Gothcon 2024

This year I’m in “look, I have some things” mode, so I scheduled games of my own design and even brought printed copies for sale. Low-tech and totally pamphlet mode, but nicely printed for sure. I gave out a free copy of Cold Soldier with any purchase and handed out promo for The Happening all the time.

Gothcon was its usual excellent and welcoming scene, with a conversation lurking around any corner I turned, plus an unexpected and revelatory find in the old-and-forgotten box at the sales place. I’ll post more about that later.

Fantasy for Real

I brought some materials: location inspiration for the White Waste and Zorandor, and the rolled results, with some workup for the Pickle in each one, as well as six characters for four players to choose from. I’ve found that Picklets don’t work at all unless players write them, so I left a lot of space for them and made sure to mention them at the start of play.

Once we’d sat down, I decided to use the Zorandor location for no special reason, including this mini-map I brought for that purpose.

… and they chose these characters , illustrated here left to right to match with the players’ placement in the video.

The rule I’d like to bring out is the “confluences” effect of multiple spells having been cast. I’ve learned to write down the titles and doodle their mutual or conflicting effects as we go along, until you discover something like this has developed:

Most of the spells had been peaceful or calming in some way, so the eventual syncretic effect was a deeply pleasing and mellow enchantment spreading through the place. I especially liked Henrix’s comment, in character, that once the magic starts “cooking like that,” it’s best not to try to solve it with more magic.

I hadn’t scheduled further play for the game at the convention, but as it turned out, I played it impromptu the next day, at Indierummet, unrecorded. This time I used the other location I’d prepared, in the White Waste, with this mini-map.

The characters again included Habbak, Asyastimus, and Jizula, but traded out Yip for Urgulahkaluh. The location dynamic was therefore a lot different because two of the characters were native to the White Waste, and entertainingly for me, the Zorandor character had not been played in Zorandor, but was now here in this dry burning place.

This story was quite romantic, as Urghulahkulah was played as seeking their pen-pal romance person, and Ayastimus was played as a kind of anthropologist studying love, and following them around. Abbak was played more antagonistically, instead of being somewhat misunderstood. The net outcome turned into one of those “rising action to climax” events, as, heartbroken and berserk after several tragically failed rolls, Urghulahkulah beheaded the mystic serpent which had rejected Jizulah’s rather decent entreaty and accepted Abbak’s sinister one. Given the magical confluences and a final necromantic spell, all ended in disaster and flight.

Dreams of Fire

This game is now in serious development although it’s hit a point where “how to GM it” must be addressed through play … and I’m finding that I’m not very good at it and still must learn/play more.

Here are my notes for the vision preparation, including the handouts for some visuals that I used in play.

Convention play raises questions for this game as well as for Circle of Hands, because character creation is serious business with many slow-burn, unpredictable, multi-venture/vision effects. Knowing that I needed to focus on GMing issues, I decided to provide characters for whom the players could fill-in the most important detail, the cherished thing.

Despite some enjoyable play, or at least I think so, I didn’t get the GMing right. I got distracted by crossover with the Crescent Land – which I now know is absolutely to be avoided in this design – and I am still punching possessed people into play whenever I feel like it, for dramatic effect. Since the effect is dramatic and always yields a terrifying fight, it’s “fun” but it is really crap play.

However, so much more went well, especially relative to rules that I’ve worked up on paper since playing a lot last year. I like the magical Charge rules a lot, as people seize them or recoil from them very much on an individual character basis, and the rather personal, accessible, almost friendly feel for playing one’s character seems consistent going all the way back to my first attempts, and even strengthened as the design has proceeded.

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9 responses to “Gothcon 2024”

  1. Super interesting account! I’m working through the Fantasy For Real videos at the moment.

    > I’ve found that Picklets don’t work at all unless players write them, so I left a lot of space for them and made sure to mention them at the start of play.

    I’m really interested in what past experiences led to this conclusion, if you care to elaborate.

    • It’s very straightforward. If I provide Picklets on the character sheet, which is contrary to the rules incidentally, then people do not process the rules for using them at all, even with reminders, i.e., scaffolding. The content is foreign (an unknown as far as they are concerned) and the procedures is foreign (new). By contrast, if they learn the rules without Picklets, then when they create Picklets, usually via simple dialogue and me tagging the content as eligible, then they apply the rules with at most an occasional reminder.

      I don’t think this is a general principle for play and design, but it does appear consistent for this game.

  2. I am not sure why the commentary about working out how to GM Dreams of Fire is hitting me hard. I suspect it is because I may not be paying attention to that aspect of design. Or more a kind of “Design = GMing” trap I had not suspected might be I might be stepping in.

    • I’ve been thinking lately about an activity I observe when people are GMing. Although they may have avoided or learned to avoid egregious means of control, their play – and others’ with them, as time goes by – still avoids open-ended diegetic activity. They do this by concentrating on introducing content as the primary at-table act. “Play” for them means to bring in something new, in order to have a confrontation right now or, having performed some resolution, to hit an informational or eventful beat. That means reducing or even negating play of any other sort, and therefore nothing happens because of play, since “the plot” is only a series of introduced things. [In many cases, this entails hyper-ritualized and elaborate content creation, whether before or during play]

      As with so many things, it’s exposed by playing The Pool, when I see over-hasty rushing into an “and this is the conflict” phase + blithery and unclear actions + failing to stick immediate results of having rolled + suddenly revealing backstory, an entrance by someone else, or a sudden shift in locations for one or more characters. But it’s a general topic, not a Pool one specifically; as I say, that game’s value lies in exposing it to view.

      To take this to design, and keeping in mind my general point that play produces design, not the other way around, then an obvious problem arises. How can you design X-as-play when your actual activity at the table is not in fact to play, but to keep dropping things in, hauling some kind of fiction along?

      I will speak harshly here: for someone with these habits, staying stuck close to people whose play you know is broken in some fashion is actually quite comfortable, because, since they won’t or can’t, you have to keep doing this to save the social situation and “make things go.” It’s actually avoiding the design process. All your procedural plans or ideas could frankly be anything, because they don’t really matter. And you can’t reflect on play relative to procedure because the procedures were at most distracting everyone with busywork. Any discussion of the design is also a comfort zone because you can endlessly explain what it would be or is supposed to be, without ever confronting whether you do it.

      This GMing for Dreams of Fire did not work, and I resorted to content-injection in order to pretend to keep playing. It’s a wake-up call. I need actually to do it and then write down what we did, and that’s all the design process I need.

    • Ron,

      I’m not sure if I totally understand the habit you’re talking about. Is it sort of like the following?

      “Ok, here’s some new thing to deal with”

      *Five minutes or so of conversation, dealing with it, more or less*

      “Ok, here’s some new thing to deal with”

      Every event is atomic, and nothing has time to breath or develop consequences. Is that right?

    • I don’t want to amass a series of summary descriptions. I can only point to what I’m observing, for example, knowing that our first two escapades in the current InSpectres game were good for learning fundamentals of the game, but now that we’ve done so, I need to do more than throw rocks based on Stress, mission, roll, roll, roll … yes, it’s basic to that game that successful player rolls = backstory, and in fact that there isn’t any backstory otherwise. But if my eventful descriptions of failures and their eventful descriptions of successes + contributions of backstory are all we do, mainly self-contained as you say, then the characters turn into non-played buffoons and play is soon replaced by sterile attempts to keep being funny. (discusssed here)

      Or more, accurately, I will now do less in terms of “new event! new character!” (and correspondingly, they do less of “new backstory!”) and play can include non-crisis, non-hassle, non-task activity … the more I type here, though, the clearer it is to me that filling up space with description isn’t going to accomplish much and might result in wanky circling and poor applications. Let’s see how that game goes with further recordings and whether the concept develops into concrete sense.

  3. Ron, I’m also focusing mainly on that main gming skill of not killing play through content-injection, as you described here, and I’ve been guilty of that previously so I’m trying to be doubly careful about myself here.

    I did some prep for fantasy for real in expectation of playing soon, and I was unsatisfied as I felt I was doing far too much “hyper-ritualized and elaborate content creation” before play (specially as I rolled 6s during the prep).

    Ron, what was your prep for fantasy for real, so we can have an example of “just sufficient prep” to get in the game ? It feels one really don’t need much!

    • The typed content in the preparation files above is all I had … although that’s not quite right because, since these were notes for myself, not for anyone else to use, the text served as a reminder for notions and associations in my mind. For example, I knew “Marchu” was an amiable dolt, aand I also conceived of the Mighty Axe as straightforwardly being the bona fide legendary item (although it was not magical). Interestingly, the player-characters considered it to be an obvious fraud, which was merely their opinion … but it wasn’t a fraud, as they never discovered and events turned out so it wasn’t a plot point. There were also flexible or “I’ll do it when I get there” concepts. For some of them, I knew I’d have to “know” them eventually but felt fine letting it happen in play, e.g., whether Croomin was a bad person. But for others, I didn’t even know they would be there. For example, I knew Marchu acquired the Mighty Axe in some Arthurian fashion, but I didn’t know he would be pulling it from the bogs right there in play – until we started playing, and it suddenly occurred to me that of course he was. Oh – and obviously, when a player implements a Picklet in play, it must become “preparation” at that moment in some kind of integration with whatever is happening in that scene.

      I don’t know whether this reply helps you or not, but I do think the small quantity is relevant. I don’t write much for this game – only what I know “is” and the various degrees of fixed and flexible information proceeding from what’s written.

    • Yes it answers my question. It was clear to me that you had something in mind and that the written notes were only reminders, so I wanted to know how much you had in mind.

      It confirms my feeling that I was trying to prep too much content, and that far less is fine. I feel ready to get in play now, having deleted 80% of my prep.

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