Vacations and Conventions, Fun and Learning, Storytelling and Role-Play

My vacation is over as of today, but I had a really good time at PortCon! My four RPG sessions all went great, with packed tables and super happy players afterwards that I made even happier when I surprised them with artwork souvenirs. The con after-party for staffers wrapped-up after 9 pm on Sunday and my wife and I got home totally wiped-out from the convention. My voice, as usual, got blown-out from having to orate at high volume for hours to be heard over the noise of the RPG room while also speaking in character as old fishermen, cultists, Nyarlathotep, squeaky-voiced-teen-stock-character-number-one, a grumpy marionette, and Tank-Tank’s sassy sister, Jet-Jet. But it isn’t shot as bad as in years previous thanks to the addition of some sound barriers at the con that the RPG team will seek to improve further for next year. And as I said to start, I had a great time! :-)

I set a new personal record for most players in a single game by running a session of nine players for my Hattie Hooch Lovecraft game on Saturday night. The game went very well, and 8 of the 9 players had a grand time despite (A) not solving the mystery and (B) barely surviving or not surviving. The one dissatisfied player had been a difficult and bossy person IRL/out-of-character in this and several other con games, and had not endeared himself to rest of the players. But then he went and did something quite stupid in-character when a cultist had the drop on him at point-blank range with a shotgun. Instead of keeping his hands up in surrender, he had his character try to pull his gun from an underarm holster and somehow out quick-draw a man with a finger on a trigger and twin barrels only a few feet away from his chest.

Yeah. That didn’t work out so well for poor Detective Renard… A shotgun slug to your ribs is a bad thing, kids. Avoid that.

But it was when the cultist stood over his stunned, twitching body… put a boot on his gaping wound, and blew the top of his head off that shit got real for the rest of the players. They saw that I had no qualms about killing-off their player characters and my darlings, and that this setting was deadly.

The difficult player tossed dice and stomped off, but I don’t reward stupid unless it’s a comedy game. The rest of the player group was silent as he left — but even without words I could tell they were glad to see him go — and then they all coalesced into a team out of desperation, realizing that by allowing his dumb actions to go unchecked the whole situation was now cascading out of control and the rest of the characters might now all die as well.

A few more did die, but not stupidly or for a lack of trying to save their lives. An entire village of cultists turned on them, and those that did escape only made it out by the skin of their teeth. After another player was murdered, it took one player’s self-sacrifice and another player’s deft — even heroic — use of a Rolls-Royce Phantom to run-down cultists and collect the others to GET THE HELL OUTTA HATTIE!

Those that made it barely survived. And there were far, far worse things in that village than cultists that had been alerted by the ruckus that would have ripped them apart (literally) if they’d tried to fight it out only a few minutes longer. The surviving agents escaped rattled, less a little sanity, and with hardly any more clues as to what “Hattie Hooch” was than when they started. So, from a mission perspective, the game was an abject failure. But from the perspective of playing a game that emulated a good, spooky and scary horror story that tested the player’s wits and role-playing to keep their characters alive when it hit the fan… it was an absolute WIN and they loved it! :-)

Photo by Brad LeFay

My second Lovecraft game, Whispers on Weldon Island, did not run as well or as large. It wasn’t a bad game by any measure: There was some decent role-play and it played out like classic Lovecraftian mystery and horror with the monstrous threat felt, but not seen until the very end. There was lots of investigation and clue finding, and I was impressed that there was no violence on the player characters’ part until the climax. Everybody had a good time. It was just that the players picked a group of characters (unintentionally) that had very little insight on the situation and very little, shall we say, “Chemistry” with one another. It made the game much less than it could have been in my eyes, and there was a TON of stuff that they missed out on. But like I said, everyone claimed they had a good time and was challenged… and in this game they actually did solve the mystery. ;-)

Oh well… my novel version based off the scenario will be much better. :-)

Photo by Brad LeFay

My Toys Against Darkness games bookended the convention on Thursday and Sunday and did exceptionally well. Everyone was all smiles and having wild fun straight through each. One player even made a short video that I found afterwards about their enjoyment of PortCon and cited my game as a highlight:

Now that’s a good feeling to get post-convention! :-D

(The con also used an image of me gamemastering in their local TV commercial this year (14 seconds in), which I didn’t even know about until after the con. That’s kinda cool too, and it is a great picture taken by a PortCon staffer.)

Lots of other stuff happened that was loads of fun, but this post is already running too long, so I’m just going to say that it was a hell of a good time. :-)

I do plan to return as staff and run games again next year at PortCon 2019, but I’m going to approach my planning differently. I do not want my gamemastering and game design for the convention to disrupt my writing like it has the past three years. No. Not ever again. I am not going to plot and flesh-out the character backgrounds for the games anywhere near as much as I have been, because all that work hardly gets touched.

Instead, I’m going to streamline the whole character process and mostly keep the actual here’s and what’s of the actual games completely in my head aside from a few key notes. I ran all my games this way this year with lots of improvisation, and they were some of the best games I’ve ever run. There’s simply no need for me to detail the player character options with the depth that I did for the Lovecraft games… It would have been a massively wasted effort and squandered time if not for the fact that I’m also plotting out these as stories I intend to write down the road with the same outlines and characters.

I’ve already got my three game ideas for next year. I’m going to whip-up the characters for them — just what I need to fill a character sheet and few paragraphs of background, because that’s all the players are going to see and/or use anyways for 4-6 hours of gaming — and have all that done months and months ahead of the start of the convention. Then I’ll give myself lots of room just to think about the scenarios. Knowing the scenarios prepared me for the games way better than writing down painstaking notes this year, and improvising on my feet and adapting to what the players are doing made for way better cooperative storytelling than following a rigid plan ever could.

I think that between those two major changes, I’ll save myself many weeks or months of work that I can then invest in writing fiction instead… and not getting stressed out over an event that should rightfully be all fun and good vibes for me. :-)

Have a great week everyone, and keep writing!

~Jason H. Abbott.

9 thoughts on “Vacations and Conventions, Fun and Learning, Storytelling and Role-Play

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  1. Oh, goodness. Why does one guy always have dispel the fun of the game? I love that the rest of your players pulled through after he took off. It sounds like they had a lot of fun! How awesome being included in a highlight reel!

    It’s great that you’re already moving on with bright ideas for next year and I’m glad you’re putting your foot down and not letting the Con get in the way of your writing. Sounds to me like you’re already tackling PortCon2019! Congrats!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Anne! To be honest, the gamers at PortCon are a good bunch and this was my first such experience in my three years running. Not my first problematic player at the con, but usually the issue is social awkwardness which is a very different kind of thing and something that’s a lot easier to handle.

      Next year I’m thinking of running 3 games:

      A 4 hour Toys Against Darkness game that I’m calling “Into the Haunted Playground” for Thursday.

      “Dinosaur Apocalypse”: a 6 hour game that follows the adventures of a group of survivors living 5 years after an accidental plague of nanites that ended almost all of humanity… by converting them and many animals into dinosaurs. A Friday or Saturday game… You might recognize the premise from some of my microfiction. ;-)

      Finally, another 6 hour game for either Friday or Saturday (whichever I don’t run the dinosaur one on) featuring Godzilla and his associated mythos that I’m calling “Godzilla: March of the Monsters!” This is a reboot of a game I tried to run in 2017 that had problems getting enough players and started too late to finish because of that.

      So yeah, a lot of ideas for 2019. :-)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s great that you’ve had good experiences thus far! And you and the remaining players handled it wonderfully.

        I LOVE the name for the Toys Against Darkness game. All the premises sound interesting. Do you set the time limits or is that just about how long it will take to play the games? You’ll be beat at the end of the weekend, but it will be worth it!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. On the time limits, to qualify as staff for PortCon you need to volunteer 16 hours of your time to the convention. In exchange and as staff you get a free pass to the whole con and a paid room at the hotel that you need to share with three other staffers for the whole event. My wife (who is also staff) and I coordinate with other friends on the staff to room together and it works out well.

        My volunteer work is running games for the con. As gamemasters, we can divvy those hours up any way we want for our games when we schedule them. Many choose to run 4 games that are 4 hours long each. However, there are a handful of games that might be 2 or 3 hours long and a few that might run 6 hours.

        So next year I figure that I could run 2 long games of 6 hours apiece and one standard game of 4 hours. That way I keep my commitment and only have to create 3 games instead of four… and many of my games could use the extra time. My Lovecraft games this year certainly could have. This will also allow me to NOT be running games on one day of the con, making it easier for me to PLAY in a few. ;-)


      3. Oooooh. Gotcha. Sounds like a nice gig. I like your plan. You do a couple longer ones, but that frees up time later to wander and play! Plus I imagine it’s a lot of fun to be a gamemaster 😁

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like you had a pretty good time (for the most part). I think we’ve all had to deal with a difficult player at one time or another.
    Good to hear you are making changes to ensure your writing doen’t take as much of a hit. Nothing stings as much as missing out on a bunch of writing because you over-committed to something else!
    I’m looking forward to those stories developed from the games.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ben! I absolutely don’t want to get all tied-up like this again: I’ve got stories I need to get out! A novel to finish! These are my real goals, and as happy as PortCon makes me, making those goals realities will bring me joy and hope far beyond that. :-)

      The stories based off the Lovecraft games will take awhile, but I hope to finish the 1st draft of “The Shadow of the Black Tower” by August, and get it into edits. It mostly certainly has Lovecraftian elements and mythos in it! :-)

      Liked by 1 person

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