This year was my second trip to Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio. Organized by the Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and first held in 1975, the convention focuses on all flavors of tabletop gaming (board, card, roleplaying, and every other sort of variation). While the bigger events revolve around more of the household names of gaming (D&D, Pathfinder, Settlers of Catan, Pokemon, etc.) I prefer the Games on Demand events.
Games on Demand specifically caters to fans of small press, independent roleplay gaming and also for con goers who are curious about trying something new. All of the gaming I did at Origins 2016 was exclusively with GoD and I can say I never felt like I was missing out on other parts of the con. Your mileage will vary depending on your personal gaming tastes, but I believe there is something there that can appeal to every player.
My GoD sessions began Thursday morning with a game of Masks: A New Generation (Designed by Brendan Conway, Published by Magpie Games). Masks is currently in post-Kickstarter mode with a public release coming very soon. Instead of being a superhero game that focuses on playing the Justice League or Avengers, players assume the roles of teen superheroes who still aren’t quite sure who they are and who they will be. The emphasis in the game is on the relationships between the heroes and the labels that are applied to them by fellow teammates, the world, and even themselves. Stats are in flux as events cause the heroes to reassess their roles. In this Masks session, I played The Beacon, a hero who shouldn’t be fighting alongside ultra powerful godlike beings. Think Hawkeye or Blue Beetle.
Masks is a Powered by the Apocalypse (PBtA) game. If you’re not familiar with this particular system, it was created by Vincent Baker for his Apocalypse World RPG. The core of the systems revolves around roll two six sided dice and adding a stat to determine the results of actions. A 10+ is a complete success, 7-9 will be a partial success or one with a cost, and a 6- is a complete failure. Players simply narrate their characters’ actions and if they trigger one of the Basic Moves or Playbook Moves a roll is made. Everything is grounded firmly in the fiction of the story. You don’t make a roll unless it is justified by the actions and logic of the story. Characters are created from playbooks, a trifold sheet that gives players lists of options from the look of a character to special Moves only they can access. Players simply narrate their characters’ actions and if they trigger one of the Basic Moves or Playbook Moves a roll is made. Unlike most games using the PBtA system, Masks’ stats (here called Labels) fluctuate based on interactions with teammates and NPCs.
In my game with Brendan, the team was pitted against an alien vessel that had come to claim our Outsider for her arranged marriage. Due to our actions (I say “our” but my Beacon triggered things by firing an EMP arrow at the ship), the vessel crashed into the bay. The aliens sent forth an inhumanly strong bodyguard and it became necessary to negotiate our way out of the situation. However, my Beacon, desperately wanting to prove themselves as worthy of a place on the team, fired a Weird Tech arrow (think Kirby style technology) and somehow brought a future version of the alien bodyguard to the present day. The rest of the session dealt with traveling to outer space, trying to get our Outsider out of her marriage, and the revelation that my chipper upbeat Beacon could possibly become a bloodthirsty killer in a future timeline.
I’m very biased when it comes to Masks for a number of reasons, so consider this both a disclosure and me fanboy-ing out. I’ve been a rabid comic book fan since I was nine years old and Masks really captures the essence of New Teen Titans, early Claremont X-Men, Young Avengers, and similar media. I feel confident in my knowledge of the tropes and was able to easily jump in. If you threw into say…a Conan game, being less confident in the tropes, I’d stumble a bit more. Brendan Conway and the designers at Magpie are producing some of my favorite tabletop rpgs at the moment and Masks is top of the heap for me. The choice to focus on interpersonal conflict and the construction of an interesting world, rather than stat blocking the hell out of each individual superpower, appealed to me even more. I’ve never felt a desire to go as deep as Mutants & Masterminds and have always preferred superhero comics where the display of powers takes a backseat to interesting relationships.
I was a privileged enough to help contribute to Masks as a Kickstarter stretch goal in a flavor/fluff piece written with my wife. So, I’m not exactly the most neutral of parties. But I know even if I hadn’t gotten to know Brendan and the Magpie crew personally, I would still be playing the hell out of Masks. I didn’t think twice when I was invited to participate in a second, off the books, session Saturday night. I choose to play The Transformed (Beast, Cyborg) and had another awesome three hours of gameplay.
If you are someone who has an appreciation of superheroes at any level, from simply a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or a lifetime comic book collector, then I would highly recommend you check out Masks when it becomes available. It gives the emphasis on story that I think superhero games have been needing for a long time.
Tomorrow: Zombie World and Urban Shadows