Sunday, November 07, 2010

Carnage 13 Day 1

We arrived very early so we could get checked in, make our reservations at the resort for next year (they sold out later that day), and get lunch. On check-in we got some highly disappointing news. Despite having sent in our registration the day after getting the Carnage booklet, and sending in both registrations in the same envelope, we got bumped to our second choices on fully half our games, and in several cases, Siobhan and I got split up -- her registration got processed first and got to be the last person in a few games so my registration ended up being bumped.

I'd made a point of registering as early as possible this year to avoid this because this year's theme, inspired by the idea of "Carnage" and "13" having the obvious crossing-point of the Friday the 13th movies, of slasher gore. I'd actually avoided Carnage for years because the name, logo, etc. made me expect a lot more violence-driven roleplay than is to my tastes, and the con has always leaned a tiny bit more towards that than I would choose. But most years there's a very broad variety of stuff going on and it's no trouble to avoid the more gorey or hack-and-slashy stuff. Then again, most years, if there's been a theme I didn't hear about it, but this year, they pushed the "slasher horror" theme pretty hard, and a lot of GMs took them up on it, taking otherwise nice games and nudging them towards dwelling a little too much on stuff I would rather downplay. So getting my first choices was more important than usual, hence my as-early-as-possible registration. So it only figures it's also the first year that I got bumped into second choices. In many cases, the second choices were things I didn't find as interesting, either because of the slasher-gore theme, or just because they were less intriguing on their own.

In our first game, we got our first choice, Ribbon Drive. This is a storytelling game run by Charlton Wilbur in which "mix tapes" (or their modern equivalent, MP3 player playlists) are used as inspiration and randomizers to create an improvised "road movie" story. One song inspires us to decide by consensus on what the journey is -- we chose to be a bunch of foster kids going back "home" since our foster mother died, and since many of us led less-than-settled lives, we'd missed the funeral. The next song inspires each of us to make our characters. Then we keep playing songs and let them be the backdrop for, and occasionally inspiration for, the story we're creating.

The game offers very little structure or direction, and this turns out to be just the right amount, as we had no trouble finding things to do, throwing complications at one another and ourselves, and bouncing off one another. While many of us individually had story arcs that, if you'd been scripting a movie, would have needed a little rounding out, overall it was really amazing how well the story held together as a road movie when it was done. There was a great moment near the end, when we finally arrived at the old house, where everyone, individually and without any planning (IC or OOC), immediately found something to do to help fix up the house, falling back into old roles within the family as if the intervening decades of independence and wildly varying lives hadn't happened. In the movie, it would have been that crystallizing moment when everyone realizes the gap between what their lives are, and what they really needed them to be. And so it was in the game; soon after, most of the family found ways to stay back in this home we'd long left behind, and fulfilled what we really needed of ourselves.

While this might make the movie we created sound like a tear-jerker, it was really more comedic than sentimental. The kind of road-movie adventures we had on the way included selling Dixie cups full of beer from a keg in a traffic jam outside St. Louis for $3 apiece, a brawl with the staff of an auto parts shop over a stolen motorcycle we weren't even using, buying seven buckets of fried chicken and one plate of chicken-fried steak that was actually chicken, bribing a police officer with a DVD set of the hit sitcom 'Baby Loves Ya' somewhere in Colorado, and using a garden hose to give an impromptu shower to the smelliest brother out back behind a U-Haul rental agency. But there were sweet moments all through, just like any comic road movie, and a heartwarming ending. (Except for the brother that turned out to be a lawyer -- he proved immune to redemption. There's always one.)

The second slot of the day was supposed to be a Dresden Files game set in Burlington, but we were bumped to our second choice, another storytelling game that featured several of the same people as the first slot (the GM, Chuck Burkins, had been a player in Ribbon Drive). This game, Remember Tomorrow, is a near-future cyberpunk game that had a ton more mechanics than Ribbon Drive (or than most storytelling games).

The game went fairly well though it didn't come together nearly as neatly. Part of that was just that the game is geared towards a group of about four players, but we ended up with seven. This produced a very complex web of interrelations between players and factions that got hard to keep straight, left some of them underutilized, and made some kinds of scenes feel like they came up too often. I felt like we needed about four more hours of play to make it so the story would all come together, plus we'd need a huge whiteboard and someone dedicated just to keeping track of continuity. Lacking that, we ended up with a rushed ending in which a lot of plot threads never ended up going anywhere. Still, lest I be seen as too harsh, one must keep in mind that we were collaboratively improvising a story for four hours with not one whit of advance planning. It's a testament to both the game and the players that most of the threads did end up tying up, and that the story ended up almost making sense.

The story ended up focusing almost entirely on a number of organizations fighting for their place in the legal and illegal drug trade in an unnamed city. Metacocaine was legal and patented, as was its ridiculously-high-priced cure, but two crime syndicates, one old one on the wane and one up-and-comer looking to drive them out, were infringing on the patent by making illegal knockoffs, some of which were improvements in various ways. There were a few research organizations making variations, including one that was making an "open source" version. A number of people were being pressured by, hired by, threatened by, or kidnapped by these organizations, while dealing with their own personal problems. In the end, the two crime syndicates were both destroyed when their scheming against one another left a perfect window for one lone hacker to drain their accounts and expose their secrets, which he did for love -- okay, maybe it was mostly lust. And thus the megacorp got back to selling its legal product and cure; business as usual.

It was definitely an enjoyable game, even if one could see things that could have happened to pan out better. Some aspects of the rules seemed surprisingly complex for what the game was trying to do, but I'm not sure if that's really a fair assessment, as I never got to read them through and their presentation was a little scattered. The players were, without exception, a hoot.

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