Monday, August 15, 2011

"He Should Never Be Allowed To GM Again." (GenCon Report, Pt 3)

Late is better than never, I reckon.  And this is a long 'un.  I apologize in advance.

) Friday Night

Friday night was the annual gathering of the Haymaker! fanzine gang, the Haymaker! Jam.  I used to write regularly for this HERO System-themed 'zine in the late 90s and early 2000s, but my participation has dropped to next to nil in recent years due to time, a disatisfaction with the direction of the HERO brand, andtruly the main reasona lack of regular superhero gaming to keep the spark burning.  I keep promising the crew that I'm going to jump back in, but something always comes up.  I'm a flake, and I owe them (yet another in a long list) an apology.

Anyhow, I had The Woman with me, and no time to sit in on the yearly gaming session. But I popped in to say howdy, and to introduce the wife.  We gabbed for a bit, and then I made my exit.  It was pleasant, and I'm glad I visited.

They're truly a great bunch of guys, and they've all paid their dues in all things HERO.  I'm honored to know them.

) Saturday Morning

Saturday marked the first real time I had to explore the dealer room, and I had money to burn.

Those aforementioned Haymaker! guys?  One is Dave Mattingly, the main man behind BlackWyrm Publishing, and one of the kindest, gentlest, and funniest individuals I've ever met.  To celebrate the release of Star HERO 6th, Blackwyrm had some new products for sale that are right up the alley of any post-apocalyptic fan.

And because their guy manning the BlackWyrm booth did such a great job suggestively selling, I bought two of their three new releases.

The Wreck Of Alpha Central was described, and I quote, as "Space Opera meets Gamma World."  As if that wasn't enough to get my money, here's the closing lines of the introductory page:

"So what happens to a world of 40 trillion people when the food shipments stop and the lights go out?  That's what this book is about."


The book has plenty unique locales, character templates, critters, and equipment, and I'm definitely going to purloin some of the "underground metropolis" bits for my own Mutant Future campaign.

I next started thumbing through Posthegemony: Terra Nomenklatura—A Roleplaying Game About Escaping From Utopia, and the salesman threw out this gem:  "It's like 'Idiocracy' meets 'Logan's Run'."

That, too, was an instant sale.  Not only is Idiocracy a criminally underrated movie, but I own several full cases of Brawndo—The Thirst Mutilator soda, and always pull out a can or two on special occasions.

(Yes, it really exists.  And, yes, it causes heart palpitations...but in a good way.)

Like most things HEROPosthegemony... is a littleactually, make that a lotdryer than what I prefer, but it's thoughtful and detailed, and atypical of most things on the shelves.  A worthy purchase.

This was the third book, all about aliens taking over the earth, and humanity having to cope. 

Next paycheck, Mr. Mattingly.

) Saturday Afternoon

I've eaten, breathed, and slept funnybooks for most of my existence, and while I love both universes, I've always been a "DC Guy" over a "Marvel Guy".

Suicide Squad is my favorite series of all time.

The Flash's Rogues' Gallery are my favorite villains of all time.  (I love them so much, I even put that possessive apostrophe in the name, even though it hasn't been officially used in about three decades.)

And I love spectacle.  The ridiculous.  The out-there.  The nutzoid.  Things that are so crazy they just might work.

I try to avoid irony, and I really try to avoid mockery.  I truly love "flawed" works, as long as they're sincere.

So how could I pass up this?  [All grammatical errors taken directly from the GenCon event listing proper.]

"Suicide Squad Story (for 6 to 10 players):  Captain Cold leads the Flash Rogues Gallery, but during a short stint with Suicide Squad he falls for the beautiful Vixen.  Theirs is a forbidden love in a violent shadowy world, torn apart by two warring factions, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim."

Sweet merciful crap.  I didn't know how it was going to work, or what to expect, but...


It had the Squad.  It had the Rogues.  And it had a song in its heart.


So, naturally, it broke mine.

The game was two tables side by side, and I was the last player to arrive.  A full crowd of nine were there, plus the GM and his wife.  Characters were already chosen, but there were still a huge pile from which to pick.

I ended up with the Weather Wizard.  Awesome.  He's my 2nd favorite Rogue, after Captain Boomerang.

And the character sheet was, 4-5 double-sided pages long.  Powers.  Bio.  Footnotes to relevant comic stories, down to the issue number.  "Deep, Dark Secret" page you weren't supposed to share with your fellows.

This GM knew his stuff.  I consider myself The World's Foremost Squad-N-Rogue-ologist, and this guy had the goods.  I was impressed, and totally geeking out.

(I must mention that no one picked either Captain Cold or Vixen, who were supposed to be the star-crossed, um, stars of the scenario.  This proves important later.)

Because we had so many people, he split the table into the "Rogue" side and the "Squad" side.  I sat next to a woman playing the Golden Glider, and another guy who was The (Original) Trickster.  The GM gave a bit of an introduction, detailing the comics and cast for those who weren't familiar.  The GM explained how the Suicide Squad book often lived up to its name, with a rotating cast due to injury and death.

"That's why I have all these extra character sheets," he casually mentioned.

And then the GM began to weave his tale.  It involved duplicity and treachery by other Rogues, and how our side of the table had to deal with some traitors and their scab villain hirelings stealing our gear and identities ("Franchised Rogues").  This was all well and goodand, truly, right out of the comicsbut he spent over 35 minutes on our side of the table.  The other players were bored out of their collective skulls.

During this time, the GM tried emphasizing the musical bits, adding some background music and sing-song dialogue in attempts to hit all the beats of West Side Story.  But very few people had even seen the musical, and even fewer were interested in that element, so the only thing the GM kept up was some incessant snapping.

After a bit of combatand I really do mean "a bit", because the whole thing amounted to "Roll Initiative...ok, this is what happens"to acquaint everyone with how the dice worked, he went to the other side of the table...and started in on their story for about 45 minutes.  I was able to follow it pretty well, but I had to narrate what was happening to the Golden Glider gal beside me.  She was absolutely lost, and had no idea what was going on, as she wasn't a comics fan, and wasn't really a gamer.  She just wanted to hang out with her husband...who was playing Deadshot, at the farthest end away from her.

But then things got really weird, beacuse the GM trotted out The Specials for the Squad to battle.

It's okay if you don't know anything about The Specials, The World's Sixth Best Super-Team.  They're from a delightful, little-seen movie that was what Mystery Men should've been.  I've seen it so many times, I can quote all the great lines.

But no one but me and the GM had seen the movie.

This made things even MORE confusing for everyone assembled.  And while I couldn't make everything out because of all the noise and the sheer distance involved, there seemed to be a huge NPC body count at that end of the table...despite there not being that many dice rolled.  It reached a point where even I had no idea what was transpiring.

At about the 100 minute mark, the GM was finally ready to merge the two storylines, and he set the stage for the Rogue side and Squad side to finally meet and duke it out in a secret fortress of the Big Bad.  Yes, people were bored, confused, and irritated, but still trying to get into the spirit of things, and ready to scrap to vent their frustrations.

The Rogue side went first.  We spent some prep time planning out our strategy to invade the fortress of one Vandal Savage.  We spent about 15-20 minutes hashing the plan—and roleplaying it out—until ironed out to perfection.  The time came to being our incursion...

...and not 15 seconds of flavor text later, the GM said, "Roll for Initiative."

All the Rogues rolled.
We all lost.

Then he said...

"The Top spins out from the shadows and targets you, Weather Wizard, because you're the most powerful.  He zips behind you, grabs your head, and snaps your neck.  You die instantly."

The entire table fell silent, expecting the GM to indicate he's kidding.  He wasn't.  He kept staring at me, deadly serious.

I replied, "Well, that was abrupt."  One guy barked out a laugh.

The GM then turned to the other players, and proceeded to tell them how they, too, were instantly slain.  Golden Glider was immolated, and The Trickster had his sweetbreads and spine ripped out.

And then, not skipping a beat, the GM grabbed the stack of remaining PCs and tossed them at us, and said:

"I warned you early it might get ugly.  You can pick out new character sheets if you want, or just leave."

He then turned to the other end of the table, and started up with the Squad again.

We Rogue players were stone silent.  The lady next to my left looked like she was going to cry, and the guy to my right disgustedly pulled out his iPad.  I kinda zoned out, shellshocked.  No one picked up new sheets.

Would you believe the game went on for over another hour?

The Squad ended up fighting an entirely brand new team of villains, and I didn't recognize a single one.  They had names like "The Perforator" and "The Hype" and such, and I was totally lost...and if I'm lost, then I pity anyone else playing that game.

From what I could make out, the Squad beat some villains, and then the GM launched into a big monologue...with himself.  Because he was playing both Captain Cold and Vixen, remember?

His big finale was all about him acting out the NPCs.

When all was said and done, people were pretty much running for the doors with moods varying from "Disgusted" out "Outright Furious".

It was single-handedly the worst game I've ever played...and one I wanted to enjoy the most.

While I mentioned dice plenty of times, I neglected to mention the actual rules system.  The game was billed as the old Mayfair DC Heroes (3rd Edition) game, but the GM was using his trusty 1st Edition books and screen.

I may not have played DC Heroes in over 25 years, but I'm fairly certain the entire game wasn't determined by who just straight won Initiative...and that's how all combats went the entire game.

You rolled your dice, the GM rolled his..and he ALWAYS won.  Then he told you how screwed over you were.

The game was nothing more than the GM's own personal fan-fic novel made manifest.

When we were all alone, I made some smalltalk with the GM, because I REALLY wanted to understand his goals, and his mindset behind the scenario.  I wasn't looking for a chance to belittle him or insult him; I simply wanted an explanation.

He was jovial and happy ( "I think that went really fact, I think I'll run it again next year."), and graciously shared all his notes.  [And I'm ecstatic he did, as his character sheets were brilliantly done, and I'll happily add them to my own comic/gaming files...yeah, they're that good.]

And he even let me see his overall plot sheet,  Just wow.  The story was broken down into 15-20 plot beats, with each PC (supposedly) getting some major screen time, with major DRAMA attached.  There were layers upon layers of betrayals and secrets and schemes and machinations, like...

The Top was lying to the Rogues.
Vandal Savage was lying to The Top.
Captain Cold was lying to Vandal Savage.
Amanda Waller was lying to Captain Cold.
The Hype was lying to Amanda Waller.

It was absolutely insane.  There was no way that anyone could pull that off in a 4-hour con game with 10 people.  Just no way.

Upon seeing The Hype mentioned again, I asked the GM who that last batch of villains were, as it REALLY bugged me that I didn't recognize them.

"Oh, they're my own custom villains from a homebrew 'Venture Brothers' campaign.  I liked them so much from my GenCon scenario last year, I used them again."

Uh-huh...I see.

At that point, I excused myself.  I needed a drink.

) Saturday Night

And drinks were had.  Because I am "a blogger" (*snort*) I went to a "Media Meet & Greet" in a basement bar called The House.  I hid in a corner and charged my phone for about 30 minutes because I didn't recognize a soul...but right when I was about to leave, I bumped into Tim Snider.  And that made it all worthwhile.

We got a booth and gabbed.  We swapped tales of RPGs and legendary bouts of Illuminati.  We even moved beyond the dice and talked about our jobs and families and comics, which culminated in his unabashed gushing about Sleepwalker

He single-handedly salvaged my downright awful afternoon, and I consider him to be A Truly Swell Gentleman And One Of The Good Guys.

Oh, one last thing...when walking back to the hotel, I bumped into one of the fellows (I think he played Bronze Tiger) from the Rogues/Squad game, and he happened to be cussing up a bluestreak to some of his buddies about the game.

I asked him what he thought of the afternoon, and he launched into a diatribe about how, at last year's GenCon, he had played in a Suicide Squad-themed event where our aforementioned GM was a fellow player...

...who hand-picked Captain Cold as his character.

"All he did was blast things with his cold-gun.  Time to interrogate a prisoner?  'I blast him with my cold-gun.'  Time to sneak into a building?  'I blast it with my cold-gun.'  ALL HE DID WAS CONSTANTLY INTERRUPT THE GM AND ALL THE PLAYERS BY BLASTING THINGS WITH HIS FUCKING COLD-GUN."

And then he followed up with, "Today's game was THE WORST thing I've ever played..."

...and the end of his quote titles this very blog entry.

) Sunday

Carousing with The Wife and our motley band of friends.  Let us never speak of this again.

That's it for my GenCon adventures, and I hope they weren't too boring or annoying.

Thanks for reading.