Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

The Quick (ha!) Rundown of My BigBad Con in Oakland

I need to do a quick write up of BigBadCon before it escapes me. I've been so busy since I got back that I haven't really had the time to sit down and write down anything, though I intend to write up two of the games I played, maybe three, but definitely two. But I want to capture the days before they get too far away from me, and it's already been a week.

Carl and I had fun by planning a lot of this months and months in advance. It's just one of those things that we've been doing, since I go to visit him at least once a year, on the most part, and we have a habit of putting together a wiki page and putting down everything that we're doing to do, everyone we're doing to see, and everywhere we're going to eat. Especially the eating. In fact, one of the things we figured out, early, was that we were going to go to Pican instead of going to Berkeley and eating at Chez Panisse. Thing is that Carl has a gang in Oakland who make a tradition of going to Pican before Minicons at Endgame in Oakland, and Eric asked him, via Twitter, if Carl was going to Pican before BigBadCon.

Carl was a dear and asked me if it would be okay to open the door to everyone, and we ended up in the backroom at a table for eight enthusiastic gamers. That was really fun and entertaining, given how much they all loved food.

Corn BreadRaw Dinosaurs!!!Grilled PeachCrawfish Macaroni and CheeseA full flight!Fried Green TomatoesThe Amazing Molassas Pork ShankBlue Crab Smothered BeignetsVoodoo Shrimp and Grits

*laughs* Yes. That was the array of pictures I got that night. Pican is as well known for it's collection of bourbons as its food, and the food is darned tasty. It's Southern-inspired Californian cuisine, and the beauty of the food is only matched by how it tastes. Though I'll admit that I was drawn entirely to the "raw dinosaur kale and greens salad" by the "raw dinosaur". It was very very good, crunchy, with good texture and a beautifully brash dressing to match the bite and bitterness of the greens.

I really loved the crawfish macaroni and cheese, though, and may have to make that sometime. My dinner consisted of two of the "small plates": the blue crab smothered beignets with maque chox and the Voodoo Shrimp and Grits with Fall Mills grits. I also got the Chicken Confit Potatoes, which were baby potatoes roasted in chicken fat and crisped shards of chicken skin.

The baby beignets were tender pillows of fried dough, stuffed with blue crab lump meat, and covered in a creamy, pimento flavored maque chox, which had crisp fresh sweet corn kernels. The combination was amazing, and I had the exact six bites of it that I wanted, no more. The shrimp were crisp and big and meaty, and the Fall Mills grits were creamy wonder, smooth and perfect with butter. The toppings seemed to include the stamens of poppy flowers, sweet and spicy, along with some finely chiffonaded herbs. In contrast with the plain flavors and exquisite textures of the rest of the dish, they were a beautiful and tasty accent. The chicken confit potatoes were rich and crisp surfaced and creamy on the inside, and the goodness of the shatteringly crisp shards of chicken skin was groan-worthy. I loved how much salt they put on those, enough to bring out all the flavors and give the crunch of texture but not so much as to overwhelm the rest of the dish.

Then came dessert....

Sweet Tea Chess Pie
With all the foodies in the room, and a whole menu of desserts, it might tell you something that everyone that had the room for dessert got the same one. It was this Sweet Tea Chess Pie with lemongrass meringue, basil seed gel, and fresh summer berries on top. That pale green gel you see on the plate? That's a basil infused gel with the seeds embedded in it. The crust was a beautiful shortbread thing with toasted oats studded throughout.

The sweet tea chess filling is like the stuff you have in a pecan pie, but without the pecan. The meringue on top was like an Italian meringue, probably egg whites beaten with a candy syrup so that it stiffened in the bowl and could be spread on top and blow torched to crisp and brown and the lemongrass gave it an exquisite scent and just enough tang to make it utterly unique. The blood heart plums were tender and sweet, but weren't particularly tasty, but the berries made up for it. I couldn't really taste the effects of the basil gel that much.

The waitress said that she'd been in the restaurant business for seventeen years, and in all that time, this was her favorite dessert. Now we all knew why.

Carl and I spent most of Friday doing errands, like going to Trader Joe's and stocking up. I found out, only after the con that they would give you a free refrigerator in your room if you asked for it. Next year, I will make sure that I do that, as the food and coffee at the hotel was utterly horrible. I brewed my own coffee and tea this year, but it would have been nice to be able to stock yogurt and more fruit and quick to eat raw veggies. We also went to Sweet Maria's for me to pick up my green coffee order. It was in a really bad part of town, so Carl stayed with the car while I ran in to get my bag of stuff.

My Big Bad Con Badge
We got to the hotel early, checked in, settled in, and found our badges.

This is one of those things I utterly love about BigBadCon, that they actually print your entire schedule on the badge, and they give you all the information you need to get where you're going and then some. The other thing is just being able to fill my entire schedule with games! There are a lot of gaming conventions that don't do that, don't seem to plan for that, and in DunDraCon it was far more likely to NOT get into a game than to get into one. I'd much rather be gaming the whole convention than sitting around waiting to see if I got into a game only to sit around with everyone else when I don't.

Sean Nittner is really really good about making sure that anyone that wants to game gets into a game. I think that's one of the reasons why the caliber of gamers at this con is higher than those I've been at any other convention I've been do. I do admit that I haven't been to Go Play Northwest or a few others that I know have been good, too.

Morgan Ellis, my first GM, is a legendary Fate GM. One who knows the game inside and out and knows more about the genres and settings that he presents than nearly anyone I know. And his Shadow of the Century game was no exception. He heaped healthy helpings of pure 80's with Firebirds, mullets galore, and color commentary that set it solidly in the 80's action genre. I always want to do well for him and the players in his games, but I always find myself falling short of my expectations of how I should be able to play with him running. I'm still not sure why.

I love Aspects. I love the mechanics of building them up and coming up with something awesome. But I do know that I was never really into TV, so I don't know that much about what differentiates 80's action stuff from 90's action stuff, though I have some feel for the difference from then and now. I also realized, deep into the game that I wasn't really excited about recreating A-Team or Buckaroo Bonzai.

I was really excited about Atomic Robo, but really blew a line last year when I just froze. I seem to be really great a Doing the Amazing Thing That Should Be Done, but I suck at saying the One Line That Needed To Be Said. *laughs* The game was good, but I really didn't play Great, and while I know I shouldn't be down on myself, I was kind of frustrated with myself and figured I needed to learn something from it.

Or sleep.

I fell over and just napped for nearly the entire hour between my games. I woke up enough to make an instant noodle bowl from Trader Joe's, and when I got to Hamish's game, he arrived with a Chipotle Burrito. We looked at each other. Hamish had also indulged in Pican the previous night, and he laughed and said, "How the mighty have fallen..."

The Dark Zone is an Apocalypse World adaptation for cyberpunk, and I'm still utterly in love with cyberpunk. It helped that Brad, a long time Horde member, whom I used to play with in Carl's Shadowrun games, was also in the game. I loved the setup, and how Hamish linked all the players by having them each describe a job that they'd done. The person on their left had to also have been in the job, and they had to describe how they'd helped. The next two people could choose to be in the job as well, if they wished. Each job formed a link between the people.

And I realized that that was one of the things I'd missed in Fate, that it doesn't automatically link characters up at the beginning, and in a one-shot Con game, I find it useful to have reason why my character reacts to another character. The other thing I realized was that I really did have a love of the cyberpunk genre, and it made a real difference in how involved I was with the game.

It was a fun game, with Brad and I playing more street types and the other two playing more corporate types, though I cannot, in all honesty say that my character was hardened in the least. I was a hunter, Brad an infiltrator, Monika played a perfectly polished chauffeur with an armed and armored car, and Blaine did an amazing rigger boy who preferred to have his drones do everything. The great thing was that Monika's character insisted that both of them actually get out and do their stuff right with us on the street. And both Brad and I worked some stuff to make sure they could come with us. So we avoided the whole problem riggers usually pose.

Brad also managed to avoid the isolating propensities of an infiltrator (i.e. he and he alone goes off and just does what needs to be done), and all four of us went off to follow all the clues to find the guy that Monika's boss wanted us to find. I'll admit that knowing the genre inside and out made that possible and fun. The ending firefight, given the Apocalypse World mechanics was beautifully fast, escalated quickly, the fails proved spectacular, and they still let us get out with most of our skins intact.

Saturday morning I had an absolutely fabulous time in [ADVENTURE SITE] of the [OMINOUS ADVERSARY], with Bryant and Susan, whom I also knew from Horde connections. I'd played with Bryant before, and I'd done the improv class with Susan. Zedd was also in the game, whom I knew from last year. Mike was new to me, but he seemed very comfortable with his cleric. Andrew Linstrom GM'd and got us all started on our characters, and was hungover enough from the night before that he went off to get a Bloody Mary while we linked all our characters up. Dungeon World is another Apocalypse World makeover, and is supposed to emulate the dungeon crawling attitude of D&D, but it's cooly different! He really wanted to see how it would work if he didn't know what the links were, too. Some of them came out pretty quickly, others developed as the story developed.

Andrew said, pretty plainly, that he hated having to prep for a game. But he was really good about asking us the questions the game has about why we picked the special abilities and items we picked, and those were enough for him. He asked us where we were willing to start, and he came up with his scenario: ASOA1 Spire of the Rune Slavers! And we started on the top of a black spire, off of which hung half of a wrecked, empty halfling village, and a wyvern was circling it looking to kill us.

It was a two-act game, with a bit of travel between, and a very satisfying finale at the end, and everyone really brought their game to the table. Everyone contributed some glorious moments. Mike's stone cleric invoked his god to foil the adversary's derivative. Zedd's druid fell into the magma and came out in magma form (yay for opportune level-ups). Susan's ranger led the way and her dog did as much fighting as the rest of us. Bryant's halfling fighter threw himself into every fight. He actually did most of the damage to the wyvern, and did a lot at the end, too. I was a halfling thief, and I think my big moment was when I died and made a deal with Death to come back and get the Big Baddie for him instead.

Wow. I loved that, and really loved the list of possible powers I'd get from having returned from the dead. Andrew showed me the list after the game, and that was just fun to see and do. He seemed very pleased with the game, so that was really good for me, too. I really like it when everyone's having fun in a game.

My next game was A Butterfly's Dream of Freedom, which Carl ran using Tenra Bansho Zero, which self-stylizes as a "hyper-Asian" game. Though I'd say that it's very much a mashup of every Anime and Manga you ever read, plus some. There are the soul-gem bulked-up samurai, Naruto-style shinobi, mecha driven by children, onmyojitsu (incandescens!) wizards, cyborg kijin who are part human and part not, Buddhist priests of three conflicting (of course) schools, robotic kongoki powered by memory-sealed Asura, worm-laiden Annelidists (ah ha! the Mushi-tsukai, like Gin in Mushishi! I should have figured that out for the next day) who can do miracles of healing with the worms within them, primal Oni (red and blue), Shinto priests and shrine maidens, and the created kugutsu who are carved dolls brought to life by their creator and treasured by their owners.

Kevin, Shaun, and Thomas had all read the system and were super-enthusiastic about playing. I had not, and all of them and Carl were wonderful about helping me out when I needed to be taught the mechanics. It helped immensely that I knew and loved the genre in utter and complete detail, and I think that that is a lesson that I'm going to take with me into cons in the future.

I loved three very specific game mechanics. 1) There is a Zero Scene which does much to establish the links and reasons for the character's ties with everyone else, and Carl encouraged everyone to take a fate that linked their character to someone else at the table 2) That in every single scene every player gets three Aiki chits to give to the other players (one per sentence or action) whenever they're entertained or appreciative of the move, these, in turn, can be converted to Kiai (often one to many) that can be used to level up, add dice to rolls, and add to stats. Spent Kiai leads to Karma, which can turn you into an Asura and limits the types of fate one can take. A very fine mechanism to model the flow of karma, good and bad. 3) You get to roll handfuls of dice if you manage you Kiai well. *laughs* Gretchen agreed with me. It's just satisfying!

I'm going to write this game up in detail. Suffice it to say that genre was right down everyone's alley, and we all took advantage of it to the max, Aiki chits flew in all directions, and the instant feedback on what other people found good and entertaining helped immensely in how I felt about my play, so I was able to take better and bigger chances. And how the story and the mechanics dovetailed for the finale was spectacular, and well worth the extra 40 minutes we were able to spend into the usual dinner hour. *laughs*

Dinner was at Francesco's, a 70's Italian place just down the street that never really came out of the 70's. White linens, plastic booth seats, and a menu that consists of steaks, Italian pastas, and their Francesco's Special which is spinach, ground beef, eggs, and optional mushrooms all sauteed together, essentially a Joe's Special. *laughs* It was exactly as it was last year, and the waiter was probably the same one, and we got there kind of late, but Gretchen was able to come with us, so we talked the whole dinner through. That was fun!

Then Gretchen went to have her dinner with Brad while Carl went off to talk with people, and I took a quick break to get some evening tea and a breather. Then Gretchen and I went to Hot Guys Making Out. It was run by Ben Lehman, who wrote the game, and it was fascinating listening to him talk about how the game came about and how much went into it. He'd originally been talking with women in gaming, and about how a lot of companies think that by simply making a game gender neutral, they were inviting women to play them. *laughs* He started talking with women about what they really wanted, and a bunch of his female friends said, "Oh oh, you can write that!!"

So he did. And it took him two years to finesse the mechanics until they worked the way he intended them to work. Julie was a local who'd been wanting to play the game for a very long time, and Gretchen had seen that I'd signed up for it so decided, at the last minute, to play as well! I'd signed up because Carl had pointed it out to me, and I'll admit that I have been very shaky about my yaoi and even my shonen-ai skills for the last several months. It was both a scary and an interesting way to attempt to get back into it.

It helped me, immensely, when Julie decided to take Gonsalvo's role. Gonsalvo is the young orphan who is being adopted by Honoré, the silent, strong nobleman. Gonsalvo is the point of view character, the one with all the internal monologue, the emotional expressiveness, and the rules actually make it so that his player must give him thoughts, emotions, and internal monologue three-quarters of the time! I jumped on Honoré. *laughs* Silent, physically effective, and the rules enforce that he just does the physical thing three-quarters of the time. This is when I realized that I really strongly, utterly prefer to have characters that do what they mean rather than say a damned thing. Anyway.... so Ben happily took Maria, the jealous (at first) maid, and Gretchen gleefully took Olivier, the taciturn butler, whom she decided was shipping Gonsalvo and Honoré with interest.

The play was fascinating. What each player can do is dictated by the cards they get! And you have to have the right cards to make a move that does anything, when you don't have the cards, and have to pass, all you can do is add to the environmental descriptions. Each move is only a few sentences, so there's no pressure to come up with entire blocks of actions. A scene or playing round ends when all four players pass, so every scene ended with lovely descriptive details! I really enjoyed that, and everyone playing was just oo'ing and aah'ing as we played. Ben really looked like he was enjoying himself, too, which was really cool. Later, talking with Eric about it, Eric said a good phrase, "Playing the game as the author intended it, not just as it's written."

I'm probably going to write up one bath scene (yes, yes, me and bath scenes) from the first game and the entirety of the second game in detail as a shonen-ai rated story, as it was just that gentle, tender tension that I've always loved writing.

Yeah. That. If you want to try out the game and then pay Ben if you like it, you can find it here. If you're prefer a paper copy, you can find it here. I'll highly recommend it to any of the fangirls that read what I write. *grins*

I'll admit that the game really reassured me as to the fact that my romantic story sense wasn't as dead as I had thought it was, that there were people that were caught by and enamored of my methods of storytelling. I loved that.

I went with Gretchen after the game to carry her gaming stuff back to the room for her, and to just sit and talk for a while, instead of going to the Parsley Game with Carl and the whole gang. It turned out that Sean, who ran the convention proposed to his lady as one of the moves for the game. Shuan, who was in Carl's Tenra game, was the MC for the games themselves, and also had the ring. That was really cool to know about, but it was really fun to talk with Gretchen. She really reassured me as to how fun it was to play with me, and how much she loved how the game had gone.

That was really healing, too. I slept very well that night, but didn't get to bed until 2 am! *laughs*

My morning game was at 9 am! Ugh. *laughs*

Shaun, from the day before, was running Lotus Blossom's Bridal Path, the example game from the Tenra Bansho Zero books. Carl, when he first learned about it, said that Shuan was very brave to try that in a six hour slot. Afterward, I found out that the scenerio was designed for three sessions of four hours, so now I see why Carl said what he'd said. Shuan was pretty up front about not being as prepared as Carl and that he'd never run the whole thing through. He also had a whole table of people he had to teach all of the mechanics to, unlike Carl, who had a whole table of people who knew the rules, though, of course, I was the exception in both cases. I tried, very very hard, to ask Shaun when it was okay to speak up about certain mechanics when he was trying to find them in his book.

Several of the players were very good players, which was fun. Joseph Harney was competing as a GM in the BigBad GM competition. He ended up playing the old General who was sick of war, and he turned out to be really fun and took a big part in the proceedings. Morgan Hua was fun, open, and also about to run a game himself, and really understood the dynamics of gameplay. He was wonderful and decided to take Lotus Blossom as his character. Michelle took the young samurai and I got the shinobi bodyguard. Jefferson Watson took the sniper/lancer mercenary.

The scenerio had a few things that made it a little rough for a con setting, to begin with, and Shaun did an admirable job of doing what he could with it. One thing was that the scenario was designed for six players, and given the stats of the big bad character for the finale, most of those were necessary to take him out. It gave me a better feeling for how Carl had balanced out his final villain with the powers of the four players he intended to have at the end. This game didn't have that, and we started with only five players, almost lost one, and with the nature of the story, two were taken out by having one of the players be the McGuffin of the story.

It was only later, that Carl pointed out that the Princess could have played more to manga-type and not let herself be sequestered away, but in game it was hard to think of that because I was the shinobi that was set to protect her after I'd lost her Prince in battle. So I was extra-protective and her player really was great about letting me be exactly that. *laughs* But if she'd just gone out and said, "I have to fight... you protect me while I do it...." That would have been really fun, too.

As it was, it was fun anyway and meandered a little, but Shaun was good at shortening up some sequences and not playing others (I loved that everyone on the crashing airship comes up unscratched). The poker chips were fun to fling as Aiki... the clank of them hitting was satisfying. And we got within a hair's breadth of the actual ending when everyone had to run to their next games.

My last game was Carl's One Summer Evening, which is set in the Golden Skies system, which is part of a new genre of gameplay in Japan. It's called Slice of Life games, and I loved Carl's encapsulation: "There are 1000 RPGs where you can solve problems with violence. This is not one of them."

It's very peaceful, and everyone plays animal spirits who can also change into looking like human children, though it's easier if we can still show our tails and ears. *laughs* I'd originally been shut out of the game because Carl's games filled in about three minutes, but a few weeks later someone dropped out of this game, so I was able to sign up for it! I was very very happy about that.

It was pretty much a perfect game for the last day of the Con, when I was pretty beat and exhausted from the lengthy story of the morning. I think I won't actually write this one up, but suffice it to say that Sam, who was in my first game with Morgan, was also in this game and played the perfect tenuki. *laughs* Both of us had thought tenuki were entirely mythical creatures and it was startling to have them be real, with pictures!! *laughs*

I loved that. Yoshi did a perfect dog henge, with a ball and everything! Jon didn't show up, but a lady did, instead, and she had fun being a very nice cat. I played a rabbit henge with friendship powers! *laughs* They were all really fun to play this game with, and really took it in the spirit it was intended, and I really needed that as an end for this lovely con.

So much for making this *short*, but it was so much fun. I also wanted to at least get my feeling about the various games down before I dove into specific stories.

I was also very very happy with the decision to go to Oakland, near Endgame, for organic sausages, and then for beer and ginger beer at the Trappist instead of the very sad Carrow's that was near the hotel. Carl and I had an amazing dinner at Chef Chu's the next evening, with Earl, Cat, John Hart, Chrisber, Christy, and Teo, pictures of which are up on my Flickr account. The Beijing Duck was actually better, in my head, than the one I had in Beijing, but I might be biased. *laughs* I have always loved the preserved mustard and pork soup there, too, along with the dry cooked string beans, so we had quite the feast.

The flight home was pretty uneventful, and since I was flying out early in the morning from the Oakland airport, Carl dropped me off at the hotel the night before. It was better for both of us, and I had an interesting time the next morning, taking all my stuff through the connected hallways through the buildings of the Oakland Airport Hilton, where the Con had been held. It was odd as I was put in a different building than the Con, so I felt like I was lost at one point, but saw a pilot barreling toward a particular elevator, so I went for the same one.

It turned out to be in the building that the shuttle left from! So I got to the airport in plenty of time. I'll admit I was a little cheap and got a better price for taking a flight that went from Oakland to Seattle and then from Seattle to Denver. I managed to get some amazing pictures while coming into and out of Seattle, but I was also the only passenger that rode thru! *laughs* And I could see why as the flight went from 9am to 3pm, and with a backup power problem that delayed us for two hours during the first flight, I didn't get into DIA until 5pm! Oop. I did manage to sleep through all the trouble and most of the rest of the first flight, so I felt a lot better by the time I got to the airport. I managed to pick up my bags, and help an older couple with theirs, and then I raced to the East pick-up islands only to see a bunch of signs that said, "NO RTD".

Oops. All the RTD pickups were only on the West side of the airport! So I ran all the way across the airport, and got there in plenty of time for my bus to Table Mesa in Boulder. John and Jet picked me up there, no problem, they arrived a minute after I did, so I even had time to get all my luggage. And we got home no problem....

So I'm home, with two games I really truly want to write up. *laughs* And I'll be able to get to it in the coming week. Sunday was so busy with my painting show, and it was good having all these people giving me plenty of positive feedback. One painting has sold already, and there were two different people who spoke of commissioning me for certain types of paintings based on the ones that I didn't want to sell. So it'll be fun to see how that turns out. I gave two paintings I wasn't going to show to a charity auction, and both brought in a good amount and went to good homes! So I'm pretty proud of them. I've also been asked to send another painting to another auction, so I hope that works out well, too.
Tags: food, gaming, travel

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