I have to say a little bit about Big Bad Con's sign ups this year. They did a fabulous thing, and split it up into two groups of sign ups. You could sign up for just two games on the very first day of sign ups, and then a week later you could fill in the rest of your dance card, so to speak.
In previous years, everyone signed up for everything on the very first day, and that meant that if you weren't at your computer the moment sign ups started, it was actually quite hard to get into games at all, much less the 'good' games that everyone wanted to play in. Plus, there were collisions all over the place, and there would be seven or eight people signed up for a game that could just hold four. The sign up software had a bug in it that would tell multiple people that they'd gotten into a game, even though the game was already full. It was a micro-second window where it could happen, but last year I had several games where it told me that I was in the game even though I had actually signed up after it had filled. There were at least four games that were that way last year, and I was supremely disappointed; but I didn't say anything because Carl knew about the problem and just said it sucked but kind of accepted it.
I ended up, last year, getting into a lot of stuff anyway, due to Bryant not making it to the Con and having signed up for most of the games I'd wanted. I managed to actually take his place for the biggest of those, which was the Always, Never, Now game, which was amazing. Others I actually just went to the game and hoped that someone wouldn't show, and that happens more often than not, and it worked out last year. So I didn't complain too much.
This year, however, since people were limited in the number of games they could get into, the first sign up went beautifully. Pretty much everyone I talked to got into the two games they'd saved for the first sign up. The second sign up was a little crazier, though, but again since there wasn't quite the volume because everyone had gotten what they wanted, it wasn't quite as bad. I didn't get into a Leverage game I wanted to get into, but it came back pretty quickly with the 'you didn't get in' message, which I respected. I was disappointed, but knew that it was part of what was going on. However, I got the "You're signed up for this game" message for Kevan's one run of Death of Secrets for the con. So I was really happy about that.
Only later that day I got an email from Sean to myself and one other, "Sorry, but the software signed you both up after it was already filled. Since there's two of you, do you want me to ask the GM if he'll run it again?"
I said, "Yes, please." I really loved playing in one of Kevan's games last year, and really enjoyed playing with him in Carl's Tenra Bansho Zero game two years ago so I had been really looking forward to seeing him again when the software had said that I'd gotten into the game. And driven by that feeling, I wrote Sean a letter to tell him, without rancor, exactly the emotional impact that that particular bug in the software had on me, because by telling me, hours later, that I'd actually not gotten into the game, every since other game in that time slot had been taken already, so there was nothing I could sign up for. If I'd been notified right then, I would have had a chance to figure out something else.
It turned out to be all right, as that was Saturday morning, when I was feeling so terribly sick that just sleeping all day felt wonderful; but at the moment of the sign ups I was pretty upset.
Sean was great, and reacted well to me telling him about my disappointment. Kevan was a dear and agreed to run another session of his game, and since I had games nearly all the other time slots other than the one he was running in, we decided to do it late Sunday afternoon, immediately after the workshop. It turned out great, and Kevan was telling other people that he was really looking forward to the game and that he was psyching himself up for it.
*laughs* I felt pretty guilty about asking for what I wanted, especially when Kevan's second game didn't fill immediately after Sean posted it; but then Carl Tweeted about it, and I replied to that tweet and I was so happy to see Chris Mitchell and Eric Lytle sign up for it!! I love playing with both of them. Chris was in the Always, Never, Now game, and in the earlier goblin game, and his sense of humor and quick reactions are really fun. Eric is an epic player who really grabs hold of a genre that he loves and goes with it. Sadly, Chris' wife was ill that morning, so he couldn't come to the con. He was kind enough to txt me about it, and I said family first! But that I was sad to not play with him again this Con.
I think Chris would have loved it. As it was we had a lady that appeared at the last minute, and the lovely Bry, whom I'd played with in the Marvel game earlier that day.
Kevan ran an amazing game. It was in the Tenra Bansho Zero game system, and I'll warn you in advance that I'm going to use a lot of the terms from the game here simply because it makes sense to me, but check out the game if you want to learn what they mean.
Eric took on the old Master "Juzo - The Devil of the Endless Snow" of the Thunder Clan with gusto. Juzo was an assassin who had a reputation for always succeeding in his jobs, and the interesting secret behind it was that he'd never killed anyone. Bry got to play "Otoma - Nightshade" the lady who kills by seduction. The lady who joined us played "Bones of the Earth" a 30-year-old cyborg warrior with spiritually energized mechanical parts, who was huge, hulking, and nevertheless was a ninja that specialized in getting into and out of places undetected. I very happily got to play Sasuke Uchiha.
*laughs and laughs*
Yes. I got to play "Veil of Rain", the gifted protégé of the clan, a kid wonder who, ten years ago was six and out with her elders on a training exercise that went very very wrong.
Kevan's Zeroth scene was that training exercise. I truly loved that he set things up in the four-man teams the same way they are in Naruto, with Juzo as the seasoned veteran leading three students.
It was a milk run that went into a neighboring territory. We were careful but not quite careful enough. Suffice it to say it was all a trap by the Mantis Clan. Bones in his old human form, was blown up in a trap within a trap. Otoma figured out that her father was the head of the Mantis Clan, Kame Hatano. Juzo got trapped by having too many opponents at the same time. And Kame Hatano promised to Juzo that he'd kill his favorite student, me, and almost did so. Except that voices started telling me that if I tasted blood, that I'd be more powerful. So I tasted the blood on my blade, and was able to get powered up just barely enough (though in reality it was just a psychotic emotional boost that allowed me to go all out) to escape the Leader of the Mantis Clan.
So Bones got remade by his Ninja Masters into a Kijin. And the Thunder Clan started a secret war with the Mantis Clan. We hid the details from our masters, though these two clans belonged to different Lords. Then, a few years later, the Mantis Clan disappeared from the face of the earth. We figured that we'd won and they'd gone into hiding or something, but it was counted as a victory. And life went on.
Our meeting this day was at Okala Village on Mount Hirbashi. It was mildly unusual, as the village didn't belong to our Lord Buren, but the head of our clan, Stone Dragon, wanted to meet up with us face-to-face. That was unusual as well, and meant that what he was going to tell us was sensitive enough that he could not trust anyone else with the message.
Our Lord Buren had an on-going war with the Southern Shinto Priesthood, which wasn't a comfortable thing, because the Shinto Priesthood was the source of most of the spiritually-based technology of the world. Most of it. The Southern Shinto Priesthood didn't allow mass production, and jealously and carefully controlled everything that was of their technology. They were at odds with the Northern Shinto Priesthood, which did do mass production.
Lord Buren had declared war on the Southern Shinto Priests and many of our missions had been to hit them as we could. Stone Dragon came and told us that we were going to be key in the next action against them, and left a pile of scrolls for us.
His instructions were the following:
- Locate Lord Buren's "Perfect Lotus" and either retrieve it or destroy it if it could not be retrieved.
- Gather intelligence on the ship and temple.
- Sabotage any war devices found on the ship or the ship itself.
The Shining Phoenix was the largest of several flying fortresses owned by the Shinto Priests, and the scrolls told us that at this village the Shining Phoenix was going to be docking for refueling and maintenance at a cliff-side dock. There was a limited map to a temple and a vault within it, in the midst of the village. The vault contained something we needed to get on board the Shining Phoenix. There was a complete schedule of the compliment of guards taking care of that temple. Finally there were three names and a list of their job, rank on board the Shining Phoenix, and their weaknesses. Fukata was a junior quartermaster and his weakness was women.. Otama had a clearly defined job. *grins*
Supposedly, by the schedules, we had 12 hours before the ship came in and it would be staying for a few days for maintenance. So Otama and Juzo got situated at the local geisha house, and Bones and I headed for the Temple.
As we headed to the Temple, however, the sky was occluded by the enormous form of the flying fortress, Shining Phoenix. It was enormous, bigger than multiple cities combined and completely made of metal. And it was early.
The really cool thing about the game play at this point was that Kevan alternated between the two teams, keeping both moving, but switching pov whenever there was a good break in the action. Otama had Juzo backing her up the whole way, and she created a quick and effective seduction of the officer that was tempted by women by substituting herself for the woman he usually had. The madam easily kept the usual girl from being available, and Juzo cleaned up after by using his magics to disguise himself as the officer to lead away some of his friends when they thought about checking up on him. Otama was able to get both an impression/picture of the guy so that those of us with impersonation abilities could use the likeness, and she used her signature poisons to kill him to keep him out of the way.
Bones and I had a little more trouble 'cause I almost fumbled a basic wall climb, but Bones grabbed me and pulled me the rest of the way before the outer guards looked up. Once we got into the temple and the vault, I took on the likeness of one of the outer guards, walked up to the temple guard and killed him at point blank range. What was cool and interesting was that at this point Bones' player was worried about the dead body, and Eric realized that Juzo was horrified at how his students had turned out. That because of his reputation and the fact that we were trying to live up to it, we, his students, killed without remorse or compunction.
I loved that. I was just playing the way I thought a genius shinobi would work, especially one that had been long-steeped in a tradition of absolute obedience and the idea that they should think of themselves as nothing but silent death as handed out by their master. It was efficient to simply kill the guard and take on his likeness and stand in his place to allow Bones the time and space to break into the vault. Bones had robbery skills whereas I had forgery skills, which weren't quite as useful the way we went. And there was an easy place to stash the body in the vault, since we weren't that worried about the theft being discovered after we left.
What we found in the vault were thin metal sheets that had a pattern on them and a title on each one. Some of them were pretty simple, things like "Manifest" and "Crew" and "Quarters List". One of them, however, said, "Mantis Conversion Protocol". But we couldn't read them. So we just packed them all up, got them out of the vault, got past the guards on the walls, and headed for the Golden Phoenix. Since it had come in ahead of schedule, it might leave early as well.
We got on board, with the simple expedient of me as the junior quartermaster taking on cargo. They all came on in crates, and I let them out when the coast was clear. We found a console right there in the office by the loading docks and the metal cards fit into them. Juzo kept the "Mantis Conversion Protocol" to himself, and seemed to suddenly have a very good idea of what was going on, but he didn't tell the rest of us. *laughs*
Bones hid in the console room with Otama while Juzo and I stood guard outside, and Bones went through the whole manifest, crew list, and finally the quarters list trying to find where there was a "Perfect Lotus". Finally, he found it on the Quarter's List of all things, and it was nearly the whole way across the ship.
Of course, when he found it, the ship took off. Early. I loved these hurry-ups in Kevan's game, things that simply had to be reacted to rather than bogging down in the death trap of player-planning. *laughs*
We split up. Otama and Bones went to the quarters marked "Perfect Lotus", Juzo and I went to the Captain's Deck, Juzo had figured something out and wanted to go there to be sure. We all encountered a search net of multiple groups of six man teams. Otama and Bones hid above under the eaves but above the heads of the search parties, and they were quickly passed by. I had the ability to make clones of myself, and it was easy to see the search parties, so I took on the appearance of four of the members of the search party and cloned myself each time, and finally ended up with the appearance of the Junior Quartermaster as the fifth. Juzo, my teacher, had a simpler version of the same spell, so he took on the face and mannerisms of the sixth member of the team. And we just walked by the other search teams, acknowledging each other as we passed.
Yes. I know. I actually had Naruto's skills, not Sasuke's. *laughs and laughs* But I'm easier with quiet characters than loud ones.
Anyway, we slipped by easily, and when we got to the bridge, Juzo asked me to send one of my clones to tell the other two that we were going to try and take out the whole of the Shining Phoenix and to come when they had either found what they were going to find.
My clone ran off.
Otama and Bones were contemplating the fact that it was probably a person they were looking for, and Otama was psyching herself up to kill whomever was there if they weren't going to go back to her lord. They broke into the cabin to find a gorgeous Kugutsu in there, one of the perfect women dolls made from holy wood that were imbued with life by a holy ritual.
Bones bowed low to her, "We've come to take you home."
Perfect Lotus answered, "I haven't had a home in a long time." Then she smiled at a very stricken-looking Otama, "You've grown tall, Otama."
Bones blinked between the kugutsu and Otama. Otama choked out, "She's my mother..."
It turned out that Otama had been raised by Perfect Lotus under Lord Buren's care. Perfect Lotus had stolen Otama from the Mantis Clan to live with their rival's lord. But Lord Buren treated Perfect Lotus as he treated all his possessions, and she had been stolen by the Shinto Priesthood in the same way. Being Otama's mother changed Otama's attitude completely, and they realized that they couldn't bring her back to Lord Buren either.
My clone arrived to tell them that we were going to the bridge. And right when it told them, the platform of the Shining Phoenix dropped, in free fall for an instant before catching itself, with much screaming of mechanisms, and lurching through the air.
"That's our master, doing exactly as he said he was going to do."
Juzo and I, however, had just arrived at the bridge when that happened. It wasn't us. When we entered, we found most of the crew in there dead, and a fearfully familiar and strange figure was smashing at the controls. It was the head of the Mantis Clan, now obviously a Kongohki Ninja, or a monster with power that was made up of the trapped souls of the rest of his clan. They run off the karma of the souls trapped in soul mirrors. He was the prototype Crimson Mantis with blood red steel for armor and weapons, and he was tearing the entire place apart.
That was when I realized that the search parties were for him, not us, and that the ship's lurching was from him trying to destroy it, too. On seeing us, however, his target changed. Into us.
The Boss Fight in Tenra Bansho Zero is a beautiful thing. *laughs* Especially when someone like Kevan runs it. It's an odd thing, too, in the world of role playing, because the end boss is almost always so overpowered that it takes everyone in the party to do their utmost to defeat the boss. It's never a case of "we must do honorable one-on-one fights", it's almost always, "Everyone pile on and do your best to combine and coordinate your attacks or we're all going to die."
I love that about the game. *laughs* And part of the mechanics is that every time anyone takes a swing at someone the target gets to not just defend, but if their defense is overwhelmingly better, they get to hurt the attacker.
Juzo starts off the whole thing by actually unsheathing the sword he's never bared before in a fight and he throws away the scabbard. Yes, this is why I was so happy to play with Eric. *laughs*
He swings. The Crimson Mantis counters with enough to only get a little hurt and not hurt Juzo. I run in with one of my burning ball spells, and manage to hurt him, but he gets to go to finish the round and slams me out of the room.
Otama and Bones and Perfect Lotus arrive at this point. So Bones goes in, all charged up with his mechanical extras, and gets hurts badly in return. Otama goes at him with her gem blade firing, and it goes badly for her as well. Perfect Lotus takes her exchange, and her blade goes flying right into the control panel for the ship!
Oops. The ship takes a dive. She jumps for the controls and by sheer physical force makes it so that the ship doesn't just crash right then and there, it's still flying, but only with her out of the battle.
Juzo uses Phantom Mist at this point to make the Crimson Mantis experience a world where he's dead and we're gloating, in order to get the Mantis to attack what's not there. The Mantis starts shouting, "Stop laughing at me!" And we all pile in to get our shots in as we can.
The spell wears off before the turn's entirely done, and as he'd promised ten years ago, the Crimson Mantis targets me, Juzo's prize pupil.
In game terms, given that we'd poured everything we had into trying to defeat the Mantis on a blow-by-blow basis. I'd run completely out of resources, including all that kiai points I needed to even have one of my clones jump in as a sacrifice to an attack. Juzo, however, had not. He jumped in and his body was actually pretty fragile compared to the others, and he took the blow meant for me.
Juzo was, however, also able to counter-strike with his sword skills, with his death box checked (which is a whole other mechanic, as a character can't die unless the player decides to check that box, but checking that box gives the character another three dice for successes). Eric ended up rolling more than two handfuls of dice, he couldn't even hold them all to roll them. And ended up with something like forty-four successes, only three of all his dice failed. Yes, forty-four is a very auspicious number of an Asian death. *laughs*
So Juzo cut completely through the Crimson Mantis, shattering the soul mirror that held him together, and he jumped into the place Perfect Lotus was standing, and told her, "I'm going to crash the ship! Go be free! You will have died in the ship!"
Juzo had realized that the only way his students and Perfect Lotus was going to be free of the clan and Lord Buren was that if they all believed we were dead doing the job we'd been given. Bones grabbed me, and I got to do the, "NOooooooo!! Master!!!" [and we all happily compared the whole of the game to Star Wars...] While the Kugutsu got Otama and we all ran for it.
Perfect Lotus took us to the Northern Shinto Court, and got us all comfortably situated there because of the competition with the Southern Court, we were valued for all the information we could bring them about the Shining Phoenix.
Yes. An excellent game.
Afterward, Eric, Carl, Kevan, and I went to In-and-Out for dinner, and Kevan had said that if it had been anyone other than me asking for the game, he would have said no. As it was he was so very pleased with how the game had gone that he was glad he'd done it. I was very glad, too.
We had a lot of fun talking about the game during dinner and after, including Eric and Kevan thinking that Juzo had rolled so well in that last exchange that he could probably have not just killed Crimson Mantis and crashed the ship, but he probably could have survived the crash, too, and now lived in the village where he'd stashed all his previous "victims" as one of them. Just living the rest of his life out in peace, knowing that his students were safe and elsewhere and not being responsible for them anymore, either.
There was also some talk of what might have happened of Juzo's karma had gotten too high and he had gone asura, and Eric figured out that that Juzo's strict policy of killing no one was actually based on his desire to kill, so if he'd been consumed by his karma, he would just started killing everyone.
That was very cool.
Also another very cool bit that I want to remember was Eric asking Kevan if Kevan had written the genius ninja for me. *grins* I liked that. Kevan actually said that he'd had the Otama character in mind for me, but that it had worked out well as it was. I had really enjoyed being Juzo's star pupil, and while I hadn't really earned as much aiki as I'm used to being able to get, I kind of blame that on being sick and having not really been on my game the whole weekend. And at the end, it had worked out so beautifully for the story it was a really good thing.
We talked until about 11ish, and I still had to pack to leave Monday morning, and I was up until midnight doing so, and finding various things that I had to give back to Carl. Oops. He ended up telling me to just keep a few things... *laughs* I did, however, manage to get him an origami box to give to Eric, and Eric was quite happy to find shuriken in the folds.
The next morning, I got up in plenty of time, ate the very last of the Trader Joe's food I had with me, got to the shuttle, got on the plane, and got to DIA easily. The bus to Boulder was there when it was supposed to be, and there was enough room for me and my luggage, and John picked me up in Boulder. It was an amazingly fun trip and I was thankful I got to go. I am very thankful to Carl, to BigBadCon, and to all the people I played with and for and all those I just got to meet.