Cinemechanix 2-Hour Con Demo Playtest Report

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I didn’t post last week because I spent the early part of the week getting ready for Archon and Thursday night loading up the booth and driving to St. Louis. What was I working on for Archon? Mostly boring stuff: reprinting missing character sheets from the games I’d already run at other cons, counting and packing product, updating our product list in Square, making sure we had change for the booth, that kind of thing. What can I say? The life of a small press game designer is as glamorous as it is lucrative. But at least I got to make up some characters for some new games.

When I was preparing my game list for Archon, I noticed that each 4-hour game slot was now broken down into two 2-hour sessions. I realized these were mostly meant for board and card games, but the Archon gaming staff seems to like us, so I decided to see if they’d let me get away with a couple of 2-hour demo sessions for Cinemechanix. This would allow more people to get a look at how the game works and since most of my con games last about 3 hours anyway, I figured I could do it in 2 if I kept things simple enough.

The first step in guaranteeing simplicity was to use pre-generated characters. This isn’t a huge difference from most of the CInemechanix games I’ve run at cons. Team Alpha Force 37 is based on a very specific kind of terrible comic, so pre-gens guarantee that the characters are the right kind of dumb. Wet Hot American Monsters is a very sandboxy game with no clear mission, so you need characters who fit obvious archetypes so the players can pick them up and start doing things without a lot of prompting. Qerth characters are just a pain in the ass to make. The only game I’ve been using player-created characters so far is Guardians of Shymeria, mostly to see what kinds of things players come up with.

To make it even easier to jump into the game (and because it fits the Hollywood theme), I decided to use characters from pop culture. The idea was that using recognizable characters would make it even easier for players to get moving. I came up with a few options and posted a poll on the Cinemechanix playtest group with some possible games. While I wanted to have 5 or 6 options for the demo game players to choose from, I only had time to put 3 sets of characters together (the top 2 from the poll and one I just wanted to do): Muppets, League of Awesome Dudes, and Space Cowboys.

The Muppets (characters here)

The first demo group chose to play The Muppets. Since it was the Muppets, I decided to cut Backstory and Fatal Flaw from the character sheet. I also decided that since Muppets are entertainers who often do their own versions of pop culture stories (though not as often as they did when they were Muppet Babies), they needed a “Part” Concept Trait that changed with the show they were doing. They also each got at least 1 unallocated Trademark that they could use for a performance-related ability. So if you’re doing Muppets Noir, Fozzie might have the Part of “Private Detective” and use his unallocated Trademark for “Find Clues.” The players got to choose what story the Muppets were telling (I tried suggesting Piggy the Vampire Slayer, but they didn’t bite) and ended up going with Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones was a show I specifically left off the list because it’s not very well suited for a one-shot RPG. While some of the problems I anticipated did come up, the fact that it was Muppets made them easier to live with. We had kind of a strange group: King Robert (Kermit), Circe* (Miss Piggy), Jaimie (Dr. Teeth), Ned Stark (Fozzie), Sir* Bronn (Gonzo), Hodor (Animal), Thoros (Floyd Pepper, I think, but it might have been Zoot), and an unnamed Maester (Janice). Since I could only think of one place where most of those characters would plausibly be together, the game started with Bran Stark falling from the tower at Winterfell (we skipped the un-Muppetlike behaviour between Piggy and Dr. Teeth beforehand). After some antics, Kermit asked Fozzie to be his Hand and started moving right along towards King’s Landing.

When they arrived, they found the city locked down and the Throne usurped by Tyrion (special guest star Peter Dinklage). While Gonzo tried (and failed) to bypass the walls as a weirdo cannonball, Kermit just talked his way through and the crew headed straight for The Green Keep, where they convinced The Mountain (Sweetums) to let them in. One musical production and a pie fight later, Kermit had regained the Iron Throne and Tyrion was catapulted into geosynchronous orbit (he would periodically reappear, still flying through the air).

We still had an hour to go, so the king got a raven begging for help at The Wall, because zombies. They got there and met John Snow (I don’t think we specified whether he was a Muppet or Kit Harrington), who had shot up to the season 7 timeline** in a couple of days and was now partnered up with his aunt/lover Denise (who is apparently Kermit’s new girlfriend; a player suggested it) and her dragons. During the zombie battle, these two took off on the dragons and usurped the Iron Throne before the PCs returned. Fortunately, Kermit regained it easily (since we previously established that rulership belonged to whoever sat on the the Iron Throne. It was kind of like musical chairs). Later there was a circus, a murder plot, a hunt for wild pies, and several successful attempts to take the throne from Kermit (Westeros was briefly ruled by King Hostess Apple Pie Guy). With the help of his mostly-loyal band of Muppets, King Kermit managed to unseat all usurpers and they all lived incestuously ever after.

*I refused to use Martin’s dumb spellings for normal words. I’ll give him “Maester” since it’s at least pronounced differently, but that’s it.

**Our timeline made at least as much sense as season 7’s.

League of Awesome Dudes (characters here)

In days of yore, Hex used to run a game at cons called “The League of Kick-Ass Dudes,” which was basically League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but with 80s action TV stars: Your Duke boys, your Angels of the Charlie’s variety, your A-Teamers, your McGuyvers, your BJs and/or Bears, you get the idea. At some point we realized that “Awesome” was more 80s-sounding than “Kick-Ass,” so that’s what I listed it as on the poll, where it was the top pick of playtesters.

In the comments, someone (Aces & Apes and And One For All artist Robert Kemp) suggested Jack Burton as a PC, which caused the game to turn into something that probably should have stuck with the original title. I liked the idea of using movie characters, if only because it was different, and Jack Burton kind of set the tone. Instead of going with Rambo or Riggs or John McClane, I decided to use characters who’d lived weirder lives, like Nada from They Live and Sarah Conner (and if you’re trying to figure out how the They that Lived and Skynet fit together, you’ve already missed the point). I also strayed a bit from the 90s, mostly into the Rodriguez/Tarantino mythology. Since most of those characters would fit perfectly into an 80s movie, I was confident they wouldn’t be to jarring.

The PC group for this one consisted of Jack Burton, Sarah Connor, Eddie Hawkins (aka Hudson Hawk), Machete, and Ash Williams (Cherry Darling, Nada, and Seth Gecko weren’t chosen). They were recruited by Zed from the MIB, who explained that stage and screen star Christopher Walken had begun operations throughout the world with the apparent goal of resurrecting the classic Universal Monsters for reasons that were unclear but obviously insane.

The PCs set a course for Bavaria, where Walken had recently bought a castle. While Hudson Hawk & Jack Burton climbed up into the tower to snoop around in the study, Machete convinced the butler that he and the others were there to install some panelling so they could do their own snooping. Even though Zed had told them exactly what Walken was up to, the PCs spent quite a while figuring out that the cell with heavy chains behind the Scooby Doo secret door, books on local genealogy, and calendars with moon phases marked might have something to do with werewolves. This led them to the guy whose family formerly owned the castle, who now lived in a van down by the river. He explained that whenever there was a full moon, Walken would come to town and chase him through the woods. When they asked why, the down-and-out noble admitted that he was a werewolf. Luckily there was a full moon coming up, so the team locked up the werewolf and confronted Walken in a battle that could best be described as “brief and uneventful.” Then they hauled him back to MIB HQ, where Zed shot Walken with a big-ass gun that sent him into the Phantom Zone.

Space Cowboys (characters here)

This one didn’t get chosen at Archon, but it was the first set of characters I made and my first attempt at doing character-specific special effects. I really liked how those turned out. This one isn’t based on anything specific (or so I am informed by the Hex lawyers). The basic idea is a Western set in outer space. I think it would make a great TV show, but it would probably get shown out of order and cancelled after 13 episodes.

While we at Archon, somebody realized that next year is the 20th anniversary of QAGS, so we started making plans to celebrate next year. I’ll talk more about that later. Probably more than you want me to.