Save Against Fear 2014
Tabletop roleplaying was one of those fundamental geeky pursuits that never quite stuck. My friends tried to get me into it. I tried to immerse myself in the scenarios they put so much effort into building. I had my share of moments and an exploded Star Destroyer to my credit. But that sense of immersion eluded me, as did my attempts to understand why. I like writing. I like theatrics. I like video games with roleplaying elements. I wondered where I was supposed to turn in my nerd card for a demerit.
When the spousal unit brought up Save Against Fear – a fundraiser for therapeutic gaming run by The Bodhana Group – it seemed about time to try again. The schedule had a variety of scenarios for all experience levels. We’d get to say hi to Grown as Gamers, a chill and friendly podcast group on our general wavelength. Downtown Lancaster also has enough of interest to soak up any down time. Art. History. Locally sourced food to my non-meatatarian tastes. About a googolplex of craft beers within crawling distance of the hotel.
I decided to sign up for a session, see what else I felt like doing. I wound up gaming most of the weekend and looking forward to next year – and not just for the brewskis.
Accoutrements and Stuff
We got an enthusiastic welcome, a swag bag, and a booklet. We also got just for funsies character sheets full of laugh out loud references and bizarritude. Mine was a Canadian (sorry about that) conductor of the poop train. These had to do with the scavenger hunt component of an achievements list that otherwise focused on trying, enjoying, and amusingly failing. Playing a new game. Killing a character, or setting the weekend death count record. Buying enough treats at the bake sale, which had to be done just because the achievement was named after Wilford Brimley.
Let’s go back to that achievement list with minimal emphasis on winning and a hell of a lot on enjoying the ride. This exemplifies the vibe of Save Against Fear itself. Game masters readily explained their setups to curious observers. In my sessions, they focused on fun for everyone – helping players think through options, interpreting flexible game systems to allow for more choice, throwing a bone to those stuck in a cloud of wasps while the others were way off ahead beating on a monster. We players were all part of a Choose Your Own Adventure where everyone wins by bringing their own enthusiasm to the table, even if they meet their end in a fiery explosion.
I tried a few different game systems, starting with Ghostbusters within the Friday night haze of an imperial stout. I got along best with a focus on flexible problem solving, emergent funnies, and simpler statistics to keep the action moving. But I got something out of each session, and I might be more apt to try crunchier systems if I can familiarize myself with the rules first instead of being the slowpoke playing Hunt the Statistic on my character sheet.
I also got an awesome surprise from Grown As Gamers, who invited everyone up to the microphone table to share their thoughts on Save Against Fear. I expected to give a brief blurb to help promote the event. Instead I had a good fifteen minutes of guest appearance. Grown As Gamers welcomed me right into their group, giving me room to react and share without feeling like a tryhard buttinsky. And they edited all the interviews into a GaGcast.
Save Against Fear had the challenges of organizing multiple sessions across two floors of the lodge hosting it. The pre-registration site helped, as did a dry erase board listing upcoming games. However, we had some trouble finding a game when it got delayed and various people were unsure of where the table – or the GM – was. We also saw GM’s looking for enough players to run their games. For everyone to find each other, I’d like to see more comprehensive and updated signage. The dry erase board could include each game’s table number, available space, and any news of schedule change. Table signs could attract floating randoms, especially if advertising a need for players.
I chose this over sleep. I chose wisely. The GM was a riot. So was the entire table.
Character creation was a snap, with varied but manageable lists of example traits for inspiration. The spousal unit became Books McGee, Ph.D. We had an occult research specialist, a director of sorts keeping us all coordinated, a self-appointed mom figure. I ended up as Grandmaster Smash, specialist in breaking things and demanding attention. I also ended up with a kindred spirit across the table, who beat me to the Always On Bullhorn schtick and bumped me a bro fist whenever we tag teamed for some impulsive stupidity.
With our forces combined, and lots of interpretation from the GM, we solved our two cases at hand. We exorcised a dog demon from a possessed taxi, which I sent chasing after a newspaper to prevent it from eating some poor guy clinging to a lamppost. Mom talked sense into unruly spectral teenagers haunting a comic book store – after my guessing ability drew them out with an hour or two of Here, Ghosty Ghosty. I’m pretty sure that worked by virtue of amusing the group.
Out of the Frying Pan
A playable action movie starring supervillains pre-created with a fun variety of tropey play styles. I knew little about The Darkness upon which mine was based, so I riffed off his arrogance with a mishmash of cartoon shadow ninja goth talk. That was worth a few Plot Points, odds-bending tokens generously handed out by the GM for making him laugh. Between said tokens, the GM’s gleeful imagination, and the success and overkill bent of the Savage Worlds system, there was a lot going on and a lot of satisfaction in a straightforward heist story.
We Be Goblins!
Better known as the one where we all blew up in the end except the one guy with the bombs. Except I was technically knocked out, thus denied the chance to eulogize poor Poog the pyromaniac.
The GM was enthusiastic, really got into the goblin voices, and didn’t let me suffer too badly when I ended up with a few bad rolls and well behind the action. The map also helped us visualize each scene. But my character was described as a Leeroy, and I had expected to go nuts with silly risks playing him as such. Instead I ended up whiffing all my fun attacks – most of which were limited use – and falling back into a support role not dependent on slim success odds. I also got discombobulated over the character sheet and modifier lookups until I memorized the few I needed. The table was patient with Complete Know-Nothing About Pathfinder and D&D in General, but it was still a bump in the road compared to more streamlined numbers elsewhere.
Made by Frugal Mule Games, this is an engaging card and dice game with simple mechanics and constant flow of resources. Its stealing mechanic adds balance and prevents an unbeatable lead by guaranteeing success against a large stash. I’d happily play this again in a spare 15 minutes or so.
Alive After 5
I played a pre-release version in testing.
Another Frugal Mule card game. As with Stoned, there’s a simple premise with straightforward gameplay. Find a hiding spot, find a way to transform into an easily concealable state. Got both at the end of the fifth and final round? You win. Otherwise? You’re dead.
Alive After 5 aims for tense survival horror. Its concept of tension relies on trapping players in an unwinnable state with up to several minutes before any recourse, and none at all in the end game. Hiding spots are rare, easily trashed by other players, and impossible to regain until the next round. You’re meant to feel relieved to find your spot and nervous about holding onto it. Which I was, on the one occasion I got mine – but this mechanic wore thin over a 30-minute run time. I would prefer a shorter game, or more ways to gain and lose victory conditions within a round, such as stealing spots from other players.