Phoenix 2018 thankyous and war-stories

I went to Phoenix over the weekend and had a great time. Detailed stuff will come later, when I am capable of braining, but I’d like to thank @jenhay and the rest of the Phoenix team for running a great con, Quentin for the food, Ethan and Tayla for the transport, and all the GMs for the games they ran.

The con was in a different venue this year - the Waipara Adventure Centre, which SCAdians will be very familiar with - and it looked like a good space: three indoor larp spaces (and a fourth at a pinch from the large dorm-room if you needed somewhere cramped), plus outdoors. While the latter wasn’t used much, we did use it for “Tears of Heaven”, @Ciaran’s Walking larp, and I can see a lot of potential for outdoor games there in future.


My Phoenix:

Friday night: The Freighter Coralus by @Inveighed. A spaceship disaster / sacrifice game, where you are going to be arguing about which two characters have to sacrifice themselves to save the rest. Our run seemed to be full of sensible people, so we worked the problem, decided who was mission-critical, and after a certain amount of wibbling over whether anyone would volunteer, drew straws. And then of course someone had to go ahead and be the hero anyway. A satisfying opener.

Saturday morning: Pretty Little Cultists by @lesbiancobra: again, this was a game about deciding who to sacrifice (it seems to be a common format ATM), but the context of small town and big tentacley god meant it wasn’t really a moral dilemma so much as a question of who you hated most. Which in my case turned out to be my oh so perfect wife, Celia - though it took a threat against my creepy daughter Lily to push that. We had great performances from @sarlytheplatypus and Ethan as the creepy twins, Tayla as the perfect Celia, and @Viperion as poor Kevin, and I think Ichathon would be proud of us.

Saturday afternoon: Extinguishing the Light of Reason by @EdwardStutters. Fallen London! Madness! Academic humour! Powerpoint! A question, well more of a statement, actually! Backbiting and snark! This was basicly an academic conference with characters, and possibly people were a bit too polite about letting people present their work rather than denouncing and counter-denouncing and ripping up their notes and dragging them to The Device to be treated for madness - but it hit the mark perfectly for me. Highly recommended if you like Fallen London, or academic jokes.

Saturday night: A Game of Thrones: Blackfyre Rising: we had to cut this quite ruthlessly for numbers, and ended up without any Maesters, but it seemed to work. Unlike previous runs, there was a very decisive result. Someone put in a lot of hard work, managed to get all the great Houses together in what we began calling the plotting tent, and then got them to work out their differences and swear allegiance to Daeron. Things came to a head after the tourney, when the victorious Blackfyre managed to hatch a dragon, and the king dispatched Ser Gwayne Corbray and a squad of goons to murder it; after an epic duel, Blackfyre left Corbray for dead, and fled the scene. But with no supporters other than his brother, he was forced into exile, and Princess Visenya’s brief rebellion was also decisively crushed. So Daeron got to be king, but with such a strong noble alliance, there would probably be problems in the future…

This was the third time we’ve run this game, and probably the last for a while. Having been run in Auckland, Wellington and the South Island, it has probably exhausted its NZ audience for the moment.

Sunday morning: Tears of Heaven, by @Ciaran: the game of the con for me. It was a walking larp, about a party of adventurers journeying to complete their quest. The mechanics were simple: walk for 30 - 45 minutes, then have a 5-minute “night” during which the party paired up into watches and resolved event cards. Repeat for three hours, until the Final Battle. We had a good space for it (the adventure centre grounds, and the adjacent Waipara river bed), with a variety of terrain, and perfect weather: I’d been psyching myself up for anything from sunshine to drizzle to freezing cold, but it was a nice spring morning, so it was an enjoyable walk. The character sheets and watch cards provided seeds for conversations, and the process of walking and people going ahead and lagging behind and stopping to look at things naturally saw people group and split up and recombine to talk in pairs while walking. I’ve heard people talking about the enjoyment of quiet moments in campaign play, the downtime between the epic battles and panic, and I think it was a good simulation of that. I highly recommend this game, and you should play it if you get a chance.

Sunday afternoon: Your Last Day Here, by Ethan and Tayla: A zombie apocalypse game, about people trying to get a chopper ride out of zombie-infested New York. Had a neat interactive playspace, which people enjoyed exploring, though this meant that some information came out very quickly. The zombie genre is ultimately about people turning on one another under pressure, and it was faithful to that, but miraculously we all got out alive.

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Phoenix was fantastic!

Friday night I ran The Last Day of Pompeii, which ran in Wellington last month. Lots of feelings were had (some of them by me), and I thought the game went really well. This game is very dependent on its players (it’s focussed on sitting around telling stories and interacting, with very few concrete goals), so the fact that it worked is 90% down to the excellent group of LARPers I was given. Special mention to Katia for spending most of the game crying, and @Ciaran for making me have a feeling before the game even started with his commitment to character prep.

Saturday morning I ran Pretty Little Cultists, about sacrificing a member of an upper middle class suburb to a tentacle god. This ran very differently to its Wellington run (almost entirely due to having a full cast for the Phoenix version, as opposed to the 9/13 players who made it to the Wellington run). Watching Ethan and @sarlytheplatypus as the creepy twins just sit in corners and stroke each other’s limbs was hilariously upsetting, and my personal highlight from the game was hippie Tabitha (played by Chloe) cheerfully cajoling people into a tentacle-inspired meditation session to reduce the tension in the room.

Saturday afternoon was Red Tape, run by Summer, about implementing communism in an office of cosmic bureaucrats. The game itself felt first draft-y, and required a fair bit of player info sharing and workarounds to make sense, but ended up still being a lot of fun. I’m pretty sure what we invented wasn’t communism, but it did have bi-weekly meetings about who keeps writing too hard and using up the pencils, and an office-wide punishment system involving pinging tiny rubber bands at people, so I think we did well.

Saturday night was the flagship, Blackfyre Rising, run by @IdiotSavant, @Catnip and @daena. As the Master of Whispers, I was trying to keep a lot of plates in the air for this game, and didn’t quite manage to achieve most of my goals (pretty sure I would’ve got there for all of them given another 15-20 minutes. Ah well.) The one part of the game that didn’t work for me at all was the small council mechanic, in which I and five other characters were essentially taken out of the game and prevented from making any progress with our plotlines to deal with petitions from other characters. I’m not sure how relevant or important the petitions were to the petitioners’ storylines, but I found that half hour or so frustrating. Other than that though, a solid game, and fantastically well run - as someone who has run several flagships, this had a frankly terrifying amount of characters and plots and mechanics to keep track of. B+ game, A+ GMs.

Sunday morning was Mad-Winter Christmas, by @sarlytheplatypus. I had enormous amounts of fun being a demon child trash pixie, throwing Christmas decorations at Declan, and causing Ethan to make a hugely entertaining variety of stress/frustration noises. The game was really well balanced between ridiculousness and genuine emotion, particularly within my family, and didn’t seem to suffer from the loss of the one last-minute dropout (although Lily now has some dental cream that she’ll probably find an upsetting and inappropriate use for).

Sunday afternoon was Your Last Day Here, a zombie apocalypse game by Ethan and Tayla. I’d been looking forward to this game since the Phoenix lineup was announced, and it delivered everything I wanted: moral dilemmas, ridiculous zombie science, and the opportunity to yell and wave a prop gun around. Kudos to Helen for her sobbing zombie bite victim, and Ana for her manic cheerfulness throughout the apocalypse.

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Thank-yous would be a long list. Everyone at the Con contributed to making it a great event - players, GMs, kitchen helpers, those who provided transport. Special thanks to @jenhay for taking on the huge organising task (and trooping on even when injured), Quentin for running the kitchen and GMing multiple games, and Ethan and Tayla for providing transport to and from the camp

My Phoenix games:

Freighter Coralus (by @Inveighed): A spaceship game with a central moral dilemma. Our group played this in a fairly emotionally understated way, but I think that reflects the personalities of the player group more than anything.

Pretty Little Cultists (by @lesbiancobra): This game perfectly delivered on the premise of suburban horror meets eldritch horror. In retrospect I could probably have been more generous with my tokens (an in-game mechanic that influenced how characters would fare in the afterlife).

UEAF: Class of 2203 (by Sam and @jenhay): The set dressing for this was amazing, it managed to simulate the claustrophobia of a transport shuttle perfectly. The plot is highly spoilerable, so I won’t say much about it. Possbily the game could benefit by having a bit more time for social interaction at the start before the excrement hits the air-conditioning

Blackfyre Rising: This was the flagship, GMed by @IdiotSavant, @Daena and myself. Even with fewer players than usual, this was still pretty busy for the GM team and I only saw a fraction of what was going on. The costumes were amazing however.

The Kouros Intercept (written by Tony Mitton and AJ Smith, run by me): Everyone put on an amazing performance for this, especially for a Sunday morning. Again I didn’t see half of what was going on.

Your Last Day Here (by Tayla and Ethan): This was a classic zombie apocalypse game. Again, a lot of effort went into set dressing and interactive props. I played a completely irredeemable character, but I managed to survive to the end of the game at least (I don’t know how much longer I would have made it though)

Phoenix! I had a thoroughly good time. Food was good, bunkrooms were a little cold but the showers were decent.

As for the games, all were good this year but none blew my mind. The games I was most apprehensive about ended up better than I expected, while the ones I was most looking forward to were slightly disappointing (still good, just not as much as I had hoped). Overall everything was just solidly good.

The Freighter Coralus (by @Inveighed): I agree with the previous accounts that this was a fairly understated run of the game, where everyone was mostly rational and agreeable (until the final second…). I did my best to throw a spanner in the works by chewing people out for making light of what was going to be some people’s last moments, and I enjoyed creating an unsolvable dilemma due to @easjo682 and I having incompatible demands. Overall a good start to the con.

The Final Voyage of the SS Prometheus (by Sam and @JenHay): It was nice to get a chance to play this game after it was received positively the year before (and was sadly cancelled at Cerberus). I feel the game would have worked better with a full cast, but as it was I still enjoyed myself. Hopefully the successor game will get another run so I can play that one as well.

Red Tape (by Summer): As @lesbiancobra mentioned, this felt a bit rough but was still fun. Going into it I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but once the game started I enjoyed myself. Part of that was the excellent players, part of it was just not being able to see the whole and so not being sure how everyone would fit together until the game actually got underway. Not sure how relevant to the game communism ended up being, but the whole “Good Place” -inspired idea of extradimensional bureaucrats was fun and I think there’s a lot there to mine for future runs.

Blackfire Rising (run by @IdiotSavant, @Catnip and @daena): The flagship. I was the Prince of Dorne, a position I enjoyed a lot, since I got to dress flamboyantly, fight in the tourney, and wield (probably) the most power out of any of the seven kingdoms. Overall I got most of what I wanted without much trouble (I sacrificed some minor goals to achieve my major ones, so it worked out). I do feel bad for Daemon, who got utterly crushed, but I do feel that it could easily have swung the other way. There were a lot of happy marriages, which feels out of place for Game of Thrones, but it did result in a very sweet marriage ceremony. I also agree that the Small Council meeting was annoying - as someone outside of it, it was frustrating to have people you wanted to talk to wrapped up in council business. It wasn’t helped by the fact that several of the Small Council members were also participants in the tourney, which was happening at the same time.

The Kouro Intercept (run by @Catnip): The fourth episode in the Kestrel saga of psuedo-Firefly games. This was my first time actually playing one - I missed the first one and previously didn’t feel like jumping in mid-way through, but decided finally to sign up to one to get a taster of what they’re actually like. Despite the inspiration for the setting I really do feel the games benefit from not actually being based on a certain Joss Whedon product, as they explore themes beyond the scope of the show. I was perfectly cast and had great fun. I could tell that the players who had been playing through had a lot of history to draw from and a strong emotional investment in the events of the game, so I would like an opportunity to one day play through the whole thing. The episodic nature of the series is a bit weird, as I’m not used to my larps ending on a cliffhanger, but otherwise it was a good time.

Muscle Mayhem (by… me!): I finally got to run my wrestling larp! It was an idea I’ve had brewing for a while, but it took the confidence that there were other people equally keen in the idea for me to finally commit to it. My players were wonderful, and all worked together to put on an excellent show. There were slightly too many mechanics, which I’ll adjust for future runs, and players were more cooperative than I expected, which is likely due to me dropping the star-rating mechanic (as it was just one more thing to keep track of mid-game). I got some good feedback and plan on sending out a survey to get more. There seems to be another interest for the game to have a second run (or a sequel - I’ll poll people to find out).

By the end of it all I was tired but not burnt out, which is always a nice end to the con.