Category Archives: Events

Fate of Cthulhu at AADL Mini RPG Fest

It’s been a while, but I’m still alive! In fact, in a few weeks, I’ll be running four (!) short games of the Fate of Cthulhu roleplaying game at the Ann Arbor (Michigan) Distrct Library’s Mini RPG Fest on March 21.

Fate of Cthulhu coverThe purpose of the Mini RPG Fest is to provide a place where the general public can try out different roleplaying games in a casual and friendly environment. Most games are only one hour long, so you can sample different games as you like.

One-hour games are a challenge for the GM to run, but an interesting one. Last year, I ran (more or less successfully) four one-hour games of Numenera at the last Mini RPG Fest and learned a few valuable lessons. One hour is just enough time for a handful of short game encounters, so the trick is to pick a few situations that show off the game but which can also be resolved quickly. Both Numenera and Fate of Cthulhu keep combat pretty fast and simple; I don’t envy some of the other GMs who were running detailed-combat game systems like D&D. But from the laughter and cheers I heard at the other game tables, people were having fun with those games too.

Fate of Cthulhu is an action-oriented game in which the PCs play time travelers from a future in which Lovecraftian monsters overran Earth; its pitch is “Terminator, but Skynet is Cthulhu.” I find that premise irresistible, and hope to attract a few Cthulhu newbies to my game at the Mini Fest.

If you’re in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area on the 21st, stop by and roll some dice!

RPG Mini Fest at AADL

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Witness to the end: the final hours of Tabula Rasa

Last night I witnessed the final hours of an MMORPG.

Several years ago, I read this fascinating account of the last days of Asheron’s Call over at Wired. That article, and this strangely touching collection of quotes and screenshots from the game’s final minutes, has stuck with me ever since. What does a doomed MMORPG look like in its twilight hours? Is it a barren wasteland devoid of players save for a faithful few long-timers mourning the game’s passing? A madhouse of activity as thousands of gamers crowd into the game to experience it before it goes away forever?

So when word came out late last year that Tabula Rasa was going offline in February (and more importantly, that its last few months would be free to play), I knew I had to at least check it out. My original intent was to play the game fairly heavily throughout February, trying to experience as much of it as possible before the end. Unfortunately, reality (and house maintenance, parenting responsibilities, the lure of other games) shot down that dream. Nevertheless, I wanted to be there for the game’s final few hours, especially when I read that the TR developers were planning to shut down the game with an apocalyptic in-game event.

The bad guys of the TR universe were going to launch an all-out assault, and everyone was going to die. The cities and bases that players had gotten to know over the last year were going to fall. Players would be pushed back to Earth for a final stand. At least TR players could go down in a blaze of glory.

So last night I logged into TR for the game’s final hours. I didn’t stay to the bitter end (1am my time; I didn’t think my church choir director would appreciate me showing up to the service crashing from a Mt. Dew-fueled late night gaming). But I was online for 2-3 hours up to about midnight.

So what was it like?

It was interesting.

Players gather to hold back the invaders as long as possible.

Players gather to hold back the invaders as long as possible.

There were a few problems. First, the game was crowded. For the first hour or so of the final event, the game was nearly unplayable due to lag. (Some players joked that the Bane apparently planned to defeat humanity by bringing their servers to a halt through lag.) From what I gathered in the in-game chat, a lot of players from TR‘s European and other servers (which had shut down earlier in the day) had flocked to this, the last online server, to replay the end again. Throw in who-knows-how-many curious observers like myself, and you had one crowded gameworld. The lag problem eased as the night went on.

Another problem was my lack of familiarity with the game. I’d only played a few hours throughout February, so I had only a basic grasp of how to travel around the game universe. It took me a while just to figure out how to travel to the “frontlines” where the invasion was expected to begin. Also, there was the little matter that my level 5 newbie character was probably going to last about 2 seconds against the sorts of epic alien invaders that were coming to destroy the world. (This did, in fact, turn out to be the case.)

I don't think my level 5 character is a match for these walkers.

I don't think my level 5 character is a match for these walkers.

But it was nevertheless a worthwhile experience. The invasion kicked off at 9pm Eastern time. In the hour leading up to the invasion, the in-game chat was so abuzz with chatter that I could hardly read messages before they scrolled off the screen. The game developers were present and participating actively in the chat. It was fascinating to read, with the same questions coming up over and over again:

  • Where was the final stand taking place? How do I get there so that I, too, can take some alien scum down with me?
  • Who’ll group up with me to visit [cool game location] or do [cool game quest] before it goes away forever?
  • Can the developers make me level 50 so I can slog it out against the invaders in the final stand? (A rumor was flying that developers were levelling people up to level 50 upon request. I did see one developer saying he’d do this if people asked him, so apparently it was happening.)
  • Lots of people thanking the game developers for creating the game and making it a fun world to play in.
  • People trying to sell in-game objects for high fees. (Capitalists to the end!)
  • People hatching crazy and impractical schemes for “saving” TR.
  • A lot of people whining about the lag. (Geez, people….)
  • A lot of people discussing which MMORPG they’d be moving to after the end of TR.

Then the end began. At 9pm reports started rolling in from players in various bases throughout the game world: the attack was underway. Aliens—big aliens, allegedly controlled by the developers themselves—were hitting bases. The chat started to fill with calls for assistance, players trying to rally others to defend important locations, other players calling out sightings of the ultra-powerful Neph (the Big Bad Guys).

Heading out to the frontlines for a final stand.

Heading out to the frontlines.

One by one, player bases fell and became inaccessible. Players made plans for a final stand on Earth.

And I had to log off.

All in all, it was a curiously touching experience, even for somebody like me who had no emotional tie to TR, its gameworld, or its community of players. TR wasn’t the empty wasteland that Asheron’s Call apparently was; a lot of people showed up for its final moments. There wasn’t a sense of a tight-knit community dying forever, although it was clear from the chats that people had formed friendships with other players and with the developers. One imagines that, in 2009, it’s pretty easy to relocate to another MMORPG when your favorite one goes offline. But there was still an edge of sadness as the bad guys swept through the game universe, shutting it down as they went.

All in all, it was a classy way to end a game. I hope TR‘s players and developers both enjoyed their final fling with the game. Let it not be said that TR didn’t go out with a bang.

It was a beautiful world, while it lasted.

It was a beautiful world, while it lasted.

[Note to Tabula Rasa veterans: if I got any of the details here wrong, I apologize—I’m just going by what I was able to gather from my few hours of play yesterday.]

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Gencon, here I come

Well, it looks like I’m definitely going to Gencon this year. I’m excited! My one previous visit to Gencon was back in (I think) 2003, and I had a great time. It was, among other things, my first exposure to convention RPG games, in all their beauty and (in at least one case) horror. (The horror occurred during a game of All Flesh Must Be Eaten—and I’m not talking about the sort of horror you’re supposed to experience during a zombie RPG. But that’s a tale for another day.)

I hope to play in more events this time around than I did in 2003, when I spent too much of my time wandering the dealer hall spending money…. So I’ll be there again, armed with my D&D 4th edition books, my copy of World in Flames, and (if I get them painted in time) my Battletech miniatures!

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Back from Origins!

Well, I’m back from the Origins Convention. I had a great time. I’m hoping to talk in detail about the different games I played as time allows this month. But here’s a quick rundown of the games I played at this year’s convention:

I can honestly say that I enjoyed them all–in fact, this was the first game convention I’ve attended (admittedly, I’ve not attended many) where none of the games or events I attended were duds. It helped greatly that I attended with a friend from my grad school days, one I’d not seen in several years.

It’s taken me about a week to recover from the gaming overdose I experienced over four days at Origins. But I’m already itching to get some gaming in this summer. So many games, so little time!

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MerpCon III: return to Middle-Earth

A reader has reminded me that MerpCon, an annual conference dedicated to gaming in Middle-Earth, is coming up again. Sounds like it will be a good one:

This year’s special guest speaker is Doctor Thomas Morwinsky, author of a number of adventures and magazine contributions set in Middle-earth. He is also the designer of several wonderful large-scale, highly detailed maps set in Tolkien’s imaginary universe, including the most detailed large-scale map of J.R.R. Tolkien’s NĂºmenor ever made.

According to the website, Chris Seeman, Michael Martinez, and Joe Mandala (all familiar names in the Tolkien gaming community) will be there as well. And it’s free!

Once again I will be unable to attend–between several family weddings, a baby, and (most importantly, ha ha) Origins, all of my vacation time this year is already spoken for. But if you’re in the Washington area, be sure to check it out.

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Mad dreams of Origins

Well, I’ve gone and done it: I signed up to attend the Origins convention this year. I had a lot of fun last year, even if I did lose almost every single Advanced Squad Leader game that I played.

Monster wargameI haven’t decided exactly how my time at Origins will be divided up this year, but I do have one specific goal: I want to play a Monster Wargame of some sort. By “Monster Wargame,” I’m referring to a wargame of that a) has a mapboard so big that it must be spread across several game tables; b) makes use of more tiny cardboard counters than there are stars in the sky; and c) normally requires several years of regular play to complete.

This is an experience I’ve not yet been able to enjoy–I live in an apartment that lacks the prerequisite Gaming Basement, and if I left a complex wargame set up overnight our cats would almost certainly scatter it to the four winds.

So what are my options? Here’s what springs to mind:

  • World in Flames, a World War 2 grand strategy wargame that meets most of the requirements above. The maps look particularly glorious when they’re sprawled across my apartment floor. (That’s as close as I’ve gotten to playing full-blown WiF; I always have to hastily roll up the maps and let the cats back out of the locked bedroom before my wife gets home.) A wargaming friend of mine who will be attending Origins owns a copy of Pacific War, which would certainly also qualify for the Monster WW2 Wargame category.
  • I know some Federation & Empire players who will be attending Origins, and who might let me join their game (perhaps as one of the minor races, so that I couldn’t do too much damage to the cause–Seltorians, your time has come!).
  • There are certain Star Fleet Battles scenarios so massive in scale that I simply refuse to believe that anybody has actually played through them–one of those might be a good choice. Given that I’ve played 4-ship SFB games that lasted for eight hours, I cannot imagine how long it would take to work through a 30-ship showdown, especially when my mind tries to imagine how many drones and fighters would probably be out on the map at any given time. Likewise, I believe that with the Red Barricades ASL expansion, which I own, one could conceivably recreate the entire battle for Stalingrad on a squad-level scale. The mind trembles at the thought.

In short, there’s lots of options. Whatever I play, as long as it features a gi-normous mapboard, I’ll have fun. And as long as there’s a steady supply of Mt. Dew within easy reach.

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