for 52 weeks of story! I shortened the game by removing half the remaining cards left. Below, I wrote down all story said during card draw. I have included a few player actions as well, but not all.

Typically, a turn looks like this:

  • Draw a card. Choose a prompt or do what it says: Make story that is about one to three sentences long.
  • Draw on the map place, events, or objects that pertain to the card drawn.
  • Do your week's action: either discover something new, start a project, or hold a discussion. Make story not more than two sentences on the action chosen. Other players here can only speak if you chose to hold a discussion.
  • Other players are allowed to take a Contempt token if they disagree or feel frustrated by your action this turn.
  • Draw on the map your discovery, project, or discussion.
  • All project die tick down.
  • If a project is completed this turn, the player whose project is completed makes story.

More about this game here.


SET UP

At the beginning of the game, two things happen: we decide who we are and how many, then each take a turn to draw on the map our starting discoveries, abundances, and scarcities. Together we decided we were going to play in the style of the Borrowers: one-inch to two-inch tall humanoids living in the world after the disappearance of all “normal” sized human beings. Our starting map “discoveries” were a toy Ferris wheel, a closed toy chest, a door with a smaller plastic door in which the Dreadwhiskerbeast appears, a marble field, and a ceramic and tall Eternal Self-Filling Spring. We had a stable source of water, but need more food, cloth and energy. Now the game starts!

SPRING

♥7 

Where does everyone sleep? Who is unhappy with this arrangement and why? We sleep in shoe boxes lined with found human clothes. It makes people unhappy because some people sleep in larger shoe boxes with better clothes in warmer spots...

♥Q

What is the most beautiful thing in this area? A prism hangs in front of the window which reflects the most beautiful thing in this world: a rainbow.

♥K

A young boy starts digging in the ground, and discovers something unexpected. What is it? A boy digs in the marble fields and finds an old jack. He wonders what it is for. May this be a weapon of lost times? He tells his mother and they are subsequently studied by the community. The tips are sharped and the jacks are moved closer to the village- they are used as slicers, hole-punchers and for sharp defenses.

♥4

Where are you storing your food? Why is this a risky place to store things? We are storing our food in the original pantry in the Bigkitchen. High heights and hungry pests make it a risky place to store food.

A bell is cleverly installed in front of the beastrap so that the Dreadwhiskerbeast can surprise us no longer.

♥5

There is a disquieting legend about this place. What is it? We know of the Bigs and that they created the Jackals. They bred their guard creatures to be abarrant killing machines, teeth and ears with bloodlust. It seems the Bigs were driven by extinction by own creation. But we hear that the original and thus most aberrant jackals live nearby.. the elderjackals. In a cave somewhere in the near world they hide.

♥10

There's another community somewhere on the map. Where are they? What sets them apart from you? There are the Squeakers in the walls that we hear once in a while. We hear them squeak and rustle and tumble in the walls. They seem to be unintelligent- we've tried communicating with them to no avail.

♥6

Are there children in the community? If there are, what is their role in the community? We are a child-centered community and share the responsibility in raising and caring for them. The community collectively teaches them all that they know. We make sure they play and play and play.

♥8

An old piece of machinery is discovered, broken but perhaps repairable. What is it? What would it be useful for? We have found a big-wheeled, pink bigmachine. We think that it may work again. We've seen the little-bigs use it, out in sunny days with summer sprinklers and lemonade picnics under the watchful eye of their parents. With it repaired, we may be able to use to move heavy objects and to explore the outside.

Once it is repaired, a crew is assigned to it. They need a few down below decks for the pedal, a few for cargo, a few for steering, and a captain. Captain Baja is the first captain of the Goodship Lollipop.

♥J

You see a good omen. What is it? The stars have stopped falling.

♥A

What group has the highest status in the community? What must people do to gain inclusion in this group? The Guardians who defend us from the hostilities of this world. The highest status are the Order of the Future, Guardians whom have saved children from the evil creatures of the world. They keep our future safe.

♥3

Two of the community's younger members get into a fight. What provoked them? Dusk and Dawn, two young brothers, fight over corruption. Dusk so desperately wanted to be promoted to the Order of the Future that he knowingly put a child in danger so that he may save his life. Dawn caught him. The community does not know of Dusk's dark ambitions.

♥9

A charismatic young girl tries to tempt many into a sinful or dangerous activity. Why does she do this? How does the community respond? A young girl named Lizbit leads a group of curious children in Operation Squeaker. They are more audible once the stars have stopped falling. The adults have concluded they are dumb, but children are more lever and more insightful than boring adult minds. They have started carving little holes in walls to deliver message packages to the Squeakers, which worries their parents.

[NOTE: I really don't like this prompt, and my friend Ben also was disappointed. It plays upon sexist tropes of women as temptresses (think Eve's “fault” in offering Adam the apple). Every time this card is played, I like to remind everyone that it can be boy or girl.]

♥2

There's a large body of water on the map. Where is it? What does it look like? A severed autumn-colored pipe from a busted bigwall has turned the carpet padding into a smelly swamp by the Eternal Self-Filling Spring.

SUMMER

♦Q

A project finishes early. Which one? Why?

♦4

The eldest among you dies. What caused the death? Old Gaver, angered by the youth-corrupting, tradition-slaying salvaging machine, stood in front of its large wheels in protest. He would rather die than see this blasphemy continue, he said. The Captain Baja, realizing that Gaver bluffed not, signalled to his crew to hit the Stoperator, but an tragic misunderstanding pressed the Acceleratrix instead. The Goodship Lollipop then flattens Old Gaver into oblivion.

Old Gaver is buried in solemn ceremony in our graveyard. He is dropped into the darkness below without sound.

♦9

Something goes foul and supplies are ruined. Add a new scarcity. One day in Summer, the weekly routine pull of the Miracle Lever brought no new water into the Eternal Self-Filling Spring. We need to discover a new stable source of water.

♦7

Introduce a mystery at the edge of the map. Captain Slicer's new patrol has discovered a metal box whose door was found propped open on the side of the bighouse. Upon further inspection, it contains rows upon rows of levers, all found in the <OFF> position. Captain Slicer has no idea what it is for.

♦8

A headstrong community member decides to put one of their ideas in motion. Start a foolish project. Shortly after Old Gaver's death, MAGL – or Mothers Against the Goodship Lollipop – organize in attempts to convince the communtiy to stop the use of this dangerous ship. To prove that there are safer alternatives, they start contruction on attaching a wheeled-shoe to the Ferris wheel to create a new, more community-friendly ship.

MAGL's fierce leadership forced the community to hold consul on whehter or not the captain should be held responsible for Old Gaver's death. What will be the proper punishment, if any should be carried out? Multiple voices were heard: some cruel, some forgiving, some just. MAGL asserted that Captain Baja be punished, as death happened at his command, despite it being an accident. He is sentenced to hand-testing the Jacks with his hands. Renamed Baja Jacktester, he pricks his fingers daily for a hopefully short time. [A player takes two contempt tokens for this action. I allow it. Normally you only can take one per turn.]

♦J

Predators and bad omens are afoot. You are careless, and someone goes missing under ominous circumstances. Who? Dawn is missing.

The voices of the dead start to rise. Everybody hears them, like a radio turned on in the next room: the voice is recognizable, but the words are lost.

♦10

A scarcity has gone unaddressed for too long! Start a project that will alleviate that scarcity. The activities and heat of spring and summer have left many of our clothes tattered and forever soiled. A few of us start salvaging wallpaper that our seamstresses can easily use.

♦3

Summer is a time for conquest and the gathering of might. Start a project related to military readiness and conquest. Dusk cannot shake the anxiety and grief over his missing brother. He takes a poll of all available Guardians to investigate the world outside. Dusk believes this will kill three birds with one stone: Where is Dusk? Who emptied the Self-Filling Spring? What is outside this bighouse? It's time for military-lead exploration to start getting things done. One of the first things they explore is what is beyond the darkness behind that basement door.

♦5

A project finishes early. What led to its early completion? A loud, winged creature was captured in the beastweb early in the week. MAGL harnessed the power of this creature through leather and cloth straps that attached it to the Wheeled Ferris-wheel.

♦A

A contingent within the community have acted on their frustrations. What have they damaged, and why did they damage it? Is it permanent? The Wheeled Ferris was tied to the interior of a door knob and was pushed down the stairs, closing this door forever. The expedition led by Dusk has no means to return now. No new volunteers have risen up to take their ranks.

AUTUMN

♣A

The community has becomes obsessed with a single project. Which one? Why? After the grim details of the forever closed basement door and the lost expedition, the school board stresses that the school's curriculum must be perfect. They realize that they themselves have a lot to learn about a just and free society. They take three weeks longer than expected.

♣3

Someone leaves the community after issuing a dire warning. Who? What is the warning? The community witch hears the voices of the dead more acutely than everyone around her. After a certain time, she finally snapped and runs to the outside, croaking “The Jackals and the Frost Shepherds have always been working together.”

♣Q

Disease spreads through the community. A strong flu spreads among the school board. They are quarantined and are unable to continue on their work. The children are idle in their play.

♣8

Someone sabotages a project and the project fails as a result. Who did this? Why? An 11 year old named Sara Smithers starts having awful and powerfully psychic nightmares surrounding the voices of the dead- she is convinced that pursuing them will only invite death into our community. After the community is retold her tale by her very concerned parents, they put a stop on the spelunky project that attempt to find the source of these talking bones.

♣K

A natural disaster strikes the area. A cardboard filled with red-tipped sticks are set aflame and leave an ashen floor and wall with suffocating results. Luckily it rained that day.

♣9

The community works constantly, and as a result a project finishes early. With death, lost community members, disease and other struggles fresh in their minds, the School Board decides a new set of values are needed in the community: a new cult of pragmatism rises in our midst. They Jackals along with their horrors are always and will always stalk us, only hard work, preparation, and the warm bosom of pragmatism will keep us surviving.

♣7

Something goes foul and supplies are ruined. Add a new Scarcity. The Goodship Lollipop has been heavy in use: batteries are now scarce.

♣5

A small gang of marauders is making its way through local terrain. How many are there? What weapons do they carry? A handful of armed marauders armed with strange weapons with a strong, odd smell that result in skin and nose burns attack a few of our furry sailors and steal their nuts.

WINTER

♠5

Winter elements leave everyone cold, tired and miserable. Dawn is found and condemns Dusk as a murderer. The community is in shock and disbelief, but are releaved Dawn is fine. Project dice are not reduced this week.

♠9

Someone goes missing. They're alone it he winter elements. No one hears from that person again. Captain Slicer gets lose in the winds of a winter storm. He was found half-drowned in the bighouse gutters.

♠K

The Frost Shepherds arrive. The game is over.
Tiny skeletons rise up through the hole in the floor. Shaped like familiar beasts, they creep and creak.


This was very fun and I hope to run it again in next year's con! I'll be posting images of the map when I have a chance!

OwlCon XXXIV

It's time for me to start the OwlCon program! I have been volunteering for this convention since 2008, doing various things, but only recently (since at least 2010) have been putting together their programs. The programs hold all the information, maps, event times and descriptions of the 3-day game convention. I'm used to deadlines, so it is a perfect little job for me. I have made new maps for the student center. If I have time I want to make little illustrations for our special guests. We'll see!

OwlCon_RMC MAP-NEW-02-02.jpg
 Flyers to put up around the city - on campus, in game stores, in other conventions!

Flyers to put up around the city - on campus, in game stores, in other conventions!

We are a small-scale, volunteer-run game convention, therefore, don't have that much money to sink. When I go to conventions like Emerald City Comic-Con or PAX Prime, both here in Seattle with at least 70k con goers each, I marvel at their great care in regards to wayfinding, graphics, and other attendee-shepherding things. We, for example, can't afford to do color- all my graphics must remain greyscale. The constraint does make it easier on me however: no need to spend hours deciding on a color palette!

The con is in two weeks. It's crunch time!

Credit to Alex Camacho for the Owl-Marty McFly!