Dreamation 2017 Con Report – GM All the Games edition

For four days this past weekend, gamers of all stripes descended once again upon Morristown, NJ for Dreamation, one of several annual conventions organized by Double Exposure. Most of Fandible made the trek into the New Jersey wilds, and a fabulous time was had by all. This is Angela’s Dreamation 2017 Con Report – GM ALL THE GAMES edition

In a fit of overconfidence (and a desire to hit the game-hours minimum requirement to obtain a free badge), I volunteered to run five events at Dreamation, which meant I was GMing for almost half of the slots on the schedule. After a long day of meetings on Thursday, I jumped on the train with Billy and got to the hotel with just an hour to spare before my first game, Lois Lane Bubblegumshoe. This was the same scenario I ran at AcadeCon, so I was happy to kick off the con with it. My players hadn’t read the books, and I think one may have owned the Bubblegumshoe book without having read it thoroughly, but they very quickly got the gist of the setting and system, and we’re able to save the star of the basketball team from Cadmus’s experiments.

I should note in this scenario I always make Lois Lane a required character. The game is named after her, after all. At the end of the session, Lois’s player admitted she’d been nervous because playing Lois Lane was a lot of pressure! But she had a great team of reporters supporting her so she did excellent.

Bubblegumshoe wrapped around midnight, and my next game was at 9 AM, so no late night socializing for me. 9 AM brought my first game of a brand new Peggy Carter Hollow Earth Expedition Adventure, inspired by G+ conversations after AcadeCon where people expressed an interest in seeing a Peggy game before the war. I ran this scenario twice, once Friday morning and again Saturday morning, and each time I managed to wring out a “Holy shit!” moment from at least one player when they realized who from the MCU films one NPC or another actually was. Can’t ask for a better review than that! HEX continues to be my favorite system for a game like Peggy Carter because even as brand new characters everyone has a basic level of competence, and with taking the average included both sessions had plenty of cinematic moments of sneaking through a German fortress to find wayward scientists working on a super soldier program.

Friday afternoon I finally got to play a game, so Billy and I played Prime Time Adventures set in the world of Patrick Ness’s The Rest of us Just Live Here, about the totally normal kids who live in a town where superpowers aren’t uncommon. Joining us at the table were two of my Bubblegumshoe characters, plus Brennan Reece, who I had seen around G+ for ages and was happy to put a face to the name. It was Billy’s and my first time playing PTA, and while the system has some quirks (despite being a game about relationships there’s no way for direct player-vs-player conflict, the GM resolves for the defending character) I had a lot of fun as the injured jock stuck in a love triangle (yes, Billy was on one corner of that triangle. No, my character didn’t know he existed).

Billy’s favorite Chinese restaurant had too much of a wait for dinner Friday night, so the attending members of Fandible gathered for ramen for dinner. After a long day of gaming, the hot soup was just what the doctor ordered to recover for an evening session of The End of the World. This was the first of two parts, with Friday night the standard apocalypse scenario (Gaea’s Revenge once more, as weird weather stuff is my favorite thing to do) and Saturday night the players were invited to return to play their characters in the post-apocalypse.

I’ve run the apocalypse scenario for three groups now (Fandible, AcadeCon, and Dreamation) and it’s pretty apparent that Fandible’s style is pretty much standard for how players will handle the apocalypse. Lots of meta jokes and bad ideas. The one difference this time is the characters didn’t really get along (though the players were all having a blast – I did check in on that during a break), so there was a lot of trying to abandon various members of the party. Also different? Someone tried to save Sammy! He didn’t succeed (don’t tell the bodega owner that holing up in Target is the big plan), but I appreciated the effort. Also despite my best efforts, only one character died.

Skipping ahead to Saturday night, I had two of my four players return to pick up their characters two years later. Joining them was one player brand new to the game but who got into the spirit right away (when she looked at the characters I had pre-made she declared she wanted to be as useless as possible and chose the fortune teller), and Fandible-listener Sean! It’s always so cool to meet a listener “in the wild,” and especially have them play in a game they have some familiarity with because of the podcast.

The post-apocalypse game was completely different from any End of the World I’d run before. I took a page from Billy’s book with some of his Billy-verse games and started by asking the players questions about what had happened in the two years since nature attacked, which immediately underscored for the new players how dangerous this setting was and gave everyone some shared history. Then as actual play started, my brand new fortune teller character did my favorite thing to ever happen in a game, where she decided she wanted to do some kind of ritual to appease nature, and the ritual required participants to bring something “precious.” As other characters went to find their precious things I asked the fortune teller if she was being genuine or if this was a con (she’d established earlier that she was a fraud). Her answer was “yes,” she had some respect for the ritual that she was going to do, because her mother or grandmother taught her, but also she just wanted to see what the others might be holding onto. While I definitely hadn’t anticipated any mystical connections in the game, that immediately set the tone that praying to nature was an option, and when some bad humans showed up, some.of the players opted to put their faith back in nature and ask Gaea to protect them. It was all so well connected that I ran with it, and the climactic battle scene involved tree bark growing over an attacking soldier, and tree roots sucking another into the ground.

Saturday afternoon, Billy and I played together again in a sci-fi Fate setting, where the Russians were winning the cold war and the space race was greatly accelerated. Billy and I were once more in a love triangle, and he got his revenge on me by barely acknowledging my existence. But I got the last laugh, shooting him just before I revealed I was playing a Russian double agent.

And then laaaate Saturday night Billy and I played Dread! I’d been awake since 6:30 AM, so this wasn’t the smartest idea for me, and by the end I was definitely struggling to keep up with the mystery, but hey, I got to play Jenga.

And then Sunday morning Billy and I were together once again to play Final Girl with a table full of new-to-the-game players. However we were all wearing GM badges I noticed, so we were all accomplished storytellers, who crafted a great story inspired by The Thing. We were on at a dig high in the Rocky Mountains, and attacked by fungus monsters. At one point I was playing the archeology student who thought she was Indiana Jones and got to shout “It belongs in a museum,” which is all I ever want to do when playing an Indy-inspired character, so it was a convention highlight. We all agreed that Sunday morning Final Girl would be a great con tradition – no prep for the GM, no complicated mechanics for tired players to grasp, just some good old fashioned horror movie fun.

And in between, and during, all of these games, I got to meet a ton of cool people, some for the first time and others face to face after years of online conversations. Big thanks to Meguey Baker for breakfast on Saturday morning especially, and for quick check ins with people like Anna Kreider and Misha B! My goal for my next Double Exposure con is definitely to make more time for hanging out. The games are great, of course, but hanging out with people I never see is going to be a higher priority next time.

If you can make it to New Jersey for a Double Exposure event, I highly recommend it. This is a great group of gamers, dedicated to making our hobby safe and fun for everyone, from the greenest newbie to the most jaded veteran. I think every table I sat at had the X-card mechanic available, many GMs asked for character and/or player pronouns, and more than one player at my tables chose to cross-play – play a character whose gender didn’t align with the gender the player presented as. The whole convention was a safe space to be the best gamer you wanted to be.

If you were at Dreamation this weekend, drop a line in the comments sharing your highlights of the weekend!


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About the Author
A city girl with midwestern roots, Angela has been on the internet for far too long. A geek of many stripes, when Angela isn't pretending to be a different person every weekend she can be found reading, writing (that novel will come out some day!), or preparing for her eventual life as a crazy cat woman. Angela also blogs about gaming at the blog Gaming as Women http:///www.gamingaswomen.com

7 comments on “Dreamation 2017 Con Report – GM All the Games edition

  1. Fairystail says:

    Wow that’s a packed schedule. Kinda wish New Zealand had roleplay conventions.
    Also will you ever do anymore bubblegumshoe for fandible?

  2. Angela says:

    It was a ridiculous schedule, no doubt.

    I would love to do more Bubblegumshoe for Fandible! The only thing that holds me back is that it’s relatively heavy on GM prep, unlike the other systems I run, all because you have to have a functional mystery and clues. Adventure games you can set up a quest to go find the Maguffin and make up the encounters along the way on the fly because the only goal is to get from Point A to Point B. Bubblegumshoe requires you to set up a compelling mystery plus plan some concrete clues that will (hopefully!) lead your players to the right conclusion. But I not only want to return to Mars, but do a much grittier, more Veronica-Mars-style story for the entire group. In between running End of the World and returning to HEX and other SECRET games I have up my sleeve.

    There are not enough weekends in a year.

  3. Fairystail says:

    I know the feeling about wanting to run way too many games but managing to find the time (or in my case groups) for it is pretty hard.
    on a side note got any advice for running a mystery type game?

  4. Steve says:

    Is there some kind of stigma to crossplay I am not aware of? Most people who are against it in some fashion, at least that I have heard of, do so because a lot of people are really bad at it (and frankly overstep the line of what is and is not acceptable).

    The very first character I ever played in a D&D game 9 years (almost 10!) ago was crossplay. It wasn’t a big a deal. Honestly, I’ve only heard of there being problems with it. The only people who I would restrict from crossplay are people I’ve had a part in restricting from the table (as in, goodbye creepo). Maybe it’s just that I live in liberal Los Angeles, but this seems like one of those ‘issues’ that isn’t an issue for most groups.

    Has anyone actually encountered an issue of this sort? I’d be curious to know if I have been lucky or if my experiance is typical.

  5. MDMann says:

    I think it depends upon the maturity of the group (not just the player) you’re playing with and the style of game you’re playing. Bamboobza may not be an appropriate character for most games, but you never know.

  6. Angela says:

    Fairystail – Personally, I plot out my mysteries with a mind map. I figure out 3-5 elements that contribute to the mystery, like people involved directly or important locations (where a person/thing was last scene, where they were taken). From there I map out a few different ways that information could be discovered. If the PCs are trying to figure out where the suspect goes after school on Tuesdays, they could either talk to the suspect’s best friend to learn more about her schedule, or pickpocket the suspect’s phone and hack the GPS tracking. Having these alternate possibilities plotted out is really important (for me at least) because, as everyone knows, predicting what players will do is impossible, but you still need to make sure they can discover enough clues to put together the answer to the mystery.

    Steve – From my experience, it’s less that there’s a stigma against it and more that a more mature group (as MDMann mentions) is more likely to think beyond just their own character and look at what type of character makeup for the entire party will make for a more dynamic story. For example in my Lois Lane game, I had one female player and three male players. The female player selected Lois Lane as a character, and one of the other players decided to play a female character as well. He didn’t give a specific reason for it, but I appreciated it because it meant that the game wouldn’t suffer from Smurfette syndrome. It’s not a requirement, obviously (since I can count on one hand in all of six years that Fandible has come even close to cross-playing on the podcast) and there are arguments against crossplaying as well (I basically never do because playing with a bunch of guys means there would be no female characters at the table. It’s the same reason when I’m GMing I stack the deck with a ton of female NPCs).

    MDMann- Billy actually has a story from Dreamation that rivals “Bamboobza” as a character name… But that blip of immaturity wasn’t representative of our experiences at the con overall.

  7. William Coffing says:

    I still can’t believe the GM allowed for a guy playing a female to have the history “raised in a brothel” and have the name ‘Skank’. Sort of a weird start to a game.

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