Bookwyrm is a two-day local RPG convention here in Fresno, California. It’s free to attend and is held in collaboration with our local library system, and it’s something I look forward to every year. As usual, I attended as both a Game Master (GM) and a player. This year, I chose to run a couple of games that don’t require much preparation, because mid-April is a busy time for me at work and I knew that would just be returning from my trip to Europe.
The weekend is broken into two four-hour sessions each day on Saturday and Sunday. It takes a huge amount of work by some great people, and I love the fact that it takes place in a library. There’s something special about playing a Role Playing Game (RPG) in a building filled with stories. If you want to learn more about how Bookwyrm began and the people who make it happen, check out this article from Kings River Life Magazine.
I believe that this year was the most attended Bookwyrm ever. It was great to see so many people taking advantage of the event. There was even an area for playing board games, which was supported by the Fresno Board Gamers. Everyone I spoke to had a great time, including my son, who ventured out on his own this year and played in some great games like World Wide Wrestling and The Watch.
Here are the four games that I played or facilitated over the weekend.
Home by Dark
I picked up a copy of Home by Dark from the dealer room at Big Bad Con, last October. This is a story game inspired by all those movies or television series where a group of adolescents discover some wondrous entity and then have to protect it from some threatening force that’s trying to hunt it down. Stranger Things was probably an important inspiration, but the author, Jason Olsan, did a really nice job making sure that the game speaks to the genre of work that made Stranger Things so enjoyable, rather than just making a Stranger Things RPG.
I played Home by Dark with my regular RPG group prior to offering it at Bookwyrm, and we had a great time telling a story about a dog from another dimension that could eat rocks and poop out diamonds. Yes, that is what some old people with advanced degrees do with their evenings. I think the dog ended up with its family but the evil corporation gathered some DNA to create their own diamond pooping animals. These stories don’t always have happy endings.
I had an extra player sign up to play, so I decided to sit out and just facilitate. I used a playset called “The Quicksilver Orb” so that I could get everything going quickly and let people play. A playset is a document that creates the basic story elements, or story pillars, as they are called in the game. You can visit Protagonist Industries to check out some playsets and see where you can purchase a copy of Home by Dark. The session went well and it seemed like everyone enjoyed themselves. I should have followed the advice in the book about shortening the game when you are facing a time restriction. In spite of being pressed for time, the ending was pretty uplifting and there was still some great character development.
Mutant Year Zero RPG
I knew absolutely nothing about this game when I signed up for it, but I knew the GM to be someone who typically ran interesting and enjoyable games. Mutant Year Zero is a post-apocalyptic RPG published by Modiphius Games. Players are mutated humans who must survive both the harsh apocalyptic environment and the political intrigues of their home.
After the GM gave a brief overview of the RPG setting, I created a character named “Wheel” who was a Gearhead, a person that specialized in building and repairing machines. He also mutant abilities that allowed him to create magnetic fields and generate sonic blasts. He was chosen to take part in a quest to find replacement parts for a water purification system that had been destroyed in a recent earthquake, so he and his companions had to journey out into the wastelands.
I enjoyed the session quite a bit. The game setting is really interesting and I liked that each player not only played the part of an individual mutant but also represented the leader of a particular political faction. I think this would become even more interesting in a longer campaign, rather than just a one-shot game. Mutant Year Zero reminded me how much I enjoyed the old TSR Gamma World RPG, which was a game that saw little play but I spent a lot of time making characters for it.
The only thing I didn’t like so much was the dice. First of all, the game uses a dice pool mechanism which is always a problem in my opinion. In one case, the GM was rolling over a dozen dice. I’m sure some people love rolling handfuls of dice, but I am not one of them. Even worse, the dice are specific to this game. Honestly, this is a pretty trivial gripe, and I would still enjoy playing the game again, especially in a longer campaign.
I’ve written before about how much I enjoy the Fate Accelerated System, but the Fate Core System is really just as flexible and appropriate for one-shots. In this game, we played the part of people who get sucked into the world of video games and have to fight our way through various titles in order to survive. I created a character named Mavis, who was an 80-year-old grandmother who played video games to keep herself sharp and stay in touch with her grandchildren. She got sucked into the old arcade shooter game Time Crisis.
This session was fun from the moment the GM handed out three-quarters to represent our lives in the video game world. Not to mention the amazing Tron style light board that a friend created just for this game, and yes we of course had Tron style light cycles near the end game fight. I only derezzed once, thank you very much. The GM was really great about adapting challenges in response to player creativity and kept the game moving along at a very good pace. We managed to defeat the hacker that had taken over the system and make it back to our regular bodies, all in about four hours.
The Fate System is still my first choice when I have a concept that I want to get to the table. I don’t find that it works well for ongoing stories or campaigns, but if you want t play around with an idea for a few sessions, you just cannot beat the flexibility of this system. Yes, I know that it has specialized dice, and I just complained about that in an earlier section, but you only need four dice. How about a game with no dice at all? Read on, my friend.
Hearts Blazing is a dice-less card driven science fiction story-centered RPG. I’ve written about it before in a post that I cleverly named Hearts Blazing, so you might want to check that out and then come back. Basically, it’s like creating a season of a science fiction television program. You come up with the setting, characters and themes of the show, and then create a synopsis of what happens in each episode.
This was the second game I facilitated during the weekend, but I was able to participate in this one. We came up with the idea for a show about a small team of specialists who piloted an experimental vessel through the galaxy, attempting to reunite lost Earth colonies by building jump gates. The name of the pilot episode was “Croatoan” and that set the tone for the rest of the season, with the exception of the obligatory wild west episode which was pretty light and comedic.
This was only my second play of Hearts Blazing, but I enjoyed it even more the second time. I made sure that things didn’t get too bogged down and detailed. We made it through an eight episode season in under four hours, and that included the time it took me to explain the rules and how the cards worked. I would love to sit down and play this again.
That about wraps it up. I’m already looking forward to my next Bookwyrm. I always have such a great time. If you want to read about my experiences at past events, this search link will take you to a page of previous posts about Bookwyrm. Special thanks to Josh, Tracy, James and Tiffany for all of their hard work making the weekend run so smoothly, and to Jennifer and Jack for GMing Fate Core and Mutant Year Zero.
If you attended this year’s Bookwyrm or just want to make a comment about the event, please do so below. I love comments and they remind me that people still read my little blog.