Tuesday, June 1, 2010

KublaCon 2010

This year's KublaCon was fantastic. I didn't get into a single bad game, and it was surprising how consistently good all the GM's and almost all the players were in the games I played. Usually there's at least one problem player that drags the game down, but there wasn't anything like that at this con. Although there wasn't as great a variety as I'd hoped to see in terms of games (no Eclipse Phase, Dresden Files or Doctor Who, and the Supernatural games both got cancelled), KublaCon gave the great experience I've come to expect from it, and was so much more satisfying than this year's DunDraCon.

Hitting the Bottom (Call of Cthulhu)
Most of us played professors that had burned down part of our university to stop a Mythos ritual encoded in a music performance, and were now hiding out in Seattle. I played a physicist with a scoped AR-15 and some proficiency in Martial Arts, which gives a good impression of the kind of game it was. We ended up saving some creature that was being tortured by a punk band managed by Men from Leng in a raid that killed half the party. That part was fun, but we spent a good fourth to a third of the game corralling one character that didn't want leave his mental treatment center and (we believed) we desperately needed to continue the story. That was not fun, at least for me, although, considering that player was voted best of the game, I'm assuming the other players had less of a problem with it. I like player conflict, even just internal conflict within a single character, but not when it goes on forever and turns into the rest of the group watching one player's performance. The GM did try to step in and force the player to get on board the plot, and ultimately it was an interesting story, but it seemed to get rushed near the end because so much of it was spent dealing with that one situation. That did a disservice to what might have been a really great game, but was still a pretty good one.

Operation Queckselbradler (Story Engine)
We were all (except for a British spy) the crew of an American B-17 bomber during WWII, who was assigned to bomb Hanover and then drop off the spy on the way back. After some nasty scrapes with ME-262s we ended up being catapulted through time into an alt-England where the Germans won the war. When the game started, it looked like it would only be three players, so I made a pilot character thinking we'd need one; but, then a bunch of folks turned up and I ended up playing a command role I didn't expect to. The system was designed to be very cinematic, so I had to cast my character (Brad Pitt's Aldo Ray from Inglorious Bastards, the only Southern kick-ass type in recent movies I could think of that wasn't Sawyer from Lost) and we rolled a group die roll to determine how the scene played out before we actually role-played it. It was like a lot of narrative games for me - great fun as a one-shot, but nothing I could see playing for even a short campaign. A very good GM though, and a good group of players.

Strange Bedfellows (Spycraft)
The last time I played Spycraft it was run by two of the most incompetent GMs I've ever played with, and my strongest memory was of spending most of an hour trying to get from one side of a balcony to another as we ran through the combat actions of over a dozen PCs. This was so much better, although I had a bit of a panic attack when I saw all the pages of character and equipment stats. We definitely seemed to play by the rules, but the GM had a steady hand on them, and they didn't turn out to be very difficult to learn once we got into the game itself. Having now played Spycraft with a good GM, I can say that the rules work well for a strongly tactical game, but are far too crunchy for me. Still, the game felt very cinematic and pulled off a bunch of over-the-top action scenes one would expect of a Bond movie.

Last Flight of the Cathay Clipper (Call of Cthulhu)
My game. This was a great bunch of players, and every single one of them really took ahold of their character and played it to their fullest. Besides playing with less people (a cap of 6 players) and speeding up the second half a bit, I didn't do anything particularly differently than before, but the game did seem to run a little more smoothly. My only complaint was myself: I felt really tired and bumbling through the whole game, and don't feel that I brought my A-game. I've decided to try and run my next con game on Friday evening (when I'll be fresh) and hopefully be a little slimmer and more healthy so that I'll have a higher energy level and a clearer mind.

Planasthai (Cinematic Unisystem)
Another really good game, this one based in the Star Trek universe (it was never settled whether it TOS or the "new movie" Trek). The Cinematic Unisystem rules (the same one used in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel games) worked flawlessly, and made me wish more GMs were still using that system because it works so well for genre games like this. Again, there was a great bunch of players, especially the one playing the Captain who did a dead-on impression of a starship captain somewhere between Kirk and Zapp Brannigan that still managed to be original. I played a Vulcan security officer, perhaps a little too strongly, as one of my friends (who also played in the game) was concerned afterward if I was feeling alright because I had been so quiet during the game. The game itself nicely captured the feel of a TOS episode, especially as it dealt more with philosophical issues of violating the Prime Directive than how awesomely we might blast monsters with our phasers.

The Replacements (Storyboard)
I didn't get into any of my choices for Sunday evening, so I threw caution to the wind and crashed into this game, mostly on the fact that I knew and liked the GM. A high-magic fantasy game about mephits who serve an elderly wizard too old to be adventuring that are sent on a deadly errand into the Underdark and face drow and spider queens is not my usual cup-o-tea, but, even though I was exhausted, it turned out to be a lot of fun. The game had the feel of a Miyazaki movie, at least to me, and was light-hearted and full of laughs. The Storyboard system worked fine, but it was (again) the high quality of the players and the creativity of the GM that really made the game for me.

The Backups (Mutants & Masterminds)
There were not a great deal of choices on Monday morning, and as this one was GM'd by a guy I used to play Shadowrun with, I thought I'd give it a try. It had some really good players who were also a bit loud, which faded out some of the other players at the table. All that became a non-issue once we got into the action, which was fun and well-paced but I get the feeling it was never as threatening as the GM intended it to be. The M&M system was easy to pick up, enough so that I might take a look at if I ever get another hankering to run a superhero game. The real highlight of the game was probably the greatest superhero character I've seen made for such a game: the Metagamer, a guy whose powers were that he knew he was in a role-playing game, and had the (limited) power to rewrite reality but also anything the player said at the table was always considered in-character. The guy who played Meta-Gamer did an exceptional job, and half the fun of the game was everyone just dealing with the nonsense created by the character interacting with the GM. A really good game.

I can't believe how good KublaCon ended up being. So many good games run by thoughtful and inspiring GMs trying to create something more than just the average con game, filled with people (I think there might've been a single game that didn't get filled-up by the shuffler) that were not all mouth-breathing, neck-bearded, morbidly obese, t-shirt torturing grognards. Which probably just means that I was that guy in the room for everybody else. It still worked for me.


Jim said...

Glad you had a good time Gil. I have sent this to the RPG coordinator of KC so that he knows that your GMs were great.

just another KC staffer

Scott said...

Great report, Gil! Was that you trying to get into my Agents of Oblivion game on Sunday afternoon???

Gil Trevizo said...

Yup, that was me. I was happy with the game I ended up getting in later that evening, but I still wish I gotten a chance to play your game. It looked awesome.

Steven Kaye said...

Hmm. I picked up Conspiracy X with the two Unisystem variants as a PDF a while back, will have to look at it again and see what I think of the system(s).