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Dust Devils at GenCon

Started by Hans, August 15, 2006, 06:47:07 PM

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Ran this twice at GenCon; thanks to all who played.  The players I had for both sessions were fantastic; the first session turned into an action packed investigation of the role of race in the old west, and the second ended with the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ.  Here are some things that stand out that might be useful to others:

* In the first session, one of the players took the initiative and made a statement and asked a question.  The statement was "I really just don't like rape in RPG's." The question was "are we all comfortable with an R rating?"  This was very wise on his part (I think his name was Ivan).  I think he had played at least some DitV and a lot of Deadlands.  In future, the R Rating thing is something I am going to ask in every game, because it is a very good idea.

* At the two hour point during the four hour session, I pointed out the time, and said "Ok, this is going fantastically well.  I think we all want to have this have a true resolution, and not just have to walk away because we have run out of time.  So, lets all try to play so that, come 2 PM, these characters have hit the resolution of this story."  The last narration concluded at 1:55 PM, and everyone just sat back, and breathed a sigh of joy at the coolness that had been wrought.  I'm not sure if my pointing out the time helped, but I think it did.

* Make sure you have a lot of pregens if you are going to require them, and don't despair that people seem to ignore the ones you think are cool.  I had run the same set up three times prior to GenCon, with vaguely similar results.  For example, someone ALWAYS played the out of town gunfighter.  However, this time was so very different.  Three out of five players played non-white characters; the first time anyone had done so.  This made the whole game session a commentary on the role of race in the old West, giving the game a real sense of drama and meaning and fuelling the conflict between the characters.  As one of the players said (I paraphrase) at the end of the session; "that game was all about lines, where we draw them, and when we cross them."

* In the 2nd session (a pickup session at the Games on Demand tables), someone asked me during character creation (I had used pregens in the scheduled session) whether supernatural elements were allowed?  I thought about this for a bit.  There are no rules, per se, for them in Dust Devils, but then again there are no rules for gun fighting either.  So I gave this answer; the game was scheduled to end at 10 PM, so I said that there could be no supernatural elements until 9:30 PM, at which point, all bets were off.  So here's what happened:  one player made up a character (based on a movie of the same name) called El Topo, who believes that he is the 2nd coming of Jesus.  Another character plays a psychopathic Cherokee out for revenge against the white man.  One is Jonah Hex, and the last is a minister who used to be a gunfighter.  A lot of stuff happens, leading up to the point where Jonah and the minister are having a knock down drag out with the Cherokee in a church, with El Topo near by.  The player playing the Cherokee wins narration rights for his penultimate conflict (the one that brought him to 0 in not one but two attributes).  He narrates himself falling into the arms El Topo, saying "Save me, Jesus!"  At this point, everyone around the table has little light bulbs go off above their heads, and checks their watches.  The time?  9:35 PM.  El Topo steps in to protect the Cherokee, but the Cherokee loses the final conflict, and dies in El Topo's arms.  El Topo's player narrates El Topo saying; "Do not worry, my son, I will raise you again in three days."  Needless to say, the final scene (following that one) was of biblical proportions.  What I am getting at with all this is that, because of the nature of the conflict resolution system, I can't see any reason why supernatural elements are to be avoided in the game, as long as their is general agreement among all the players as to their tone and nature.  Narration of these elements with the right tone is no different from narrating a gun-fight or a bar-room brawl with the right tone; a gun-fight in Sam Raimi's "The Quick and the Dead" is completely different from one in a John Ford movie.  A person could have a knack for "Cursin'" or "Fortune-tellin'" as easily as for "Shootin'". 

Anyway, thanks to all my players; I hope you had as good a time as I did!  If you read this, please post your name and what characters you played so I can thank you in public for being so cool.
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Let me start out by bragging on Hans. WOW! Even though the story pretty much wrote itself through the players, Hans helped the enjoyability of the game session. What could have been a semi-complicated game, turned into a very enjoyable session (OK, so that's an understatement!) for everyone. The other player that rushed me into the game and I spent hours discussing conflict resolution as well as the story-telling vein and how it could be used in other systems as well.

According to the site, there is another version or an update coming out. This, I am looking forward to thanks to Hans.

I played in the second game session with the crazed Indian and the guy who thought he was Jesus. With great Enthusiasm <yes, the capitalization was on purpose> and considerable help from Hans, I was allowed to play the minister, Reverend Galilee Jim Donnely.

Thank you again Hans!  I hope our paths cross again and we can enjoy some other characters!

- Tom


Hey Hans,

Yep, I'm the bigmouth. Joe and I have been talking about the game since our session ended, and would've gladly picked up a copy if the revised edition had been there. As it is, I'm keeping my eyes open for both of us.

The biggest deal for me was how the theme of "lines and boundaries" seemed to come together without our even trying all that hard. Once you pointed out the town was on the Texas-New Mexico border, we all seemed to weave that theme into our own narration and where we steered the adventure. It was a perfect theme for a game like Dust Devils.

Matt Snyder

Hans & everyone -- these games sound astounding. Please consider posting them in more detail in the Actual Play forum, although they stand up well here.

I can't wait to get "Revenged" in your hands. From the sounds of it, the improvements in the game will make it all the better to achive games like Hans ran! Thanks!
Matt Snyder

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra

chris jiggy g

This is my first post to a web forum, so please forgive any missteps I might make.  I simply want to start off by saying that I have played in varioius role playing games over the past 24 years, but I have never experienced anything close to the thrill I had during Dust Devils at GenCon!!!


Allowing the players to control the story and action, what a GREAT TIME!! 

I played in both of Hans' games at GenCon, and I enjoyed myself immensely.  It only took about 20 minutes to pick up on the mechanics, which was good, but then the game started and took me quite by surprise!  In the first run, I happened to play the only character that had a set starting point in the game - a Texas ranger at the bottom of a well next to two dead bodies, and oh, I had amnesia that went back at least a week.... Well, I waited for Hans to tell me more (like in most role playing games), but that was it.  I had to come up with the story from there.  WHAT?!?!?!  Okay.  Cool.  Hans had a conflict set up for my character, so that anytime I wanted to try to remember what happened, I could play poker to resolve it. 

Well, it hurt me right away, but I got to narrate what I found - one body was the man who trained me to be a ranger, the other was a john I had met at Miss Dubois' Parlor House - he had confederate money on him and a silver locket with a beautiful woman's picture in it - and none of us had any cut marks on us or bullet holes, we had just been beaten.

The other players heard my tale as it started and they proceeded to set up some aspects immediately, and they jumped right in.  The bible salesman was lowering me a rope to pull me out and the Apache and Mexican hangin out in town had determined they had done the hit on us by daring each other not to use any weapons.  (We didn't find out the dare part until the whole thing was over). 

The entire game played out like a wonderful little western film, complete with intrigue, bribery, coercion, gunslingin', and mystery!  Hans' suggestion at the halfway point to try to get us to resolve it ultimately helped my play considerably, as I was much more open with my memory conflicts and fighting off any attempts to "help" me or hinder me. 

The characters that Hans developed for the game were absolute hoots to play or play against.  I loved the Devils for each of the characters - they really helped to play the roles appropriately and really defined the conflict resolution stages by greatly altering the hand size at times. 

The second game with El Topo, et al, was quite something.  I had no big story to go on with this one, just my character's hatred of the white man and it allowed for a big showdown in the catholic church, in front of the self-proclaimed Jesus.  Cool.  I am not sure there are many games out there that would allow such craziness to be perfectly explainable in the system to such new players.

Overall, kudos to Hans for running those scenarios, and kudos for the designer(s) for setting up such a fun, wild, loose system to allow an old-time gamer to really have fun telling stories.   

After GenCon last year, my friends and I spoke at length about how to integrate more story telling and role playing into modern games - well, we have a wonderful example right here.  Thank you!



Matt and Hans - your wish is my demand. I've posted an actual play at

-- Ivan23