My Big Bad Con 2018: Part 3

Saturday

For my Saturday I had scheduled an array of playtests, all games currently being designed by people I love. I started with (Abyssal), a game Forged in the Dark by my friends and colleagues Ash Cheshire and Edward Turner. The premise:
Whenever humans build cities, they create shadows… hidden, dark places beneath the surface, where creatures that aren’t human gather. Some might call them monsters, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But you? You don’t belong to the surface or the shadows. You are in-between… cursed, or infected, or bitten but not yet turned. You stand at the edge of the abyss. Will you hold on to your humanity at all costs, or will you embrace the change that is happening to you?
It was cool to be the first outside group ever to playtest this. There were three settings to explore: Paris, 1793; London, 1888; or Las Vegas, 1971, and the players were asked to pick. Continue reading “My Big Bad Con 2018: Part 3”

My Big Bad Con 2018: Part 2

Friday

My offerings for Games on Demand (2nd year in a row)
On Friday morning I was scheduled to run a shift at Games on Demand from 9AM to 1PM. Although GoD shifts are all four-hour time blocks, GMs are encouraged to run two-hour games twice because this is useful to attendees who have just a bit of time between events. I was offering the same two-hour games as last year: Avery Alder’s The Quiet Year and Meguey Baker’s At the Stroke of Midnight. It was a treat for me to get to run both: the first group chose to venture in a graveyard at midnight to get a boon from a departed loved one, and the second to follow a community’s preparation for the expected winter hardships. Both groups of players totally “got” the spirit of the games.  Continue reading “My Big Bad Con 2018: Part 2”

My Big Bad Con 2018: Part 1

Last weekend was the eighth edition of Big Bad Con. I have had the privilege of attending every single instance and even to be part of the staff for the last few ones. It’s my very favourite weekend of the year, my Christmas.

In the last 25 years I have worked for many other conventions (organized events, volunteered, or been on staff) and attended many more, but Big Bad Con is different. It launched in 2011 with a mission to build community among tabletop and live-action role-players. Within a few years, this expanded to mean more: to make the community welcoming to all and particularly to marginalized, vulnerable, under-represented groups. Here are a few of the practical steps taken: 

Continue reading “My Big Bad Con 2018: Part 1”

The New Lair

Phantom on the bed with the retrieved Fate die.

We had many annoying setbacks but we’re almost finished settling in the new lair. Our debts are 90% paid off, we just have a little bit more to catch up with. The house is not rented yet but we moved into the little apartment that served as our gaming den. I’ll post photos when we’re completely unpacked down here, but it’s going well. We were only able to do it because we have wonderful, generous, clever friends.

We’re trying to make it as cosy as possible so that it will be pleasant despite the cramped quarters; we’re thinking of it as camping in the game room. We’re using organizers to maximize use of space, and the one thing we do have plenty of is shelf space for games, miniatures, and books. I even installed a wifi doorbell. As of today, we’ve officially moved in—including the cats!—even though there are still books and clothes to put away.

We would not have moved down here if we weren’t forced to by our finances, but there are things I can appreciate.  Continue reading “The New Lair”

Playtest: Dream Askew

Yesterday I got a chance to play Avery Alder’s Dream Askew (Buried Without Ceremony) for the first time. We tried a playtest of the new edition for which a Kickstarter funding campaign was ending today (you can still pre-order through the page afterwards.) The book is going to contain two takes on the system:

  • Dream Askew proper, where you play members of a queer enclave in a post-apocalypse setting (written by Avery);
  • Dream Apart, where you play inhabitants of a Jewish shtetl in a fantastical-historical Eastern Europe (written by Benjamin Rosenbaum).

Both make me want to play, and I hope to have a chance to try Dream Apart soon. The art looks wonderful for both settings, and amazing contributors have been added through stretch goals. I expect the final result to be a delight.

Preparation

In addition to the playtest materials available on her website, Avery was also kind enough to share a draft of the “How to Play” chapter for our playtest. I love how caring, generous and thoughtful Avery’s writing is. The chapter provides advice for the play environment and behaviours, not just the mechanical aspects.  Continue reading “Playtest: Dream Askew”

My oldest character sheet

While going through our possessions (the great trash/sell/store/keep purge), I found the binder that contained some of my oldest character sheets.

So today I present to you Keridwen, my elf fighter/magic user (I wanted to be a bard, Cú Chulainn-style) for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the first character I ever made. Keridwen was created, rolled stats and all, back in the fall of 1984 at the gaming club of Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal, called Polyèdre (Polyhedron). This makes her character sheet 32 years old—older than many people I play with these days.

In addition to the four-page character sheet (in French), there are lists of spells she was eligible to or barred from, psionic abilities she acquired, and a bad photocopy of a portrait I drew.

The choice item, though, is the last page—the will. Club members had an unwritten agreement that you could only pass a deceased character’s possessions to another of your character if the will had been drawn up. So Keridwen left everything to her half-sister Olwen with the caveat that her cash should be used to avenge her if she had been murdered…

Hard times and good friends

Things have been tough all around in the last two years (among the 99%, anyway), and our household was no exception.

When I diagnosed with breast cancer just over two years ago, I lost the energy and time to work. For months before I was diagnosed, my employer had unexpectedly dropped me (and hundreds of other employees) from full-time salaried to part-time as-needed, cutting all benefits including health insurance. When I contacted them to see if they offered any kind of emergency assistance, they said no.

For a while I received income from the state disability insurance and that kept us afloat, but after a year it ended—just as I was recovering from pulmonary embolisms linked to one of my treatment medications. But soon I began feeling better and started writing again, and managing projects for Evil Hat Productions again. I contacted my day-time employer to let them know I was available for work again. They told me they were terminating me instead.

I was getting good feedback and writing contracts from game publishers but that’s a side income, not enough to pay rent in the San Francisco Bay area—unless I was able to produce an additional 70,000 words a month. Instead of reaching this fantastic level of productivity, I started getting other physical and mental health problems and so did my husband.

Despite the incredibly generous help of friends and the wonderful publishers I work with (Evil Hat and Vigilance Press in particular!), we kept losing ground: maxed out credit card, checking accounts frequently overdraft, utilities cut on a rotating basis of “who can we afford to pay right now”, and falling behind on the rent—putting the landlord, one of our oldest friends, in financial danger himself.

We reached the bottom recently, facing homelessness even as I was being checked for suspected heart and lung disease. To be honest, for a few days the only thing that kept me from doing something stupid was remembering how much love and effort my family, friends, and the medical staff had put in keeping me alive and well these past two years. I had no idea what to do, and I know my husband Edmund was equally floored.

Then some of our friends helped us again find money we didn’t know we could access (small retirement funds we can cash), and to make a plan to purge our possessions, shrink our footprint, and balance the future budget. The house we’re renting has a mother-in-law apartment downstairs behind the garage, so we’ll move there and rent the main floor, a nice 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms house. We’ll pass the rent revenue to our friend the owner, who agreed to the plan, and thanks to more work and pay I was just offered by Evil Hat we should be able to catch up a bit at a time.

So for the next few weeks we’re selling, storing, giving away, or disposing of anything we can’t keep with us; trying to organize the apartment to be livable for two adults and three cats; clearing and cleaning the house; and dealing with various financial institutions. At least we can move a little bit at a time rather than having to do it all in one day, and we won’t have to change our address. I still need to find a day job, but at least I won’t be so desperate.

And I got a bit of good news last night: my heart and lungs are fine, I’m simply “de-conditioned” from months of health setbacks.

In all this, our many friends have been so very wonderful. If it wasn’t for them, we would not have been able to face this, to break it down into manageable tasks, or to find the necessary information and resources. We are so very grateful.

Play Report: Threadbare RPG

On Sunday I ran a game at EndGame, a local friendly game store, as part of their 3d6 Con event (a mini-con with six table of role-playing games held three times a year.) I chose to run Threadbare, a delightful game created and published by Stephanie Bryant and Powered by the Apocalypse.

Threadbare RPG is a role-playing game in which you play a jury-rigged toy in a broken world. Caught in a world where Entropy is a constant danger, you’ll patch yourself up, invent new devices, and maybe make new friends along the way.

Your character starts out as a Softie (soft-filled toy), a Mekka (hard-shelled, plastic or metal toy), or a Sock (a single sock, often thought to have been lost in the laundry).

In Threadbare, there are no hit points and characters do not die (unless a player wishes to make an extraordinary sacrifice.) Instead, each toy character is made up of parts that can be damaged, modified, exchanged, or lost. They are in a constant state of change. There are also no experience points; instead, the characters undergo more change or repair of their own choice. In addition, when a player rolls a failure (6 or less on two six-sided dice), they gain a hold which can be spent at a time of their choosing to activate a benefit specific to their character’s type and form.  Continue reading “Play Report: Threadbare RPG”

Catch-up post: November behind us

So yeah, November could have gone better on a personal level, but it could also have gone worse. Late in the evening of October 31, I started feeling bloated, burping but without passing gas. I started headed for bed but sudden pain made me throw up. I took some acetaminophen and simethicone (anti gas medicine) and finally went to bed, but did not sleep well; I had pain on the right side of the abdomen. The next day, I would have liked to see my doctor but Edmund got sick too and I didn’t feel I could drive.

On Thursday December 2, I got on Kaiser Permanente’s online system and requested a phone consultation with my general practitioner, as I was worried about the possibility of diverticulitis. She’s super nice and called me back immediately instead of waiting for the appointment time. She listened to my tale and sent me to get a CT scan right away saying this sounded like classic symptoms of appendicitis. This revealed a prodigious stupidity on my part: I said, “Isn’t the appendix on the left?” Because, you see, ever since college biology classes I know exactly where various organs are and can point to them on a chart… which is facing me. Yup, the chart’s left is my right, yup, I knew that…

So we went to the hospital and the CT scan confirmed an  inflamed and swollen appendix but revealed no abscesses, which was a good thing. I was sent to the emergency room and eventually admitted for a hospital stay. I was relieved to see that the surgeon who would be taking care of my case was Dr. Rhona Chen, who had performed my lumpectomy a year ago. She is great and everyone on the staff keeps saying she’s the one they request for themselves and their family. She is the very archetype of the surgeon, very smart, no-nonsense, fact-driven, stern, thorough. Dr. Chen diagnosed this as a ruptured appendix, but possibly a small rupture that had not cause fecal fluids to escape. the

Because I had been on coumadin (a blood thinner) since my pulmonary embolisms in February, and because the scan revealed neither abscess nor pooling fluids and therefore it was not a peritonitis case, the surgeon had me put on a heparin intravenous drip (an anticoagulant that is used for surgery, allowing higher blood thickness and thus reducing the risk of hemorrhage.) I also received high-grade IV antibiotics, and fluids because I was dehydrated and could not not be allowed to eat or drink in case I had to be rushed to surgery.

So yeah, the first few days were spent under close observation with three IV drips going at all times, waiting for my blood to get in the right anticoagulant and viscosity ranges. During that time, the antibiotics brought the inflammation down, the pain subsided, and after five days I received a new CT scan. This, and my blood test results, showed that indeed the inflammation was decreased. So Dr. Chen kept me under observation for a bit more but allowed me to have solid food, and changed my heavy-duty antibiotics to milder ones that could be administered only periodically, about 20 minutes of IV every six hours instead of nearly constantly.

Although I still had to have all my intravenous catheters in place, I now had only one drip on for much of the time, so that was an improvement. And let me tell you, between constantly getting blood samples taken, and having to rotate the catheter locations due to bruising and vein collapse, I was a mess. My veins are small and crooked and “roll” easily, so it’s always hard to find a good spot. By the end of my stay at the hospital, both my arms were covered with bruises but at least the nurses did not have to start looking in other spots.

I was kept on heparin during the transition back to Coumadin because the other transition medication that is normally used, Lovenox, requires abdominal injections that get pretty sore, and could have masked abdominal pain from the appendix. Since the latter would have been a sign that surgery was needed after all, the hospital pharmacist did not authorize Lovenox and so I had to stay at the hospital until my blood was thin enough to prevent pulmonary embolisms.

During my stay, Edmund visited me several hours each day and drummed up visitors and calls for me. We played board games, at first on my little table in the hospital room and later, when I was able to walk further (with my IV drips!) and needed less supervision, in the vending machine room where there are a few tables. Thank you to all my friends who checked on me!

At last I got out, in time so I could attend the monthly meeting of the Planning Commission (I’m a commissioner) and our friends’ annual Thanksgiving potluck. Still, the rest of November was a shambles and I’m barely beginning to catch up.

Big Bad Con is the best! – Part 3

Program, badge, buttons

Sunday Supers

(This is my continued recap of my weekend at Big Bad Con.)

I had once again gone to bed well after midnight and thinking about what my husband Edmund had to miss by going home to give the cats their medication every night. He was running the second instance of “The League of Extraordinary Felines: 1954” in the morning, but I had signed up for a different game because I thought Edmund’s scenario was the same one I had played two or three times.

I knew Edmund was hoping to see me in his game, I knew  I was going to have fun playing a cat again, so I used the online to cancel my signup for the other game (which really sounded awesome, by the way, but that’s Big Bad Con for you: too many awesome games.) I was really glad that, thanks to the online system, the GM would know I had dropped and someone else would be able to sign up to take my spot.

I got up even blurrier than the morning before—where is the gamer resilience of yesteryear?—but I packed my bags for later checkout and went to Starbucks to grab coffee since a 20-oz Starbucks latte was only 35¢ more than a 12-oz. drip coffee downstairs! To be virtuous, I also got us some fruit salads for breakfast, then made my way to the game room.

“The League of Extraordinary Felines: 1854” was a new adventure featuring last year’s characters, using the Mutants & Masterminds 3rd. ed. system (Green Ronin Publishing.) Our group was composed of Kendra, playing Pluto, master of the mystical arts; Sarah, playing Dinah the fairy cat; Christine (not the same Christine as Saturday) playing Ta Miu the master of eternal life and time; Xander, playing Mr. Twitchett the gadgeteer and tinkerer; and me, playing Growltiger the brick.

It’s the fourth time Edmund runs this setup at a convention and so far, no one has ever signed up because of the system; at best, people remember playing it at some point, but all say that they signed up because they wanted to play a cat! As usual, we had a lot of fun. We investigated murder most foul, faced giant Sumatra rats, then confronted the immense Ratzilla! Growltiger was formidable against minion rats, and Ratzilla was defeated thanks to the combined cleverness of Mr. Twitchett and the rest of the team.

After the cat game we grabbed a couple of burgers and fries from the hotel restaurant (they are quite good and I nominate this as the best value for the dollar on the menu), and headed for the last game of the weekend. Edmund and our friend Adi were signed up but I had been unable to snag a spot in time. I was hoping to crash the game, but I saw mid-morning that one player had just dropped so I immediately contacted the host! So that’s another thumbs-up for all-online signups.

 

Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne

The game was Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne (Pompey Crew Design), a GM-less story game where a witch convicted of bringing the plague is taken to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, where a harsh ritual will be performed to cleanse her.

Our party included all six characters in the playset: our host Gretchen Burneko as Ham the Romani guide; Justin as the demanding Sir Hayden; Edmund as the somber Sir Thorne; Alyssa as Brother Armand, wrestling with his faith and conscience; Adi as the witch; and me as Berrick, Sir Hayden’s squire (yes, I kept thinking “Baldrick.”)

It was an intense game and everyone gave great role-playing performances, particularly Adi who was a most splendid, unsettling, and heart-wrenching witch.

The game and the weekend were over all too soon; we said our goodbyes and headed home, tired but pleased with our time at Big Bad Con.