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.
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...
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.
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.