“The more people who come forward and talk about how much they love gaming, how much they talk about individuality and diversity, the more gamers of color that come out and gay gamers that come out and everybody talking about what they love – that’s what the community has in common: a love of gaming.” – Aisha Tyler1
Every PAX Unplugged goes by way too fast. I make sure to arrive Thursday and before I know it, it’s Sunday and the convention center staff are reminding you it’s nearly 6 p.m. so it’s time to go. I didn’t even go by the Reading Terminal for shopping or a meal. There was just too much to do and see, let alone people to find time with. While I try to let PAX Unplugged be more relaxed and social, there’s still new games that need playing, actual plays that need seeing, and new friends to be made! Much as Ms. Tyler above says, there’s something tremendously powerful about celebrating the diversity and cultures who all share that love of gaming. Also, a quick reminder that I’m directing to non-twitter, non-X (whatever it’s called now) social accounts, typically bluesky or instagram. It’s hard to get away from the great gaming community on twitter, but the sooner we all unify elsewhere the better!
Before the con had even started Luck of the Harbor released a sneak peak and link to the forthcoming crowdfunding for their new game Warrenguard. Created by the brilliant Natalie Pudim – who also created Sapphic Space Pirates – Warrenguard is a game of dragonriders in a fantastic world of floating islands and magic. How do you survive in such a dangerous world? What comforts can you muster with your found family? The ruleset comparison is to that of Wanderhome or the Fate Accelerated system by Evil Hat. I love that you have 5 archetypes to choose from but then 12 different dragon species, giving you unique combinations of traits and abilities. I’m really excited for it! I did also get to try out a new Snake skin in the now annual Mega Monsterhearts 2 game. Natalie made it with inspiration from Taylor Swift’s constant reinvention of herself but with themes around personality disorders or living in the wake of others’ perceptions of you. I had a tremendously good time with the skin and you can get it now from Luck of the Harbor’s site!
Warrenguard isn’t the only hot game coming soon to your shelves. Our friends at Gehenna Gaming announced Eldritch Automata! This is going to be an action horror TTRPG with psychological elements and your own mecha! The kickstarter page notes inspiration from Evangelion, Pacific Rim, and the Cosmic Horror genre! The creator is Nick Francia, a lovely and creative gentleman who is extremely excited to share this with everyone. The kickstarter launches January 2nd! I’d also been tipped off to a kickstarter for a game that was identified as part of the PAX Rising Showcase for PAX Unplugged 2023.
Apistocracy comes from the mind and artistry of Heather Dixon. If you like Bridgerton or socialite status and intrigue, then this game is for you. There’s numerous ways to win your influence as you navigate balls and events in order to be named the season’s favorite. Of course, do right by and don’t embarrass your host as they’re the ones putting you forward to the rest of court and high society. I was especially tempted to have my character head to the Tea Room and gossip, but you might go to the Ballroom to show off and gain influence or perhaps you need a safer, stable place to do so at Home. There’s many ways to win, and I should mention a great visual system guide live on the site. You can go there to sign up for news, a chance to playtest, and more as well! Join soon lest you become another forgotten face!
Eyes on the Prize
It wasn’t on purpose but I went exploring more social status and court shenanigans. A friend and I decided to find a game together at the Games on Demand area. Aren’t sure what you want to play? Looking for someone who likes to run Indie Games? Couldn’t get into the game you wanted? Head on over to Games on Demand! My friend Brian mentioned there was a “marriage game” that looked promising and so sit down we did. Another two strangers joined us as 4 could play the game, each couple with their Eyes on the Prize. In this game from Ira Prince, you and another are troublemakers trying to get some ultimate goal through a false marriage. Maybe you both know and agree, maybe you don’t. You create your characters together OOC and possibly, if 4 are playing, at slight odds. We chose a fae court setting, much in the way of a Court of Fey and Flowers from Dimension20. This way we immediately put aside the social issues of Victorian Era in the real world. Also, we wanted magic! Neither couple were a couple in real life, but we had a tremendously good time navigating boisterous exes spilling the details about money, business overtures that distracted us, or courtly dances to prove our affection. You track attraction points for how much you actually come to like one another, plot points for how close you get to your goal, and suspicion points for the public’s ability to recognize this whole thing is a sham! Well as it so happened both couples fell for one another in a fun, sweet series of events. Pick it up on itch.io for just $7 and you’ve got yourself an easy game for 2 to 4 players!
Order of the Amber Die / Roll for Combat
There’s another new game I want to get to, but first let’s talk those live people connections and actual plays for Pathfinder, Starfinder, and D&D! I started my con off right with gatherings of friends from playing Monsterhearts 2 oh so long ago during the stay-at-home times of 2020. The night culminated with getting to see Adam Smith – the magnificent map artist and GM – of Order of the Amber Die as well as the busy Battlezoo badass Stephen Glicker of Roll for Combat. The night was alive with lights as the Christmas Village at city hall was our backdrop. I could chat with these two forever, especially on upcoming projects and news in the gaming space. Make sure to watch Roll for Combat’s youtube channel for all the news updates and of course the Paizo blog for Order updates to the Abomination Arsenal playthrough!
Friday’s actual play was the Starfinder Scenario: Gifts Ungiven! Our GM was Jenny Jarzabski and she led a crew of Pathfinders through the trash to find who was pulling pranks at the society gathering. The cast included Andrew River as Obozaya, Matthew Ekberg as Altronus, Noordin Ali Kadir a.k.a WerewolfFeels as Raia, and two gents from the No Quest for the Wicked Starfinder podcast: Dain Miller as Zemir and Niall Spain as Navasi. I got to see Noordin just before the actual play at the We Were Already Here seminar stressing the problems with colonialism and the need to change how we handle exploration – not conquering – games, avoiding topics like slavery and similar religious doctrines. It was great to see him step from a very serious topic to a jovial Starfinder game, where he often had to be a voice of serious direction with the sweet technomancer Raia. I’ll tell ya I kept running into Dain and Niall throughout the rest of the weekend. Dain’s witchwarper had a penchant for licking things to identify them, which the culprits of the pranks in the scenario didn’t quite a chance to exploit. I really appreciate how the scenario ended but I won’t spoil it for you should you wish to watch on PAX 3’s twitch. Definitely check out the cast’s socials and the No Quest for the Wicked podcast.
On Saturday it was time for Pathfinder! The amazing Rue Dickey served as the GM of our iconics moving through the Winter Queen’s Dollhouse, that is the former Queen of Irrisen’s dollhouse. Thing is – it’s enchanted. Thing is – as becomes quickly clear – it’s a prison and Queen Anastasia had no idea. Thankfully we’ve a few Pathfinders to help! Alex Speidel played Merisiel, Erin Roberts played Lini, our own Jessica Redekop played Feiya, and of course Valeros played by Creative Director Luis Loza! They got turned into poppets, had to meet a whole house of characters, and got into a bit of a scrape all while ensuring a cake didn’t get smooshed. Of course, the way you play it may be different, but those images were so adorable. The Starfinder actual play’s images were extremely cute too. You almost feel bad rolling initiative or at least bringing a weapon down. It was great to see Remaster rules coming out, all benefit to the ORC and those who worked toward these changes. Thank you for that! But even more so, everyone leaned into their characters, made for a hilarious good time, and even rats were spared by Erin’s careful diplomacy. Check it out on PAX 3’s twitch. I hope they do more at PAX Unplugged next year.
Oops More Himbos
Which brings me to the only 5E live play I saw, that run by Jay Foster a.k.a. Swole Initiative with the return of Oops More Himbos! All genders were represented and to much hilarity I might add. The hype opening was a great addition to as we were serenaded with Taylor Swift music by Anya Combs and her partner (EDIT: not husband!) who’s named Matt (according to a post by Johnny Stanton) as shown below. They were excellent, got the crowd excited, and it really set the tone especially once we learned Johnny Stanton’s character was a football himbo named Kelcer with a lady that he was totally, truly dating name Taylora… We also had the fairy DILF himbo “2 days from retirement” from Kyle Shire of Critical Role and Queen by Midnight. He and Danny Quach – of Digital Thiccness – sure enjoyed a few clever gay metaphors/jokes. Danny and Banana Chan’s characters were dating, not siblings, even though they looked EXACTLY alike and used the same character sheet. I think we’ve all met those gym-bos who are in a relationship and seemingly are the same person. Finally, the group was rounded out with the half-orc barbarian, booty-shaking, kill-ya-if-ya-lose but biased toward friends character Beryl played by the always entertaining Jasmine Bhullar. I couldn’t even keep track of how many gnomes she killed, but it was a lot. They replicated quickly, or 87 years passed. It’s hard to say. Of course, my favorite line was in response to Jay’s question of how Beryl defeats toxic masculinity: “Here’s what’s important, I don’t do it alone.” Yes this was comedic and satirical, but all the players did well in a bit of social commentary and fighting these dangerous behaviors from their enemies. Might I just recommend that before entering a contest where Beryl is nearby, you become her friend first lest you lose the bar contest. You can check out Oops All Himbos also on PAX 3’s twitch.
I close my reminiscing of PAX Unplugged with a game I’m very, very eager to play again. My friend Kae convinced me to join her in a 4-hour one shot of 5th Conspiracy. You need to play as well. I got to meet the creator and Director (not GM, avoiding Master, which I loved) Stephen Koontz as well as their friend and operational , also Director Michael Parra. 5th Conspiracy is a game of urban fantasy, in modern times with vampires, witches, werewolves, gods, and more. I got to play a fae in a game we chose. You see, not only did Stephen seek to understand the kind of game we wanted to focus upon (action, mystery, thriller, intrigue, etc.) but he also wove such querying into the very game. Years ago now I praised Gehenna Gaming for their safety tools document, and now I’m thrilled to point to 5th Conspiracy’s premise document, which you can find on their site’s resources. Oh and here’s the cover of their book!
We players agreed on a mystery/intrigue game – and Stephen had a basic plot ready for such – but more so he sought to get buy into other facets of the game. We all can agree a True Blood urban fantasy is different from a Buffy the Vampire slayer urban fantasy. Stephen encouraged us to agree on 2 or 3 inspirations to serve as the Spirit of the game. We chose Harry Potter with depth of magic, Game of Thrones for intrigue, and Knives Out/Glass Onion for the element of mystery. As you can see on the Premise Document that’s just one item to note. We also discussed the hook’s inciting incident of the story: that the leader of the city (a child of Hades) called a gala. You’ll see that Commitment is listed and of course Safety Tools as well. These are all items to cover in a session 0, to set up a game all players are bought into and agree on the commitment. The why? Prevent how most games fall apart. Stephen wisely uses an example of a player unaware a game is every week for 20 weeks and then on session 3 when they find out, they quit. Or what about the classic d20 D&D player who wants to be a powerful hero and then dies in the thriller/horror game during session 1? Best to get everyone on the same page so either the story is prepared with the players in mind or that player recognizes that the game isn’t for them. In the same vein, understanding the character’s motivations, history, goals lets the Director weave the narrative around the character rather than having 0 plot planned or plot completely independent of character depth. We did go over Safety Tools and story elements before digging in, leading to a really unified set of player goals rather than characters having to agree on goals/get along.
Again, I won’t spoil the plot as you should really try to get involved in a test game. I’ll note I got to chat up an heir to the throne, parley with a fae leader, do some spiritualism to talk to the recently departed, and put my character in the ill graces of the city’s leadership by choosing the middle ground. But you know, Ash is an opportunist and a fixer and fae! What more advantageous a position to be then to be riding that shadowy middle ground? Ash was a pleasure to play, and I do love the idea of leveraging an Attribute and an Identity when rolling for success. Of course, Stephen also had us roll before we learned if we failed. Why? So we could describe the failure. Rather than simply being bad at what we should be good to do, we could merely add an element that caused the failure. Our Director’s example when explaining this plan was simple: if a talented assassin wanted to sneak by two people and rolled a failure, does that suddenly mean they’re a poor assassin? No, maybe someone else suddenly came into the hall or a lightbulb burst drawing attention. Sometimes it’s bad luck that’s not something you could plan for. Failure can really add to the story after all. I suggest you go explore AED Publishing’s site and utilize the premise document for any game you run. You can also find both Stephen and Michael on their Discord.
New Friends, Thanks!
Come Sunday night hang time with friends, it was serendipity to spend a beer and conversation with both Stephen and Michael from 5th Conspiracy and Dain and Niall from No Quest for the Wicked. Was interesting to hear Dain (as GM) won a CRIT Award this year for best villain (see below) and see all four speak to the complications of unifying player expectations for game as well as the variations of games between d20 systems and other systems that may be better for storytelling, like say 5th Conspiracy. That’s the kind of interaction that keeps me Investing In PAX Unplugged! Great people, great games, and great fun! I hope you find some excitement in the cool games I tried or the actual plays I got to see. Thanks to all I saw for such a terrific weekend! Much love to ya!
I wasn’t quite sure what to name my article series when I first started but the idea of showcasing or discussing things that make me excited, that I find new and interesting, or maybe I’m otherwise passionate about seemed to fit with the idea of Investing In something like the Pathfinder 2E mechanic. To use some magic items you have to give that little bit of yourself, which helps make these things even better. I like the metaphor of the community growing and being strengthened in the same way!
I also want to hear what you’re Investing In! Leave me a comment below about what games, modules, systems, products, people, live streams, etc you enjoy! You can also hit me up on social media as silentinfinity. I want to hear what excites you and what you’re passionate about. There’s so much wonderful content, people, groups (I could go on) in this community of ours that the more we invest in and share, the better it becomes!
Banner – PAX Unplugged 2023 Program Guide cover, PAX, art by Gabe
- Aisha Tyler on gaming culture, Vox
- Warrenguard promotional image, Luck of the Harbor
- Eldritch Automata promotional image, Gehenna Gaming
- Apistocracy game logo image, Heather Dixon
- Eyes on the Prize main image, game by Ira Prince
- Oops More Himbos promo image, Jay Foster / Swole Initiative
- 5th Conspiracy – book cover, AED Publishing, art by MikeLuard
- Crit Awards Best Villain 2023, CRIT Awards