Getting conned at con games

A brief recap of the bad times I had at conventions, getting really close at completing a record of all the times I’ve roleplayed. I could call this “It sucked every time I didn’t play Call of Cthulhu.”
These were all at the aforementioned comic cons at Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina. It was called Leyendas and doesn’t exist anymore; in its place there’s another one called Crack Bang Boom, which I think it’s managed by some, but not all, of the same people as before. My previous Leyendas-related entry was Cthulhu: My first time roleplaying, and to see about my other roleplaying experiences you can read Toon: All the times I couldn’t get it to work and Cthulhu, again (and again): The RPG that never let me down by me, and Cold Soldier in La Plata by Ron. Luckily for length purposes, I don’t remember much from these. So this one’ll be database-entry style, in as much cronological order as I can manage.
Legend Of The Five Rings: It was a heavily railroaded adventure, with pregenerated characters, but some interesting combat. It was my second time roleplaying, the day after Cthulhu. Most guys and girls in the group knew each other beforehand and were used to playing with one another. I actually got along really well with them, but in retrospect they had this very obvious, not-going-to-talk-about-it interpersonal drama, as I’ve seen once and again over the years in some closed, “alternative” groups – whether it’s anime and manga fans, goth kids, online gamers, that… thing of “be our friend, we’ll be this freaky despised secret elite and it’ll be glorious, also I kissed your girlfriend because the rules of society don’t apply to us”. Anyway, back to the point but a bit among those lines, what I remember about the game it’s that when our characters camped, one of the players whispered something to the GM. I think he was the character that we had chosen to be on guard, and the GM didn’t tell us anything but I guess the character… stole something? Hurt someone? We were supposed to be fantasy asian warriors of different clans, and some of them were supposed to be rival clans. We were in a mission to… I don’t remember, travelling through the desert, but some powerful NPC had came from a battlefield and given us a scroll and some orders. The other players mentioned he was a VIP and when I asked what was that, they told me it was a “canon” character, from the stories that accompanied the game.
Two cherries on the top about this: When I left I forgot my backpack, and when I got back and got it the GM “jokingly” told me he had almost stole it from me, because it was literally under his own backpack and it couldn’t be seen. Also, there was a bit on the adventure about some flower with special properties that grew on a swamp… The GM had even accepted great praise from the other players for coming up with it, and its surrounding plot. As the greatest coincidence ever, when I got back to La Plata a few days later, I was telling my father about the game and accidentally knocked off some old comic books from his bookshelf. When I picked them up I saw an old 1970s sword and sorcery adventure with the same plot, mysterious flower on the swamp and all. I couldn’t believe it. The GM, versed in comics, had lifted the plot verbatim from an adventure of the sumerian warrior wanderer Nippur de Lagash, knowing that none of his friends would ever touch an Argentine comic in their lives.
Paranoia: Actually I had a pretty good time! This tale goes with the theme of me not respecting what I promess in the title, like the “Cthulhu never fails” post opening with one time it totally did. I had read SO MUCH about this game, and was very eager to try it. It wasn’t the greatest thing ever, but as we’ve discussed on the comments of the posts about Toon and Dungeon World (Toon: All the times I couldn’t get it to workA Session of Dungeon World), it was random enough, and really funny. It makes a great contrast with the LO5R experience, because here we were almost “doomed” to betray each other, get killed by the computer, fail in increasingly funny ways, etcetera. A fun mess. As I recall we all got secret personal objectives to go with the main mission (related to…, was it resealing a part of the complex that had opened itself up to the outer world and nature?), all related to various mutant or secret groups we were part of. That made the behaviour of the other players also unpredictable. As I stated on the comments of the Dungeon World post, I’d wager Costikyan’s designs lend themselves pretty well to generating surprise, but surprise is only half of humor.
WEG Star Wars: As I recall, we never could get past the first combat of the session, against droids in a hallway. Zero character development. All strategy and aiming and positioning, and not of the I’ll-be-clever-and-affect-things kind, just the roll-forever kind. I was really dissapointed because all I had heard about this game was praise, even warnings against playing newer versions.
Aquelarre: Actually, Aquelarre and another one more game as well, but I can’t remember the other. I have them both mixed up because they were gamemastered by the same guy. Even though I played them a year apart, both times the table was populated by random people plus the GM’s best friend, whose character got to be the protagonist of the story and get all the best stuff happen to him. I seem to remember one final scene that was in a sort of gladiatoral arena. After the fight had ended, my character the bard had the option to go make out with some hot chicks. I declined. The GM didn’t get it. His friend had gotten, I dunno, weapons and treasure. Every character was getting something, but what would I, as a player, get out of having my character be succesful with the ladies? It seemed so lame and it reminded me of the stuff I read about in the Forge, and to be fair probably Costikyan videogame design writings as well, that it makes no sense to give a player an in-fiction “reward” that doesn’t mean anything to him or her in real life – a reward for the character, not the player. The other thing I remember about that game is that I got bored halfway through, left to see Quique Alcatena draw autographed illustrations for the fans, and got back an hour later for the final battle. Accompany me in letting go of bad game experiences and marvel at how awesome Alcatena is:
And that’s it. A while ago I figured that, since I had so little experience on the whole in roleplaying, I could make the effort to have it all written down, and see what I can reflect upon – what comes up. Next time I’ll wrap up this little project of mine by covering the times I tried to play at home with “no system”. Thoughts and questions welcome, though I acknowledge I’m totally lacking on details – this may be little more than cathartic, but valuable for me nonetheless.

10 responses to “Getting conned at con games”

  1. Curses

    The only one I was really interested in was the one that you barely participated in. I'll have to look up Aquelarre – any information you can provide would be appreciated.

    The portrait you've painted here and with the previous posts raises a question I've considered before: that for someone who at least partly identifies as a role-player, the activity itself seems so fraught. Difficulty in getting to play at all, and with whom; edgy and often outright strange dynamics back-and-forth between playing and socializing; uncertainty and even opacity concerning the procedures and permissible actions of play …

    • Oh, my, I took it as a given

      Oh, my, I took it as a given you guys had heard about Aquelarre! I'm told it's the biggest Spanish game. Sadly, I don't know much about it, except that for a Spanish-speaking person, no matter the continent, it's one of the, say, "common games", one that you wouldn't be surprised to find at a table. (For comparison, Toon isn't, neither is Fudge and – well, I've never heard of Latin American GURPS players.) You know, those 80s-90s games, like AD&D, Shadowrun, Call Of Cthulhu, Middle Earth, Paranoia, WEG Star Wars, LO5R, Vampire… I suppose it must be different for Spaniards, but to us they're all foreign games.

      Aquelarre's premise is that it's set in the actual medieval times of Spain, but with every belief of the times being real. Demons, witches, alchemy, and I suppose fairies and imps as well? I have no idea how well the game lived up to the premise, but a lot of people played it like it was another flavor of D&D.

      You should ask a Spanish gamer!


      Regarding "fraught": Yes. So much yes. That's pretty much the angle I was thinking on, for my next and last post. As you say about painters, who knows what I'll actually do when I get to that piece of blank canvas. But I'm thinking of ending on a note of "Well… Now what the hell am I supposed to do, world? I'd like to have available simple principles to prepare a game and play with some friends, avoiding all of that shit, thank you very much." The hobby has come so far, but it still seems to me like a sunk cost nightmare. I bet it takes an effort not to try to "force fun" at the table, under the weight of all the prep that's been done and all the previous experiencies of failure.

    • That is an extremely accurate

      That is an extremely accurate description of the state of play, almost to a hobby-defining degree. It's compounded by a lack of useful language to address it, especially at a casual and pragmatic level, and also by the ongoing identity-games. The latter used to be title-specific, "we play Mage" as opposed to "we play Warhammer," or whatever (insert any titles you want), based on sunk-cost for a zillion products for each title. Now it's more social-media and fake-community based … as if the store context were gone, and good riddance, but supplanted by the convention atmosphere all day, all the time.

    • I play semi-regularly with

      I play semi-regularly with Spanish nationals, but we've been playing and talking mainly about independent and relatively recent publishing there. One game we played was Ablaneda, which now surprises me in that its premise seems mighty close to that of Aquelarre. My impression may not be accurate due to low information so far, however, if it's right or almost right, that may be another case of "new! indie! game!" which happens to be "and just like the old one!" in terms of content.

    • Regarding Aquelarre, yes, it

      Regarding Aquelarre, yes, it is considered the grand daddy of Spanish RPGs. It is the first RPG made in Spain, on 1990, and it is still being played and sold to this day. In fact, Ablaneda was pitched to me as the "indie" version of Aquelarre. I'm not that familiar with the system or the setting myself, as this game pre-dates me, but I can dig up anything you want.

      Also, you may be happy to know that the game was translated to English through a successful Kickstarter a couple of years ago. But, as far as I can see, it hasn't been released yet. Pre-orders are available though.

      Another interesting Spanish-made RPG that has been translated to English is "Innocents", a horror game in which the protagonists are children and tries to explore the fears of childhood. So basically the Spanish version of Little Fears. And this one is available for purchase right now.

      I had completely forgotten this games were translated when were making plans to play, sorry for that. Also, I'm not providing links because I'm not sure about the policy regarding external links, but I'm happy to give them if you want. But google should do the job as well.

      Anyway, if you have any other question about Spanish RPGs, I'll do my best to answer them.

  2. Yes, Alcatena is awesome…

    …and you were totally right in dropping out a boring game to see him! (Sadly, in Italy he was almost always published in cheap newstand comic books, with cheap reproduction, I would love to see more of his comics in a better format)

    Dropping out of a convention game…  for years it was a tabù for me. I have played really a lot of boring railroaded games at conventions for years, but I always remained up to the end, to avoid being disrespecteful to the GM. It did take a while to realize that the GM was the one disrespecting me and my time by making me suffer during their "stories", and finally, during a very dreadful "live" at a convention, I excused myself and simply did leave, searching something better to play. It was very liberating! (it was more than ten years ago and I still feel the satisfaction…)

    Talking about that, I noticed at the time a peculiar trend in rpg conventions: not the "big" ones (Lucca, Rome), where people went to buy more than play anyway, but the little ones, the ones where people more into "stories" went to play…  at these con, people more and more avoided playing rpgs as the plague.  A lot of little "conventions games" (short card games or even convention-long social games) were created and played a lot more than rpgs, after a while you would look at the rpg convention schedule and you would find very few rpgs, and they had difficulties finding players too.  Talking about it with other players, there was a lot of waffling, of excuses, of negations, but many of them admitted that they had almost always bad experiences with convention games. Their experience mirrored mine, a lot of these "games" were thinly excuses to get people to "hear the GM's story" or to "play pretend to be a character in this already written story" (and sometimes it was even worse, I have some really terrifying tales about these conventions)

    The entire conventions experience was not bad, obviously, or people would not had come anymore. It was fun meeting friends from other places, talking about rpgs, watching debates and conferences, buying stuff at the stands, and even playing card games, boardgames, social games… anything apart from rpgs (for a while I went to a lot of "murder parties" at these conventions, they were the less-railroaded kind of rpg experience available)

    Years after all this, when I collaborated with the very first "indie rpgs" convention in Italy (Internoscon) it was a gret satisfaction seeing people playing rpgs and enjoying them so much to want to play more… I think that experience made a lot of people realize, at last, that rpgs at conventions don't have to suck…

    About that Nippur story, I have probably read it (I have three big more-than-a-thousand-pages-each hardback volumes with his adventures), but I don't recall it. Robin Wood is (was – he is still alive but retired) a great narrator but he did recycle plots endlessly. But still, even with always the same story elements recycled in various combinations (love, vengeance, greed, betrayal, etc.), he wasn't boring. Thinking about it, more GMs should have looked at him as an example (I must confess that I have copied some of his love/betrayal/lust combinations to prepare situations for Trollbabe…)

    • And the Argentina-Italy
      And the Argentina-Italy comics connection shows up! Bless Record Editions.

      It’d be fun to go to a convention like that, or at least to know more about it. Are there videos?

    • Video about what, about

      Video about what, about InterNosCon? There are a lot of videos, including conferences by Ron (that was a "guest of honor" at a couple of them), too many for the link policy of adept play, but if you look at the youtube channel where the one below was posted you should find a lot of them (not all, some seems missing).

      There were 7 InterNosCons, annually from 2008 to 2014, then personal problems of the organizing team caused a "temporary pause" of indefinite durantion, but the torch passed to a lot more conventions on that type (Etruscon, Gnoccocon, Indiecon, Capodannocon, etc.)

      The idea behind Internoscon was not only to base a rpg convention totally on "Indie" rpgs and indie game designers as guests, but to organize a rpg convention as Italy has never seen before, with good food and wine (free bottles of wine on every gaming table…), and a very different atmosphere (partecipant numbers were very limited, no edition had more than 80 partecipants and the first one was invite-only, and the convention partecipation included the hotel room so all the partecipants effectly lived together and ate together for the entire duration). I have chosen this clip because is one of the very few professionally done and show well this aspect (there is a cameo of Meguey Baker, surprise-guest of that edition)

      Under the video you will find the links to the 2014 edition site and the general site of the previous editions.

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