Rocking Games At CharCon

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to work with the great staff and fellow volunteer GMs at CharCon, a gaming convention in Charleston, WV (and a local-to-me convention). While not as big as some other conventions we here at Sticky Bunton have attended, it was still an interesting and fun event with lots of insanity that I’m here and willing to share.

==The Prepwork and Schedule==

Before CharCon rolled around, I was invited to be a volunteer Game Master for the event as a way to earn my badge, so I immediately signed up at the opportunity. This was doubly quick as I was asked to run The Dresden Files and given free reign to run anything else I wanted.

As I mentioned last week, I spent a fair amount of time writing up game sessions, character sheets, rules hacks, and many other elements for the games I was running. I also had a special project I was hoping to finish on time (and all-in-one GM Kit for Fate; I’ll talk about that in a later post), and I somehow pulled everything off with a day to spare for packing it all together. I’ll call that a win!

And it was enough to earn this shirt!

In the end, my schedule for the weekend was as follows:

  • Friday
    • 11am-2pm: Arrive, get badge, setup and see vendors.
    • 2-6pm: Confluence session (as a player)
    • 6-7pm: Dinner
    • 7-11pm: How I Spent My Haunted Vacation
  • Saturday
    • 8-9am: Arrive, set up.
    • 9am-1pm: Star Trek session (run by a friend; I was psuedo-second GM when needed).
    • 1-2pm: Lunch and setup
    • 2-6pm: How I Spent My Haunted Vacation
    • 6-7pm: Dinner and setup
    • 7-11pm: Mystery Science Cortex
  • Sunday
    • 8-9am: Arrive, setup up.
    • 9am-1pm: Mystery Science Cortex
    • 1pm-6pm: Lunch and unscheduled time to do whatever looked interesting.

As you can see, it was a pretty packed schedule. I wanted in on Confluence as it is only run at the con and is the only time I can play my Archer-ripoff character, and that Friday session was, quite frankly the only one I wasn’t already booked for.

I purposely left Sunday afternoon opened as I wasn’t sure how my voice was going to be, two games caught my eye (Numenera and 13th Age), and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be at any of the closing ceremony/raffle events.

As for what really happened, read on!

==The Games I Played==

My badge; yes, it does say The NPC

After getting my badge and doing a bit of running around for Confluence (see below for details) and buying a few things (like a Devil’s Trap for dice from Hrothgar’s Hoard and a print from Charles Urbach), I went to sit down and actually play a game of Confluence (powered by Fate Accelerated). Matt, the GM, ran a scenario called “Red Shirt Blues”, in which a redshirt was murdered on a ship and we had to solve the mystery.

The session was filled with plenty of comedy, ranging from my pet goblin building things from the damaged shuttle and nearly killing all of us to the character inspired by The Scarlet Pimpernel flirting with every woman he found (including the mantis-species nurse), the reanimated zombie-like gunslinger duking it out with the noir-era vigilante (both PCs), and general shenanigans. It was a great game to start the con with, that’s for sure!

The other game I played was “‘Round Perdition’s Flames”, a Star Trek Adventures session run by a friend of mine who was in my playtest group. The game was on Saturday morning at 9am, meaning it was a bit of an early start and we were both worried about people not showing. In reality, we had five total players, so I was asked to play my “second” character I statted for this: a Section 31 Spy that was to ensure certain things were destroyed.

In this game, I became more of a co-GM than a player, as I helped the GM with writing the adventure and the nature of my character, which is fine as it made the game that much more enjoyable for our players, two of which have never played the beta and did not know what to get into.

The game itself involved out ship, a Constitution-class vessel (in the same era as Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) being called in for an emergency situation: a science vessel with experimental technology was adrift and heading to the Klingon border, something the Federation brass didn’t want to happen due to the “nature of the technology.” Our goal was to repair the ship and recover whatever was possible.

My orders were the opposite: destroy it all.

I didn’t go in guns blazing, though.

It was some interesting roleplaying for me as I knew what was in store for the group, so I basically stuck to a co-GM role to explain rules as needed (or answer questions for players about rule possibilities while the GM was dealing with another player) and did my thing discreetly.

In the end, I did succeed by faking a virus on our ship, destroying all survivors outside of the PCs, destroying the ship, and escaping thanks to a Section 31 vessel waiting to pick me up if I succeeded or to finish the job if I failed.

People had fun; that’s what counts, ne?

The players loved it as it was a fun bit of storytelling, so I will take that and run.

==The Games I Ran==

For me, CharCon wasn’t all fun and games, but a great deal of work. I had two sessions of “How I Spent My Haunted Vacation” and two sessions of “Mystery Science Cortex” to run. Each game had a cap of six players, which two of the games hit, while the other two had five players and two players. Overall, there were twenty-four available seats and nineteen were filled. I’ll take that as a win!

Our rather full RPG room, with Star Wars, Cortex, and Call of Cthulhu being run simultaneously!

My first game was “How I Spent My Haunted Vacation” using Dresden Files Accelerated from Evil Hat. The game ran from 7-11pm on Friday night, and had six players, filling in the roles of a Warden, a Knight (of the Cross) in Training, the Emissary of the Ogre King, a Winter Sidhe Changeling, the Modern-Day Sherlock Holmes, and the Clued-In Cop.

The game went off as expected: each character arrived, got a room, did their own thing and then met for the “family dinner” that this place always hosts. They spent time conversing among each other, but also pressing the honeymooners and the family for information.

We jumped to the morning, in which everyone woke up freezing and the house buried under a dozen feet of snow…in July.

The group quickly banded together and began to explore the house. They found a dead body in the library of the owners’ oldest son with signs of ritual magic used during his death, leading the party around the house and the realization that both the parents and the honeymooners were influenced by mind magic to not know anything about what happened, to not see the eldest son’s body, and to not know about the existence of the second son. Their biggest compulsion was to sleep.

This lead the party to explore this cold house looking for clues.

Evil GM having an evil smirk? Maybe…

Upon reaching the kitchen, they found a warm, well-lit room with frozen waffles sitting out for them, a note saying that breakfast would be late but anyone can help themselves. The Emissary put waffles in while the party searched everything, from the pantry to the fridge to the lights themselves. When the toaster popped, a toasted human hand was there, pointing to the pantry; the Emissary said “Not Done” and pushed them back in.

The power went out again and things went back to “normal.” The search continued (after everyone got a solid laugh).

The group then found a body hanging from a chandelier in the dining room, one dressed in a proper suit of the Victorian era, and all of the lights sudden turned on…as gas lights. When the Knight went to cut him down, the man looked to a line of portraits on the wall before vanishing, plunging the room back into darkness.

After a brief combat to keep the group on their toes (from some suddenly appearing Hellhounds), they found that the portrait directly looked at was of the family, but the youngest son was burned out of it.

After some leaps in logic, investigation, and some Faithful assistance, the group eventually found the small basement, in which there was the youngest son and a creature from Beyond the Gates. It wasn’t fully here, and the group made sure it stayed that way: they attacked it, and the Modern Day Sherlock, who spent the game claiming that magic wasn’t real, attacked the boy and broke the circle, causing a backlash against him (among other problems).

No Time Paradoxes or Sixth Law violations occurred, but I think some players wished to have that option…

In the end, the group did overcome the beast (with the Warden burning EVERYTHING for a +19 roll, and the Knight finishing it off with a Sacrificial Blow), and the Sidhe Changeling protected the child from both the Cop and the Warden, claiming he was influenced by the creature. After the boy woke up and actually voiced in intentions and goals…that changed, and she killed the child herself. The Epilogue consisted of everyone getting the help they needed (mostly medical) and the players returning to their lives.

The second round of “How I Spent My Haunted Vacation” began the following day from 2-6pm, with a group of 5 players taking the roles of the Combat Medic, Emissary of the Ogre King, the Twice-Damned Sorcerer, Knight (of the Cross) in Training, and the Winter Sidhe Changeling.

This group dynamic was hilarious. While they finished the adventure, they did the same scenes with some minor differences but plenty of comedy gold, such as the Sorcerer summoning “Demon Lord Bill” and saying “Bill, even for a demon, you are sometimes kind of a dick” (he performed the ritual for information and was lead on in typical demon-dealing fashion), and the fact that the Emissary played himself as Mike Tyson a la Mike Tyson Mysteries. The group moved fast, joked often, and we had to have some downtime built into the game just to recover from the laughter.

I did change a few things of the game due to the pacing of the group, such as turning the honeymooners into a ‘glom-like Ghoul (which the Sorcerer blasted with Hellfire and Tyson blitzed with a broken door as a shield), adding a teleporting creepy doll to the collection of events, attacked the split party with smaller teams of Hellhounds, adding a few smaller red herrings, and overall just having fun.

Trying to fit EVERYTHING they did into words would be a blog post all it’s own, and really made me wish I could record games because of the degree of slapstick involved.

Like the first group, they also defeated the Big Bad with some injuries (many self inflicted), and a mundane character breaking the circle (the Combat Medic shooting the circle and not the boy), but this time, the Sorcerer dropped a heavy spell for a chunk of damage, and the Knight used Sacrificial Blow and other effects to have 9 damage as a base with 10 shifts on the attack roll (for 19 damage). Yet again, the Sidhe Changeling went to protect the boy, learned he murdered his brother, and was promptly killed by said Changeling via ice magic.

The ending of the game was a bit different; instead of resolving things “properly” (with the Council, police, Winter Court, etc), the group decided to bolt. The Knight was dropped at the hospital, the Changeling vanished into the Nevernever, and the other three burned the bodies, left a runaway note for the oldest son, and then ran away to solve mysteries they could find (as well as the closing image of the three of them killing a demon for Demon Lord Bill).

All-in-all, the games went surprisingly well, the players quickly picked up the mechanics (first round only had three people who were familiar with Fate, while the second had two), loved how many of the elements of The Dresden Files are adaptable and easy to tweak (like the “Magic Shotgun” brought out as an Enchanted Item, or the way Approaches could be justified), and I know more about how this version of the game handles. I’m looking forward to modifying the scenario properly for a later running (such as giving more optional events, red herrings, maybe a better map, and a stronger Big Bad that survives until the end of the second round).

My third game of the con was “Mystery Science Cortex” using the newest SRD of Cortex Prime from Magic Vacuum Design Studio. The game had all six players, and hilarity ensued between 7-11pm on Saturday.

A fun group with lots of dice on the table!

The game itself was a mystery: each character sheet was covered by index cards marked with a single letter, and players were selecting characters they knew nothing about. The reason?

The story had the players abruptly awakened from cryo sleep, leaving their minds and bodies a bit wonky. Over the course of the game, they explored the ship, fought the threat to the ship (that caused them to wake up), and unlocked more cards.

Out of character, the goal was to get them to learn the game as they went. For example, they started with their Distinctions during the intro, and got their Assets (gear) by opening their equipment lockers next to their pods. From there, they earned their Attributes during a fight against reanimated corpses, Skills against a blob-like entity that was chasing them through the engineering tubes, and their Powers during the showdown in Engineering as they learned that the core of this symbiote-like entity was feeding on the engines and spreading throughout the ship, controlling everything.

On the plus side, three of the players just came in from the Dresden game and were still in full-comedy mode, so when the Mike Tyson player got the medic, hilarity ensued which lead to comments from other players which lead to further breaks to let people recover from laughter.

The second game worked in a similar fashion, but only with two players (the crux of running the game on Sunday morning at 9am). We ran an abbreviated version of the adventure with a few different locations but a similar set of results: they unlocked their character sheets over the course of the game, learned what happened to the ship, and did what they could to take it back.

Going into detail for how the sessions panned out isn’t exactly easy to do, as they were just a collection of scenes (exploring parts of the ship I randomly generated), part combat (like fighting the nest of creatures), and part environmental (like when the Engineer decided he was going to manually reroute power via the Jeffries Tubes as a way to stop the ship without going to the cockpit).

In both games, the players did find the game easy to learn due to the way that the dice pool was staggered/earned (and not having a full sheet; most of the players stated they would have been confused with the full sheet at the beginning), but many players did struggle with how to build dice pools and how to use certain elements of their sheets (namely, justifying Distinctions or even Powers/Assets). I did realize that those who were die-hard Fate players found this part easy, and those that were more d20 players floundered a bit here. At first I wasn’t sure if it was timing (late night and early morning), but as this is something I’ve run into often when running Cortex at cons, I think it is something I need to work on before my next event.

Still, the players had a blast with it and would play it (or something) similar again, so I’ll take that as a win!

If anyone wants further, specific, or explicit details about the game, don’t hesitate to ask. I’d be more than happy to get all those details out to you.

==The Rest==

One of the fun parts of CharCon this year was the Murder Mystery. Travis, one of the staffers, was “murdered” before the con, and anyone who wished to solve the murder had to play the meta side of Confluence by going around the event to fulfill set tasks, get signatures, and acquire cards. Each of the cards this year are not only useful to the RPG side of Confluence (new Stunts and Aspects), but also helped with this con-wide version of Clue.

Some cards gave an advantage during the “showdown” at the end of the convention, in which everyone is given a chance to announce who they believe is the murderer and, unless someone gets it right, play a special card game to find the actual killer. The Confluence cards gave ways to slow down opponents and speed up your own investigation. Other cards helped narrow down the murderer, location, and the weapon choices.

In the end, due to the insane amount of running around I did, I was down to three locations, two weapons, and two suspects.

Once my games were done for the con, I decided to hang out in the Artist/Vendor area, mostly due to the Murder Mystery event running around 3pm, and attendance was mandatory for the chance to win. This was for the better for me, as it meant I was able to talk to a few more people and then take it easy before insanity kicked in.

TechCommander minis and a weblink on the paper there. Good looking stuff!

One of the groups I spoke to was Sea Dog Studios about their games Sail Power and Tech Commander. While I didn’t get a chance to play due to time, I got to talk shop about the models and gameplay, buy a model (a Superwarrior; second model from the right on the bottom row), hear about the development and inspiration, get regaled by stories of what old Battletech/Mechwarrior players have done with the game, and saw the awesome display as people were playing the game. It’s a pretty nice looking game with some awesome people behind it, so be sure to take a look. That, and the minis needed to play aren’t too expensive in the grand scheme of things (i.e. $40 is enough to get two 10mm mechs to pair off, and there are cheaper options still).

Everyone seemed to have fun with it, so now I’m curious.

I spent the rest of my downtime doing a “Paint and Take” sponsored by the local gaming shop Lost Legion Games – The Rifleman. Before this, I’ve never painted a mini before, but I have it my best and I’d like to think it turned out pretty well.

Decent first attempt or total crap? You decide!

While painting, I stopped long enough to succeed at the Murder Mystery (got it the first time; the rest of the game didn’t happen), dropped my winnings (raffle tickets) into a few bins, won a copy of 5-Minute Dungeon with said tickets, and chatted with people about recent events and games. Overall, it was a good time.

Even with the pain of hobbling around, it was still awesome to win this :-D

==CharCon Post-Mortem==

Now that CharCon is over, I’m sure you are wondering: will you be going back?

The short answer: yes.

The long answer: I’m giving CharCon 2017 a 4-bun rating, mostly due to potential.

For an event that changed both venue and dates recently, it still had decent attendance with dedicated people (staff, volunteers, and GMs), good scheduling, fun guests (mostly artists and local groups), interesting vendors, and overall a good program.

The layout of the location did create some problems for me (RPG was literally at the other end of the building from the rest of the events), and the location did have a no outside food or drink policy in place (a pain for someone who couldn’t walk out to get food due to injury and time), and the badges were cardboard (I lost track of how many badges ripped), but it was a great first time here.

In the end, I am really looking forward to CharCon next year, and hope they will be up for allowing me to return to run games and/or bring The NPC into the fold.

You can learn more about CharCon by visiting the website or Facebook page.

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