Thursday, April 18, 2013
HelgaCon VI – BJ's Games
After Friday night, all of my action in our mini-con this year was ping-ponging between running my own games and playing in one of my game friend BJ's games. I've got to say that BJ makes some of the best, most inventive “high-concept” adventure designs that I've seen, and I'm kind of jealous of him for that.
Here was his Saturday morning game – “Adventure of the Star Condor”. What he did here is glue together at least 3 different game systems for a sprawling, multi-level-of-detail action in a space opera sandbox-type game – along with lots and lots of custom inventions in game rules, goals, maps, props, art, and miniatures. Representing the top level galaxy-exploration situation he was using the map and backstory from the old Parker Brothers “Shadowlord” game (which we hauled out and played two summers ago). When we would encounter enemy spaceships, he would use the system from “Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks” (partly because I've been blogging about it weekly this year) – with custom ship designs, miniatures, and even a jumbo geomorphic hex map with planets, moons, asteroids, etc. For boarding actions and face-to-face combat, we'd use a quasi-D&D/Labyrinth Lord system, with about a dozen possible encounter locations per ship. There were also separate planet-side landing encounters as we searched for particular artifacts of ultimate power.
One thing he did is to take the dramatic and imaginative character illustration cards from “Shadowlord” and stat every one of them out in D&D/LL type terms, on a large PC card that the illustration would lock into. Each of the players took control of 3 separate characters, and we had 3 spaceships just to start with (main vessel and two escorts), tracking crew, fuel, food, gold, repair facilities, etc. on each. We were given about 20 each representing a squad of crew, repair robots, battle droids, or human space marines. Every player had some personal clue or mission-quest handout (which we shared and debated priorities at the start), and then every space on the map seemed to have some custom clue, quest, map handout, and artifact. (All of the handouts were even laminated.)
BJ said that this game was inspired by my classic D&D sandbox from last “Outdoor Spoliation”, which is high praise indeed. My feeling from last year was that I was basically just running the OD&D Vol-3 wilderness game rules out of the box as closely as I could manage. BJ's game was on a whole different level, to say the least. If you own a boardgame company and could convince BJ to do game and art design for you, then you'd be lucky as hell to make that happen.
One thing I need to take from the “Condor” game is that BJ did a great job of making some really imaginative, fairly simple, really heavyweight-punching artifact quest in pretty much every space of the map. First we went after a computer module that could raise the dead (in case we had casualties later); this involved a space battle and boarding action with 3 huge enemy pirate vessels, a planet landing with a poisonous atmosphere, and search of an ancient ruin. At this point we had “Dominion Over All Life and Death”, which we felt was a pretty good start to Day 1. After repairing and resupplying, we went after the Infinite Spectrum Cannon, an add-on to a spaceship which could automatically destroy any target with one hit. Once we picked that up, we went after a module which could control time and space (i.e., grant wishes); initial investigation brought us to an entirely metal-covered planet with pirates in control. We dialed the Infinite Spectrum Cannon down to “1” and disintegrated just a single continent to show them we meant business, at which point they proved to be quite amenable. Then we blew up a moon for target practice. Then we got the wish module. With time running out, what should we wish for? “We wish for something bigger to blow up!”, we all cried. At which point the flagship of the race of galaxy-spanning evil Shadowlords appeared before us, we pressed the button, and blew it to kingdom come. Now that's a sandbox RPG for you!
In addition to that, BJ's annual “Thousand Year Sandglass” game (a more literally sandy, Arabian-themed D&D adventure milieu) found myself & Paul elbow-to-elbow for the fifth year in a row, playing the somewhat squabbling roguish warriors [TODO: level name], Hakim and Jiri Jarib (with almost identical stats). Here we were exploring with our half-dozen fellow adventurers a series of caves in an exotic jungle bluff. Generally BJ's games find us wandering around confusedly for about the first half of a session, in this case mostly running from several giants, each with a single huge gem for an eye (fierce encounters with giant lizards, white apes, and crystal statues failed to bring us any significant treasure). But there usually is some compelling fantasy “hook” which we can figure out if we're lucky, and our fellow player Kevin came through by deducing that the chips around a certain mirror-idol were keyed the giants' gemstone-eyes, and would allow us to see what they saw via the surface of the magic mirror. Thus, we could scout their locations and set up ambushes to eliminate them and take their hoards of gold (for example, we hit two giants gambling with dice with an illusion of a loaded dice roll, prompting a fistfight, at the end of which one was unconscious and the other down by half – easy picking when our warriors ran in). We also found a series of maidens entrapped in similar gemstones, and by sacrificing the eye-gems in a magic pool, we could free them and escape from the realm.
That's some damn good convention adventuring, thanks BJ!