Thursday, May 30, 2013

40 Degrees Means Party Time: Dark Gathering '13

"In Russia Time is Travel and Distance Makes Rate"

Between 7:30 and 8:00, the Friday evening games took off, not on schedule by any means, but that is because it didn't matter. Gatherings, hoots, are like a retreat for conventioneers needing to relax from obsessive compulsion disorders. The Kruppa's "Mystery At Knobbe Hill," using his Lucid Dreams game engine, I believe, grabbed most of us. While Brandon and Don, Doc Time and Kalt from here on, pulled Ccrabb and me into "The Night Sculpture," for their Time Shredders RPG. At the same time Peryton was en route from Cleveland, and nice enough to call me at various points along the drive-- in case I got lucky with one of the housekeeping staff, I wanted plenty of warning after all.

I was really impressed with the Sculpture. It was a pretty horrific bang 'em up/shoot 'em up that us gamers love using an idiosyncratic but established time travel milieu, that I found seductive. I got to play a KGB agent from 1978 while everyone else played a veteran time traveler, so I had even more fun-- my fake Russian is awesome. And my agent already on the ragged edge of things, caught on quickly. The title to this section is a quote of which I am particularly proud of. Right around 9:30pm Peryton showed up, and watched the final quarter of the session.

You are going to hear more from me about this game. I intend on transferring about 90 pages of material to the Time Shredder system, after some of it goes to Qalidar first. I am thinking of a Time Travel hoot in 2014 in Rhode Island. Mind you, this will not replace the Dark Gathering. More on this other times.

Some time after midnight, Andre's game wrapped up. Everyone was quite impressed with his rules, I could tell by the beaming smiles. And the after-party ensued. Now in case you haven't heard, the Cleveland-New England connection is a bit famous, maybe even infamous, for our after-parties. And this one was no exception. The night's dancing horse was a "Levels: Love Them? Hate Them?" debate, performed with grand theatrics and high rhetoric. It's kind of a blur to me, but I do remember swearing that I could survive two heart attacks or something. Peryton was all smiles, and she was happy to be among our friends, which is what made me exceptionally happy.

I think the night wrapped up around 4:30 for me. Not sure.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Piecing the Dark Gathering 2013

Besides my need of a vacation the portents for this year's Dark Gathering indicated nothing but it being awesome.

Flight By Night

As some of you might've heard, I traveled by bus to Syracuse. Folks were showing up early, Hrothgar as early as Wednesday night. Peryton wasn't going to take any time off of work, heck she wasn't even going to leave town earlier than 4:30 on Friday.  I hadn't taken some time off of my schedule for long enough that I was going stir crazy. Staying in town for Thursday and Friday just wasn't an option for me though. I opted for a late Wednesday night departure, I always like night travel when I am not driving. Not much to speak of here, the trip wasn't unpleasant and chatted up and befriended, not the Facebook way, a couple kids. One was going to see her boyfriend while the other was coming home from seeing hers. It did reaffirm my dislike of the Amish, they tend to be rude and huddle in mobs-- don't they have horses or Mennonites or something to ride around on? Folks had to repeatedly have to ask them to move piles of their collective luggage from in front of cell-phone charging spots and water facets. Those that are on the same bus, also like to block off a whole section of seating for themselves. And then move around the bus looking to put their feet up after they realize how much they crowded themselves in earlier.

Thursday morning proved to be bit of fun and discovery. The bus routes to Syracuse go right past the Maplewood Hotel, and the bus station itself is only about three miles down the road. And there is a diner less than a quarter mile away from the terminal that opened early and had WiFi to amuse myself with. I phoned Hrothgar at the crack of dawn to let him know I was in town. While we electronically formulated plans, I figured out how to download free map and weather apps onto my Kindle, just in case I ended up having to hike it to the hotel. I was like living in a world of cyberpunk with omelets and coffee.

Hrothgar and wife, and one of their kids, showed up for breakfast in a bit. It was a pleasure meeting her. I thought I knew something about travel, but she's something of an action hero. After 10 am, the wife and kid departed leaving the two gamers at the front door of this year's Dark Gathering. We spent the afternoon developing characters for Crawlspace, and discussing the mechanics a bit. And there was some napping. Dude, it was the start of a vacation for both of us.

The Kahunas Gathering 

David, err Hrothgar and I were having a drink in the Carnegie bar, a part of the resort, when Wotan and Rainbow Chick showed up. Rainbow Chick stole some poor nine year-old's chair, and of course a party ensued. Contact with CCrabb and the Kruppa would prove problematic. Something to do with lighting arrays and too much luggage, so the four cool kids (us) ended up playing in Petra's Fiasco game on Thursday night. It was an awesome game, really a good krimi-tale starring Taye Diggs, Ray Liotta, Mark Wahlberg, and Linda Lohan (I dunno the exact spellings of the stars so bear with me).

Everyone was pretty well wiped out by midnight after a couple nightcaps.

Friday morning, I awoke wanting a breakfast. I actually just had a turkey sandwich the morning before. Hrothgar and I were both without a car or, amazingly, any cold weather clothing. It was brutal as we walked over to a Dennys. At least this year's weather had provided a good reason for us to stay inside, and some cases tape up the windows. Wotan texted me right as we were finishing up the meal. I replied, 'Just finishing up breakfast at Dennys. Come have some coffee.'

When Scott declined I sent another text, 'No seriously. It's frigging cold outside. Please come pick us up!'

The afternoon game was an impromptu Crawlspace scenario based off of a news tidbit that Wotan and Rainbow had supplied, Stonehenge was looking for a care-taker. And so the plot idea for 'The Monolith Keeper' was inspired, and the story ensued from there. The tone was pretty light and breezing, and the action was pretty R-rated, but a good tribute to Sandra Dee's The Dunwich Horror played itself out nicely I though. Wotan really helped me clarify the damage mechanics for the system. Just before the end of the session, Brandon Osorio, Don Winters, the Kruppa, and Ccrabb all walked into the room looking for a game. In quick order, pizza was ordered and everyone started working on the hard bits of the schedule for the weekend. Hrothgar, Wotan, Rainbow and I all looked at each other, because the weekend had started about 24 hours earlier.

Monday, May 20, 2013

It's Cthulhu. It's Not Cthulhu.

You've probably heard parts of today's blog before. But not because I am going senile... I think.

Last August during late night GenCon sessions, I had the misfortune to lose all my prepared material for them. As if as a metaphor coming to life, my very old, over 20 years-old, copy of the Call of Cthulhu rules book "ate" the material. Twice. Yes, two times. Really. The perfect binding has developed gaps where neatly arranged loose pages worked their way into the bulk and stayed connected. Those of you that have ever gamed with me, know that I was not going to go through the text and turn page by page looking for the work. I just figured the material fell out while I was hiking from the Dealer's Hall to the hotel conference room, so I improvised.

I had the players develop characters on a half sheet of paper, for four broad stats, or STATS as I like to type them, plus thought up a matrix to randomize their Sanity rating. I discussed with each of them what type of character that they wanted to play, and we mutually came up with three skills for them. I threw out three arbitrary percentages for the skills to be assigned by the player to those skills. I then gave them two minutes to write a list of important items that would be available to the character during the game. It worked well and the dice rolling resembled BRP.

These two incidents, out of the three late night games, I ran started a fire in the back of my brain. Now I already had a set of horror rules, Crawlspace. But these rules were basically written up to give actual form to an amorphous set of guidelines that Monk and myself were using for horror scenarios in our shared TAG d6 system. We hadn't done much with them because we haven't had anytime over the last few years to game together (a situation which we must amend).

At the same time, not literally, Andre Kruppa's and I have been corresponding, if FacetuBe comments count as such, about horror role-playing. Now, to me, the Kruppa is the master of horror role-playing. Besides his name invoking images of Dagon and a grouper in my fevered mind, which I mean as a compliment; he is a GMs' GM. He likes to turn his scenario sessions into little sit-down theaters through not going LARP with them-- knowing not to is a sign of refinement in my book for sure. He doesn't have a long background in theater, so I feel that I can provide some pointers here and there. But mostly I watching him "craft" master performances from the players in his parlor.

We share a common problem along with a common background as not typical CoC-dudes. We both love CoC, but don't want to craft all of our works around Lovecraft, its mythos, and its fans' canon. Doing generic horror for Chaosium is problematic, as the Cthulhu crowd likes a certain format and style of game session, which many of our separate works do not fit. Him and I have been discussing whether to craft our own individual horror systems or not.

These days, my horror TAG system is being made obsolete by JerryTel's Stay Alive. I shouldn't sell myself short, but I really want to give this little side project of his some room. He has some real practical solutions for grit and detail in a T&T-derived system, that I think are inspired.

I decided to rework my RPG settings this year, as you probably already know. A couple are very close to being ready for release. My TROTT system, Tom's Really Outstanding Table-Top game, Different dice, much more detail, but hopefully very efficient. But Crawlspace, MY horror system, poor hiding redheaded child that it is, just wasn't special enough to compete with other rule systems without a twist. I did mention that a fire had started burning in the back of my head though. Well, the cleared foliage had left some fertile soil for seeds.

Sometime in March or April, I did some impromptu Play-by-Posting with Tom Grimshaw over at the Peryton Publishing FacetuBe page. It was a fun day. I used a card-based randomization system that I developed to avoid numeric amounts. Using a playing cards and success being determined by closeness of the cards, it helps avoid cheating by the participants. And then later that night, I sat down to work on my horror scenario for this years Dark Gathering in Syracuse, NY. I looked at the computer screen for a second...

WALLAH! I took my old Crawlspace manuscript, and its mostly completed revision, and reworked it entirely. Applying the principles for my Play-by-Posting playing card conventions, and a joke used in the original writing and I had a very unique game. Catering to long-term players with a fresh, newer angle. Movie fans will get it and it will encourage theatricality in my own minimalistic GM way. And simple enough for rapid generation for late night crises. The cards themselves turn the play session into something resembling a parlor game, which is where I like horror role-playing to sit. A level of intimacy, always helpful with horror, with flexibility as to where and how it can be played out.

And then five days later, I completed my scenario for the Dark Gathering. I even felt confident enough to format my late night scenarios for this year's GenCon. Not confident enough to not put the word "Cthulhu" in the edition block, which is after all the official play-testing edition. Okay. Okay. A cheap  trick, but hey all is fair in table-top filling, at least for the first year. We'll see how the players feel about the scenarios as they step into my parlor.