Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Carnage 13 Day 3

There are many bad things you can say about the timing of Carnage -- in that grey, rainy, cold season where it's not quite winter but it's sure not anything nicer, in the heart of cold and flu season, at a time when money's growing tight due to winter costs and the holidays, at a time when the darkness is making it hard to feel rested, etc. -- but there's one glorious thing about the first weekend in November: daylight savings time. There's no weekend you could use an extra hour of sleep more than the middle of a con. Thanks to that, we were able to get checked out and get breakfast before the first game without being rushed and without coming into it missing sleep.

Our morning session was in the board game room where we had a game of Pandemic. The joke this year is that last year we had a real pandemic (swine flu ran rampant at the con), but this year, we only have the game. Pandemic is a cooperative game: you all work together and either you all win or you all lose. Acting as agents of the CDC, you travel the world trying to contain outbreaks of various diseases and gather the information necessary to develop cures. The diseases insist on spreading, both in slow gradual progress and in massive outbursts. If you can find all the cures before a certain number of outbreaks (or several other conditions) you win, and the diseases are eventually eradicated; if you can't, you lose, and the diseases sweep the world.

We've played Pandemic once before and actually own a copy we've never played (we need to lure some of our friends over to play some of these games) but it had been a while so we were rusty. Fortunately the session was geared towards people who'd never played, so giving us a refresher was no big deal. The game went very badly for us: there were several Epidemic cards played very early, which is usually the kiss of death, and we kept having the worst luck with outbreaks, and used up most of our allowance of outbreaks quite early into the game while we still had massive spread of disease and almost no cures. We were a hair's breadth from doom for quite a while, but miraculously, we pulled out a victory.

Sometimes at these sessions the game's winner is given another game as a prize, often a store demo or something of the like, and we were offered two games to distribute amongst ourselves as we saw fit. Siobhan and I got Batt'l Kha'os, a two-player tile-playing strategy game. Since there was still plenty of time in the session we played a couple of games of it (I won both times, though the first time doesn't count since we were figuring out the rules and the win depended on one rule that hadn't been made clear to Siobhan) before heading out to lunch ahead of the crowds.

Yes, the game is really named Batt'l Kha'os. Would I kid?

The final session was yet another Charlton storytelling game, and yes, we joked about how it seemed like we'd been stalking Charlton since we'd been at the same table as him pretty much the entire weekend. (The only exceptions were Pandemic, though I saw him one table over, and the session where my game failed to attract enough players.) I certainly intended to be in a lot of Charlton games, but I also tried not to be a Charlton-stalker or Charlton-groupie. But all those cancelled sessions left me with essentially no non-Charlton games, except one that he was a fellow player in. Actually, this session I'd been bumped from Charlton's game, but the last session of the con tends to have a lot of people dropping out and shifting around; the game I actually got bumped into was quite full, and Charlton's game had a little free space, so about half of the people at the table weren't actually signed up for it.

The game itself was In A Wicked Age, a decidedly non-cooperative storytelling game set in a world like that of the Conan books, and geared heavily towards playing characters who range from Machiavellian to scheming to downright evil. Of our six players, two were vengeful ghosts, one was a sapient, enchanted armband who filled its wearers with bloodlust, one was a retired, penitent torturer, one was the foreman of a team of miners (who'd been responsible for the death of one of those ghosts and wanted to cover it up), and one was one of that team who was scheming to assassinate (or otherwise depose) the foreman to steal his job. The one NPC who got almost all the NPC screen time was the torturer's apprentice, now the head torturer, and as vicious a woman as ever you'd want not to meet. (Charlton somehow, don't ask me how, resisted the temptation of having this vicious, bloodthirsty, violent, and extremely sexy NPC wear a tight leather dominatrix catsuit, but we still managed to throw in some extremely corny sexual tension here and there.)

By chance I suppose I was the least evil of the lot, not because I set out to be, but because my role as the foreman of a team of miners didn't really lend me a lot of ideas for how to be malevolent in ways that targetted the other characters, and I was trying to avoid having everything about my character focused on the duplicitous rival who was trying to go for my job, so as to avoid the two of us ending up in one story separate from everyone else's. The brutal and gruesome death of the exorcist (the other NPC, he didn't last that long) dead-ended my attempts to pursue the "that ghost drowned because of faulty work me and my team did on building a dam" thread, and when another moment came up to pursue it later, we were out of time so I left it lying.

As someone who is a passionate advocate for the idea that neither "rules rich" nor "rules light" is a panacea, and sometimes you want a lot of mechanics and they can be a good thing, I find it difficult to note that this was a storytelling game with a lot of mechanics (relatively speaking) but where they didn't seem to help a lot. As often as not they felt like they limited us from doing things we all felt would be good to do. This may not be a fault of the rules so much as a combination of us pushing their envelope with lots of complex multi-player conflicts, and Charlton being not entirely sure if we were interpreting the rules correctly about how those are handled. Even so, I feel that the dice resolution mechanic could have been replaced with something a fair bit simpler without losing any effectiveness, and in fact, probably helping to make it more flexible. This is an impression from a single four-hour session, though, so I take it with a grain of salt.

While playing dastardly characters bent on the ruination of the other players' characters is not something I'd want to do often, in the context of a single con session it was fun. I wish I'd happened to choose a character, or develop my character, in ways that got to explore more of that viciousness.

All in all, despite the mix-ups of getting registered for the wrong games, and despite the (almost-expected) failure of my game, Carnage was fun. We're already booked in the hotel for next year in a room right near an entrance and the rooms where roleplaying games are held. I probably won't make an attempt at GMing next year (I'll blog more about that some time soon) and I might try to branch out more from storytelling games a bit next year, but not because I didn't have tons of fun playing such games -- I did, and they're why this was one of the most fun times I've had at a con -- but just to broaden my experiences. Or maybe not. Maybe next year I'll just find Charlton and walk around five feet behind him for the entire con, until he files a restraining order. It could go either way.

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