Once again, Gamestorm came to the Portland area on the third weekend of March. This year was a bit different for me as it marked the first year I participated as an industry guest. I spoke on a few panels, ran a few games, and played… unfortunately not very much. But the time I spent at Gamestorm this year was fun, and it was nice to see some old familiar faces and to meet a few new ones.
Friday, March 20th
Gamestorm is a four-day event running from Thursday evening through Sunday afternoon. I had to work the day job on Thursday so I didn’t get to arrive until Friday morning, but that’s when most of the real fun starts so I don’t think I missed much.
I kicked off Friday morning with a 10 a.m. panel about Accessibility in Gaming. This is the first year I’ve been a panelist for Gamestorm, so I was pretty excited. My fellow panelist was Rhiannon Louve, a freelance designer in the RPG industry.
As the first panel of the convention, and one scheduled for early morning, there weren’t many people in the audience. Overall I think there were about four audience members to two panelists; at least there was a 2:1 ratio. Due to the low attendance we made the panel more of an informal discussion. There were a lot of great questions with a lot of great answers, and I learned a thing or three from my fellow panelist as well.
Just prior to the show I ran into an old friend from my Living Greyhawk (D&D 3.5 organized play) days. I hadn’t seen him in about 8 years, so it was nice to catch up a bit and say hello. After the panel I hooked up with another friend who I’ve seen very little of since my recent move away from the Portland metro area, so we grabbed a bite to eat and then went to the board game room to play a quick game before my second panel was scheduled to start.
My second panel was scheduled for 1:00 p.m. and that gave me about an hour for finding a game, playing the game, and getting back to the panel room. We decided to play a quick and casual game called Cash and Guns to fill the time.
In Cash and Guns, everyone plays a member of the mafia man/woman and fights for the biggest share of loot. The game comes with foam gun props that you get to point at each other, and it’s basically a game about knowing when you should stick to your guns or when you should fold to avoid being shot.
In a nutshell, everyone gets 5 “Click” cards and 3 “Bang” cards. You get to choose whether or not to actually expend your limited supply of bullets to shoot another player and take them out of the running for a share of the loot. If someone points their gun at you, you decide whether to put up your hands (and not get a share of the loot) or hold out and hope they’re bluffing and not going to shoot you. If the other player used a “Click” card, you don’t get shot and you get to pick a share of the treasure. If they played a “Bang” card you take a hit and don’t get to choose any treasure that round. After eight rounds, the person with the most loot wins.
Cash and Guns was a fun little party game that goes from 4 to 8 players. It’s pretty accessible with slight modifications or assistance from other players; I just needed someone to tell me which treasures were available to choose and whether or not someone had a gun pointed at me. We had a great time, and then I had to depart ways until later.
My next panel with Freelancing in the RPG Industry with Anthony Pryor, Jess Hartley, Scott Woodard, and me. Apparently this was also not a very popular topic at this convention. We had four panelists and between six and eight audience members, at least two of whom were already freelancers. We had another intimate discussion and covered a broad range of topics. I also learned of a local game designer meetup featuring several of the panelists (and at least one of the audience members) which I hope to occasionally get to participate in.
Gamestorm panels aren’t recorded, but here’s a fantastic Freelancing in the RPG Industry panel that was recorded as part of Contessa recently:
After the panel I met up with yet another friend I hadn’t seen since last Gamestorm. I had about 5 hours to kill between the panel and my scheduled game of Psi-punk at 7 p.m., so we wandered around a bit and checked out a few sights.
First we wandered by a demonstration of an ancient game called Skittles. It has nothing to do with the yummy candies, and is apparently an old bar game from the medieval period. In the game, you wind up what is basically a spinning top and unleash it on the game board. It rattles around and bangs into all sorts of other pegs, with the intention of knocking over as many as possible. Different pegs score different points, and the idea is to try to get the highest score.
My best Skittles score was 50 (of a possible 460), my friend’s was 150 (if I recall), and the high score of the con up to that point was 180. It was a fun diversion that seemed to get a lot of attention from passersby.
After playing a few rounds of Skittles we headed upstairs to the RPG area to see if we could get a game going. My friend happened to have a copy of Camp Myth the RPG (read my Camp Myth review) with him, which I’ve been dying to play. Unfortunately finding pick-up groups for RPGs this year proved rather difficult and we didn’t find enough people to play with.
Eventually we decided to wander over to the video game area where they were demoing an Oculus Rift. The demo was of the interior of the Serenity (the space ship from Firefly) and you basically just got to walk around and look at things. Being visually impaired, I had a hard time discerning anything in my environment. Everyone else who sat down at the demo talked about how immersive it was.
Afterward we went and grabbed a bite to eat. While we were sitting down I got a call from my wife to say she was going to stop by and bring our baby and that they’d be there in about twenty minutes. I finished eating just in time to meet them.
My wife and I have both been long friends of the folks I played Cash and Guns with earlier, so we met up with them again to say hello. I only had about an hour and a half before Psi-punk, but we got to introduce our friends to our baby and squeeze in another quick game.
Cash and Guns is a fun game, but it’s bizarrely better when playing with a 10-month-old. Our little one helped his mom pick which cards to play and who to point the gun at (they say at random, but I’d swear he knew what he was doing because they took 2nd place). There were some comedic situations featuring my wife holding a baby in one arm and a gun in the other, and others featuring the baby pointing a gun (and, of course, trying to eat it because that’s what babies do). Several random passersby couldn’t help but comment on the situation, so clearly we made a scene.
After the game of Cash and Guns it was time for my game of Psi-punk. I dragged my friend and another person he came to the con with upstairs to the RPG room to play because I had some empty spaces at my table. My wife and baby left the con to go visit with family for a bit.
Pre-registering for games at Gamestorm has been a bit of a headache the past couple of years as they work out the kinks in a new scheduling system. I had 3 out of a possible 6 people signed up to play, but none of those 3 people actually showed. Instead, I ran the game for the two Cash and Guns players as well as the guy from before (the one I tested the Oculus Rift with).
I wound up running Psi-punk for three players, just not the three who’d pre-registered. I’m playtesting a new adventure I’ve been working on, tentatively titled Born of Two Worlds. The adventure is about the world’s first half-cyborg newborn and his mother, who escaped from the hospital less than a day after the child was born. The hospital wanted her back to do some more testing and research, but they’re not the only ones who had their eye on her.
Typically my Psi-punk games feature a lot of espionage and info gathering, but of the eight pre-gen character options available to them, the three combat-focused characters were the ones who wound up getting picked. The group was sorely lacking on investigation skills and were built solely to shoot their way through any situation. We wound up with a relatively gonzo and trigger-happy session that had to be heavily guided, but everyone had fun regardless. When the player set off a trap which completely killed all lights in the area, the phrase “I attack the darkness!” was invoked—and in this case it was appropriate. They disarmed the trap by shooting and destroying the device that created it, and they were on their way.
I heard from the new-to-Psi-punk player a couple days later that the game was her highlight of the entire con. Apparently she hadn’t played many RPGs in recent years, and this was a huge departure from what she was used to and she really enjoyed herself. That feedback was really nice to hear.
That brought us to 11 p.m. and it was time to leave for the night. I went back to my family member’s house where I was staying, said hello to the family, and went to bed.
Saturday, March 21st
The next day I didn’t have anything scheduled to begin until 11:30 a.m. when I was to run Infestation, an RPG of Bugs and Heroes. Unfortunately I had 0 pre-registers (see pre-registration issues mentioned above). I grabbed my wife and the same folks I played Psi-punk with the previous night to run a short session of it anyway. It was my first time running Infestation, and though we had to crunch it into a 30-minute session (due to a variety of issues with being late and waiting on friends to show up) we still had a lot of fun. I ran the Toothpick Joust adventure I wrote for the book, and we all had plenty of laughs.
Directly after Infestation I was scheduled to run another session of Psi-punk from 2 to 6 p.m. I had a full table of 6 pre-registered players and 5 of them showed up, so it was a lot more successful in that regard than the previous night’s session. I ran the same adventure as before, and because the party had a wider mix of characters and abilities we actually got to run the adventure as intended.
A few of the players were regulars to my Gamestorm Psi-punk games. I’ve been running it at this convention for four years, and one of the players has played it every year. Another had played it at least 3 of the last 4 years, and the others were new. It was nice to see some familiar faces and to meet some new folks. At least one player asked where he could get his own copy of the game, which I consider quite the compliment.
I had one hour between the end of Psi-punk and the beginning of my next game, so I met up with some old friends for a bite to eat. After some ravioli in the convention’s Hospitality Suite, I headed back to the RPG area for the one and only RPG I was scheduled to be a player in this year.
I pre-registered and filled the final open slot for N. Phillip Cole’s [G+ link] first-ever public playtest of Motobushido for Savage Worlds. Motobushido is the game of motorcycle-riding samurai in a Japanesque setting. He’s working on a Savage Worlds conversion, and boy was it a ton of fun.
I played as Daigo, the right-hand man to the boss of our motobushido pack. Daigo is vain, completely obsessed with his hair, and willing to kill anyone who touches it. The rest of the group was an interesting assortment of characters, and we had a blast getting into our respective roles.
I can’t wait for this game to be completed and on the market. It’s fantastic. The adventure we played wound up being about two times too long to fit into the four hour slot we had, so we wound up having to skip a lot of it. Despite that, we had a good time investigating the strange occurrences that were causing the surrounding lands to be sick and rotting with decay. We discovered the source, saved the day, and broke the GM’s brain with some last-minute randomness.
That was basically the entirety of my Saturday—games, games, games from 11:30 to 11:30, then head home for the night.
Sunday, March 22nd
It was the last day of the convention and my only scheduled event was Creating House Rules in RPGs, which was a workshop/panel I was on. One of our panelists (and the one originally tasked with being the moderator) wound up getting sick and wasn’t able to make it, so Rhiannon Louve and I took over to improvise the panel. Unfortunately a 10 a.m. panel on a Sunday isn’t a great time to draw a crowd—we wound up with only one audience member. We discussed house rules for about an hour, then called the panel an hour early on account of not having anything else to say.
With nothing else planned and not much else to do, I actually called it quits early and went to spend some time with my family instead. My wife and I wrapped up by getting together for dinner with our friends from the con, and we spent some time reconnecting—and recapping the convention.
We revisited our new game idea for Disorientated, the game about getting lost in parking garages. It’s an idea we came up with last year and were reminded with again when we, once again, were stuck wandering around a parking garage—this time looking for the exit and not for our car. I still have a few notes on my PC about what this game might look like, and given the time I might revisit that concept.
Overall, we had a good time at the convention this year. To be honest, it was probably one of the least action-packed shows yet.
Where was Monster Kart Mayhem?
As a side note, I didn’t get a chance to run Monster Kart Mayhem this year. I originally had scheduled two sessions to run, but due to scheduling errors I had to cancel them both. One of the sessions was scheduled to overlap by 30 minutes with my Freelancing panel and the other was 100% overlapped by Saturday afternoon Psi-punk. I was bummed that the con’s scheduling system and coordinators didn’t communicate between types of events (RPGs, board games, and panels) and that this happened. I’m not sure if I would have had any sign-ups to begin with, but was bummed I had to cancel these sessions before I even had a chance to try.
Despite the lack of MKM, the convention was a lot of fun and I still look forward to attending again in 2016.