Monday, June 15, 2015

My Weekend as a True Booter, Part 3

Fear The Con 8. The Octocon.
The Afterword.

Why did I use the phrase "True Booter" when sitting down to write this series of entries? Well, it goes back to when I was in college.

I dropped out of college while attending on scholarships that took care of all of my tuition and room & board. Why in the world would I squander what had been given to me? It's simple, really. I craved a different line of work than what I was studying to pursue -- I simply didn't realize that at the time. But what sealed it was that what seemed like every night of the week, I would get together with a rotating group of friends -- usually consisting of Joel, Hilary, Dawn, and Jennifer -- and play Spades.

We could make a game of Spades go for 3 hours. We'd get some kind of snacks and drinks from one of the campus convenience stores. We'd throw Bryan Adams, Billy Joel, Harry Connick, Jr., Pet Shop Boys, or greatest hits of the '80s compilations in the CD player. We'd joke and laugh and chastise each other for table talk. We would play until midnight, 1 a.m., 2 a.m., even later. I would skip classes because I didn't get enough sleep.

It was my first official gaming group.

We were gamers. Or at least I was. And this carried over into several areas of my life.

I performed with ComedySportz St. Louis. I attended rehearsals once a week and showed up at every show we scheduled, even if I wasn't on the schedule that night. I lived and breathed performance and improvisation. I was drawn in not by the theatrics, not by the method of improv, but by the games. Blind Line. Good Advice, Bad Advice, Worst Advice. Shakespeare. Madrigal. Dance Craze. John Malkovich. I got paid, but barely. It wasn't a job -- it was a chance to flex my creative muscle, and I wanted to practice with others even after we'd performed two shows on a weekend. Occasionally, I got some money out of it, which I considered a bonus.

I was a gamer.

When I bought Guitar Hero III, I stayed up until 5 a.m. trying to conquer the game, and eventually plunking my way through the medium level of "Through the Fire and Flames" at the end, knowing that I would have a severe challenge in front of me with the next 2 more difficult levels.

I was a gamer.

The first time my wife and I played a party game with her family, they found out how competitive I was. I wasn't bad, but I was out to win. Since that first time, stories have been told and legends passed down regarding the Great Uno Attack Throwdown of Brighton, Illinois.

I was a gamer.

When I attended Fear The Con 7 in 2014, I found out that there were others just like me who had this same obsession with The Game. It wasn't that we all listened to Fear The Boot and bonded over shared ideas. It wasn't that we needed a vacation or an excuse to travel. And it wasn't that the goal was to play another roleplaying game (or in my case, my first). It was that we craved community.

We ached for the familiarity of people who shared a common, yet unique, hobby. We rejoiced when we found it in the people around us. We supported those who had questions or couldn't figure out how to play the game well. We laughed when things went horribly wrong, and cringed when the tension called for it. We tensed up, then relaxed, only to tense up again. And we did it together.

We were gamers.

One of the many gateway drugs (not actual drugs).
Today, I'm struggling to find those people like me, the ones who gather not just for the sake of The Game, but for the sake of connection, to find The Tribe into which I belong, and to find others to bring into that Tribe. I have been able to make connection with a few, and I believe I've found a couple kindred spirits, but at our age, finding a consistent time to hold a Tribal Council can be daunting. Life is busy. We have families, priorities, responsibilities to our spouses and employers, our kids and our cousins, our friends and our foes, our creditors and charities. Such things are too important to be distractions.

I work in two industries where I am in high profile, and a lot of people know who I am. So I'm constantly surrounded by people, but that also means I'm often very alone. I need that Tribe. I need that community, be it large or small, to dine with every once in a while. To break bread and tell stories of heroic deeds and vanquished foes, of problematic relationships and absurd realities. To speak of action-heavy combat, deep character development, and horrible, horrible puns.

I need my Tribe.
I need other Gamers.
WE need other Gamers.

+ + + + +

So why the phrase True Booter?

To me, a True Booter is one who, as a Gamer, recognizes the importance of fitting in with your Tribe, who looks for ways in which to make The Tribe better, and who is constantly on the search for other brave souls to bring into The Tribe.

So don't be surprised if, one day, you open up your email, receive a small envelope, or find a scroll with a wax seal on your doorstep with the following message inside:
Listen . . . 
This may be just a dungeon to you, but this dungeon is more fun than you could ever possibly imagine. This world offers you more than you can merely see with your eyes. These people around you will make that world better, bolder, bigger, and brighter than ever before.
We'll explore everything you've always wanted to see, and reveal new things you never knew existed. We'll discover mysteries complex and wonderful, and we'll debate over what to do with them. We'll whisper excited tales of the brave and heroic, the dark and deranged, the beautiful and grotesque. We'll shout in victory when evil is defeated, and we'll breathe a sigh of relief once reunited with our loved ones.
We'll cry for the ones we lose in battle, welcome the ones who join us on the way, and support those who need help on their journey.
If you accept this invitation, I will stand by you as you navigate this land, and you will have nothing to fear. I will answer when you call, and I will always seek the best for you. I will show you what being part of The Tribe can do for you, and how we can be greater with you among our ranks.
If you would just take my hand, hold on tight, and trust me . . .
. . . you could be a Gamer.

There Is No Box.

My Weekend as a True Booter, Part 2

In Part 1, I began talking about the 2015 weekend of Fear The Con 8: The Octocon. Thursday's festivities were full of games, laughs, stress, and great chicken wings. Oh, and Mikey Mason.

Friday morning couldn't come soon enough.

Slot 1!
We Sell The World
A homebrew of my own creation using the Risus game system, I built a future world in which the people in power -- corporation heads, politicians, other heads of state -- had been usurped by the only people the American public trusted anymore. Advertising spokespeople.

Like all who climb to power, some had turned to eeeeviiiiilll. So a band of heroes, also made up of advertising spokespeople, The Branding Squad, are called in to save the day.

The Priceline Negotiator successfully living up to his (her?) title.
Avital of THE ESTABLiSHED FACTS podcast was fantastically creative as The Priceline Negotiator. Grant of the Saving The Game podcast used his own southern charm to bring life to Colonel Sanders, Joel was hilariously brilliant and pun-filled as the Pillsbury Doughboy, Andrew's beatnik take on Chester Cheetah was refreshingly destructive, and Scott's play of Allstate's Mayhem character was able to destroy much, and in many ways. Al overslept and arrived to the game late, so I was able to make him stand out as The Burger King, who was very creepy and fought, alongside the General Foods International Coffees Army, in the Great Hall of Bill Cosby's estate, where he was ultimately vanquished after revealing a hideous Lovecraftianesque face behind that creepy, creepy mask.

Lots of great D6 rolling, including battling a flying Ronald McDonald in a super-power clown suit, taking down Wilford Brimley and his Oatmeal bombs and Diabeetus Needles, and a highway chase involving Flo from Progressive and her Snapshot devices. Colonel Sanders even used his 11 Herbs and Spices to try to destroy the Lunesta Butterfly, but instead turned it spicy . . . which means that it became a fire-breathing beast from Hell.

A lot of fun and a lot of laughs in this game. The smallest group I was a part of at the con, but one of the more fun, open-ended, do whatever-you-can-justify games. Pure improv.

Welcome to Martin Luther King, Jr. Senior High
Slot 2!
MEGA-FIASCO! Reunion: Class of 1994
I wrote a playset for the RPGGeek Fiasco Playset Competition in 2014, and the idea of a high school reunion opening up old wounds sounded like a great opportunity to Fiasco it up.

For this con, I thought it would be a tragedy to run a Fiasco game that only 4 or 5 people could play in, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and crank up to 10 players. In order to keep from running out of variety of elements for our relationships, objects, et cetera, I developed a supplement called The Sevens (which you can find here, along with other Fiasco items I've written) that can help add variety to larger-than-normal Fiasco games. Since we had a short amount of time and we started late, we had to keep our scenes timed at 3 minutes or less. This allowed us to be punchy in the scenes and get to the heart of the matter without spending too much valuable time on nonsensical stuff.

Big Don as Big Joe.
We were still able to develop our characters and their motivations, and there was a lot of creative cross-table stuff happening. McCracker's served up some great food, Lance's non-stoner & non-dealer stoner/dealer character served up some great psychotropic drugs, and the Hairy Beavers of Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High in Effingham proved that they didn't much care for anybody but themselves.

High school.

Slot 3!
Fruedenberger: 3 East Wing
Chad Wattler, one of the hosts of the Fear The Boot podcast, and I lived on the east wing of the 3rd floor of the Freudenberger residence hall during our freshman year at Missouri State University. That dorm floor was the basis for this RPG that I wrote, a game using a block tower mechanic and player ingenuity and creativity to try and fight back The Black, a sentient liquidish-wibbly-wobbly-blobbly being that was swallowing up the floor, inch by inch. The setting was during Spring Break, and all the students had gathered with a bunch of beer to party it up all week long, and I had chips for everyone to keep track of how much they drank. The more you drank, the more difficult certain tasks would become, which meant you had to pull more blocks from the tower to attempt something.

What started as a comedy game quickly turned into an effort to fight the black back and survive the night, but in the end, nobody was left alive.

10 people played in this game, and it was the largest game that I was a part of at the con. I felt physically sore after this game, as my stomach was in knots from the tension. Everyone at the table felt the frustration of the moment, and you could tell they were trying to come up with some way to fight it back and survive. But when the breaking moment came and everyone realized that they weren't going to live, it was a sad realization. I personally hated it, because I wanted everyone to make it out alive, and they were on the right track, but someone knocked over the block tower on the last pull.

Slot 4!
The Bard's Bard 4: Bard Corps Action
The puns. Oh, the puns. We were bards, charged with finding the magical instrument which helps provide the members of the Bard Corps with all our magical power, which had been lost on the web of networked lands. In other words, we had to search The Web for the Bard Corps Horn.

Let's just say it got weird.

Wayne Cole, one of the other hosts of Fear The Boot, ran this  game, which has become a tradition at Fear The Con, and I was able to enjoy it with Beth, Wayne's wife Sarah, Wanita, Brian, and Adam Gottfried. We used the Fate System, which was new to me, but Wayne provided everyone that didn't have Fate dice with their very own set. Mine are pretty sharp looking.

We are the Great Bard Corps!
I was given a mug of bottomless beer, which was perfect for Klaus MacSteiner, my German-born Scottish drunken Bardic pirate who couldn't remember the last time he was sober. His tales were always in the form of a sea shanty (or if you prefer, a shanty in the key of sea), and at the end of the game, we all sang a drinking song-styled shanty that I wrote about our heroic adventure for everyone in the hall to enjoy. Not that they enjoyed it, and not that anyone except one person clapped, but it was still pretty cool.

+ + + + +

I had a wedding reception to work on Saturday night, so after I was done working, I swung by the Drury Inn, where all the gaming goodness began on Thursday, to meet up with some guys from THE ESTABLiSHED FACTS and play some more. We got halfway through a Fiasco game when we realized it was way too late and we needed to get some much needed sleep.

Sunday morning, as I was leading worship in church, I had reason to be grateful. God has not only provided me with some of the best people to game with in the last year, but I've also been able to share this hobby with others, my wife has encouraged me in stretching into this hobby and spending time with these people I love (because otherwise, I wouldn't be spending the time with anyone else), and I've been on a creative streak for the last six months and have even more RPG ideas in the clip that haven't been fired yet. Along with all that happening for me personally, a young woman in our church who had been in a coma for more than 3 weeks following a severe automobile accident was in attendance, surrounded by about a dozen people who have been continually by her side throughout her rehabilitation. With the use of a walker, she stood and worshiped with us, singing and praising God for bringing her through this ordeal. And it happened to be her birthday.

The overwhelming sense of gratitude for all these good things flooded my eyes, and I even had to stop singing a couple times before I started crying. I have much for which to be thankful, and it all came into mind in one flash of a moment.

". . . and they all lived happily ever after."
We are given so much in this life, and we have so little time to do anything with it. That's why gatherings like Fear The Con are so important. I'll be heading to Gen Con in Indianapolis later this summer, but a smaller convention that's based around an already existing community is a wonderful way to reconnect with the people and not just the games. The moment I saw people that I'd met last year, even the ones I didn't get to game with, I immediately felt that connection, and the ritual began:

The glance from across the room, recognizing that guy.
The approach, where you both start walking towards each other.
The handshake that isn't enough, so you have to hug.
The giant smile from the fact that you feel like you've been reunited with a cousin or a brother.
The relaxed feeling of being among the indigenous people of your own tribe, as Mikey Mason put it.
The catch-up conversations.
The anticipation of the games you'll be playing with this person.
The standing in line for wings.
The eating of wings.
The digesting of wings.

I'm gonna stop that train of thought before digestion leads to anything else.

All in all, it was a fantastic convention, and something that I desperately needed. Next year, however, there will be no Fear The Con. The hosts will be taking a hiatus from the convention to reevaluate and strategize for future conventions. So that means if a convention with this same group of people is to happen in 2016, it'll have to be homegrown, a guerrilla event.

Here's hoping.

There Is No Box.

Friday, June 12, 2015

My Weekend as a True Booter, Part 1

Last year was my first experience with roleplaying games. I'll admit, somewhat bought into the moral panic of the late '80s and early '90s when it came to RPGs, but the only RPG I'd been exposed to was Dungeons & Dragons. I had no idea that there were other games out there such as Car Wars, Pathfinder, GURPS, and so many others by which people had cut their teeth and created vast new worlds beyond human imagination.

It was only fitting, then, that my first RPG was one in which I played a ferret among a business of other ferrets. That's right, ease into it.

Since then, Fear The Con and the Fear The Boot community has held a place of honor in my heart because of how welcoming they are of everyone into their community and their hobby. This weekend, I spent time preparing for and having a great time playing make-believe with friends and relative strangers.

On Thursday, the official day before the convention, I spent all day at the Drury Inn playing tabletop board and card games with several people who had come into St. Louis from out of town. Some of these people had been in town all week and spent several days sightseeting, so I was glad to spend a little time just relaxing and playing some games with them.

I sat in a round of Aye, Dark Overlord, which was a fantastic storytelling game of passing the blame and trying to come up with arguments and counterarguments as to why you don't deserve to be tossed to the pit of utter death and despair by the Dark Overlord. Very fun game.
But the fun didn't stop there. Space Cadets: Dice Duel was a frantic, fast-paced dice rolling game where you captain a starship and attempt to destroy the other starships around you. Working in teams, we communicated to load our weapons, navigate the ship, acquire target lock and jam the opponent's signals. Very stressful fun.

Smash Up. I had seen this played on the TableTop podcast with Wil Wheaton, and I wasn't sold on it the first time I watched it. But I watched it again recently, and got the hang of it once we started playing. I was surprised that as we got closer to the end of the game, we were all within 2 or 3 victory points of taking it all. Lots of fun to be had in this one.

Aside from that, we played Pandemic (4 of us lost), Damage Report (4 of us won on a module designed for only 2-3 players, even though I'd left out a few of the damage report cards, so yeah, we cheated a little), and whatever else came up. Got to reconnect with a few people I'd met last year and saw some new faces.

I finally got to meet Grant from Saving The Game, a Christian podcast about RPGs, when I picked him up from the airport just a few miles from the hotel & convention sites.
Really nice guy, and takes a darn good picture. I had a chance to talk with him about RPGs, his podcast, and what we liked about the hobby. We talked a bit about our families and what we do for our full-time work. He had signed up to play in my Slot 1 game at Fear The Con on Friday morning, and as of this writing, I'm looking forward to playing with him and a few other people I didn't get to play with last year.

To top everything else off, World Wide Wing Night, a staple of Fear The Con, was another raging success. Since WWWN was a stretch goal of the convention's Kickstarter (the con was fully funded, allowing people to attend for free), everyone in attendance was appreciative of the efforts put forth by the organizers. And since pretty much everyone there was a backer, it seemed as though everyone there might have been a little bit more invested than they might have otherwise been.

Maybe that's just me, but whatever the case, wings were eaten, cake was moist and delicious (from what I heard), and the beer ran out. Always the sign of good things to come.

Oh, and Mikey Mason performed. Always a treat.
Plus, I love the dude's facial hair.

I'll have more in the coming days on how my experience at Fear The Con went. Keep your eyes open.

There Is No Box.