Wednesday, February 24, 2010

DunDraCon 2010

After this year's DunDraCon, I've come to the conclusion that it, in terms of good role-playing experiences, DDC is the worst of the three gaming conventions in the Bay Area. DunDraCon still sounds better than what I've heard of non-Bay Area cons, which seems to be fixed to 4-hour game slots in communal rooms rather than the local standard of 6-8 hour slots in individual rooms. And I plan to go next year. I've just realized that, for this and every other year I've attended, the games I've played at DunDraCon tend to be mediocre.

Once again, I almost didn't attend the convention. I was sick (so much so that my doctor sent me to the ER the previous week) and still have something (possibly a fatty liver) as of yet undiagnosed, but on the second day of the con, I was feeling well enough to go. So I only played in four games, and was never feeling 100% solid throughout the entire con, and that could be considered a factor in why I had such a mediocre experience... except that I've had a lot of mediocre experiences at past DunDraCons.

DunDraCon has a reputation as the premier RPG convention in the Bay Area, as it's the oldest, not just in Northern California but on the West Coast as a whole. It has more RPGs than KublaCon, which is considered more of a general gaming convention as it equally focuses on card, board, and miniature gaming. It also has more RPGs and number of attendees than PacifiCon, which has been an almost ad-hoc affair over the last few years. Nevertheless, PacifiCon has such fewer players that it's easy to get into your game of choice, and there's more of a feeling of "can do" attitude (or least, lowered expectations) that I almost always have a good time there. KublaCon is just always a great time: the hotel is gorgeous, the atmosphere feels vibrant as everyone is getting their game on with so many choices (even if there are less RPGs), and the slate of RPGs tends to be more varied than the usual Call of Cthulhu, Hero, and endless iterations of Dungeons & Dragons that make up most of DunDraCon's schedule.

Whereas KublaCon always feels fresh and new, DunDraCon always feels stale and old. Although the systems may change (often though they don't) gamemasters at DDC tend to run the same kind of games with the same kind of standards for the same kind of players they have, year-in and year-out. Whereas at KublaCon and PacifiCon, I've played in games where the GM put a strong effort to create a compelling story, cool handouts, or run a new kind of system, at DunDraCon, GM's tend to run something just good enough to fill 6-8 hours. DunDraCon also feels choked to death with mouth-breathing, neck-bearded, morbidly obese grognards; and while I myself may fit some or all of those descriptors, I don't wallow in it. The players at DunDraCon are often more likely to want to joke around at the table than to get into their characters and role-play out a story, whereas I often run into players at Kubla or PacifiCon that really try to create an exceptional experience. DunDraCon feels to me like it's become comfortable in its own mediocrity, and it shows in the quality of the games and gamers it attracts.

As for this year's games...

Tales of the Singing Skull: The Clipper (Call of Cthuhu)
We played actual passengers onboard the Hawaii Clipper, which disappeared in 1938. My character was a Chinese-American restaurateur bringing 3 million dollars to the army of Chiang Kai-shek. Since I was the only character expecting trouble, I was the only one armed when three black-clad "ninjas" armed with submachine guns burst into the lounge in mid-flight, took over the plane, and started killing everyone onboard once they found the two American scientists they were looking for. One of those scientists was the only PC not be killed (in the first five minutes of the game!), and then we were all resurrected by the Singing Skull, a skull packed in cargo containing the spirit of an ancient Italian sorcerer compelling us to take back the plane and bring him to Ponape where his "friends" were waiting to take him home. The "friends" ended up being Deep Ones, who we allied with so as to take over a Japanese patrol boat. The Deep Ones sacrificed the Japanese to power the ritual which sent the sorcerer home, while we tried to make for Wake Island with the captured patrol boat. As a Japanese destroyer barreled down on us, the Singing Skull returned to ancient Rome, causing everyone who had been resurrected to die, and the sole surviving PC got picked up by the U.S. Navy.

The Dirty Half-Dozen (Millennium's End)
The characters were American military convicts during World War II, assigned to blow up the air defenses and steal the experimental plans of a Nazi V-3 rocket facility. Completely ill-equipped and unprepared for the mission, we parachuted into occupied France, killed a bunch of guards at a checkpoint, killed more Germans who came down the road, and then, because the GM felt we were moving too slowly, got fast-forwarded to the secret Nazi base. After a rushed plan to ambush a couple of trucks with noisy explosives, and then infiltrate the base in our own (flaming) truck, most of us successfully got onto the base and started blowing up the anti-aircraft emplacements when the Nazis suddenly fired off six V-3 rockets that spun around and turned into cyborg "Iron Men." The Iron Men then proceeded to kill us all with great ease.

The Fight for Gailea (Star Wars Saga)
My character was a heavy weapons expert on a three-man Rebel squad assigned to disable the sensor station for the Imperial anti-aircraft defenses, then wreck havoc on the local garrison to keep the enemies' attention away from the other teams (a group of spies capturing the corrupt planetary governor, a team of local revolutionaries inspiring a popular uprising at the palace, and squadron of fighter-bombers). We pretty easily took out the station, and then, with a quad laser on the roof, we knocked out many of the AA guns themselves, as well as the communications array the Imperials were using to jam everyone's communications. This drew the attention of the elite 501st Legion, who we fought off long enough till the starfighter pilots could drop a danger-close bombing run on us and wipe them out. Then we were attacked by two "dark troopers" who nearly killed us before we whittled down their shields and cut them down. After posing with the corpses and broadcasting the footage over an open channel (still trying to draw the enemy's attention), we met up with a Jedi (a PC shuttling between the tables) and fought our way into the garrison, where she commandeered a vehicle to infiltrate a Star Destroyer now sitting over the city. With nothing else to do, we blew up the garrison, took control of an AT-AT, then blew it up to finally just end the game and wait for the other tables to finish.

Project ACORN (All Flesh Must Be Eaten)
As the last game of the con, I didn't take the time to write out a synopsis of what happened, which basically boiled down to black ops spies shooting zombies on a cruise ship.

So that was my DunDraCon for 2010. Like I said, I'll go next year, but with significantly lowered expectations.