Convention Report: Pax 2011 Games

Every time I go to a Con there’s one thing I want to do more than anything else, I really want to experience some role playing games that I’ve never played before.  It’s a top priority.  Pax is such a large con and so video game oriented that I struggled to find RPG groups ready to roll out an adventure, but I did happen to fjord through an ocean of board games and get to a few good RPGs.

When I did find great tabletop gaming, it was in one place…

The Indie Games Room

In my time between panels and queuing up for other things I tried to hit the Indie Games room as much as possible, if only to just look at the books they had on the table for browsing.  Of all the tabletop areas, this was the most inviting room.  With someone cheery and eager to help explain the setup and what games will be available and when as soon as I walked in each time, they really did a great job of making me want to play there.  It’s nice, as a gamer, to get that sort of welcome.  Particularly from other gamers, since we have an unfortunate tendency to close ourselves off and stick to our cliques.  Game Masters, many of which were designers of their own games and featured on the GMing panel I first went to, were running games on every even numbered hour throughout the weekend, giving two hour demos that told some surprisingly complete stories.  I only managed to play two game in this room, but I was very pleased with both.

Mouseguard Boxed Set

Based on the on the comic series of the same name and a variation of the Burning Wheel system, Mouseguard is a role playing game that captures the low-fantasy world of a medieval society of anthropomorphic mice.  I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the system, particularly in regard to the Player phase of the game, which admittedly we didn’t test, but I had a great time with the conflict resolution system in it’s odd sort of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” way.  Our Game Master did a great job of letting us state our goals and then had us narratively justify each action type in how it moves us toward that goal, then we used the game’s pretty simple system of opposed dice rolls (where applicable) and he described the action.  The end result of this sort of attempt/description interaction allows for some great conflict sequences, whether they be against environmental or combatant challenges, and makes for a very cinematic visualization of the scene.  Immediately after the game I discussed it with my friends and girlfriend, each of us expressed a desire to play again, and soon.  My only struggle was whether or not to purchase the boxed set, which I did ultimately go ahead and order.  The box comes with the original Mouseguard RPG book, a supplement, action cards for players and Game Master, specially marked dice, a map of the lands the Guard Mice protect, and lastly something I find to just sort of be out of place, a few brightly colored, plastic chesspiece style mouse tokens for tracking map movements.  The tokens did feature in the first Mouseguard book, Fall 1152, but looked much more naturally colored as if with dull dyes on clay as opposed to what I can only describe as “Fisher Price” style vibrancy in the box.  It just jarred with the rest of the character of the game, and I found them a little disappointing.  I have some plans to maybe repaint or at least do a wash on the pieces to make them look just a bit grittier.

Polaris

The other game I was lucky enough to spend a few hours playing gave me an entirely new perspective on role playing.  Far more a structured system of improvisation than traditional games, Polaris is designed for four players, each of which takes turns rotating through roles as both their own individual character, bit part NPCs, and antagonist to another player.  Each rotation of these responsibilities brings with it a change of scene, which may pick up from mere moments after the previous scene or years later depending on the storytelling.  Players have a conversational barter system, bolstered by abilities on their sheet, and conflicts of stats can be brought down to a single die roll.  The system supports role play and combat almost entirely via shared by tale-telling and blocking “phrases”.  I was absolutely amazed with how much story, and the level of depth we explored in our characters, in only two hours of play.  Ben Lehman, the game’s writer, facilitated the game for the four of us, but it took no time to learn and roll with, and he was mostly there so the group didn’t have to read through his rule booklet to know how to play.  I picked up a copy and can’t wait to gather some of my other Game Master friends to run this.  I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I sometimes exclude those folks from games because there tends to be an undertone of tension, that silent power struggle or a “that’s not how I’d do it but…” comment that can come from a GM-player, that is to say someone who is accustomed more to being an GM than a player, but this is the perfect game to remedy that problem.

Other Games

I think with a convention the size of Pax and with so much to do at all times sort of hinders the ability to sit down and play a full session.  I got in a few other games during the con that averaged about an hour, including the Dungeon Delves run by Wizards of the Coast.  I looked in on some short Pathfinder Society games, and got in someone’s homebrew airship battle system to be implemented with their 3.5 campaign, but all of these things were more or less demos rather than full sessions with limited to no role play.  I even participated in the Wizards of the Coast booth Live-Action Role Playing experience, which consisted of no role play and about 2 dice rolls per person, granted it was more of an attention grabbing gimmick than anything, but I was hoping for something more somehow.  With panel lines filling up two hours before hand for some of the major guests, and the huge sprawl of the gaming area, I just don’t think Pax is a good home for tabletop role playing necessarily, but that isn’t to say I didn’t have a great trip as a Role Player between other nerdly interests and even the tabletop oriented panels I wrote about last week.

As a conclusion to my awesome trip (in spite of what it may seem based on that previous paragraph) I’ve decided to host my gallery o’ Pax pictures over on the Game Hermit Facebook page.  Pop over, give a “Like”, and take a look.

Piranha Plant Cosplay

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