Forge Midwest was this past weekend, and if you follow me you’ll know that I was there playing games. It’s three days of small-con fun — mostly small-press RPGs, but not exclusively — held in Madison, WI.

TL;DR — Forge Midwest is awesome and you should go. I played great games with great people and miss them all already. It is my favorite con of all cons.

Velvet Glove, a PbtA game about ‘70s girl gangs GM’ed by Joe Beason, was the highlight of the con for me. I almost jumped into a different game, but the subject matter plus Joe was just too good to pass up.

This game was extremely uncomfortable for me, in a good way. PCs are all girls in the gang, and part of the GM’s agenda is to show how hard their lives are, a big portion of which revolves around how they are treated by men. Joe was masterful in playing out all kinds of micro (and macro) aggressions — the assistant principal’s hand on a PC’s hip for one beat too long, a PC’s dad offering another PC a beer. Joe had me and the other man at the table just squicking out, and had the two women playing both squicking and nodding their heads. I don’t feel like playing a woman PC has ever mattered as much as it did in this game.

This is a very tight design that brings the serous feels; if you dig PbtA games, take a look at this one. Sarah Richardson knocked it out of the park.

Trouble For Hire almost tied with the above for con highlight (sorry Nathan Paoletta, but you were really close!). I backed the KS for this, but wasn’t totally grabbed by the premise. Having played it, however, I am now completely sold. (Nathan told me that this is not an uncommon experience.)

It’s GM-less/full game built around constructing a “road movie” about Ruben Carlos Ruiz, the Southwestern grindhouse hero tasked with odd jobs that probably won’t end well. The game assigns the players different roles — Ruben, The Editor, the road itself, the antagonists, etc. — that rotate from turn to turn. There’s an economy of tokens called “RPM” that are spent to manipulate play in a manner appropriate to the player’s role, and Ruben’s player rolls 2d6 on a set of tables (much cooler than it sounds) when the rubber hits the road.

Our movie involved the search for a lost cache of whiskey and gold, a collection of counterfeit rabbit-skin maps to said cache, the Rider, some mystics, some armed dime-store cowboys, the Arizona Ranger, Ruben’s near-totaled Corvette, and a plucky little girl-slash-con-artist. I had a blast.

Honestly, I think this is the perfect convention game. 100% serious. I am boggled both by how simple and how brilliant it is.

Follow was the one game that I facilitated. I’ve had great success with Ben Robbins other games at FMW, so I figured this was a good choice. It’s zero-prep and focused on a fellowship of characters working together to achieve a goal, two of my favorite things.

We ended up creating a Shackletonmeets-Carpenter’sThe Thing story about turn-of-the-20th-century polar explorers trapped by cultists and the kraken they worship. It started as a big-budget action piece, but, given the luck of the stone-drawing system at the core of the game, turned into abject indie horror as almost everyone died or went insane at the end.

I had a great time and almost ended up offering the game again in the following slot, but then Joe had to go and say he was running Masks. But first let me say that whatever the heck it is that Ben is doing with his games is obviously working for me, Czege Principle be damned. I consistently have highly addictive fun with them.

Masks… So, as I said, Joe ran this. I can’t resist supers, especially supers with feels. I played, essentially, Kid Thor, a hammer-wielding teen with god-like beauty who started the game hanging out in a stretch SUV with Kendrick Lamarr.

I was surprised how much more supers and less feels there were than I expected. I really liked all of our characters, and the teen supers color was there in spades, but most of the session seemed to revolve around rolling Unleash Your Power and trying to down the bad guys.I think it may’ve been a consequence of con fatigue, lack of deep system knowledge, and the fact that the game seems more geared for campaign play than one-shots. I absolutely had fun, but now would really like to get the game to a table over at least 3-4 sessions and with a smaller group.

Caravans and Swords Without Master were the two other RPGs I played, both sharing the dubious honor of being games I just couldn’t wrap my head around, despite being fun sessions with great players.

Caravans used a blind bidding system with different colored stones and lots of various character bits. It may have been the late (for me) hour, but I simply could not grok the bidding economy. I was playing a powerful wizard and mostly just let everyone else tell me what to do system-wise.

Swords Without Master is a game I’ve played once before, but still haven’t read the actual text. Jon Cole helped our little group create a great story of epic-level awesomeness, no doubt, but the core of the game still feels opaque to me. Again, this was Sunday morning, so my own fuzziness is probably very much to blame. I also tend to feel that the result of play is a group of stories happening at the same time rather than a single story with multiple protagonists. Again, could be the morning fuzzies. At the bare minimum, I finally got to play a game with +Aaron Griffin, a longtime G+ acquaintance.

Lastly, I played a wonderful game of Cat Lady with Eric Farmer, his wife (not sure if she is on here), and Dave Michalak. I’m not a big card/board gamer, but I had a blast and will probably buy a copy. (My wife: “Is there a dog version?”)

I am already thinking about what I can run next year.


32 thoughts on “Forge Midwest was this past weekend, and if you follow me you’ll know that I was there playing games. It’s three…

  1. In Velvet Glove it was obvious to me (in much more visceral way than before) how very familiar and skilled me and Mark’s coplayers were at dealing with powerful men’s unsettling behavior. An eye opener to be sure.

  2. Velvet Glove it was obvious to me (in much more visceral way than before) how very familiar and skilled me and Mark’s coplayers were at dealing with powerful men’s unsettling behavior. An eye opener to be sure.]]>

  3. Yay. I thought Swords was super fun. Seemed like you had your head wrapped around it!

    Also, don’t forget – Mark and I accidentally met up at a rest stop on the way home! It was funny. I’d have stayed and chatted, but I left my wife with a 4yo and 4mo and was trying to get home to relieve her 🙂

  4. Mark Delsing no shame there! I will humbly submit that we weren’t able to really get into high gear on our game because of the short timeslot BUT it was super fun! I’m glad seeing how it all fits together was exciting for you, it’s always cool to see that happen 🙂

    And yeah I feel you on Caravans, I think I picked up on the mechanic but also it’s a lot to keep track of – I gave Mike a lot of feedback based on our game, FWIW. But playing off your all-powerful wizard was hella fun.

  5. Came for Cat Lady. (Fun game!)

    Stayed for the Swords talk! The end result of play really varies depending on the group. I’ve had very cohesive “single party” stories most of the time. Either way, the Motifs aim to pull it all together, whether or not the characters are unified around the same goal.

    Crucially, it’s a game built around atmospheric and emotional coherence.

  6. I appreciated finally getting the chance to play SWM, but likewise felt I mostly stumbled through the experience. Mainly the accelerated pace of play (and admittedly a lot of Sunday-morning con-fatigue) kept me from digesting the rules summary and knowing what stance was expected of me when, so I kept feeling unbalanced as the authority and stance kept switching. There was also some genre clash; I come to “sword & sorcery” with all the old sublime literary imagery in mind, but the play’s take on it was more widescreen spectacle. Ortherwise, I’m sure Jon Cole is a great facilitator with a bit more time and players with a lot more sleep.