GeekGirlCon After-Action Report

I spent two days helping to facilitate games at the Games on Demand table at GeekGirlCon. I got to run Inept Sorcerers once, and played two new games: The Quiet Year and Souls of Steel.

First, a note about the venue. GeekGirlCon had us at a table downstairs, with game menus presented on another table at the foot of the stairs. Foot traffic would be funneled to that table, at which point people might sign up for something on their own. However, the actual table people for GoD were further on, so it didn’t feel like a good arrangement for drawing interest. The available space was fairly restrictive - we had a ton of card and board games on the floor as well - so I’m not sure what we could have done otherwise, but having a greeter soliciting and funneling people to facilitators would probably have generated more interest.

There were, unsurprisingly, a lot of women at GeekGirlCon. I was more surprised at the abundance of kids, many of them in pretty good costumes. There was a ton of representation from shows like Poke’mon and Steven Universe, and I even saw one person as Nausicaa. Overall the event felt more kid-friendly and inclusive, which I appreciated after some of the stuff I saw (or overheard) at PAX.

The Inept Sorcerers game played more seriously than I anticipated, but fun was had by all. In the 853rd year of the God-Emperor, in a world where dragons hoarded memories and terrorized cities by landing and then ruthlessly enforcing human law, three Imperial sorcerers were dispatched by the prince Balthazar to answer a distress call from the city of Arsai. Monsters had been seen around the outskirts, and citizens were missing.

The players outlined several rules for magic, such as "magic follows mysterious but internally consistent rules" and "magic is wondrous". With these rules, they managed to infect a city guardsman with vines and flowers throughout his body - but cure his gout - rather than simply conjure a bouquet of roses. They used empathy magic on the mayor of the city to make him responsive to the plight of the poor. And when they set out to investigate the outskirts, they conjured a small artificial sun to light both the city and the lands beyond.

In the forest, a divination spell to awaken the feelings of nature and find out what happened also spawned an angry treant. They banished its anger and sent it back to the city as a protector, where it encountered the now part-plant guardsman. And further on, they came across a horde of primitive reptilian humanoids and several seeming human captives.

Much magic ensued, including a wild attempt at mass suicide, and an actual dragon landed. At this point our three characters - one of whom wanted to become a dragon, one of whom wanted to earn the favor of the prince, and one of whom wanted to regain the memory of his parents - all got their wishes. The reptilians were former humans, in the process of slowly becoming dragons, and this transformation was triggered by a dragon’s total consumption of their memories. So one PC stayed behind to join the horde, and another found his former parents among the humanoids. The third returned to the prince, able to announce that dragon attacks would cease in the region for a time, and that the mystery of the city was solved. The prince was, of course, pleased…

Feedback from the players was, overall, good. I did hear one “we didn’t feel inept enough”, though the dice rolled very well on many occasions, so I think that’s a part of it. Magic also did twist several times, but usually in weird and wondrous ways rather than inconvenient ones.

The Games on Demand customer who got things started gave me a lot of interesting and useful feedback, including reiterating something I’d already thought about: changing the threshold for when you get Arcana, like dropping it to “3 or less”. This is something I’m going to consider going forward.

I also thought of one piece of advice for the GM: "start with a Bother immediately, defining the situation to be dealt with." This gets people into the mechanics immediately, and should provide the game with momentum enough to reach the end at a good pace.

Asking the players for custom spell cards left me with a few blank looks. Getting people into the thick of it with a starting Bother will introduce them to the concept of spells, and after that point I can ask about custom cards.

The Quiet Year seemed like it could be interesting, but I was a little disappointed in how it played out.

Our group’s actions, which would have been logical enough in the fiction, were sometimes shut down because “it’s not how the rules work”, and any narrative coherence was supplied solely by the group itself. While this is fine with a group of people who can tell a story, it’s not helpful if the only benefit the game itself provides is to deal out a random set of cues, then abruptly tell you when your game has ended.

While drawing a map was a neat way to keep track of the story elements we had introduced, I didn’t feel like it contributed much past that function. Was there any rhyme or reason for the placement of things, or did the placement imply a connection? Not as far as I could tell.

I’m going to save my comments on Souls of Steel for a separate post.