Big Bad Con 2019 — Recap!

This year was another hugely successful Big Bad Con, and I’ve decided once again to write up all my amazing convention games! Plus, reflecting on the fun I had this weekend was a excellent way to spend the five-hour flight back home. If you don’t feel like reading the whole article, each section has three particular highlights from the games at the end!

Delver

Delver, by Nora and Natalie (who I believe facilitated our game, but I forgot to ask directly! Sorry Natalie!) of Happy Rebel Tapestries, is a lightly-GMed surreal dungeon crawler, aesthetically inspired by Dark Souls, and it was the first thing I played this year. It starts as a contemplative and menacing exploration of a dungeon with spread-out descriptive responsibilities. Whichever player character (formed from three simple but amazing prompts) enters the next room describes it, and the GM describes the Threat it contains. Most of the time, the Threat may be dealt with as a puzzle — we talked to a sculptor on a mountain and carved a mouth into a faceless statue. Each one of the three locations we visited was incredibly evocative, and each radically different than the other.

However, my favorite part of the game (of many great parts) was the combat, which is apparently rare. It actually manages to reflect the feel of Dark Souls bosses by having you manage Health, Stamina, and Focus. Health is straight forward, Focus lets you use magic, and Stamina affects the number of actions you can do each turn. You attack with flair, dodge out of the way last minute, and take incredible hits from monsters three times your size. We fought the King Triumphant, who of course had a second phase which I got to name the King Challenged, who was a cloud giant who attacked us with lightning spears. However, I was able to claim his crown and become a god and the Sellsword channeled the lightning into his manacles. The Witch was just chilling in the back of the arena shooting fireballs.

Particular highlights including transforming from the Neophyte to the Apostate, naming the second form of the final boss (the King Triumphant became the King Challenged), and the witch being a weird bug.

Spire: The City Must Fall

Spire is a game from Rowan, Rook, and Deckard, written by Grant Howitt and Christopher Taylor, about drow (dark elves) revolutionaries in a mile-high city conquered by the aelfir (high elves). I ended up running two sessions of it at Games on Demand Friday and Saturday night, and each was excellent in different ways. It has my favorite character archetypes in any game, from an occult pulp fiction writer to a knight whose high-level quests are all pubcrawls. In the words of many of my friends, Spire is the “most your bullshit”.

The scenario was to murder Jemora Ride-the-White-Lotus, an aelfir warrior-poet who sought to “uplift” the drow art form known as desang, or blood opera, which is simultaneously a combat sport and an operatic production. Three other potential people also wanted to kill her, so the player characters had to get there first. The first session went atrociously for the players in a delightful way. The Azurite (a merchant priest) was forced to make a deal with his god, Azur, to save Jemora, and died immediately when she did. The Firebrand suffered grievous wounds in the climactic fight in a bathroom. The Idol had been turned the entire time and turned them in to the solar guard. The second, on the other hand, ended on all six players escaping the show where Jemora was finally killed by her ex-lover, and surviving to fight another day.

Particular highlights include the Azurite in the first session being murdered by the Masked deciding to kill their target, the Firebrand and the Knight in the second session murdering their target on stage and getting away with it, and the Idol in each session choosing the perfect moments to force an NPC to hand over something they held.

An Angelic Bureaucracy

This is a Powered by the Apocalypse game that has only been run three times ever, because it is something I have been working on! I finally sat down and drafted an entire book for it this summer. The pitch is this: Death, Time, War, and several others all are actual incarnations of those concepts, shaped and molded by human perception and belief. Or, at least, they were until they all mysteriously disappeared. The player characters are the ordinary mortals who have been made to take on those Mantles and run the Bureaucracy, a supernatural organization of which they are all now, essentially, department heads, who report to a strange and capricious boss.

The test was successful and people had a good time, although it was extremely mentally taxing for me to run since it is in such early alpha. However, I was pleased to hear that people saw the books as sufficiently distinct from one another with some individual standout moves. The GM side has proven to be rather tricky — traditional PbtA structures like countdown clocks or Masks-style villains don’t work so well because the core activity is harder to define beyond “solve the Bureaucracy’s problems”. I have a lot of work to do on it still, but there is definitely a game here — I just have to keep plugging away. Expect to hear more about this if you know me or are reading this!

Particular highlights included Nature losing control of said root system by eating a berry that contained a hivemind and going underground, Time establishing that he went back in time to buy a company and open a mineshaft to find Nature, War setting the hivemind’s entire root system that intertwined with said mineshaft on fire with a Bic lighter that she specifically packed, and Death chilling on a lawn chair watching this all happen.

hello, world

hello, world, by Charles Simon, is a Forged in the Dark game about Users seeking to preserve Memories in a post-scarcity digital utopia. Aesthetically, this game is inspired by Transistor in a significant way (down to the abilities being called Functions, some of which directly appear in Transistor itself), as well as Tron and the Matrix, among others. Players are avoiding the attention of Administration while seizing Memories (server space being, of course, a limited resource), Iso (the raw building blocks of their digital spaces), and Coin (the core currency) across several servers, carving out space for their own.

Our group in particular played a Dynasty — a group of people seeking to extend their political impact. We lived in the Manor, a floating English manor-house in the soon-to-be-shut-down server Argus that carried its lake and environs with it as it floated through the static. We transported several raw barrels of Iso in order to shore up its foundations and add a new layer, encountering the Cult of Static, who wishes to end the world, and a shadowy elemental who took the form of my friend F3l1x, a cryptic viral cat merchant. I got to play the Blade (think Cloud with the buster sword or Red with the Transistor) and it was enormous fun.

Particular highlights included destroying an entire set of Cult of Static cultists with my sword’s Volcano Buster, hearing how other people restored stress by reflecting on memories, and the Architect being named [Null] and making a little error sound whenever she said her name.

Throne of the Void

Throne of the Void is a Forged in the Dark game in the Scum and Villainy universe by Stras Acimovic and John LeBoeuf-Little . The main fictional touchstones I was familiar with were Dune, the political parts of the Expanse series, and Crazy Rich Asians (note: this romantic comedy was not part of the pitch, but it works, I promise). It is a game about a noble house in the Hegemony who seeks to have their house take the Void Throne.

In this game, I played a mix of Chrisjen Avasarala and the boyfriend’s mother in Crazy Rich Asians (I told you!) — a manipulative matron of our house who was also an experienced poisoner. The game has some really excellent advancement and many wonderful ways to inflict intrigue, but I am not going to go into details here because it is still in early alpha. Needless to say: you should be on the lookout for this!

Particular highlights included self murder with poison to cover up actual murder with poison, knowing looks between cultists and grandmothers, and a formal duel form that involved dinosaurs.

Thanks

Thank you to everyone, staff and attendees, for making this Big Bad Con one of my best cons yet! I can’t wait to come again and I’m super inspired by each and every person I talked to there.

Usable security researcher and tabletop RPG designer