One of the benefits of attending a game convention is the chance to play games one otherwise does not have the opportunity to play. Toward that end, I spent a good part of the first day of Gen Con trying out a few of the so-called “indie” RPGs. At the Forge/IPR booth, I benefited from a demonstration of Thou Art But A Warrior by the designer, Anna Kreider. This game is actually an alternative setting for Polaris, where instead of the default high-fantasy background, players take on the role of Muslim knights in the Moorish kingdom of Spain. Two things were striking about this experience. First, when a scene in the game is focused on one player’s primary character, the mechanics of the game dictate which players represent which specific supporting characters. But because the roles are determined by position at the gaming table, it’s quite possible that a player will be opposed by a rival character in one scene, only to be responsible for playing that character in the next scene. Second, the actions taken by characters must be heavily influenced by the overarching imperative that Moorish society will fall to conquest by the Christians. For me, these two factors make for a unique roleplaying experience.
After that, I participated in a short demonstration of Vincent Baker’s game, In a Wicked Age. This one presents players a pretty open-ended story-telling opportunity, except that the starting point is set with four specific oracles chosen at random. Then during play, when the evolution of the story brings the GM into conflict with a player, if the player loses the conflict, a debt is recorded to the player. The debt can later be used to either augment position during a subsequent conflict or guarantee that the player’s character survives to the next play session.
My final RPG experience for the day was a full session of a fascinating game by Joe McDonald called Perfect—”This society is perfect, except for you.” The game is set in an imagined dystopian version of Victorian England and encourages players to commit subversive acts in the face of a highly repressive government. The twist is that no matter how elaborate or unlikely, a character’s crimes-against-the-state are always successful. Tension comes from seeing how long before the character is caught and from dealing with the consequences of reeducation. Our group of players had a rollicking good time with Perfect, devising elaborate criminal acts and methods of escape. A special thanks goes to game master Darcy for seeing exactly what types of plot twists would add the most fun for each players.
Another potential benefit of the convention experience is getting the opportunity to playtest game prototypes, as well as play already released games but with special versions brought to the convention by the publishers. An night, I was able to do this with a unique super-sized 3-D version of the board game Wealth of Nations. The game play is the same, but it just adds a level of fun moving around those large sculpted tiles on a 3 foot board. Thank you to Tablestar Games’ representative for spending more hours in the open gaming room after a long day at the booth!