Well, it’s 11:00 PM on Sunday evening, and that means I’ve just wrapped up GauntletCon 2019.
For anyone who hasn’t read or hear me singing its praises already, The Gauntlet is an online RPG community that I’ve been involved with for around 2 years now. It’s dedicated to well-organized, passionate, safety-focused play of indie tabletop RPGs and story games. I do most of my gaming as both a player and GM (outside of conventions) in Gauntlet-organized events these days.
Every year The Gauntlet hosts an innovative (and exhausting) online convention called GauntletCon. I attended my first one last year, so I was pretty excited to tackle it this year with the experience if an additional year of running and playing online.
I set myself the ambitious task of playing or running a game in every slot I’d normally be busy in a regular, offline convention, which meant 2 games on Thursday and 3 each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I also arranged to be the official ‘virtual vendor’ for GauntletCon. This meant that any sales I made while the con was underway earned The Gauntlet a commission, and I ordered pins of the show artwork and the Gauntlet logo as incentives. Sales were modest, but it was a fun experiment! I’ll have no trouble eventually moving all the pins, and I was happy to pass along some of those sales to help support my gaming community of choice.
So, let’s take a look at my ridiculous gaming schedule:
The convention officially kicked off Thursday afternoon. I played in the ongoing Band of Blades game organized by a fellow Gauntlet GM. Now, technically this wasn’t an official GauntletCon offering, but 4 in 5 of us are Gauntlet regulars and we all attended the rest of the show so I’m going to count it. We went on a mission to recruit a powerful knight known across the land as The Kingfisher, and my stupid but comely Rookie was instrumental in securing his loyalty!
I kicked off the Con in earnest Thursday evening with a game called Incorporated. It’s a beta test of a Northern Exposure-inspired small town dramedy series. It’s by one of my Night Witches regulars and one of my favorite people on the The Gauntlet to play with. We had a mix of Hangover-style shenanigans with real pathos and nursed regrets. I love getting to paytest games in development and see how they evolve, and I’m really excited to see Bethany keep working on this.
Friday morning I was up early (!) to facilitate 3 brave Treasure Hunters with their Incursion into The Flocculent Cathedral, my scenario for use with the Trophy RPG. One of our adventurers had a work emergency about halfway through and had to bail, but we soldiered on and had horrific mossy fun with the two remaining players. One of them ended up murdered and subsumed by fungus in the heart of the Forest, the other escaped to civilization, but brought something with her that should have stayed locked away…
Friday afternoon I played Part 1 of a 3-game ‘closed series’ of Die, comic writer Kieron GIllan’s metafictional RPG of gamers physically transported to their game world by an unstable GM. (He calls it ‘Goth Jumanji’). We spent this first session building our world and characters. We decided our gaming group had formed because we had all been in prison together: minimum security, modest stretches, but long enough that we got to know each other and the social advocate who sponsored our gaming program. I was a wrongfully-arrested baggage handler at the airport, who got out and had to go work for his cousin. I was keeping my nose clean and actually prospering, working my ass off to support my wife and toddler daughter. I used to play a Ranger back when we played together, “tear-assing around shooting as many arrows as I could.” We played through to our arrival on the magical world of Die. Part 2 and 3 were scheduled for Saturday and Sunday afternoons respectively.
Friday evening was a delightful game of Fight With Spirit , a very anime.manga-flavored RPG of a high school sports team (in this case volleyball) striving to win an important series. I played with a bunch of amazing players and had an absolute blast. Fight With Spirit is in beta right now, from Storybrewers, the folks who produce the sublime Jane Austen RPG Good Society. Happy to report that my hothead heartthrob was instrumental in helping us win best 2 out of 3 and advance to the Championship over our longtime rivals!
Saturday morning brought pulp action, as one of my favorite Gauntlet GMs hacked Goodman Games' crazy science fantasy adventure for DCC Sky-Masters of the Purple Planet to run with World of Dungeons. I built a ‘robot’ character stranded there after a transfer beam accident. His waxy skin, yellow eyes, and aversion to contractions were purely coincidental. With the help of my cyborg squid friend and an Earthling named Vincent Burroughs We managed to defeat the Sky Masters by feeding their command ship to a colossal sky-squid. It was bonkers OSR fun.
Saturday afternoon was Part 2 of our 3-part run of Die. In this session, we explored the planet, got to learn our avatars, and started to uncover why we were here and what it might take to get home. I was The Fool, a roguish sort who charged headlong into danger without thinking things through, the polar opposite of my self-abnegating family man ex-con real-life personna. We ended the session by killing one of the other players’ former characters that we encountered running a mystically-enhanced crime syndicate!
Saturday evening was the setup and first chapter of my 2-part Hearts of Wulin ‘feature’ adventure, The Emperor of Bandits. I had a crew of some of my favorite Gauntlet players who created a dizzying web of passionate wuxia melodrama: a staid and serene Kung Fu master, a comical farmer and accidental hero, an itinerant galavant who was secretly the sister to a powerful bandit clan, and a wandering fighter returned home to complete a bloody commission. We built characters and entanglements and managed about an hour of play.
Sunday morning I got back together with our Purple Planet GM for a session of ‘Playstorming’. Playstorming is a sort of collaborative game design jam where you play a game as you design it. We started with the theme ‘the 108 stars’ with the idea of working on a game that’d let us emulate the Suikoden video game mode of an RPG with a huge host of character you could unlock as you played. It was challenging, and even a little scary! I do plenty of scenario and plot design as a longtime GM, but I am a total neophyte when it comes to serious design. We hacked away at a bunch of disparate ideas for the session, and managed to actually throw together a very rough preliminary idea or two that we played a really rough and scattered version of. It didn’t really work, but it was pretty exhilarating to see it starting to take shape, and a game designer friend at the table assured me that the process ‘is like, 90% failure to get to what works’ so I felt like we succeeded!
Sunday afternoon was the final installment of our journey to the planet of Die. We uncovered the tragic/sinister agenda behind our Dungeon Master’s efforts to get us to remain there forever. After carving a bloody path through all of our former characters, we made the decision to return home, even though it cost one of us our lived when he refused to let a God of War ride piggyback. This game was epic, and I’m eager to run a beta session and follow its full development.
Finally, I capped everything with the bloody and passionate second half of our Hearts of Wulin feature. Only 1 of our 4 characters met an untimely death by the end, and once all the smoke cleared and they cleaned the blood from the streets, one of our PCs emerged as the new Emperor of Bandits. It was a typically GauntletCon experience to have 2 genuinely epic games in a row, but that’s why I hang around this place.
So now I am off to compile videos and sleep for 12 hours to recover. It was amazing, I’m already thinking about next year, and very much excited and ready for the run of real-world conventions coming up: CarnageCon next weekend, Metatopia the week after that, followed by a local NYC house con, then U*Con in Ypsialnti MI, capped by Pax Unplugged in December. Stop by and say hello!