North Star 2020: Our Last, Best Hope

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Sue Savage

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North Star 2020 was to have been my first convention at the Garrison. I signed up, pitched two games, booked my hotel room...and you all know the rest.

And then came a glimmer of hope. Do you want us to organise a virtual North Star?

With four slots rather than five and with not much idea how I'd go about running Scum and Villainy online, I decided to just offer one game: Alien. I've already run the scenario at MK-RPG so I knew I could do it online and the Roll20 character sheet would help things run smoothly.

This was my first time offering a game at an event with pre-arranged game assignment. It's nerve-wracking at on-the-day events, waiting to see if my game is going to get enough players to run. Doing it all in advance just shunts the anxiety back a few days. I'm new to North Star. Most of the attendees don't know me. Would anyone want to play my game? And since I also had to choose the games I wanted for the rest of the weekend, would I get into the games I wanted? Would enough other people want to play the same games as me?

Obviously it was fine. Plenty of people wanted to play Alien, and I got my first choice in all the other slots as well.

Game 1

My first game was a Ghost in the Shell game, using the Fate Accelerated system. I'd just been watching Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 and loving it, so was very much in the mood for some cyberpunk action, especially since the game pitch suggested that we'd be playing original characters rather than the usual Section 9 team.

Five of us had been assigned to this game, but one person wasn't well and couldn't make it, and another had technical problems not far into the game and had to drop out. So it was with a rather reduced team of a driver, a hacker and a CSI that we set out to solve a very high-tech crime and save the Japanese economy.

The story was exactly the kind of cyberpunk weirdness I was hoping for, with murderous robots, brain hacking and international espionage. And I also really enjoyed the Fate Accelerated system. I've previously played The Dresden Files RPG, and thought Fate was an excellent fit for that setting, but with Fate having such a strong focus on narrative play, I found the rules excessively complicated, particularly things like the skill pyramid. Accelerated cuts out a lot of the complexity, and really encourages the mechanic where you create advantages that you can then tag to boost your rolls.

So overall I found that once I got into the right mindset I was thinking far more about the situation and how to work with it than any specific skill, which I thought gave the whole thing a cinematic feel that really worked with the Ghost in the Shell setting. I would love to play more of this. Although I should probably watch the original Stand Alone Complex first.

Game 2

I wanted an evening slot for Alien because it seemed right to be playing a space horror game in darkness. All five players made it to this one, and in we dived. I ran my own scenario, The Toxic Jewel, with some minor tweaks from the previous outing, the chief one being that everyone had a bit more equipment to start out with so there wasn't much time spent on sorting equipment before heading planetside.

Much like my Scum and Villainy game, this scenario was written according to the principles of 'situation, not plot'. The players are free to take pretty much any approach they want to the situation, and this group took an entirely different route through the map and very different actions along the way. Combined with the randomness of dice rolls, this made for an all-new experience for me as well as the players.

Stress really ramped up in this game, and I had the fun of dealing with recursive panic rolls. I think that interpreting the panic table is an important part of running a good Alien game, and I think I did a decent job this time as all the PCs ran around screaming at each other.

I can still see areas for improvement in this scenario and how I run it, but on the whole I'm happy with how this one went and I think I gave a good demonstration of how cinematic mode works even if you don't have any xenomorphs.


Game 3


10am is not a time I like to be up and about on a Sunday, but for a game convention I'll do it. Slot 3 was Agents of Concordia, a relatively new game that I'd only heard about recently. One of my fellow players gave the best summary of the setting I've seen: "Concordia is basically Men in Black, but run by off-Earth folks who live in Shadowrun." Although maybe there's just a tiny bit of Stargate in there as well.

So a human, an elf, an ogre and a goblin donned our magical disguises and headed for earth to rescue an ancient Egyptian from 1960s New Orleans. We not only rescued our man, but uncovered and thwarted a nefarious plot and brought the perpetrators to justice.

I didn't love the system the way I love Alien. One or two interesting ideas (individual skills being independent of attributes but tied to a meta-currency called veterancy was one of them) but overall it didn't grab me. The setting, on the other hand, I really liked. I've been vocal about how much I hate the blend of urban fantasy and cyberpunk in Shadowrun. This has the urban fantasy aspects of that game without using them to ruin cyberpunk, and combined with the Men In Black flavour and the novelty of the 1960s time period, it absolutely felt fresh and exciting. While I'd be tempted to use a different system with it, it's a setting I'd definitely play again.

Game 4

Time to let someone else run me some space horror in Mothership, the Alien-minus-serial-numbers RPG. This was the only game I played that didn't have pregen characters, but we ran them up pretty fast using the Mothership Character Generator. Last time I played Mothership I played an android, and I wanted to try something else this time, so went with the first thing the generator threw at me: Griselda West, a scientist whose stats suggested that she'd really want to be an athlete but had been pushed into archaeology by her family. Along with a marine and two androids she set out to inevitable doom.

I got to see a fair bit more of the top part of the Mothership panic table this time, which is a bit different to the Alien one. Griselda's stress level rocketed once the monsters started moving around, and a simple attempt at first aid was what did for her. I like to think I took the fall for everyone else though - everybody else made it to the end relatively unscathed.

Mothership is an excellent game, and while Alien remains my first love where space horror is concerned, I'm sure I'll be playing more of this one too.

Reflections

My first online convention. And the way things are going, I doubt it will be my last. The organisers did a great job of getting everything arranged, and despite a few technical hitches, things largely went pretty smoothly. I got to game with some brand new people, plus some people I've wanted to game with for a while. I got to introduce more people to one of my favourite games, while discovering new games.

While an online convention is never going to take the place of meeting up in person for me, I've still had a fantastic weekend of gaming and I'll eagerly look forward to the next one, whenever that might be. We might all be living in a grim cyberpunk future, but at least we can temporarily escape into much more entertaining grim cyberpunk futures for a few hours of joy.

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