[Green Mountain Game Days] Summer Game ‘n Grill 2011

Chuck (standing) checks in on the crew of the Burlington InSpectres franchise: Suri, Siobhan, Frank, Charlton, Joe and Andy (left to right).

Last Saturday at the Summer Game ‘n Grill, we got to play two, count ’em, two role-playing games. And I didn’t have a brain fart as embarrassing as at Lyndonville, so I’m counting the day as a complete win.

The early morning was spent setting up the grange — stocking the fridge and snack stand, shifting tables — and then waiting for a critical mass of role-players to arrive, namely the crew from central Vermont.

Once they rolled in, we got to business.

“InSpectres Vermont. How can we exorcise you today?”

I’ve wanted to give InSpectres a whirl since picking it up at PAX East in March. It seemed well-suited for a game day in that characters are quick to gin up by allocating nine points among four attributes and the mechanics — namely task resolution and the confessional narration mechanic — encourage the players to take a portion of narrative control, allowing the GM to have less of an idea of where a session or scene is going. My hope was to take some idea kernels I had for this year’s Ghostbusters adventure, drawing on material from Lewis Carroll‘s Wonderland novel and use the febrile imaginations arrayed before to flesh it out.

As it turned out, no one took advantage of the confessional mechanic. One player, Frank, rightly noted it’s prudent to remind people a ways into a session of new, unfamiliar options like that. InSpectres being new to me as well, I wasn’t familiar enough with all the knobs and dials to notice others had also forgotten about one. But that was fine.

The amount of authorial control players took on was enough to keep everyone engaged, I think. With one exception, I think everyone in the group had some experience in the style of sharing control over task results and story direction, so there was effort to create results more interesting than “I win!”

For instance, Frank injected a background detail that dove-tailed beautifully with my germinating notions. From that a whole array of options opened — some of which are still occurring to me even now as I write this actual play report, so that’s huge.

In retrospect, I think this session taught me about being mindful of working all the characters into a narrative. Due to inattentiveness on my part, I think Charlton’s ghost character found himself on the outskirts of the action more often than not; the ghost couldn’t perceive things because that didn’t seem “right” to me when really it was more interesting — and with the benefit of hindsight, actually right — that he should have. So that was my bad, Charlton. Sorry!

Overall, though, I think it was a good session. I certainly got to pick a lot of good ideas from the players. It might be time to rotate the GBI-Boston crew, for one. I’ve already been thinking it’s time for a Vermont-based franchise to start up. Maybe this next trip will involve a sub-plot of looking for a suitable location to open up shop.

No One Crosses Grandma

After a lunch break before wrapping up InSpectres, we regrouped inside to get out of the afternoon sun for Charlton to take us through Apocalypse World. I was sufficiently overheated and drowsy from the sun that I wasn’t certain I was going to make it, but it paid off. Cloud cover came along to make the porch bearable again, which helped immensely, as we were sharing the upper room with a very boisterous game of Battlestar Galactica that made it difficult to make out what anyone was saying.

I found the modular character creation aspect of Apocalypse World interesting. There are character types: cycle gang leader, gunlugger and so forth. Each player chooses from a pool of types and their character is the only one of that type. The player then has a series of choices to make about the kind of character, usually choosing from lists of adjectives and traits. With the cycle gang leader archetype, I could make him wiry or fat, for instance, then decide if he was weary or vicious, and then describe his machine and general state of the gang. The choices were more varied than that, but you get the idea.

The game itself clipped right along. I liked the way Charlton would constantly turn questions back on the player who asked. “What happens next?” “What do you think happens next?” That’s a trick I hope to keep in mind in the future.

I didn’t get to play with the mechanics as much as I might have in experimenting with a new game. Most of it was I found myself making choices for the character that didn’t necessitate taking one of the resolution stances. I suppose that means he wasn’t doing the sorts of things an Apocalypse World character is expected to do, but Chuck’s hocus cult leader was — to my cynical eye — surprisingly above board and he found ways to incorporate his favored stances.

At the end of the night, Charlton did suggest picking these characters up again at Carnage. I could see that happening, if we all found a time to play — and really, what time isn’t there to play at a convention?

Personally, I’m very satisfied with this year’s Game ‘n Grill. It was Green Mountain Gamers’ fifth game day in a year, nearly to the day. My personal project has been building up the role-playing portion. From the beginning, when it amounted to my role-playing notes languishing in the corner while everyone else focused on board games, we’ve gotten up to two separate games with a group of six to seven players in each one. That’s pretty awesome.

Now if only I could figure out how to show still more people that a game day is a suitable venue for role-playing games.

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