Monday, August 18, 2008

Gaming At GenCon 08

It was a good Con. One of the things I've wanted to do that I haven't done in previous cons is just plain play. I love being there, I love meeting cool people, checking out new games, being out as one of a group of rowdy nerds pretending they're still in college together... But I haven't really done much play in the past. This time I wanted to play.

Thursday night I went to the Embassy Suites. I had done that a couple times last year; in both cases, everybody was already busy gaming; once I'd sat down and had a good talk with Paul, and another time I had just sat down and read all the way through my newly bought copy of Dictionary of Mu. This time, I started looking around and it looked like it might be the same thing all over again -- lots of games already in progress, nothing to join -- but then I happened on John Harper. He said "hey Ed! I've got somebody who wants to meet you!" -- and introduced me to Tony Dowler, cartographer extraordinaire. (Besides enjoying his work in the unpublished Stranger Things and similar places, I'd come across it linked on MetaFilter before!)

Tony was about to join John, Matt Wilson, his friend Brandon, and Vincent Baker in a game of Storming the Wizard's Tower, an in-progress game of Vincent's which was his personal answer to monster-fightin' old school D&D. (Paul Czege on encountering us playing the game, asks Vincent: "are you ever NOT designing something?" Vincent: "uh... no.") They invited me to join, and that was my first game of the con. So it had begun! This time I was gaming!

STWT worked well for what it was (we got our asses handed to us but it was very fun play). I don't particularly need what it is -- if I wanted something like that, I'd probably go with Tunnels & Trolls, which for me holds all the nostalgia value and is light and enjoyable and good at being what it is (no need to reinvent it). It was fun getting pissed off by those jerkface Swamp People, and fighting our way down to the Crow Mother under the river...

Friday I found my way to the Games On Demand room, and Mike Holmes was there, and hooked me and a few other players up with Graham Walmsley, whose book Play Unsafe had been so important to me (both in itself, and because it had introduced me to Keith Johnstone's Impro). I was glad to meet Graham; he had just been running Poison'd for a group and asked us what we were interested in. After bandying a few things about we came up with Lacuna, which was great because I knew from the book that Graham really dug it, and I knew next to nothing about it, which was perfect.

English comedian John Oliver starts his act in America with the warning, "because I speak with an English accent, everything you are about to hear will sound slightly more authoritative." That phenomenon worked to good effect with Graham in Lacuna, where you play an agent, always in communication with the mysterious voice of "Control" (the GM -- Graham) who has sent you into the game world to carry out a mission. In our case it was an assassination, and our target was given to us only as a mysterious photograph.

One particular thing sticks in my mind as bringing out the extremely paranoiac atmosphere of Lacuna. Agents are assigned names by Control (and we put those names on little cards in front of us) -- we were Tapper, Miller, Hooper, and Black. I was Hooper. Early on in the game, I got a message from Control, informing me that the name "Hooper" had been reallocated, and I was now Agent Haywood. A bit later, we managed to trace the identity of the person in the photograph, whom we were to assassinate. His name was Hooper.

It was a good game. Graham's love for the game was clearly evident, and my fellow agents were inquisitive and interesting. Agent Miller especially, whose real name eludes me, was a lot of fun, because he brought to the table a very "special ops" attitude, like a tough and canny mercenary, not a creepy intelligence agent; I kept thinking of him as Brian Van Hoose from Knights of the Dinner Table, playing the fictional espionage game "Hacknoia," watching the mission go horribly wrong and always trying to stay on top of the situation, out-think everybody, and keep in control as best he could.

I'm going to post this now and add to it later.

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