Con-Volution 2016: Report 1

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As I sit in the corner chair in our room for Con, I take my first moment to really breath. It was a massively busy morning, and then a crazy afternoon. We hit site almost 2 hours later than I originally wanted to be here. Everything felt frantic, because we had literally less than 3 hours from getting into our room to when we were to run our first event.

The first notable event was not directly con related. Checking into the hotel was most bizarre as it seemed that someone else had already checked in our reservation. Now, I have a fairly unusual name. I have no idea how someone with the same first name, and a last name that is only differently spelled by 1 letter happens to be in the same hotel on the same weekend, having booked the same kind of room for the same event. My consort suggested that our evil doppelgangers might be here. I pray they are not, because I did not bring the right supplies to force them back into the mirror-dimension. Still, the hotel staff was very kind and sorted it all out without too much trouble.

Then the whirlwind of arriving began. We dropped sign offs in gaming the minute we could catch the head of gaming. We chased the social media guru around for adverts. We attempted to get costumed and eat food and I totally did it in the wrong order (thus requiring the first of many reapplications of the epic purple lipstick.) We read through the game material, and off we went.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a few players already waiting for us. (I can’t speak to whether my partner expected it.) Still, the usual stress of not having enough players ensued. The game is really impossible to run with fewer than 6. We had 5. And so we sent the players off to recruit. And by some miracle or another, we somehow ended up with a full cast of 8. And so we played. And it was suitably epic. And I am pleased. And now I am exhausted.

Still, it was barely 8:15 by the time we had wrapped up post-game. So we wandered off to the second floor, to the staff lounge. The two lovely women who are running that space were most pleased to feed us amazing, tasty food and chat about faire. I can only sit in awe and listen to the people around me here. So many amazing people do so many crazy things. My friends say I work magic with all the things  I do. I tell you in no uncertain terms that what I do pales in comparison to some of the miracles these people work. It is wonderful and inspiring, and a little intimidating to listen to.

And then, finally, it was time for bed. Funny to say “finally”, given that it is barely 9:30, but we are both so ready for bed. So we come to me curled up in the corner chair, typing away. I am very pleased to have a room that faces into the atrium of the hotel. There is some magic that I have tried and failed on multiple occasions to explain in sitting up here and watching the ebb and flow of con. Especially in the evening when people seem to drift. No destination in mind, just the warm daze of the surreal.

After all, Con is a completely different world. Time flows strangely here. Space accordions in unexpected ways, and the outside world all seems to fade away. We build our own space, even our own reality at Con. We are a host unto ourselves. A community of creators and consumers. We give and take and share and experience. Con is a strangely intimate experience for me, shared with so many random strangers who’s name I will never know. There is nothing like it, anywhere else.

Con-Volution 2016: Report 0

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Alright, we are T-minus 2 hours to Con. So help me it has been a crazy month leading up to this weekend. Between everything happening in my real life (aka: Work, relationships, and general adulting), and the amount of effort that has gone into prepping for our Saturday night game, I am exhausted. So is my partner in crime (who may or may not be asleep right now, while I struggle to spell words close enough to right that the spell checker can rescue them.)

“Dungeons and Delegates” is an amazing game, full of shtick and cleverness. But alas the game is also a Guild Camp game that has yet to run a second time. This means that there were a massive pile of changes that had to be implemented, not all of which were easy, and a massive pile of “would be nice to have”s, many of which were not obvious how to implement without rewriting extensive potions of the game. Therefore DnD is the most unpolished game I have ever brought to a Con.  I am incredibly nervous. But I have faith in the premise of the game, the writers, and the players who will pick it up and run with it.

The other game we are running barely registers in comparison on the amount of effort it took to prepare. It is an off the shelf parlor game that is available on the internet. That made prepping for the game utterly trivial. Sure I need to read the GM documents before we run the game tonight, but the stack of papers to read is in the tens, not the hundreds.

Despite the exhaustion, I can’t wait to get on site for Con. The hotel had a massive remodel since the last time we were there, and I haven’t seen the space yet. It may turn out to be quite an adventure. I always look forward to the dealers room and the art show, although this year I need to try really hard to restrain my spending at Con. It cost me quite the pretty penny to frame just half of the prints I have been putting off framing from previous cons. And of course, I can’t wait for the people. I can’t wait to catch up with the awesome people in Gaming, and start the ridiculous dance of chasing newsletter and the social media guru around for publicity plugs. For the first time I will get to see some of my friends who love going to Cons but have never made it to Baycon because it conflicts with Fanime and any number of other awesome cons that run on Memorial Day Weekend.

It will be a little weird to not have one particular pair (no names because internet and all that, but they know who they are) who have made my past Con experiences so memorable. It was through them that I started running games for Cons at all. On account of this, this year really feels like the training wheels are off. My partner in crime and I are kind of flying solo. I don’t have someone in prog ops or con ops that knows me well outside of Con. We’re flying on our merits as game runners, and the reputation we have built up to this point. It is kind of scary, but also very exciting.

I’m a little sad I didn’t manage to pull together a “fan table” to provide “insurance policies” against monster attacks and supernatural events. It would have been very cute with this year’s theme of “Age of Monsters”. Unfortunately my co-conspirator for that got eaten by real life. Alas, another time. And it is probably for the best given how busy the Larp Mistress and her Consort are going to be this weekend.

Stay tuned for the usual Con reports of as many of our ridiculous adventures as I can remember.

Convolution 2016 Program Grid is Live!

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I’ve clearly been on hiatus from blogging all summer. We’ve got some incredibly exciting projects brewing right now and they are taking all of my time. Still, I figure I’d better pop up and point flashy lights at Convolution 2016.

The programming grid is live and can be found here. The con is Sept 30-Oct 2, and along with my favorite co-conspirator will be running 3 games over the 3 days of Con.

On Friday night we’ll be running “All the President’s Zombies,” an adorable, low commitment game about the President and his cabinet preparing for a press conference to address reports of a zombie uprising in Georgia.

On Saturday night we’ll be running “Dungeons and Delegates” a his shtick game of the leaders of all the monster races coming together to address the problem of humans, who have just invented the gun.

On Sunday morning, we’ll be running a reprise of “All the President’s Zombies” so you have two chances to play this wonderful game.

We hope to see you there!

Roleplaying Soldiers

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<I totally didn’t finish this post when I meant to, so if you read it before 6 pm on the 4th, you may have noticed it felt incomplete. That’s because it wasn’t complete! Feel free to finish reading now that I’ve finished writing it.>

We play lots of different kinds of people when we role-play, including soldiers sometimes. Without getting lost in the politics, I want to talk about if and when this is okay. The short answer in my opinion is “Yes, if done with respect.” Actually, this is generally my answer to “Can I play ‘x’?” where ‘x’ is pretty much anything and anyone. The catch comes in defining “respect.”

I touched on this concept in the piece about playing crazy in games, but it bears repeating. It is just as easy to distill the experience of soldiers into stereotypes and tropes as anyone else’s experience. Movies do it all the time. They are stories we are familiar with. And that makes them appealing character arcs and back stories. If you tell someone “my character is an officer in the Navy,” you can expect they will have some preconceptions that help them contextualize your character in the world, and how their character likely interacts (or doesn’t) with yours.

But can someone who’s never served, who has no immediate family who’s served, really understand what it’s like to be a soldier? To fight in the trenches or serve on an aircraft carrier? Probably not. But there is no such thing as one experience shared by all soldiers. So there is no platonic truth to strive for, even if that were the purpose of gaming. There is no recourse in trying to tell the story of a specific soldier either. In that case, we ought to help them write their memoir instead, because we lose the creative freedom that is such an important aspect of role playing.

I think that’s okay. Even if we don’t know everything, we can read and research and talk to people and learn some part of the experience. And then in playing such a character, we create our own truth, for our character and for us. We learn to sympathize, if not empathize, with people who live this reality.

I’ve played soldiers in both LARPs and Tabletops. Melodi LeBeau is the most prominent example of such a character. There are parts of her story taken from anecdotal evidence from friends and acquaintances who have served. There are parts taken from novels I’ve read, like The Valor Confederation series (Which I must confess to only reading the first 4 novels before I got side tracked). And there are parts that I took my own creative liberty with.

Melodi was on active duty, and so the experience we shared was in figuring out how to protect the civilians in our care. She had her unorthodox bits of course. For example, the black ops mission she was serving would make essentially zero sense in real life, but it fit the narrative. I acknowledge that Melodi is not a true to life representation of a soldier’s life, even independent of the fact that she was part of a space faring far future AU. I dare say that this is okay. I’m making no claims on knowing the truth of what any particular soldier has been through, or broad sweeping statements of “I know what war is like.” I’m just saying that through Melodi I learned some things that help me understand a little more about the experience of soldiers.

Shared experience is powerful for building empathy. Second hand experiences like watching documentaries, or playing a roleplay games are a place to start to at least build sympathy. As I’ve said before, the ability to broaden experience and increase a person’s sympathy is one of the many powerful benefits of gaming. And so, on this 4th of July, I’ll leave you with the same sentiment we started with. Play the soldier. Be respectful about it. You might just learn something.

The Power of Games

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This is another piece that has been knocking around in my head for a long time. I know it’s not the most unique title, but I couldn’t find an adjective that encompassed everything I want to talk about. Neither “emotional” not “psychological” quite conveyed what I meant – so I just left it. Pretend the vague and slightly sensationalist title is intentional click-bait.

LARPs and tabletops have had a tremendous effect the lives of their players. Everything from our social lives to our creative endeavors are influenced and impacted by our involvement in the community. The physical impact of games is fairly self explanatory. We write games. There is physical or at least digital proof of the effort. We play games. Any one of us could talk your ear off for hours with stories of the games we’ve played. We go to cons, and run games there. There are entire cons devoted to gaming. – What is harder to see is the emotional and mental impact that games have on writers and players.

Games are sometimes trivialized as these fantastical worlds where you can play hero. You’ve always wanted to be a superhero? There are systems to play that. You want to work magic? There are more systems than I could count for that. And its true that games can serve to fulfill these fantasies in some way. But games offer a lot more than just black and white stories of heroes saving the world from the big bad.

Players in games are faced with situations that they have never faced in real life, and probably never will. They role-play characters sometimes very different from themselves, be it in their upbringing, or their current situation, or fundamental morality, or what they want out of life. Whether for just a few hours, or a few hours a week for years, players step into someone else’s shoes, get into someone else’s head, and live someone else’s life. This builds empathy. Especially if the experience isn’t wholly enjoyable, players learn from their characters.

This might sound weird. Why would you play something that isn’t fun? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? But there is so much more to LARPs and tabletops than just the fun of instant gratification. There is enjoyment to be had in power trips, even if they end poorly for your character. There is satisfaction in lying, cheating and stealing to survive in a world that is trying grind you to dust under the boot of banality. There is beauty in the tragedy of a character with a inescapable dark fate. There is exhilaration in the novelty of  tumultuous social and political standing. And like we say in LARPs, the real winners are the ones who end up with a great story.

Do The Thing

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One of the great joys of GMing for me is watching my players explore the world I’ve created and interacting with the various NPCs and little puzzles I scatter throughout my game. Now, I wouldn’t call myself an “evil” GM, but I wont say i haven’t had this moment:

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There are definitely times when I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for some big reveal and finally the players get around to pulling the lever, opening the door, destroying the maguffin, etc. I have a terrible poker face at the best of times (I really do need to work on that as a GM), but I pretty much don’t even bother trying to conceal my excitement in that instant before the players commit to something that will advance a significant plot, for better or worse.

Baycon 2016: Report 6 – The Master Mark

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Like a prepared spell waits for the master mark to be dropped in to activate it, those of you who were at Con will notice a conspicuous absence in my previous posts about Con.

I’ve given shout outs to lots of the staff who helped run an excellent Con. I’ve expressed appreciation and gratitude for my excellent players who took every turn in stride. What I haven’t done is acknowledge the reason that this all happened at all. My better half for the weekend was a dauntless soul that showed inspiring flexibility and unflappable optimism. It was his first time at Baycon and he jumped in with both feet as an attendee and my full time assistant.

This gentleman ran around with me everywhere, from gaming to ProgOps to Art Show to collaborate 2, and back again. I lost count of the number of times we ran up and down the stairs between the mezzanine and the lobby.  He carried heavy bags, held open doors, and did it all with a smile. He let me throw a barrage of names and faces at him, and drag him around to the same places so many times that by the end I at least was dreaming of them.

On day one, he held down the fort and engaged the players in conversation while I ran around like a crazy person trying to get Collaborate 2 unlocked. On day two, he sat in our room with me for hours, cutting and stapling and sorting things for “Persephone’s Gift” because I’d suffered a bad case of real life in the week leading up to Con. Of course, he had also sat with me and helped me print and sort everything in the first place the Sunday before. On day three, he sorted Garden Station papers while I addressed a case of unexpected nausea. And, he played. In every game. He stepped in and filled out the game roster, making it possible for us to play when we were short for both Garden Station runs, and was an absolutely inspiring host character for Persephone’s Gift. Ah the joys of cat herding.

I cannot imagine doing what he did at my first Con. I spent most of my first Con camped either behind a table in dealers room pointing to the person next to me whenever anyone asked me a question, or at my then boyfriend’s feet. Everything was new, and big and loud and terrifying. I can’t imagine smiling and shaking hands and shooting the breeze with strangers. He did all this, and was also my anchor when my head was in the clouds, my safe place when I ran out of spoons, and an endless source of infectious optimism.

And so, hats off to the master mark that made the spell we cast together at Con into the wonderful, amazing roller coaster that was Baycon 2016, “It’s All About Space.”

Take a Break From Gaming

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And do some different gaming?

I’m not sure how I feel about this being on a “first world problems” meme, but I can certainly get behind the sentiment. This might have originally been intended for video games, but I think it applies to our campaign tabletops and LARPs quite well. Don’t get me wrong, I dearly love our campaigns, but a couple of us have this tendency to write one-shots in the middle of our campaigns just to get a break. This goes double for crunch time for LARP writing. I swear I get my best one-shot tabletop ideas during the mad scramble in the month leading up to running a new LARP.

Much as we love our worlds, we pour our hearts and souls into the characters, their lives and stories. That can be really draining, even if it is “easy” by virtue of it being a familiar world, or a well defined one, or one we greatly enjoy. It is easy to get caught in a rut due to habits and repetition – it can feel like nothing new is happening. It’s easy to feel hemmed in by the history of the world and the defining aspects of the character – it can feel impossible to innovate.  Jumping into a different world can be really refreshing and re-invigorating.

Like many aspects of our lives, the games we play repeatedly can start to feel dull in their repetition. The novelty wears off, and sometimes we feel that things are… well, a little lackluster without it. We find ourselves playing by just going through the motions – running on autopilot. Stepping out of that comfort zone into a new game, be it for the challenge of a new world or a new system, or even just a new PC’s head to live in for a bit, is a powerful way to shake things up. And if we’re good, we can bring that energy back to the games we play week after week, and revive our engagement in the campaigns.

And, not to wax too philosophical here, I think this can cross over into to lots of aspects of our lives. A new game can bring excitement and enthusiasm that can be channeled into a relationship that has become complacent, a new project at work can bring new energy to ongoing projects, etc. It is kind of like NRE. So, game on. Enjoy the reoccurring games. Chase new ideas and new games when they appear. And if you can, let that new game energy flow out into other aspects of your life, even ones that have nothing to do with gaming.

Baycon 2016: Report 5

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Okay, I’ve had almost 24 hours since I left Con to try to recover. My head is still swimming a little. Con is always exhausting. Worth it, but exhausting. This report might come off as a little negative, but that’s really just because the negative stuff comes to mind first. There should be at least one more report coming where I try to take a more holistic approach to this year’s con.

Monday was a really laid back day. Pretty much all we did was go by art show to pick up art and make final rounds to say goodbye to everyone. I had forgotten to swing by Art show Sunday evening to check on bids, so I was really surprised I won as many bids as I did. We had also bought a ridiculous number of pieces direct sale, so in the end, we picked up like 10 pieces. There were very few active bidders at Art Show. Which is really a shame since the art was so lovely. I do hope that the lower number of bidders did not equate too much to a lower number of pieces being purchased, and that none of the awesome artists feel discouraged enough not to keep bringing us awesome art.

The low activity in Art Show is a reflection of the smaller Con I think. I don’t know what the final membership count was, but it was small. Everything was small. I’m not sure that I like the change, but it is a change whether I like it or not. And it seems that the previous discussion of moving to a different weekend have been resolved against the change. Pre-reg was available for next year. Baycon 2017 is a go the same weekend at the same hotel. Which is really exciting I’ll admit, since this time last year we didn’t know if there was going to be a Baycon 2016. Of course I didn’t make it to the wrap up panel, but I’m told that next year’s theme was hinted to be related to Star Wars.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Star Wars, but I’m kind of tired of all the Sci Fi themes. I was originally introduced to BayCon as the “Bay area science fiction and fantasy convention.” I’ve found dwindling space at Baycon for the fantasy side of things. A scientist I may be, but I am a biologist, not an engineer. My favorite books and stories are distinctly fantasy, not Sci Fi. When I write games, the stars are prophets, guides, and links to the distant past, not some fuel calculations and a casual jump away. I suppose it all works out because I don’t have any time or energy to attend panels so it is just as well that I’m not interested in them.

Gaming also felt like kind of an afterthought for this Con. Gaming was off in a corner, far away from all the other events in a tiny little space. Their hours and staff were reduced and it was a fiasco even getting them enough tables to set up and open. Despite not being on staff this year, I very much have a horse in this race. As the LARP Mistress, I sit at the juncture between programing and gaming. The events technically fall under programming, but if anyone has questions, they are going to go to Gaming. I of course also get invaluable support from newsletter, ConOps, Hotel Liason and Teen Lounge (from where I usually steal players to fill out the game roster). Still, having gaming treated like an optional afterthought makes my position shakier. Also, lots of my friends work Gaming and I’m a little indignant on their behalf.

I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts over the next few weeks as I have a chance to process the Con as a whole, so it’ll be a little while before we return to our regularly scheduled posts of me promising stuff on my campaign games and never delivering. 😉 In the mean time, Baycon 2016 LARP Mistress over and out.