Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

GURPS Prime Directive at Origins 2011

I had no idea what to expect. This was my first time at Origins. This was the first time that ADB was running Prime Directive sessions. I have had enough mediocre experiences at smaller, local conventions that I was going in with low expectations. (Add to this the fact that I really wouldn’t have considered myself to actually be a real gamemaster and you could see why I might be a little nervous about things!)

I ended up having 20 players in the four rpg sessions. 2 of them were under age 20… and maybe 4 or 5 were in their early twenties. Only about 10% of the players had any knowledge of Star Fleet Universe and only about 20% of the players had any knowledge of GURPS rules.

GURPS Prime Directive Session #3: Not only did two dudes show up with copies of GURPS Basic Set in their hands... but one of them actually liked my vintage GURPS Battle Maps and e23 Denis Loubet painted Cardboard Hero printouts.

If I had been doing this at a game store or at a small local convention, I would have considered any one of these sessions to have been worth the effort and expense. But to have these one right after another… to be getting positive feedback from the players… to be hanging out with the F&E guys and running Starmada sessions on top of this…. It was just completely staggering to me. I had more successful demos in three days than I had done in five years of pounding the pavement at local game stores and so forth!

That this could happen is largely due to Prime Directive being an extremely accessible game. The tropes and roles of the genre are probably even more widely recognizable than those of Dungeons & Dragons. That is a major, major plus. Captain Jack, Skexis, Marcus Kane, and Fred Mercury had put me through my paces in a play-by-forum game. Jean Sexton gave me a lot of advice and support via email running up to the con. My local gaming buddies helped me make sure I knew the tactical combat system *cold* and even participated in a playtest session on extremely short notice.

But the players…. I had no idea that people like this really existed. I’m generalizing here from an extremely small sample size, but… as far as I can tell… there are people that really really really want to do some roleplaying. But if they aren’t into a top-tier mega-game, then they are largely out of luck. Getting a group of people on a regular basis to play J. Random Rpg is extremely difficult to do. Those folks that do pull it together often have personality conflicts or horror stories of some kind. (See here for the usual issues.) There is a relatively large group of people that don’t get to game regularly in their home towns… so they go to Origins and Gencon almost religiously because it is the only place they can get their fix!

I played this one all day on Wednesday. I got to destroy battlestations, use maulers to kill Kzinti carrier groups, build scads of ships, and then cripple them all in a failed assault on a starbase. The F&E players were extremely cool-- not only did they let me use their stuff, but they taught me rules and tactics that would have otherwise taken months for me to learn. They were always there for me with encouraging words when I was psyching myself up between rpg sessions.

Two of the people that showed up to my games were so well known as being awesome players… that a group of Origins GM’s coordinated to develop a three game, twelve hour campaign especially tailored to their play style. These two… they love gaming so much that they played through the night in a midnight to 6AM session. That’s the kind of investment, focus, and energy that these Origins players bring to the table. And real life simply does not intrude there. Everyone around you understands… everyone is as keen on playing games as I am– maybe even more so! Taken altogether, this means that a game master can focus on running his game without the hassle of logistical issues– and the players are so keyed up, he mostly just has to get out of their way and let them do their thing.

(Compare that to my local gaming where too often for the past several years… to play anything besides the top three euro games, I have to plead, beg, cajole, and bribe anyone that I can find into sitting down for a game… and I *still* end up feeling like *they* are doing me this huge favor for playing anything remotely like what I’d want to play!)

Distant Armada! Four players... thirty minutes to teach the rules and have the players pick out ships. Four Hydrans versus four Lyrans took two hours to play out four turns-- there was only one Lyran ship left at the end and maybe a couple of Hydran Stinger fighters!

I don’t have any idea what all this means right now. It’s five days later and I’m still aglow with waves of gaming happiness. I played a year’s worth of games in less than a week and my head is still caved in from the overdose.

For me, anyway, GURPS Prime Directive is now *the* go-to game for entertaining all-ages, all-ability-levels, all-geekiness-levels of gamers. I probably won’t be allowed out of the house again any time soon now that the money’s all spent… but if I am attending another small, local gaming convention, I will probably sign up to run a session or two of GPD just because it is that much fun.

I’m addicted, though. I want to go back to where gaming works in practice the way I always imagined that it should. I’m looking over the budget to see what I can cut in order to go to GenCon. I’m trying to come up with adventure ideas that build on what I’ve learned…. [As my wife told me when I got back, the people that had negative criticism were too nice to say anything-- they just smiled and went on to the next thing!] I did meet my goals of moving away from a rogues campaign and into a starfleet naval officer game… I incorporated more Star Fleet Universe elements and (for the most part) remained true to the spirit of the GURPS rules. Now it’s time to come up with some new goals.

My second game purchase as an elementary school student. It would ultimately take thirty years for me to learn how to run these simple little games!

But I have never had this much fun. I have wanted to do this ever since I was in the fourth grade… when I was completely at a loss as to what to do with the Moldvay Basic D&D set that I was completely unready for…! (And yes, I’ve wanted to be able to run a GURPS game ever since I first saw that GURPS Autoduel ad in ADQ 4/4.)  To finally get to do this… to find out that there are other people in the world like me… it is just too much. And being back home again… it’s eerie. I have changed so much… but everyone here is still trudging through their usual routines… completely wrapped up in their lives of quiet desperation. None of them even bothering to ask, “so… how was your trip??”

I don’t know what any of this means…. But I will be doing something like this again.

PS Oh… the loot?  Yeah, I did bring back some goodies.  A complete set of GURPS Prime Directive books, of course, a mint copy of third edition Starfire, two vintage microgames still in the shrink (Warp War and Trailblazer), and… in order to finally play those games I never ran as a fourth grader… I also took home a beat up old 1980 Moldvay Basic D&D set.  The books inside are in such near-mint condition it’s almost a shame that I’m going to wear ‘em out with play over the next few years…!

PPS And pick up games…?  Yeah, I blundered into a great session of Revolution– I was totally schooled by one of those hard core female boardgamers that supposedly doesn’t exist.  I also saw a family gaming… a father and son playing Titan that knew the rules and tactics and strategies inside and out… totally supported by mom who was right there with them, and their daughters supposedly kicked hiney in the miniatures painting contest.  Crazy!

PPPS Yeah, I got to see Tom Vassel and chat with him.  I ran into the designer of Flux in the elevator.   There were game designers everywhere.  Nuts!

PPPPS Being a long time fan of microgames and space gaming… it was an extremely big deal for me to not only get to hang out with the guy that designed Star Fleet Battles… but to actually get an “attaboy” from him for running some tables for him.  Okay, I never got an article published in Autoduel Quarterly… but this is close enough for me.

PPPPPS Yes, I did go from playing games at the grand strategic level, down to fleet level with several starships to a side, and then down to the individual character level– all set in the same universe.  Yes, it is very cool… and yes, having tested game designs at every possible level of play is really neat.  (Though this probably isn’t news to certain people.)

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2 responses to “GURPS Prime Directive at Origins 2011

  1. Jimmy Anderson July 1, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    this is VERY cool ! It’s nice to find a like-minded group of people and to feel yourself grow in that regard… VERY nice! :-)

  2. cheeseshop July 2, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    First of all thanks for stepping up at a Con and GMing. There are very few that do that. I have wanted to play and GM at a Con before, but have never got the chance. Now that I am back into the RPG world again after a 10+ hiatus, I plan to go to Cons. It is also good to hear that you had a fun time.

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