Saturday, May 9, 2020

No Chupacabracon This Year - Looking Back at a Local Tabletop RPG Convention

My original plans - made last year - for first weekend of May was to go to Chupacabracon. I would take in the cyberpunk theme for the year (the con's name was even changed to Chupacabracon 2020 for the occasion), attend a couple of panels, and sit down for as many roleplaying game sessions as I could before my body reminded me that a man of middle years can't game all weekend like he could a couple of decades ago. Unfortunately, putting that many bodies in close proximity for a whole weekend is a bad idea these days. The convention organizers made the announcement that they would be shutting down a couple of months ago. It was the best choice they could make. I'm just a little bummed out that my favorite local tabletop roleplaying game convention was canceled this year.

This seems as is as good a time as any to look back.

Chupacababracon V was the first I attended.  I published a post about it a week after it wrapped up in 2018. That post doesn't properly convey the feeling I came away with after it was over. Something about Chupacabracon clicked with me. Looking back, the magical moment may have been while I was munching on Round Rock Donuts and slurping coffee while listening to Kenneth Hite and Mark Carroll discuss horror (Lovecraftian and otherwise) in roleplaying games. Or it could have been playing a Star Wars D6 game run by Bill Slavicsek. Or it could have been something I couldn't quite put my finger on. I just knew that I had found something I liked and was looking forward to experiencing again.

I did attend Chupacabracon VI last year, but didn't post about for a couple of reasons. First, I mostly ended up going to panels that year. Not really the most exciting stuff to write or read about. Second, I didn't take many photos while I was there. It just slipped my mind. This blog doesn't include the phrase "over the hill" for nothing. With little in the way of thrilling game-play or photos to spice up a post, I decided to skip doing a Chupacabracon post for 2019.

That may not have been the best call.

I played two games at Chupacabracon VI. The first was a Savage Worlds game held Saturday evening. The other was a session of Grim War on Sunday afternoon. My recollections of these games were aided by Tabletop.Events, the tabletop game event management site used by Chupacabracon. Tabletop.Events still had the schedule I set up for last year.

The beginning of the Savage Worlds game. Before we all split up. Because that always works out.

The Savage Worlds game was a reverse dungeon scenario. We played Orcs defending our subterranean home from invading adventurers. The Orc who seized the most treasure - by fair means (taking it off the bodies of adventurers) or foul (taking it off the bodies of other Orcs) - would be the winner. Naturally, between the group splitting up and backstabbing each other, it was the Orc who spent much of the game as far from danger as possible who won! Our host - Steve Kellison - mentioned that this was one of a series of scenarios he's run with this set up of terrain and miniatures. Great fun!

Grim War is a superheroes game with weird and horror elements using the One Roll Engine (ORE). It was my first experience with ORE. Fortunately, one of the designers - Greg Stolze - was running the game and had plenty of experience at explaining how everything worked. The experience turned out to be not quite my cup of tea. I'm not sure if it was the game itself or the fact that everyone was a little punchy on the last day of the con. I'd probably give it another shot if the opportunity comes up. I did pick up a few valuable lessons about running a convention game.

The scenario that Greg Stolze ran was simple - we were supers trying to get by while maintaining a low profile. Only government sanctioned supers are legal in Grim War. Naturally, we were independents operating without the approval of the powers that be. There was an item - I don't remember what - stored in a nearby bank that we had to retrieve. Greg Stolze produced a map of the bank building and let us start planning the heist. Most of the session was taken up with casing the bank, other preparations, and a confrontation with a team of government supers at the bank.

What stuck with me was the minimalist approach that Greg Stolze took. He provided each of us a few handouts including a character sheet and the map of the bank, but relied on a "theater of the mind" approach for everything else. He was able to run most of the session from memory, but I do recall him consulting a set of notes at least once. With a simple scenario that he obviously had run before, he wouldn't have to look up a bunch of rules. With minimal materials, he wouldn't have to pack pounds of stuff into his luggage. It's a clean, elegant approach that I might borrow if I start running convention games.

Moving forward, it looks like tabletop gaming conventions are moving online. There was some discussion of running Chupacabracon 2020 as a virtual event in August, but I haven't heard anything recently about the idea. Tabletop.Games is running its "Con of Champions" on May 23-25 to keep itself afloat. Given how many tabletop gaming events have canceled this year, it's no surprise that Tabletop.Games needs a hand. I'm still considering it, but it will give me a chance to see how games are run online. That's gonna be a handy thing to learn these days.

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