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Metatopia 2015 Recap

I spent the past few days in Morristown, New Jersey, attending Metatopia, the Game Design Festival presented by Double Exposure. This is a small convention with attendance in the hundreds, but that number is overwhelmingly comprised of game designers. This includes designers of board and card games, tabletop roleplaying games, and LARPS. Following a mixer on Thursday (with catering from Raul's Empanadas Town), the con is three days of playtesting, panels, and just chatting with fellow designers, publishers, and really smart people.

I arrived Thursday afternoon and checked in at the Hyatt Morristown, which hosts the convention. The hotel has been consistently awesome all the times I've stayed. This year, they upgraded me to a studio suite room as they were overbooked for the room I'd requested. After settling into my room, I went down to the hotel bar to mingle with folks who had already arrived, like +John Adamus and +Mark Richardson. Thursday at Metatopia is the time when you get introduced to new folks you maybe know as little icons on social media but now can talk to in the flesh. You're going to run into many of these people over and over for the rest of the show, but don't be afraid to ask them their names again. It's hard to remember everyone after brief introductions.

Oh, and I ate more empanadas than I had intended. They are really good.

Friday started early with Atlas Reckoning, designed by +Stras Acimovic. This is a game of giant robots fighting giant monsters, but it's really a game about "feels"—the melodrama of intense people who link their minds together to rage against the end of the world. What I love about this game is that as much as it is about the emotions and the relationships among the pilots, it's also a really cool game.  Exploring emotional beats has a mechanical effect on the combat, which feeds back into and triggers the dramatic scenes back at base. This is a great game, and it's going to be a huge hit, I'm sure.

Tim Rodriguez presented the Bulldogs! Deck Building Game based on the sci-fi RPG from Galileo Games. This deck-builder adds pick up and deliver elements to the standard deck building formula. I thought it was a solid design that could use some tweaking to make it more interesting and even more thematic.

I then tested Threadbare, a Powered by the Apocalypse game about broken toys rebuilding a crumbling world after the end of mankind. I thought designer +Stephanie Bryant had a good concept that deserves more focus on what makes it sing, rather than relying on previous *World hacks for its skeleton. Stephanie was cool enough to give us all ashcan copies of the current rules, to add to my swag (which I'll discuss later).

My final game on Friday was +Cam Banks' Pillar of Fire. This is the new sci-fi game Cam is designing at Atlas Games. It draws heavily from Jewish and Mesopotamian mythologies. Players portray Seraphs, basically superheroes with powers derived from genetic engineering and quantum mechanics. Souls are known to be real, and reincarnation occurs as Seraphs live brief, mythic lives only to be born again into the next generation. Dice are rolled to resolve entire situations rather than individual actions, and even failed rolls can build up charges to power your superhuman abilities. I was worried that I wouldn't be in the target audience for this game, but even at this early stage of development, it grabbed me. I'm looking forward to seeing where Cam takes it.

Saturday morning, I presented a panel with John Adamus called "Game to Game: Converting Between System." We had a small group in attendance, but I hope they found some of what we discussed valuable. I then attended "The Designer's Guide to Podcasts," presented by +Kat Kuhl and James D'Amato of +ONE SHOT Podcast plus Alex Roberts of Tabletop Superhighway. They talked about why podcasts are a great platform for selling your game and yourself, as well as how to approach and talk to podcasters.

In the afternoon, I had probably my two weakest sessions. First, I playtested the Sentinel Comics RPG, based on Sentinels of the Multiverse. Christopher from +Greater Than Games was great, but the game didn't hook me like I wanted it to. It has a potentially neat new dice mechanics, and the threshold system for character abilities is interesting, but it feels too much like they are recreating Marvel Heroic.

After Sentinels, I went to Mick & Jared's RPG Combat. Mick and Jared have been working on their own game for years, and they wanted help kicking over their combat system. It's a very traditional, very crunchy game, and I wanted to support folks putting that kind of thing on the menu at an otherwise very Indie-focused convention. As much as I like crunch, though, this system felt way too mechanical. There were a lot of moving parts and a lot of edges that need rounded down. I wish these guys luck, of course, but I think I'll stick to GURPS and various iterations of D&D for this kind of thing.

Finally on Saturday night, I played in the session that was the most flat-out fun of the whole convention. James and Kat from One Shot have designed a party game in the style of Apple To Apples called NPC (Noisy Person Cards). In NPC, one player plays a character card and everyone has to play a card with a line of dialog and recite that dialog in a voice that fits the character. The judge picks the winner, or if she can't, she adds a modifier from one of the cards in her hand and has her best picks try to nail the new combination. In addition to just being a hilarious good time, NPC can also be used to help GMs and players develop stock voices for their RPG gaming. I think this one is ready to go, and I hope to see the Kickstarter soon.

Sunday, I had the extraordinary experience to sit in on Dialect, a game by +Kathryn Hymes and +Hakan Seyalioglu that explores emergent language in an isolated community. I felt like a tiny fish in the pond with +Rob Donoghue+Meguey Baker, and +Graham W. Together, we developed a Mars colony long out of contact with Earth, and developed new words from the pressures of our environment. I was surprised and delighted by this game, which is strong even at an early stage of development. I can see this one standing alongside Microscope and other world-building games, and I want to use it to make language for my roleplaying campaigns.

After that, it was time to say goodbye to folks, grab some Portuguese BBQ, and hit the road. Metatopia is my favorite convention of the year, and I look forward to being back next year.

Loot

Metatopia is not a shopping con like Gen Con, but I brought home a surprise amount of swag this year. In addition to the Threadbare ashcan I mentioned earlier, +Jason Pitre passed me some pages of an early *World design he was shopping here about outcasts-turned-wizards. I purchased the ashcan edition of Epyllion by +Marissa Kelly because I think my wife will enjoy it and Jadepunk, by Ryan M. Danks, mostly to check out the Asset system. And someone left boxes of Free Stuff in the con suite, so I grabbed a bunch of old white wolf and 3.0 D&D books, including Mage 1e and Wraith: The Great War.

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