Save Against Fear 2015
In 2014, Spousal Unit and I attended our first Save Against Fear, a weekend tabletop gaming event to support The Bodhana Group‘s work with therapeutic gaming. I expected to spend most of said weekend bumming around downtown Lancaster. I ended up having a blast with various silly flavors of Choose Your Own Group Adventure-style roleplay. Check out last year’s recap for the details.
New Year, New Venue
Previously, Save Against Fear was hosted at the Masonic Lodge No. 43 in Lancaster. The lodge had personality and interesting eateries within a convenient walkable radius. Its layout had the downside of splitting the event between two floors, which sometimes made it difficult to find a particular session or see which games still needed players.
Save Against Fear’s new home is the Central Hotel and Conference Center in Harrisburg. This space allowed for better organization – a roleplaying room with signup sheets for various sessions, a board and card game room with a lending library, and vendors of games and crafts in the hallway outside. The hotel restaurant, O’Reilly’s Tap Room and Kitchen, is an Irish-themed pub with a solid craft beer list – including some amazing pumpkin cider – and reasonable selection of tasty meatless food. I can’t personally vouch for the lamb, but Spousal Unit was impressed.
As before, Save Against Fear offered an array of goodies to buy or win. Cookies and brownies and other baked treats! 5th anniversary T-shirts! Raffle prizes! Silent auction – and yes, that is a Deadpool Christmas sweater!
Board and Card Games
Spousal Unit and I played a few of these during our Saturday morning down time. All were new to me and very enjoyable.
A first-person shooter without the fast twitch reflexes. Frag is all about position-based strategy and amusement at getting vaporized or screwed over by cheat cards that break the game rules. Death isn’t so bad when you respawn in the next round. The quick pace of play, generous allocation of loot, and trollface factor of particularly evil cheats keep Frag fun even when your main accomplishment is getting splatted in record time.
A simple, elegant game of resource management. You amass pretty things and feel happy at your layout of said pretty things because, win or lose, you’re doing what you can and never feel stuck. Splendor is rather like playing solitaire from a shared resource pool. We ended up buying it from our local game store as a satisfying yet brief diversion for our personal library.
In which you flick a puck around a track and fall off and botch more often than not – at least if you’re me. I still got a kick out of playing and spectating. This game is well suited to events because it requires a lot of space and time to set up, plus a significant monetary investment for enough parts to create a long and elaborate track with bridges and ramps and tunnels. It’s also a great set piece to draw people in. PitchCar got a nice share of attention during our time in the board and card game room.
As in 2014, my Save Against Fear roleplaying sessions were run with skill, enthusiasm, and encouragement. Game masters helped players create characters and get consistently involved – figuring out courses of action to move the story forward, springboarding off events and details oftentimes tailored for the specific abilities of the group. Guided player agency can be difficult to do well. These guys nailed it.
The wackier sessions with simpler game systems tended to fill up fast, including the ones I played and the redux of last year’s Ghostbusters campaign. I hope to see more of these in the future, especially to attract newer players as the event grows.
Monsters and Other Childish Things
In which a group of elementary school kids – and their not so imaginary monster friends – amicably solved the mystery of the neighborhood haunted house in otherwise boring suburbia. There were a mix of pre-generated monsters and kids. I ended up taking a monster and making a kid to go with it, which suited me well because I had zero knowledge of the game system or imagination for the sort of abilities that ended up being useful in the scenario. I also liked that my assigned monster was made of garbage.
One of my fellow players had been running a game with teenage characters. He did a fantastic princess-y Mean Girl who ended up feuding with my character because reasons – and then making up with her because kids are mercurial like that, and player versus player is funniest in small doses that don’t derail the story.
Our game master provided crayons for illustrating our monsters. In the interest of facilitating a proper sugar rush, he also gifted each kid with a mattress-sized brownie from the bake sale. I took mine home. Spousal Unit and I needed a few days to finish it.
Piledrivers and Powerbombs!
Pro wrestling mayhem with some seriously dead on commentary from the game master and other wrestling enthusiasts acting as announcers. Blanking like whoa on a character gimmick, I swiped Cao Ren’s tag line from Dynasty Warriors 4 – Heavy Metal Matador – because it inspired the concept of a noble luchador known for doing chin-ups and knuckle pushups in chains and entering the ring in a junkyard-sourced scrap heap burst off to pyrotechnics. Spousal Unit created an evil viking who rose up into the ring to the tune of “Thunderhorse”. Another player was a lovable sad sack heel who tearfully declared friendship with his chair, his alarm clock, and a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire.
At its best, the Piledrivers and Powerbombs system emphasizes the engaging give and take of a good wrestling match. Beat on your opponent, set them up for a counterattack, almost get pinned, risk it all for a big finish. If you pull a bad streak of cards, you might end up sitting around without much to do. I lucked out with a crazy comeback after getting hammered on for a few rounds. The system likely feels more balanced over extended campaigns, especially when character relationships come into play. Still, it was plenty fun as a one-off, and I saved my character sheet in hopes of revisiting it in the future.
This game ran into a downside of the new venue – the time limit. The Masonic lodge pretty much ran around the clock. At the hotel, we had to be out of the rooms by midnight. I got to play a full match, but others weren’t as fortunate. At least Spousal Unit enjoyed his brief time in the ring and the amusement of spectating.