Gaining Bonus XP at CharCon Bonus Round

While not an event I was asked to attend as The NPC, CharCon’s Bonus Round Weekend snuck it’s way into my docket due to a friend, member of my playtest crew, and fellow Fate GM who wanted to spice up the game selection at CharCon outside of his usual groups (Pathfinder and SPARKS Star Wars) asking rather politely if I could join in.

Offering me a badge if I ran four sessions over the course of a two day convention was just the semantics to make it happen.

So how’d things go? Well, let’s take a look!

==The Overview==

CharCon Bonus Round Weekend is an offshoot of the main event of CharCon. It’s very much a laid back, small-scale gaming convention in which people show up, play games, and hang out.

Not many cosplays were here unless they were part of a group or publicity. This is Braxxie.

This year’s advertised highlights were meeting Braxxie (a local urban legend/cryptid/alien sighting), local Ghostbuster and Mandalorian Merc groups, some local artists (including the creator of the local monster lanterns that depict Braxxie), and an appearance by Jeremy Ambler (a walker in the Walking Dead). This was all on top of a full schedule of tabletop RPGs, a section of the event space dedicated to Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator, and plenty of board games that you could play to win.

Outside of Jeremy Ambler not showing up, the rest of the event seemed to go as planned…except smaller than I personally expected.

==The Good==

The people I ran into were, for the most part, excellent people. The staff were polite, excited to have people there, and actually made me feel like I was more like a new addition to the family and not just someone there as an attendee (doubly so when they realized that I was volunteering, bringing donuts, and was “the guy running Star Trek”). The attendees were also pretty great, laid back people that were up for shenanigans, which is always something that makes the con worthwhile.

Game selection was also well done for a small space. At any time, you’d find the Pathfinder Society running something, but you also had SPARKS Star Wars (a living campaign), a GM running a con-based Meta RPG using Fate Accelerated called Confluence, a gentleman running demos of Metal, Magic, and Lore, the crew running the Artemis Bridge Simulator, a station to paint miniatures (which people were able to take afterward), and a number of other games (including Aerodrome). There really was something for everyone here, and I was rather pleased with that.

On a fun note, there were plenty of opportunities to win things during the event. One of the event hosts had a prize wheel and a raffle, and the convention itself offered a number of board games to “Play to Win” (play the game, enter to win it), a raffle for next year’s CharCon Bonus Round tickets, and another raffle to win various other prizes. Granted, some of these cost money to enter, but it was still pretty interesting to see.

==The Bad==

Scheduling overall was an issue with the event. Apparently, LexiCon, a board game convention in Lexington, KY, was scheduled the same weekend, and as it was a larger event (and not much further away), it drew a number of potential attendees away.

The event was also competing against Free Comic Book Day, which also drew attendees away. Let’s face it: who can compete against free, especially if you can get a small convention experience at the same time?

The next issue was the lack of programming besides the gaming. There were a few minor events like photo-ops, but the event lacked in the usual parts of a con such as panels or other discussions (those were severely lacking, honestly). It really did boil down to “Let’s get a bunch of gamers together and play,” which is the point of the event but did leave something to be desired.

The venue also had a few odd rules, such as no outside food or drink (while they served some over-priced generic hot dogs, burgers, and fries), which was a bit of a downer for me (and caused some interesting workarounds).

==The Mixed==

CharCon Bonus Round has redefined “small con” for me. When I was told it was small, I was thinking “Oh, like Sangawa, or maybe an early Setsucon.” I was planning my games and expecting somewhere closer to 500 people. Instead, I’d be shocked if we had over 150. This is both good and bad, as it meant there was more opportunities to socialize and get to know people, but it also meant there were fewer people for games and the like.

A photo around 2pm on Saturday. There was a row of table like the one you see here behind me, and tables for artists/board games beyond the clothing rack. Small space, not many people.

As a small con, everything was put into a single, small room. On the upside, it made everything easy to find and make it a bit more “cozy,” easier to socialize, and to find what was going on. On the downside, it meant there was little to do outside of that room, and there was noise pollution no matter what you wanted to do, whether it was a rambunctious gaming group, the Red Alert klaxon from Artemis, or any other number of noises. It proved to be distracting, but due to the low population at the event, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

==What I Did==

Before the event began, I was given a schedule for my games, which was as follows:

  • Saturday, 9am-1pm: Kobayashi Maru To You Too (Star Trek Adventures)
  • Saturday, 2pm-6pm: Drink Up Me Hearties (7th Sea 2nd Edition)
  • Saturday, 7pm-11pm: Adrift in the Unknown (Star Trek Adventures)
  • Sunday, 9am-1pm: USS Make Stuff Up (Star Trek Adventures)

I showed up early on Saturday morning (just shy of 8am) to ensure I had enough time to grab my badge, unload the car, and set up the table for my first game. Getting the badge was simple, and the people at the table were really great and nice (and once they found out who I was, expressed that they got a kick out of the idea of The NPC and the games I was hosting).

I then spent some time setting up my table and answering questions for my first player to arrive: a member of my playtest group who spent time to create a captain specifically to play Kobayashi Maru To You Too.

He was the only one to show up, outside of another member of my playtest group showing up an hour and a half later as I was packing up.

At least I spent my downtime getting a few photos here and there.

I spent that window between my flopped game and my next session talking to people at the event, seeing what was overall going on, scheduling for a session of Artemis with a friend (waitlisted as we didn’t have a crew of five), and trying out Metal, Magic, and Lore. That was an interesting game, but combat might be a bit too brutal for my taste, as a single non-critical hit can kill your character outright, but the detail in the book (down to the economies and how items are made) makes the game work looking into.

After playing a round of that and grabbing lunch, I went and set up for my second game. I had a few people come by early as they were heading to lunch and asking what 7th Sea was as they never heard of it, but once the game time rolled around, I only had one player again. I did a small combat demo, had someone come in over an hour and a half late (again) and ask if we could run the scenario, and I packed up the game due to lack of players.

At this point, I was pretty bummed. I was 0-2 for running games (the lowest I’ve been at a convention, EVER), and as I was waiting to see if I had any stragglers during the first hour, I couldn’t hop in to any of the other games. I was also a bit peeved as the two games I put the most time into writing and preparing for were flops, and it has further cemented the feeling that I am cursed when it comes to running 7th Sea 2nd Edition (three campaign attempts have flopped since last June). Obviously, feeling down and frustrated and I could have easily just given up and gone home at that point.

Instead, I talked to people a bit more, wrote a bunch of notes for a Fate hack I’ve been working on, and finally got in a game of Artemis.

An empty bridge, waiting for a group.

Not going to lie, the game is fun. It still needs some work to be an ideal game, but it’s a hoot. This version had five consoles, with each console representing a bridge station and set tasks. Tactical would set target locks and fire the various weapons, as well as change beam frequencies to allow better damage to opponents. Helm (my role) steered the ship, which doesn’t sound like much until you are bypassing a minefield and into a fleet of oncoming vessels. Engineering would redirect and collect power for various systems to keep us in the fight (and to fix damaged systems, like when we lost Warp capabilities). Our Science and Comms stations were combined to perform various scans and receive transmissions (normally they are two stations). The Captain would receive info on his screen and relay orders to the rest of us.

Our session went pretty well. We started off with a basic “Go and stop this fleet” scenario, which then turned into an ambush in a nebula and took some creative flying through said nebula to take advantage of everything to get us into a better position. Our group was pretty hodge-podge and never worked together, but we did get out of it alive at the very least.

Added hilarity: my friend here was playing the Captain was dressed in a Star Wars Grand Admiral uniform.

It was an hour of time eaten up, and I do think it was an $8 well spent to help pass the time I had to kill.

(Note: If you like Star Trek/Star Wars and the idea of working with friends on a spaceship, you will probably want to look into Artemis. Pricing isn’t bad: $40 for a DRM-free copy, $6.99 for one copy on Steam, and $2.99 for mobile. You can purchase the game here.)

I was worried when 7pm rolled around, though. I set up the table with ships, character sheets, dice, and everything, and had two players before the session began; one of them being a staffer that checked me in that morning and voiced interest in the game. As they went through the characters, I stepped away to grab some water and find a restroom; upon returning, I had gone over my maximum table of eight by having nine players.

The session for Adrift in the Unknown started a bit bumpy as everyone tried to grasp the system, get used to their characters, and get into the groove of working with each other (a bit rough with some of the players, I must admit). Thankfully, two of the players were mainstays of my playtest group and helped keep things moving, as well as keep things interesting. In the end, the group repaired their ship enough to get moving, caused massive structural damage to a Borg ship, teleported the boarding Borg into a wormhole, and then got back into Federation space over the course of the four hour session (with only two people leaving). I’ll call that a success!

I drove home after the game and came back in first thing on Sunday for my next game: USS Make Stuff Up. I was pleasantly surprised to find four of my players from the previous night return, one of my usual testers arrive a little late due to his game not running, and a new player due to wanting to get the necessary signatures for Confluence. The group did exactly what the game session was designed for: they did technobabble, they fought people, they blew up everything that harassed them, and they proved that the game could handle most of what they wanted. The group had a blast, even though I was horribly sleep deprived (about 3 hours of sleep) and a bit off-kilter.

Once my game was done, I grabbed lunch, looked into a few things, and then parked myself at a friend’s table for a game of Confluence.

Confluence is a Fate Accelerated-powered game set in a confluence of multiverses, and it allows players to be from ANYWHERE with ANYTHING going for them. The main city, for example, as a gate large enough for a runway to be a viable method to line up vehicles to access the gate, and that runway has everything from mecha to WWII fighter planes to living mounts.

The game differs from Fate in a rather interesting way, which is great for newbies to the game (but slightly irritating to an old hand like myself): you don’t get to pick everything for your character. As you play the game, you gain “cards” that have Aspects and Stunts, as well as Extras (gear, companions, vehicles, etc) that you use in lieu of a standard character sheet. In fact, your character only starts with the High Concept, Trouble Aspect, Approaches, and MAYBE one Stunt of your own creation. Everything else must be from the cards that you have collected, and if you are a new player, you only have access to the cards that are freely available. Cards are acquired by playing the game and by playing the “Meta” side of it.

The “Meta” of this RPG is very similar to what I do as The NPC, and is something that the creator of the game and I have started to discuss. There’s a sheet for the game that can be picked up at the con, and as you go through the event and do things (such as meeting a specific artist, finding designated cosplayers, or play set games), you “unlock” new cards for your character.

From last year’s Bonus Round Weekend. Fill the row, get the card when you “cash out.” You don’t know the card until you cash out, so you often have to guess and hope for the best.

And before you ask, yes, I am discussing new ways to add more meta shenanigans to this. It should be fun.

Still, the game did prove to be hilarious. Our group consisted of a gunslinging cowboy with a lightsaber, a Pandroid (Panda-like android), a Gorilla Detective (“Planet of the Apes, 1930s” was the explanation), a hard-partying birdman that apparently changed his form often (“I’m a bald eagle this time” was the description), and my own character: a blacksmith from a medieval setting who is the Guardian of the Infinite Armory (a nod to Unlimited Blade Works).

Our group was sent to Kentucky to find out what’s been causing issues, and learned that there were some Goblins stealing various bits of technology and cobbling them together into a giant machine for a nefarious purpose (as well as variety of weapons). We had a number of hilarious and heroic moments, ranging from shield surfing through a dark wood to find a sniper thanks to a patch of ice to how the group handled the Mad Max-inspired Power Wheels to the “Miller Time Skeet Shoot” at the final battle. It was hilarious, and it was great to be a player instead of a GM for once.

That was the end of Bonus Round for me, but I’m really looking forward to going back next year if they’ll have me and seeing what other shenanigans I can take part of.

==CharCon Proper==

CharCon‘s main event will be taking place from July 21-23 at the Clay Center in Charleston, WV. I’ve been asked by a few staff (and even a few regular vendors) if I’d be willing and able to attend, and I’m working on that right now. The RPG head would like me to come in and run some games of Dresden Files Accelerated due to a request he was given, and he and I (as well as a few others) are discussing what sort of NPC-related shenanigans I can bring to the con without breaking the bank in the process.

If all works out, I will be at CharCon for all three days, running games at the very least (curious what else to run besides Dresden, if anything), and doing minor NPC antics if I can pull it off.

And hopefully I won’t feel like I’m being ganged up on.

==So What’s Next?==

Outside of preparing for CharCon proper, I have a PILE of books to get back to reading and reviewing, as well as a playtest on the docket that I am trying to finish up. That whole list of all of my recent events and upcoming goals can be found here, but if you want the rundown of what I’m reading, seeing, or working on:

  • 7th Sea Second Edition: Nations of Théah Volume 2 (PDF arrived while I was at Blackstone Raids)
  • Unity: RPG early-view documents (backed on Kickstarter; not sure when I’ll see the final materials yet)
  • Scion 2nd Edition (waiting for an update on final release as the May release isn’t happening)
  • Blades in the Dark review (still waiting for my copy to arrive)
  • Writing two hacks for Fate and one for Cortex as a fun challenge to play with the systems.
    • Speaking of Cortex, did you hear about the Cortex Prime Kickstarter? A friend of mine is writing a Kaiju section for it! Much excite!
  • Catching Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, Pirates of the Caribbean 5, and possibly King Arthur at some point this month.
  • FINALLY getting a real Figma. Should arrive within the next month or two, so I can do a side-by-side comparison as I’ve done in the past with off-brand LEGO.
  • Looking at writing a post about the card game Weiss/Schwarz.
  • Waiting for more news about the finalization on the Open Legend rulebook.
  • Waiting on more news about the game Dialect. The newest update states that the PDF should be out this July, so I can get to reading it sometime this summer.

That sums up what’s on my docket at the moment. There’s PLENTY going on, as you can tell, so stay tuned and see what’s going to happen next!

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