Sunday, November 10, 2013

JiffyCon East 2013

Yesterday I attended JiffyCon East:
A local roleplaying and board game event showcasing games by independent designers. Held in western Massachusetts twice a year, and in the Boston area annually.
It consisted of two sessions starting at 9 and ending around 6, with a generous lunch break. There were about 40 gamers in the basements of the Unity Church and one dealer, Jim Crocker of Modern Myths Games, who I bought some Fate dice from.

I got there a bit after the doors opened but in time to sign up and start the first session without being late. That session was Ace Adventure by Beer Star Games, a pulpy 1920's fighter-pilots-versus-giant-monsters setting using the Fate Accelerated Edition rules. I hadn't played FAE before, but had read most of Fate Core, and mostly chose this game to get some exposure to the concepts.

The GM, also the owner of the company, Brian Liberge, had pre-generated characters for us and allowed us to take our pick after giving us a bit of a setting summary. It was clear we were going to be experiencing progressive disclosure of the rules rather than a dump at the start, so we were able to jump in quickly after character introductions.

A full play report follows but in short I very much enjoyed this game and this group. I found out during lunch that it was the very first RPG experience for Dr. Rosie King's player, but if she hadn't told me I wouldn't have guessed. The whole thing was very evocative of the pulp era it was shooting for, and Fate Accelerated is a delightful game I've found. The gradual reveal of the rules was handled ably by the GM who also took the group's suggestions and questions in stride.

My second session just happened to be with the same GM, but in a different system, this one of his own devising, Pulp!. It's a single-six-sided-die system which the author acknowledges has a lot of overlap with FAE but was developed independently. I don't have a full play report for this session mostly because, through no fault of the game at all, I was extremely tired by this time (weird preceding night).

However, here's what I remember. We did character generation instead of pre-gens, mostly because someone apparently walked off with the pre-gens at the last conference. But it's a straightforward game in many ways and the rules are short and free, so this didn't take long. We ended up with an illusionist in the vein of Dr. Orpheus, a rather grim sorcerer fueled by an internal arcane furnace, a dwarven sycophant to these mages, and an elven tiger knight who had no tiger most of the time.

The encounters were card based and played on the table. Our mission was clear - extract as many artifacts as possible for the Blue-Eyed Wizards from the Isle of Giants. This was more of a colloquialism apparently as there were no giants, only lizardmen, nasty insects, semi-sentient vines, a maddened wizard of shadows, an enticing imp, and an actual dragon. I guess the dragon was technically giant.

Pulp! intentionally features death spiral mechanic - your damage is tracked against abilities directly. I felt it worked out enjoyably in play but only if you considered it a classic dungeon crawl. Limping back to town (or the ship, in this case) to rest did not make me want to yell "pulp!". Still, we managed to defeat (not kill, mind you) a dragon with only the dwarf dying, and the character creation rules hook you into the world admirably, so it was a good afternoon with a crowd of creative and amiable gamers.

All told I'm already looking back on JiffyCon 2013 fondly just a day later, and am thankful to Brian of Beer Star Game for making it so. 

The characters in Ace Adventure were meant to invoke a poker hand:
  • I ended up with the titular Ace Adventure, youthful American crack fighter pilot, daredevil, prone to putting his foot in his mouth, Flashy +3.
  • 10, the time-travelling, amnesiac, Japanese scientist whose actions kicked off the pulp era.
  • Jacques du Monde, French super-spy, numerous gadgets.
  • Dr. Rosie King, brilliant inventor, determined alcoholic, heading up technology on our Boston Harbor base.
  • Jackie the reporter (I failed to note her last name), not technically a member of the team but uncannily able to insert herself wherever a story is happening, and we make stories happen.
There was one unchosen character who filled the "queen" slot. All the characters had two of their aspects left undefined for expansion during play, though we only saw that come up once. The game was described as "if it works in a comic book, it works here" and that flavor dominated the session.

The game started with each of us being asked to give a description of what we were doing in Boston or its environs. The other characters were generally pursuing their interests or professions on the base or in the city - Ace was tooling around western Massachusetts in his sports car. When a radio news flash announced that a giant turtle had entered the bay of Providence and was attacking the boats there, all the characters convened on the island base. Ace got to get there by deploying the wings on his car and flying - I think the fact that I was able to declare my car could fly helped set the tone for the game.

To get to Providence I initially proposed we all get in the cannon and be shot down there, but Dr. King said that went terribly last time and she'd been working on these new super-slick wetsuits. 10 took one of those and started swimming down to Providence at startling speeds. Jacques already had a hydropack sporting twin shotguns (decided by his player, not the character sheet), so headed out on that. The rest of us each too a plane, but Dr. King was able to stretch the suit polymer over each before we headed out, meaning they became submersible as well.

As we're heading to Providence, the GM hands out our Fate points and explains their uses. Upon arriving, we find the news reports were not lying and a 60-foot turtle with an oddly ridged shell and covered with bony growths is indeed wading through the harbor and tearing up boats. So, initiative is determined!

Jacques tries to distract it with dual shotgun blasts but fails. We get the rules for failure described at this point. Jackie buzzes the turtle to get a picture and, tangentially, to blind it with the flash - Dr. King notes that she's augmented this camera in several ways. She gets her picture but the turtle gets her plane.

10 uses his grappling hook and line to cleverly get up on top of the shell. The GM is hiding the target numbers for challenges so 10 spends his Fate point, which causes him to succeed with style. He's able to get a decent look inside the overlapping shell plates and sees a pulsing organ of some sort.

Rosie King tires to land on the turtle to investigate. That's an Overcome action using Careful - she gets a 4, spends Fate to use a gadget she's built into the plane, sticky and bouncy landing gear.

Ace buzzes the turtle's head, spends Fate, and uses his stunt (+2 to Overcome an obstacle Flashily when death is likely outcome). Succeeding with style, he is able to rescue Jackie and create a boost of "unoccupied, heavily fueled plane in mouth" on the turtle. Jackie, however, leaves her camera behind and receives a Fate point in compensation. 

Now the turtle goes. It's angry! It starts to heat up, light spilling from the cracks in its shell, and gouts of plasma fire forth at Ace's plane! Since the planes are amphibious he dives underwater - 3 Force vs. 5 Clever means the plane is unscathed. 

Jacques uses 10's cord to get up on the shell. Those dual-wielded shotguns are fired into the exposed crevasse. Using 10's boost he succeeds with style, and the GM explains stylish attacks. Jacques opts to deal 2 damage and create a boost.

Jackie is with Ace now, and this game isn't using zone rules, so she says we're going to get her camera back. It turns out she's also an Olympic gymnast so while Ace is flying upside-down over the wreckage in the turtle's mouth, she dangles out and attempts to drop back into it. However she fails the roll and opts to land back in the bay rather than take a 4-shift hit. 

Dr. King rigs up an electrical rod from the plane's engine and attacks the turtle's head with it. Rolls badly and spends a Fate based on a science aspect to reroll, which leads to her succeeding in style. The turtle takes a "brain damage" complication and drops the plane - we adjust the boost I'd created earlier to be a falling plane.

10 now takes some explosive charges into the crevasse in an attempt to create an advantage. That works, but we also find out there are giant mutant lice moving around in there!

Ace, in the meantime, has turned his plane around, and aims it at the falling plane, bailing out at the last second to send both planes crashing into the turtle. I use up two existing boosts to get this flashy attack up to a 9, dealing 5 damage and opting to take a boost of "Ace has the camera". The turtle's plasma shots burn out as a disadvantage.

10 is being swarmed by lice and takes some stress. Jacques sneaks into the turtle shell to help. "Element of surprise" is suggested as an advantage - rolls 3, spends Fate, so 5 versus 1. Creates the advantage with 2 free invocations.

Dr. King tries to electrocute again, gets only +2, but turtle gets -1 amazingly, so it's with style and the turtle takes an "electric current" complication which kills off some of its lice. (I feel like in real life this wouldn't be a complication for the turtle but it makes total sense in the "it is less likely the characters will die" context.)

10 decides to get the hell out of the turtle, trying to distract the remaining lice as he does so. He rolls Flashy, but the GM compels him to have a Flashback, which he does - remembering suddenly the great Robot Insect Wars of 2000. 

Jackie uses her stunt to appear next to 10 - something about being wherever the story is. Rolls horribly but spends Fate, invokes many aspects and boosts and gets up to 6 which is enough to succeed with style and create a new boost - "surfing the wave of fate". Basically she and 10 are riding an explosion out of the turtle shell.

Ace is down in the harbor with plane debris raining around him. One bit that lands close by is a weird weapon we'd established at the outset was mounted in Jackie's plane, but hadn't given further thought to. The turtle reeling above him, Ace swims over to its mount and presses the button. I decide it's a device that's able to draw ambient energy to a point and then release it, so the lights on the edge of the harbor dim, the boost of the explosion is consumed, and 10 spends Fate to invoke my "leader" aspect, since he feels it's appropriate I get the killing blow. 

That I do and the beam of light sears the beast's head clear off, leaving its massive carcass wobbling above the harbor. Fame and adoration await us onshore and Jackie has an incredible scoop, a camera full of the kind of images you hope only happen once in a lifetime.

So now the GM introduces a social conflict. Tonight is the premier of "It Came From Space", a motion picture with state-of-the-art effects and in the genre of what would become science fiction. We're all asked how we'll react to this, but Jacques is compelled to be there, so takes a train back. Dr. King interestingly decides that her nemesis (who she's just introducing now) was hired as the science consultant on this film instead of her, and she's going to be there to make her opinions on that decision known. Ace and Jackie hang around Providence lapping up the victory and the stories respectively, while 10 shows remarkable dedication in deciding to try and track down a scientist in Boston who knows something about turtles.

The doctor goes to the premier. It's a very gala event, as this is cinema in the 20's. She is, of course, drunk, which provides numerous compels. She storms up to Dr. Pope (the nemesis) and after a bit of berating calls over a celebrity in the crowd to support her bona fides. This turns out to be Bela Lugosi. With such success she is able to create a "razzle dazzle" boost.

Here the GM also introduces scene aspects - Vintage vaudeville rigging, thick crowd, and dimmed lighting. Jacques arrives with his dates and feels like he's perfectly in his element with these. However he has a trouble aspect of "sleeps with the enemy" and is immediately drawn to Dr. Pope's assistant. 

Meanwhile Ace is talking to all the press in Providence except Jackie and manages to soundly put his foot in his mouth, asking such things as "you call this place a city?" and "so how do you manage to have fun around here?". Gets a Fate point for his troubles but the populace is very grumbly about their new hero. 

10 tries to track down his biologist contact. Marine biology not being a popular science in this era, he's bounced from person to person, finally ending up at outside the tenement of one Dr. Weyland. Finding the door ajar, he knocks and calls, stepping in when there is no answer. The place has been ransacked! Investigating what's left he finds some mathematical notes - apparently Dr. Weyland's research had linked undersea communication to electrical currents somehow.

Back at the theatre, the film is rolling, and just as we get to the reveal of the space monster, the screen splits and a metal sphere on six tendril legs strides forward, the speaker in its center proclaiming "Do not panic! You are being robbed!" At this time four mooks in pinstripe suits holding tommy guns burst into the aisles. Jacques is up in a balcony with his date, and is ready to take action but she's clinging to him, his troubles being invoked. Still he takes a shot at the goon and misses, causing panic to break out in the audience.

Doctor Rosie King strides through this unaffected towards the robot on stage. She takes some tools out of her purse and starts dismantling it methodically. At this point she also takes the "megalomaniac" aspect, the only additional aspect to get defined in this session.

Ace & Jackie hear a radio announcement about a robot attack at the theatre and race to help. I roll Force vs. a target of 2 to overcome an obstacle and create a "what a rush!" boost. And here's the game's pulp comic influence coming into play again - we're able to hear a radio broadcast in Providence about a fight in Boston and be able to fly in there in time to be part of the fight.

10 hops off the subway, runs through the doors, and attacks one of the mooks. He ties and gets a boost. Jackie is not far behind, hopping off the still-moving plane and blinding a mook with her flash, taking him out of the fight. During this time the doctor has been continuing her work despite the robot's protests - she finds it is mostly made of hollow tubes without any gears or apparent means of locomotion. All its attempts to drive her off seem to only make things worse for it (0 Force vs. 4 Quick gives the doctor a boost).

The remaining mooks unload their guns at Jacques but he ducks behind a pillar. We also note now that although the conflict has clearly changed from social to physical we are running the same initiative order. Dr. King keeps at the robot and finds that even its innards are empty, just a hollow sphere and speaker buzzing with electromagnetic power of some sort.

Jacques in the meantime sneaks out from behind his pillar and gets behind the mooks. He brazenly shoots one in the head, taking him down. Ace has landed the plane by this point and uses his per-session stunt to call a couple of police officers who had been standing outside to come and help. Charging through the doors, he easily tackles the mook menacing 10, taking him out and creating a "momentum" advantage.

Freed of this threat, 10 hurries to the stage, grabbing some electrical components and hurling them at the robot, disrupting it and causing some stress. Jackie is up there with him and as she tries to get a picture of the thing notices a weak spot among its legs, creating an advantage for the team. 

The remaining mook screams and unloads his gun at Jacques, who mostly dodges thanks to his spy tech boots, but still takes a bit of stress. Ace uses his momentum and some of that vaudeville rigging to grab a curtain rope, swing back around, and plant both feet in the thug's back.

Now at this point we only had about 10 minutes left in the session so we switch to a very fast paced mode. There was a challenge where the doctor and 10 were able to trail the robot back to a warehouse of some sort, largely because it was leaking liquor the doctor had poured into it earlier to try and short out its electronics. Sneaking inside they found Dr. Weyland, the biologist, tied to a chair with some sort of helmet strapped to his head and a mafia figure of some sort standing over him shouting. Also in the warehouse were dozens of metallic, hovering saucers.

And now we move very fast. Ace takes the plane from before, flies it to the warehouse, crashes it through the skylight, and blows up half the saucers. Three planes in one day! Dr. King is unsure what's going on but shoots both Weyland and the mafia head to be thorough. 10 and Jacques take out a bunch of mooks. Dr. Pope is implicated in this all somehow.

We all get a quick closing scene. Ace's involves taking one of the remaining metal saucers (which were hollow like the robot) out for a spin.


  1. Dealer was Jim Crocker of Modern Myths Games in Northampton MA and a second store in Westchester Co. NY.