Go Play Northwest 2018 — Nothing but Excellent Games
This year, I had the pleasure of being dragged across the country by my good friend Tracy to attend a tabletop RPG convention that was a truly special event for me. Every single game was somewhere between very good and truly exceptional, and I got to play a whole host of games I had always wanted to try along with some new discoveries. Across the entire convention, I only played a game I had played before one time, and that one game (Night’s Black Agents) was one of the best sessions I have ever had the pleasure of GMing. It was a great pleasure to see old friends and new, and my games were so good I’ve decided to write them all up briefly below!
Growing up is trauma. Maturity is bought with blood. You will find it — in a land where magic dwells and enchantment rules. Have you bravery enough to wrestle with demons? Wisdom enough to resist beguilement? Nerve enough to grow up?
I did not actually play this at Go Play NW, strictly speaking, but rather Narrative Games Northwest, a fabulous organization all about “Co-operative Story telling Adventures with inclusivity at the helm”. The Dreaming Crucible is a three-player game wherein one player takes the role of the Heroine, who will be trapped in Faerie by another character, the Dark Faerie, and aided by a third, the Light Faerie. Jason, the Hero, befriended my character, a mercurial spirit of order spitefully named “Nerd Ghost” at their first appearance, but through a whole host of trials and travails, Nerd Ghost accepted their new name and indeed helped Jason to escape.
Notable moments include small fish-shaped pockets of air piloted through a river, a cathedral who’s every door led to a new place, and the Hero player and myself struggling mightily to think of Call of Duty words and phrases as we set a scene where in I played Jason’s friend DarkLord474.
Magic is dying, and the Magus is dying with it. We travel together to the realm of Umbra where magic was born.
Justice, the Golem of Ravenhall. My golem who ran law enforcement through a magical scrying mirror but did not really believe in cops (their Long Arms, as they were known in the city). Fawn, the Apprentice of Ravenhall. Their player likened this witch-girl to someone getting a journalism degree in 2018 (wince). River, the Crab-Singer of Istallia (spelling? who knows). A harpy who did crab cosplay and sang folk songs about crab preservation to anyone who would listen. Harrison, the Fox of Mistwood. A foxy fashion designer who ended up joining the Barley Town mafia. Caspian, the Hero of Barley Town. They were a masked vigilante who never did pick up on the fact that Justice had been conveniently arranging the Long Arms to look the other way.
I was just now able to write up these characters off the cuff because Fall of Magic was an incredibly fun and memorable game. It has about four rules, which mostly boil down to “hey, take these scene prompts and make something good,” and make something good we did. I would dearly love to play it again, and go through the whole scroll if possible, but perhaps not take 54 hours to do so as our fabulous facilitator said they once did.
Notable moments included magic berries that got Caspian and Fawn extremely high, every moment in which River appeared, and Justice being trapped in a magical ritual trap by the Grey Wardens at the very end.
Build a society you truly care about, and lovingly destroy it.
Downfall is a very high cognitive-load game wherein one’s society has a fatal flaw, and ours was loyalty to one’s spire. Glass spires mysteriously rose out of a blasted plain, and they barely interacted and did less so over the course of our game. We focused on the tower of ELA, which is the spire’s name, and therefore the first syllable of everyone’s name in the tower. The three characters to any Downfall game are the Hero who argues against the flaw (in this case a public defender), the Fallen who encourages the flaw (the Hero’s sister and announcer for the gladiator combat), and the Pillar who is okay with the flaw (the chief historian of ELA).
Notable moments included a lover spurning the Hero because she kept a multicolored spire statue in her home, ELA becoming the sole arbiter of justice throughout the spire system, and the ELA spire finally cracking and falling in the very last scene.
BLUECOATS OF THE WATCH is about the meanest gang in Duskwall: The City Watch! Play as the inspectors, enforcers, and guardians that hunt and capture the scoundrels in the darkness.
This playset for Blades in the Dark is currently in playtest, and as the link will indicate, was a stretch goal for the original Blades Kickstarter (to which I contributed). Here, one plays Bluecoats, who are from the neighborhood you play in, with an optional Inspector, who definitely isn’t. I had the great pleasure of being GMed by Sean Nittner, who I got to meet in person at Big Bad Con last October and is the Project Manager for Evil Hat Productions, amongst other things, and playing alongside Stras Acimovic, co-designer with John LeBoeuf-Little of Scum and Villainy and designer of Band of Blades, amongst other things.
I played Vincent, a 16-year-old character directly inspired by the young version of Sam Vimes in Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch— fresh-faced, wide-eyed, and full to the brim of anger at the system. I was particularly inspired by the sensory details that Sean added in ways that I often forget, with particular favorites being reminded constantly of the grimy smells of Doskvol and the red pitted fruit the foreman of the factory kept eating and offering around. Our squad was sent in to restart work at a factory which repaired leviathan hunter ships which had halted at a unionization threat, but naturally things were not that simple.
Notable moments included the red fruits as mentioned above, invading a barbecue of a local family and having one member of said family drag their greasy hands down the Inspector’s bright white coat, and Vincent having to be around his former boss at the leviathan ship repair factory.
A game about language and how it dies.
Dialect is another Kickstarter I backed, and I happened to get in in the mail the day after I left for Seattle. Fortunately, I still got to play it at Go Play! Kindly facilitated by someone who was willing to accept five players rather than participate directly themselves, we played the Wolf Pack playset, with me just happening to draw the Ruler card and thus naturally playing the pack alpha.
In this game, play centers around inventing or changing new words that keeps your Isolation together and separate from the rest of the world. The humans on the edge of town did not interact with us much except for the “yellow-haired wolf” (who was eventually named Sunny, in direct contrast to our goddess Mother Moon) who eventually led to our community’s demise.
Notable words included “beamlit”, a word for happiness from the moon shining upon you, our Expletive, which was a very hard-to-produce sort of cough gag, and speaking in the future tense by waggling one’s shoulders.
Romance. Scandal. Manners. Welcome to Good Society, the Jane Austen tabletop roleplaying game.
This game is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin, and it’s great. The playbooks are societal roles in regency-era England, although I’m sure they could be ported with a little work. We chose to play with a level of historical accuracy that can be best described as “what we could remember from Pride and Prejudice” and has inspired me to go back and read that classic again.
I played Julia Croft, a very religious woman who was trying at all costs to get her unmarried, childless aunt to absolutely not marry, since I was her presumed heir. I was successful through some truly heinous blackmailing of my aunt’s suitor’s son, who I had discovered had been fooling around with the brother of the captain, played by the person sitting across the table from me.
Notable moments included me referencing Fordyce’s Sermons, a whole host of people barging into the home of the New Arrival (a playbook about someone from somewhere else who does not understand social custom), and an insistence by the table that everyone describe what they were wearing to the dance.
Action adventure roleplaying in the World of Tomorrow!
Dr. Tesla! Robot Professor! Has metal fists and 5 PhDs! Played by an actor who’s attitude can best be described as “how Alec Guinness felt about Star Wars”. When playing Danger Patrol, one is playing a game about retro-futurist sci-fi in a TV era of your choice, and our ‘setting’ was a 1970’s show on the brink of cancellation at its season finale. The show was about Dr. Tesla and his companions, including a Mystic Detective, the Eye of Ra (who wore an amulet of the Eye of Horus because the writers did not know better), an Atomic Daredevil (played by a producer’s niece because she had a crush on the Intrepid Pilot), and the Intrepid Pilot (the most stereotypical hero of a sci-fi show you can imagine).
These characters went up against the Cryogenic Armada, who sought the Trans-Dimensional Laser from the Solar Guardian, which would be used to pierce the Super-Dimensional Barrier into the Nega-Dimension, portrayed as a Day-Glo lava-lamp-infused world. Hilarious fun for a Sunday morning, and exactly what I was looking for in the fog of having been at a convention for several days. The facilitator had worked out a really nice way to do Danger Patrol as a GM-less game as well, which was great fun.
Notable moments included the Atomic Daredevil and Intrepid Pilot kissing to share oxygen (of course the producer’s niece had nothing to do with this), Dr. Tesla and the Eye of Ra switching bodies (so that Dr. Tesla would not have to do as much makeup in the mornings and might stay on the show), and Dr. Tesla himself defeating the emperor of the Cryogenic Armada in single combat and then immediately fading out of existence.
Night’s Black Agents brings the GUMSHOE engine to the spy thriller genre, combining the propulsive paranoia of movies like Ronin and The Bourne Identity with supernatural horror straight out of Bram Stoker. Investigation is crucial, but it never slows down the action, which explodes with expanded options for bone-crunching combat, high-tech tradecraft, and adrenaline-fueled chases.
My last-minute pitch at the Sunday 1:30–5:30 donut was “Jason Bourne meets Dracula”, and my table filled up with the three additional players I was looking for straight away. I was running one of my favorite adventures for this game, The Van Helsing Letter, by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan. This adventure is presented in the improvised style of the Dracula Dossier, a larger campaign cowritten by Gareth and Ken Hite, which I desperately hope to run in full someday. All of the six players at my table were super excited to be there and really brought it with their investment in the things that make movies like The Bourne Identity so cool!
We had four big scenes that worked really well, and the players helped me along to figure out how everything worked in the best tradition of story gaming. From a fight at a bookshop, to an interrogation in a warehouse from the Cold War, to touring Schloss Glockestein and talking to an ex-Stasi, to facing the Nachzehrer in a wine cellar far away from moonlight, each scene was killer and a lot of fun. I also found that popcorn-style initiative was really effective in this game (which I did since I kind of forgot how initative was supposed to work), using turn cards as recommended to me once by Kevin Kulp, author of TimeWatch, which I’ll be noting in the future for convention games especially.
Notable moments included the driver slamming a goon’s head into the passenger seat door as the goon foolishly stuck their gun through, an analyst slamming a Dali art book into a goon’s neck, and killing the Nachzehrer by shooting a bullet fashioned from a coin through its mouth and cutting its head off afterwards.
Inside Out, the roleplaying game
The final slot of the convention was facilitated by a friend I had made the night before at dinner who I practically begged to run what she pitched as “Inside Out, the roleplaying game”. The game is extremely simple and satisfying, to the point where you could almostfigure out how to play simply from this post alone, but whose rules are also available for free by following the link in this section’s title.
Our character was Sergio Giacchino, a starving artist in a small town in Italy during the Renaissance, whose goal was to save up enough florins to move to Florence and make it big in the art world. We had similar historical accuracy desires as my Good Society game, so please don’t @ me if I get it wrong. That wasn’t our goal! What was our goal was to make decisions every turn by creating six emotions - love, pride, greed, empathy, practical, and lonely - and playing them and then rolling a few dice to see which side of the choice won.
Notable decisions included deciding to go talk to our childhood sweetheart (who we suspected had married while we were away at art school) rather than finish the pretty sunset we were working on, deciding to go talk to Leonardo da Vinci and get some constructive criticism rather than sell our art right then for a good price, and deciding ultimately to stay in town and pursue a small life of happiness with said childhood sweetheart instead of moving into the patronage of some wealthy person in Florence.
This was one of the best conventions I’ve been to, hands down, and I’m hoping to see some or all of these people very soon in the future! Go Play Northwest was, for me, a very welcoming and fun experience, full to the brim of people who were there to play games, feel feelings, and make everyone feel included. I’d highly recommend it to anyone based on my weekend up in Seattle.