Game Day: Prepping for Nuke(m)Con 2017

Nuke(m)Con 2017 is a week away and I’m scrambling to pull together my events. My gaming group’s homegrown convention is being held September 27-30 at a friends house. We expect 10-12 people to attend over the course of the weekend, but any given slot will likely have 5-6.

I’m running three games: Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeon World and Hollow Earth Expedition. The theme uniting them all is time, or lack of it. In an ideally world, I’d be writing all of my own adventures for the convention, but between coordinating a Boy Scout trip to Washington, D.C. and coaching baseball, time is not something I had enough of.

So I went the pre-gen route.

Dungeons & Dragons

Originally I wanted to run a dungeon crawl set in our Obsidian Frontier campaign but as I sat down to to do the work I realized I simply didn’t have enough time to write an adventure and pack to go camping. Instead I fell back on The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, the classic D&D module that was updated for the 5th Edition of the game and published as part of the Tales from the Yawning Portal compilation (Amazon). Our gaming group already took one run at it; mounting a second expedition was a no brainer.

Running Hidden Shrine minimizes the prep time I need, and lets me focus my time on where I really need it: the Dungeon World and Hollow Earth Expedition.

Dungeon World

Dungeon World (Amazon) is the love child of the Old School Renaissance and story games. Meant to be played in an open-ended, improv manner, the game is all about building a narrative on the fly. The Dungeon Master is encourage to do as little prep as necessary and focus on letting the player characters shape the world and the narrative.

The game has a prescribed taxonomy of actions called “moves”, some generic (“hack’n’slash”, “defend”, “defy danger”), others class specific (the bard’s “Charming and Open” lets them speak the truth to an individual … and get truth in return, the cleric’s “Turn Undead” is repels the unliving). These moves are triggered by the narrative; if you say “I attack the orc” what you’re really saying is you’re using the “Hack’n’Slash” move. If you say you’re dodging past the ogre to get in the hit on the orc, then it’s really “Defy Danger”, which will be followed by “Hack’n’Slash”. Each time you perform a move, you roll 2d6 and add the appropriate modifiers. Score less than a 6 and you fail, but gain experience. On 7-9, you success, but with consequences. On 10-12, you succeed very well.

It sounds like a low-prep game, and it would be … if I wasn’t learning it. I got the book for Christmas a few years back and while I read it almost immediately, I didn’t do anything with that knowledge. Now I’m speed reading my way through the rules and looking for resources to help me prep a one shot.

Fortunately I found them. Fine Mess Games put together Dungeon Starters, which are free one sheet PDFs meant to prime the creative pump for a campaign but they can also be used as the basis for a one-shot. Each one includes plenty of Dungeon World-specific inspiration, including questions to ask the players, impressions associated with the Dungeon Starter’s premise, and dungeon and custom moves, new items, new spells, and monster stat blocks. I’m going to be running The Sky Chain (PDF), which is about — you guess it — a giant chain ascending into the sky. I like that the set up is non traditional (Jack and the Beanstalk comparisons aside) and just weird enough to separate it from a standard D&D game.

I also downloaded the character and game master playbooks (PDF) from the official website. These playbooks include character sheets for each class in the game (e.g. cleric, wizard, bard) as well as their custom moves and spells. I think we’ll do character creation at the table — it shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes — and from there it’ll be all ad hoc.

I’m excited to play this game; if the group’s into Dungeon World it could scratch that world building itch that many of us are feeling, but don’t have the time to do in as detailed a system as Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. It would be super easy to run a short 6-8 episode campaign using Dungeon World and allowing the game and the discussions at the table to build out the setting.

Hollow Earth Expedition

Hollow Earth Expedition (Amazon) posits that the conspiracy theories are true; the Earth is hollow and illuminated by a small star at what should have been its core. The interior surface of the globe is filled with oceans and continents populated with the time-lost wreckage of the surface world. Dinosaurs, ancient Romans, lost Chinese fleets, survivors of Atlantis, and pretty much every pulp threat you can imagine lurks beneath the omnipresent sun.

I started reading Hollow Earth Expedition back in December and have a decent understanding of the rules. I still need to do a quick refresh on the specifics, but I’ve got enough down to run an adventure.

As for the adventure itself, I’m looking at using one of the HEX “Free RPG Day” adventures, all of which are designed to be run as introductory one-shots. They include an overview of the Ubiquity game engine, rules summary, a short adventure, and pre-generated characters. I’m leaning toward the 2011 adventure (PDF), which involves a plane flying through an anomaly and into the Hollow Earth, but I still need to review the rest of the adventures to see if there’s something with more dinosaurs.

The Ubiquity engine is intriguing — it’s a dice pool based system in which the type of dice don’t matter as long as they have an even number of sides (sorry d7, you’re sitting this one out). You roll the pool and any dice that come up even count as successes. The number of successes is compared to a target number; meet or beat it and you succeed at the task.

I don’t think HEX will replace our Weird Pulp campaign any time soon, but it’s nice to try new systems and have other options.

Eyes on MEPACon

One of my goals for Nuke(m)Con is to try out new games with an eye toward running them at MEPACon in Fall 2017. Like many small cons, MEPACon tends to be dominated by the larger, more popular RPGs. If I can inject some diversity into their schedule by running HEX and Dungeon World with a minimum of prep, I’d like to do that. Nuke(m)Con should determine if that’s possible.

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