#RPGaDAY 2019 - DAY 8: "OBSCURE"

I have a rule when I go to GenCon. I always play at least one game I've never played before. My only requirement is that the game is listed as "no prior experience required" and that the scenario itself sounds fun.

Of course, this rule has let me play some very popular systems that I've heard about but never had a chance to play.  I finally got around to playing FATE, last year, with a great game about kids saving Halloween. It's a simple and open game system that adapts well to various genres; I played Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) by Goodman Games, which is a favorite of my friend James of Living4Crits blog. It's old school gaming, with some serious camp during the 0-level "funnel". I also got to try Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) which is an incredibly setting-heavy RPG set in a version of ancient Japan. And I've really enjoyed each of those games...and can understand why they are so popular.

But my best GenCon memories traditionally come when I play something I've never heard about, or better yet, that really hasn't been released for long, and the game creators themselves are it showing off after a recent release, or (more recently) before a Kickstarter.

Engle Matrix Games, by Hamster Press
This is a nearly 100% narrative game which scales well to several players. A story is usually a setting, plus some key events that need to occur to keep the story moving. But what happens along the way is completely up to the players. In fact, as the story unfolds, each player describes what they think happens to their character. If nobody disagrees, then that's what happens. However, if somebody disagrees, players explain why the player's view is or isn't right, and what they think should happen. Ultimately, the GM sets die targets for various outcomes; players roll, and whichever player rolls best, their outcome is what happens.

Our scenario was Cthulhu zombie outbreak on campus. I started off the game as a zombie, so when the football player character won a roll that I couldn't out-struggle the entire football team, I changed my tactic and bit them all as they tried to hold me down. I think that game ended up in some sort of stalemate between the destruction of the world and the defeat of the zombies...but the game itself was incredibly fun and memorable.

QAGS, by Hexgames
I know I've mentioned QAGS in previous years because QAGS is an annual event for us now. But my first year, the scenario was Johnny Quest style. We had the know-it-all dad, the creepy young uncle, the gorilla butler, and so on. It was hilarious and bizarre, but the incredible flexibility of the system and the fact that you throw candy at the GM to get your desired income sealed the deal for me and has never let me down as the source of must-tell stories from GenCon. (Five, five, five tacos for a dollar!)

Fireborn by Fantasy Flight Games
Fireborn is worth its own essay, but for now, I'll say that it was a very cool game of being of the bloodline of an ancient dragon. Your characters are impressively talented when they start, with the cool ability to tweak their scores by moving dice around on their character sheets. But the mechanism that really seared the game into my brain is that you also play as your "20th level" self in a historical narrative. So we were trying to find the location of the secret thing...then switched to historical view. In that view, we were full-blown dragons...so creatures that took all of us to take out one of them in "modern" time were going down 1-2 per round per character. And after the combats, we hid the object, so we'd know where we had hidden it when we returned to modern time.

Sadly, Fireborn has some design flaws, and never got more a single release with a module from FFG before they killed it off. I'd love to see where it would have gone with some rules editing and a bit more love from the company.

Treasure Hunter by ERoth Productions
There are several other examples but Treasure Hunter is going to be my last game. It's somewhere between RPG and board game. You build your character using fairly simple point-buy rules, then play through a set of maps in a fixed order. The basics are pretty simple...kill the monsters, then roll on a treasure table. It's almost Diablo, the RPG. It's not deep, and there's no role-playing to speak of, but it was an incredibly fun session, and I ended up buying the printed game with the PDF for an incredibly low $20, and have had fun playing it at home with my girls--and stuck out as one of my most fun games.

My suggestion for anybody who wants to try this: Look for 2-hour games that sound fun on the event schedule and signup for some of those. Sure, some events will be vanilla, and not memorable, but you'll also get some games that have interesting mechanics, fun stories, and systems that you look forward to trying again in the future, such as this year's pre-Kickstarter Ink RPG from Orcs Unlimited Games which was a lot of fun, and had some interesting mechanics.

20,000 ticketed events at GenCon, gives a lot of incentive to try something new.


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