Forge Midwest is a small playcon in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s traditionally focused on indie tabletop games, but is quite eclectic and sees a fair amount of board games and freeform larp. It was my pleasure to be able to attend again.

People standing at front of room
Pitch session


I came down the day before the con this year. This involved an extra night at the hotel, but traveling with the knowledge that delays won’t mean missed games makes for a much less stressful experience. Aaron Kesher, Jon Cole, and David Rothfeder are all solid guys and good road trip company.

On the way down, we even played our first game, Out of Dodge by Jason Morningstar. It’s a very light freeform about a heist gone wrong and the ensuing getaway. We actually played in a moving vehicle! It was short and easy and a fun way to get warmed up for the weekend. Aaron had never played a larp before!

Bag full of miscellaneous objects including Chinese bearer bond
A duffel bag, containing 11 valuable objects

In the end, we decided a gun went off, the driver got shot, and the car went careening into the ditch (narrated, not actually larped, obviously) with the snitch (me) limping away from the wreckage with the duffel bag of loot.

three small hotel pillows
I am unconvinced anyone, anywhere wants to deal with this configuration of pillows

We had dinner at con standard Red Robin. Matt Gwinn organized a trip to Avengers: Infinity War, and we bought out an entire row of the theater for the opening night showing.


For the Friday afternoon slot, I organized a run of WINTERHORN by Jason Morningstar. I had run this earlier in the month for Larp House, and it was interesting to see how it played out differently. The agents would have been quite successful, but for a single bad decision by the working group resulting in every member of the working group getting sacked. I should probably figure out exactly what “rolls up” is a euphemism for, but I imagine it involves brutality.

A whiteboard, with black and white photos and lines drawn to show connections
Best of luck trying to keep your information organized

Dinner brought us to Texas Roadhouse. Tim Koppang, Nathan Paoletta, Kelley Vanda, and I had a good conversation about what is compelling about larp relative to tabletop.

In the evening, I was unable to get a gender-balanced quorum for It Was A Mutual Decision, so Tim  offered to run Maze Rats by Ben Milton. This is a lightweight, vaguely OSR dungeon crawl game. It’s sort of Into the Odd drifted back towards conventional D&D tropes. The color provided by character generation is pretty delightful. Tim ran a clever little adventure by Michael Prescott involving time looping, and was a sport for putting up with a ton of good-natured snark from his players (me, Ralph Mazza, Clyde Rhoer, Dave Michalak, and Aaron Griffin). My nervous, lanky urchin mostly just ran away from fights and didn’t do any violence! In the end we figured out the puzzle and were faced with a decision. We chose wrong.

In the late night slot, Jon Cole ran Big Talk Conversation Party. This is a “game” about cutting through small talk BS and getting straight to deep, meaningful conversation. Which is to say, it’s an explicit social contract to have more interesting conversations with people than you might naturally drift towards. There are cards with prompts and time limits and such. We had some good conversations about gender, sexuality, and masculinity, so I think it was successful.

Jon holding up rules summary document
Jon lays out the rules for Big Talk


Food on table
One day I will learn that I cannot fix a five-stop underexposure due to shooting with a window in the background. Until that day, have a picture of BBQ.

I played a quick round of the card game S’Quarrels in the morning. Then Jon, Mark Redacted, and I met up for completely adequate chain barbecue with our friend Anna Roussanova, before we all got our larp on.

Joe Beason and Jon ran Here Is My Power Button, a science fiction larp by Brodie Atwater. The game pairs humans with freshly-minted artificial intelligences. It has developed a reputation for being a “much feels” larp. David was my character creation buddy, and he ended up steering me into a character that was a little “closer-to-home” than I started with. Like… basically me, but with my insecurities and less flattering personality traits amplified. I was sort of wondering what the fuss was about until about the second-to-last scene, when a pile of bleed started creeping up. I was a little watery-eyed by the end.

Anna and Megan sitting in chairs
Before the waterworks

Some of us decompressed over comfort food at Erin’s Snug Irish Pub. This is a really solid con for informal group conversations.

On Saturday evening I playtested David’s game You, Me, and the Zombie. It’s loosely inspired by the premise of The Santa Clarita Diet. I played the father of a nuclear family whose son had started going through some… changes. It’s a pretty entertaining premise; the mundane family relationship stuff juxtaposes with the macabre zombie horror in an amusing way.

For the late night slot, I played Dead Friend by Lucian Kahn. It’s a two-player story game about a necromancer trying to bring their deceased friend back into the world. Tasha Robinson and I spooled out a tragic story about a desert cult, childhood friends, and abusive partners. I got a kick out of how the game mechanics were inspired by real-world esoteric rituals. The ritual element really does something to capture the imagination. In the end my necromancer lost and got to spend eternity together with his friend, absorbed into the essence of a death god. I was worried about the estimated two to four hour run time this late at night, but we finished in 75 minutes.

Simulated summoning circle and tarot cards
Deep into the ritual


I played a round of Garden Eel, Go! with Arnold Cassell. It’s a cute little Japanese card game.

I helped Tayler Stokes do tech stuff with iMovie so he could present the end result of his “create a terrible auteur movie” larp for the entertainment of the con.

Then it was back on the road to Minneapolis. We stopped off at Culver’s on the way back. Nathan Paoletta had tipped me off that Culver’s sells surprisingly good veggie burgers but they’re not on the menu. So I ordered one of those. Jon ordered a veggie burger with cheese and bacon.

Until next year

The only disappointment is that even with the extra night I felt like there still wasn’t enough time to catch up with all my old friends and also get to know new folks. Sorry to anyone I missed! All in all, I had a solid weekend of gaming. Big thanks to everyone who contributed to making the convention happen, especially to organizers Willow Palacek, Tim Jensen, and Shari Corey!

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