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Kristacon Pitches: Alternate Systems

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This past weekend, I went to Dreamation 2013 and helped to run Kristacon, a long-form convention gaming experience using the Marvel Heroic System. Brennan Taylor also ran a Bulldogs event as well using the same kind of ideas, so we had like 30+ players across the two events playing in roughly 30 hours of gaming.

It. was. AMAZING. Easily one of the top gaming experiences I’ve ever had. The story was amazing (and the actual play report will be created soon!), and the community was so great that I was always looking forward to the next event. My fellow GMs (Mike O’Sullivan, Tim Rodriguez, and Frank Manna) were just awesome, and I had a blast.

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I had so much fun that I’ve already started brainstorming ideas for the next time we do this kind of thing. And one thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is whether this would work with a different game system. Here are a few ideas:

Apocalypse World:

The Pitch: 8-12 people pick up the AW playbooks to portray the entire community around a single hold, including the Chopper gang that roams the area, the Hocus whose cult lives in the hold, etc.

Pros – Evocative game with a simple system that’s easy for people to pick up (roll+2d6). The Playbooks mean very little needs to be done for character creation (everything is included) and the PvP will be quite likely. Like Marvel, people have a quick sense of play books, and it’s easy to pick up a new one if your character dies.

Cons – Requires high capacity for GMs, hard (but not impossible) to double up on play books (which are much more limited than data files). No preset adventure for the GMs.

Dungeon World:
The Pitch – 12-16 people pick up the DW playbooks to portray a grand adventure against a vast darkness, a Lord of the Rings style event that calls upon the heroes of a fantasy land.

Pros – Just as evocative and simple as AW. Playbooks are quick for people to pick up, and character creation is pretty easy. It’s also a hot game, though, and that could attract a lot of great players. Since it’s a bit easier to double up on playbooks, I think we could host more players.

Cons – PvP is pretty unlikely, and the GMs would have to write a whole adventure before the players showed up, as the sandbox element would need to be a bit more constrained to give it a sense of an arc. In addition, the fantasy genre may not generate the same kind of excitement as superheroes.


The Pitch – 8-12 people pick up the MH playbooks to portray the tortured high school students of a single high school, coping with a dark danger that might overwhelm the city on the Hellmouth.

Pros – Again, AW-systems rock. Easy to pick up playbooks and character creation would make it easy to add new players. Homeroom scenes would be amazing.

Cons – Like AW, fewer playbooks make it tough to host a lot of players. In addition, MH is explicitly about sex and drugs and rock and roll. It might make a few players uncomfortable. Marvel, of course, always has a comics code!

Fate Core / Dresden Files

The Pitch – 12-16 people create Fate or DF characters to play through a custom adventure written by the GMs.

Pros – Easy to host lots of individual characters. We can write the adventure to fit the space and time. Relatively easy system (roll, then deal with aspects), and there is clearly, clearly a fan base for the game. Bulldogs essentially did this during Dreamation 2013.

Cons – Character Creation starts to take up time, and new players are hard to add. It’s also got the same GM burden as the other games (or more) and a more difficult system for new players than AW, but probably on par with Marvel.

12 thoughts on “Kristacon Pitches: Alternate Systems

  1. These all look like good candidates. AW Playbooks are similar enough to datafiles, and only a little customization is required to just jump in and play. Any of the AW hacks would seem to work.

    I think some prep with pregens would be good for Dresden Files. If you have a stable of 20 pregens with pre-existing relationships to one another and the environment you could get a good game going fast. We did pregens for Bulldogs! and that worked well. I also think Dresden works better for the sandbox style that Kristacon encourages. Bulldogs!’s ship structure was too rigid, and that’s something I’d change.

    I think at least one scene where everyone gets to interact is essential. We didn’t do that in Bulldogs! and we should have. Maybe a TransGalaxy debrief, and then the players get to form crews from there for each mission.

    1. Good point with the ships. I think that permeable scenes are the of the big things we missed with Annihilation, and I think we could do better there too.

      I worry about the pregens. I played a pregen in Bulldogs, and I felt considerably less connected to the character than I would have playing a Marvel datafile. It’s so weird!

      1. On pre-gens: I wonder if that’s partly because you know all about the Marvel pre-gen, or you know you can flip to the back, read all about them, flip front and then contextualize all their special powers and XP milestones.

        For Bulldogs, we actually based every PC on a sci-fi character or character trope, but we were relatively quiet about whom was whom. I think maybe we should’ve not only been more open about it, but actually played it up. So, instead of “Rrawwrn is a lion-person warrior guy,” maybe “Rrawwrn is based on Aeryn Sun and Zoe.” Not “Admiral is a Saldrallan former military officer,” but “Admiral is based on Adama.” “Spinnaker is Starbuck.” “Alexis is Luke Skywalker.” Etc., etc.

        Do you think that would make a difference? Because if so, you could easily do something like that for Dresden. “This gal is Dean Winchester. This guy is Willow. This guy is Mulder. This gal is Katherine Pierce.”

  2. I would do whatever I needed to in order to enable an AW Kristacon event. My take on it would be three different hardholds, instead of just one — each table is a hardhold, and players can travel between them at will. The fourth GM could always set up any other location needed, outside the hardholds. It could set up some great tension between the different hardholds, and where loyalty lies. Also, I agree that doubling on playbooks is not a good idea, but with a whole bunch of extra playbooks including player created ones, you could easily get up to 20 or so playbooks. That leaves plenty in case someone dies and needs to play a new character, or someone wants to change playbooks. And you could always set it up so that, if you want to play the same playbook as someone else, you go ask them.

    One of my questions about AW would actually be, “Do the characters transfer through each session, even if the players aren’t there? Do we let other players play characters they didn’t initially create?” It’s a little different than data files, because instead of playing Iron Man (whom no one actually created, and whom everyone knows), you’d be playing Uncle Jackson (who was created by That Guy Who Couldn’t Make It To This Session, and who you don’t know until you pick up the filled-in playbook).

    As for Dungeon World, I actually don’t think you need an adventure, per se. You just need to come up with a whole bunch of seeds. Not, “Everyone! You’re going to stop the orcs!” But, “So, you’ve heard rumors of the Angelbone Blade, hidden in the ruins of Kel’Thark nearby. Also, though, the town of Riddlemore has been sacked by a big band of orcs, bigger than anyone has seen in ages. Oh, and there’s that job that the bartender told you about, where the Green Wizard has been recruiting folk like you for something she’d only describe as ‘dirty work’. So. Who wants to do what?” It still could be pretty sandbox, thanks to the way Fronts work. Over time, one or more of these fronts could grow to be real, significant problems, especially if not dealt with, and that’s where the grand event comes from.

    DW also has a metric ton of alternate classes people have cooked up, so that wouldn’t be a problem, and it’s also even feasible for each player to make his or her own character whenever he or she arrives — you don’t necessarily have to have a recurring cast in the same way that you might in the others, thanks to the nature of roguish, sword and sorcery freebooters.

    Monsterhearts would be pretty sweet, too — it actually might require the least out of all the AW hacks in terms of prep, because so much of MH is actually all down to PvP interactions. (Yay for high school!) It might be most important to generate a few events that PCs could attend and interact at, like a school dance, a party, a Fae ball, something like that. And then a Menace or two on top would make it perfect. Monsterhearts also explicitly allows for doubling up on playbooks, if I recall, so it actually might be a bit easier than AW, especially with some of the extra MH playbooks. Two vampires can be totally different, as can two werewolves, as can two ghosts, etc. There might be a few that shouldn’t be doubled (the Chosen, maybe, or the Angel), but the ones that can be doubled should give enough room to work with.

    As for Dresden, I think Brennan pretty much said what I’d say. It could probably work pretty well, too, but I do think I’m wary somewhat of the fiddlier bits of Dresden that Bulldogs doesn’t have to worry about. No one in Bulldogs had to cast spells, and while that system isn’t too complicated, it’s also not exactly simple, either.

    Sorry to write so much — I’m just absolutely thrilled by the idea of doing AW, DW, or MH in the Kristacon format.

    1. I’m happy to see that other people are down to make this happen. Long-form gaming is a huge love of mine (hence Eternity) and Kristacon is 95% of what I love about LARP without all the drama. Love it!

      Right now I’m leaning toward DW or MH. Dresden/Fate is a little finicky (spells, man) and AW has a whole bunch of mechanical stuff that the other hacks refine/leave out. I love AW, but in some ways it’s the hardest of the bunch to run.

      I didn’t think about doubling up the playbooks in MH, but I guess it makes sense. All the vampires are from the same families, etc. Would that be how you would run it?

      1. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what mechanical stuff the other hacks refine/leave out that makes AW the hardest of the bunch to run, but maybe that’s off-topic.

        For doubling up in MH, I might actually come in with a list of questions for each playbook, basic things that help everyone get on the same page about how it works. Like for the Vampire, “Does sunlight burn? Crosses? Silver? Wooden stakes? Do you need to feed on blood, or just like it? Does the other person remember? Do you close the wound with a kiss? Do you have fangs?” For the Werewolf, “Can you turn at any time, or just at particular times? Can you transform at will, or just when you go Darkest Self? Can you infect other people with lycanthropy?” Stuff like that.

        If there were doubled up characters, I’d probably just ask them, together, to come up with some answers, so that we’re on the same page with how vampires or werewolves work. If nothing else, then we’d understand how they’re two different breeds of vampire or werewolf. Other than that, though, I think I’d leave their personal connections up to them. Maybe suggest some things (“siblings” of a single vampire sire, or a sire and child pair, or something), but leave it up to them. The only doubling that would probably need to have a distinct relationship in advance is Serpentine, because they should probably both be from the same family. (Although, now that I think of it, having two secret mysterious monster families at odds with each other, like the Hatfields and the McCoys, would be pretty amazing.)

        I’d still love to hear your thoughts on the issue shared characters, too. Let’s say I create a Vampire in session 1, but I’m only going to be back around session 4. Do we write me out until session 4? Do we hand off my vampire to someone else, if they want it, until session 4?

        1. First, I think the Harm moves, gang moves, and sex moves (which are a little less idealized than MH) are a bit more complex emotionally and technically than the others. Perhaps that’s just me, but I think that DW and MH are easier for people to grok and run (and a little less rich down the road). Basically, I think of AW as high level roleplaying…

          I love the idea of the different communities defining things. Would make for a great first session. šŸ™‚ I agree that their relationships can totally be up to them.

          I think it’s best to let people keep their characters to themselves. In the LARPs I’ve run that doesn’t cause too many problems, as the sandbox model is great for people coming in and out.

  3. Also, I’ve already asked someone who loves MH to do a KristaCon event. I’m still talking with them about when it might be feasible.

    1. And that sounds absolutely wonderful. Now I’m just going to excitedly await further word. For whatever it’s worth, too, I’d jump on the chance to help out like a vampire on a yummy victim. Or a werewolf on a raw steak. Or a witch on a book of dark sorcery. Or… I’ll shut up now.

      1. I’ll pencil you in for some steak tartar, Brendan.

        It was great gaming with you – I’m looking forward to hanging with you more.

  4. All good stuff!

    Other systems I could see this format working with, in a spitball, pie-in-the-sky way:

    Feng Shui. It’s a superhero game disguised as an action movie game. The different junctures make for awesome time-hopping adventures, and there’s a mind-blowing array of crazy villains and insane plots possible. I suspect this would play the most like a Marvel game of any alternate system we used.

    PROS: Running games that took us sequentially from 69 AD to 1850 to the present to 2156 would be AWESOME. The archetypes are recognizable and easy to hook into.

    CONS: It’s a great system, but a dated one, and not a ton of gamers are going to have buy-in with the HK stuff.

    Night’s Black gents might be cool, if we could get around the necessarily high lethality and somewhat finicky design. Actually, if we wanted to go the Gumshoe route, I could see and Ashen Stars KC game that basically played like an epic Mass Effect adventure. PROS for Gumshoe are a highly adaptive system that allows you to easily run adventures that go off in whatever direction the players want, with the Con being that someone then needs to write those adventures.

    Anyway, I loved it and would happily help put together the next Marvel one you guys work on. I wonder if you could shoehorn one of these into GoD or if that’s just too crazy to try and coordinate.

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