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I got home from school one day and sat down at the computer. It was part of my normal routine to flip on the TV for some background noise, so I did. Color buzzed to life and showed Yugi staring down Kaiba's Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon. It was a classic story of a protagonist facing hopeless odds against a superior opponent. But it reminded me of of Dragon Ball Z, full of the same verbal banter occasionally interrupted by fierce action. The villain had his own motivations, however flawed, that made him believable, and even our protagonist cared about him. That was what it was for me: Yu-Gi-Oh! had tapped into that same kind of drama that Dragon Ball Z had, and I suddenly understood what so many of my classmates saw.
Then, one day at school, a friend of mine was talking about playing a Yu-Gi-Oh! game on Neopets where the characters were throwing duel discs at each other like frisbees. I had only seen a few Flash Games before, and that was what I envisioned as she described her role playing experience. Someone had made some kind of crazy game inspired by what I was seeing on TV. Her enthusiasm showed how good it was, and it sounded too crazy not to check out.
So I signed up for Neopets and jumped onto the Role Playing Chat as fast as I could. Finding out that the game was text-only was a little off-putting, but soon my character Ryuen was born. His Millennium Star gave him the power to become a warrior out of Legend of the Dragoon. That's how it was back then. There were all kinds of crossovers. Final Fantasy, a lot of Inuyasha, and anything else we needed or just wanted to include on a whim. Stealing and killing for more Millennium Items was the great challenge, and we all lived in fear of Crowley, the great demon who had killed and stolen more than anyone else. I remember my first role play where Puck joined in. (Crowley's role player was a different Puck from the one on Sparkbomb.) I commonly started with Ryuen sitting on a park bench, and two others joined the role play where I would quietly watch as Crowley had some interactions with the other character and Ryuen was mostly ignored.
It was so simple, and it was completely insane. I don't remember my first role play with Nebiros, but I had thrown out a neofriend request to her afterward, and when I started a guild she was the only person to accept the invitation. Nor do I remember my first role play with Liz, but it was around this same time. She included a nutty Eternal Darkness inspired plot for Ryuen and Tallakahath that spanned several months of back-and-forth neomail.
I became so enthusiastic about role playing that I went through my entire AIM contacts list and asked all of my classmates if they were interested in joining the fun. Only one was interested, and she and I went on to be good friends for several years that followed.
I finally got my first cards at the end of November. My childhood best friend had gotten both the Yugi and Kaiba starter decks, and I paid him about ten bucks for the crappier half of the cards. It was enough to get me started playing on the bus and during lunch. We were all bad, the rules were murky at best, and the threats of cheating and stealing lurked around every duel. After all, the anime was chock full of cheating and stealing, so why wouldn't that carry into real life? Add in the King of Games element on top of that, and you had a group of kids all clamoring to be the best. And I needed to prove I was the best too.
I remember one of those early games. A good friend of mine had me against the wall, his field full of monsters ready to wipe me out on the following turn. But he had summoned a Time Wizard. There was one card in my deck that could save me: Change of Heart. That was the first time I used the so-called 'Heart of the Cards' from the show, promptly yelled, “Someone give me a quarter!” and wiped out his field.
My first improvement at the game started with a friend who had played Magic: The Gathering before getting into Yu-Gi-Oh. A group of us were over at his house one day, and he said that forty cards in a deck wasn't enough. You needed another ten or so for more options. It made sense. We rarely questioned things like that back then, because none of us really knew what we were doing, especially if we weren't active in the tournament scene.
But then one day I read something completely different on Edo's website: “Every card over forty is one more turn until you draw the card you need.” That made sense, too. Which was right? I asked myself a simple question: if I was going to cut down to forty, which ten cards would I take out of my deck? As fortune would have it, almost every one of them was a stall card. (I still remember Labyrinth Wall and The Shallow Grave being included among them.)
That was when things changed for me and I became one of the 'good' players. I still ran bad cards, including a full playset of Solemn Wishes and a one-off Sanga of the Thunder, but I could consistently beat most of the players at lunch. That sort of thing meant respect, of a sort. I made a couple of lucky trades along the way, too, scoring a Mystical Space Typhoon (that I thought would negate cards it destroyed) and a straight across trade of my Mage Power for a United We Stand.
The allure of a real tournament was inevitable. One day I walked into Batcave Games and paid my entry. It was one of the most intimidating experiences of my life, filled with older teenagers and adults who were so serious and seemed effortlessly confident when they played the game. Round one had me paired against the man who had won the tournament the week before, and this tournament was single elimination (meaning a loss here would knock me out of the tournament). All I remember is that I had him on the ropes in the third game, he set a monster, and I activated Shadow of Eyes to flip his Magician of Faith into attack and negate its effect. Somehow, I had beaten the player who had won the week before. It was beginner's luck to be sure, but it made for an unforgettable beginning.
I went on to lose the next round. I attended tournaments when I could. I remember the release of Legacy of Darkness, watching someone pull and auction a Yata-Garasu while the store quieted and watched with interest. I remember the shift to Advanced Format, requiring a whole bunch of cards that I didn't own that cost much more money than I had, that took several of the fun cards out of the game while simultaneously lowering their prices.
Each night was filled with role playing. I wrote two and a half terrible fanfics. My grades suffered. I became the best player at lunch. The school year was filled with more drama than I ever had or ever would experience again.
The friend whose Time Wizard I had turned against him had his deck stolen four times that year. Everyone knew who the thief was, yet he went unpunished. I was the best duelist at lunch, but it was still a sort of wild west where some things were known, some weren't, and most people didn't care about anything besides themselves.
One day I finally had a chance to duel the best player in the school. We had had different lunches for most of the year, but an opportunity finally came to play against him. I won a closely contested duel, but it easily could have gone either way. He had done well in real tournaments, after all, and despite some beginner's luck I had not.
Yu-Gi-Oh! set the course for my life. It got me onto Neopets, which in turn got me onto IDB and through IDB led to Sparkbomb. I continued to role play. I reconnected with Liz shortly after Sparkbomb was created, and during the coming years role players made up a fair but often passing minority of Sparkbomb's membership. I played in the occasional Traditional Format tournament.
I also spent a lot of money on cards. I regret not picking up a few more PSX games back then (that are now so cheap on the Playstation Network that it doesn't matter in retrospect). I remember dropping $30 on a playset of Spear Dragons. During one Fourth of July weekend, I swept a small tournament with my favorite Scapegoat plus Mataza the Zapper plus United We Stand combo, beating out the riffraff and the one good player at the event. When the good player pulled a Spear Dragon from his single prize pack and I pulled jank, one of the kids commented, “He pulled the Spear, so it's like he won anyway.” I could only respond, “I already own three.”
Role playing changed as I started to engage in fairer 'Shadow Games' to compete for fictional millennium items. I would play against players at games on Neopets, or I would even play in online duels. There was no way to completely prevent cheating in those duels, but I did have my opponents state how many cards were in their hand and on their field at the end of each turn. It limited their cheating, and most of them didn't play in tournaments in real life so I had an edge.
At the end of freshman year, the last week or so of PE left us to do whatever we wanted without much supervision, and I stumbled across a kid (Tyak) talking about the Memory World arc, which was still a couple of years from airing in the US. I didn't know whether or not to believe the story—it was easy enough to make things up with little way to fact check—but it was fascinating to listen to, and he was the first person I had met at the school who expressed any interest in Yu-Gi-Oh.
During sophomore year, I hosted a Werewolf game at lunch. To make things interesting, some of us pitched in money and cards for the winners. One day I was at the card shop at the mall, talking to the manager when Futureguy (James) walks up to me, hands me a couple of cards, and says, “This is for the pot.” I'll never forget that moment.
During my junior year, I gambled my Legendary Ocean deck in a mirror match against a friend. The match got split up awkwardly due to lunch schedules and skipping classes, tallying life points and starting the game over with current life counts when we needed to, ultimately leading to a third game loss where I had drawn into a full playset of the deck's signature card. I never gambled cards after that.
Most important of all was how playing Yu-Gi-Oh! steadily changed the way I was looking at games and at life. “Every card over forty is one more turn until you draw the card you need” was the beginning. By the end of my eighth grade year I had realized the simple fact that “speed kills,” which to me meant excluding tribute monsters from my deck. That summer I applied the same concept in the original Final Fantasy, realizing the strength of a team of Fighters and Red Mages at the exclusion of other classes was the superior approach. Those are all basic concepts today, but reliable knowledge was scarcer back then, and I was reinventing the wheel in my own little intellectual corner.
My high school was arguably the worst in the district, and coming out of Challenge in middle school (a program for so-called “gifted” children), I was stagnating intellectually. Yu-Gi-Oh! had fueled my direction for a time, but playing Traditional Format wasn't teaching me things in the way that the Neopets Battledome and Sparkbomb were. It wasn't until Yu-Gi-Oh! World Championship 2007 was released on the DS that I fully embraced Yu-Gi-Oh! again with the mindset of being the best.
In the middle of the Demise/Chimeratech format I had developed an anti-meta deck that trounced the major decks of the format. Demise burned through its own life points. Triple Solemn Judgment (still disregarded in the competitive scene) among other cards I ran dealt with the single-card monster threat of Chimeratech. In the bubble of WC07, I had a deck that could win.
Instead of gaining the confidence to purchase the deck in real life and compete in Shonen Jump Championships, I descended into an obsessive rage. Disconnecting opponents were common, Monarchs were a bad matchup, and online games were single duel affairs. In a fair system, I was certain that I would dominate the standings, but with opponents disconnecting, Pulling the Rug sitting in my useless side deck, Sparkbomb's Winter War in my recent past, and my senior year of high school going poorly, it all boiled up into an eventual rage where I had to walk awat from the game completely.
I never expected to get back into the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game after that. Once in a while I glanced at the card section of the local Target, I think I bought another DS game or two, and Rex and I enjoyed playing the Demise format on occasion, but otherwise Yu-Gi-Oh! was a part of my past. It was Swing Club of all things that brought me back into the game. One day we walked upstairs in the PUB Building, and there was a group of Yu-Gi-Oh! players sitting there at the table.
Getting back in the game came with a goal: it was January of 2011, and the Portland regionals were in April. Part of me still needed to know that the deck I had created back in 2007 wasn't a fluke and that I had been right about its potential. It didn't matter that it was four years later and formats had come and gone. I had to know that I was right.
Learning four years' worth of cards was another matter. Instead of doing practical research online and playtesting against Rex over YVD and Lackey, I started trading for cards that were in the decks being played locally at Batcave. My anti-meta deck was dated, but it could still keep up with most of them, losing out a little more often than it won.
I was nervous about regionals, but I managed to persuade Tayler (Shadow) to go with me. We both went 3-4. Despite poor performance (not that we expected to do better), it was a great experience and ultimately contributed to the tight-knit group of players at Clark College. When Batcave closed for the summer and Dice Age Games opened, it became the go-to store for Team Sparkbomb.
At the time, there was no question that I was the best player on our side of the river. I played the best, I knew the metagame the best, and I knew the rulings more clearly than anyone else. When we started clamoring for tournaments, small as they were with only seven or eight of us showing up, it was natural for me to assume the role of player-judge. I started running Sorosh Saberian's Fabled Ragin OTK deck from YCS Providence 2011, and its combo-based nature prevented me from winning every tournament outright, keeping things fair because I was limited by my deck choice.
There was no contract, no arrangement, no deal involved in hosting tournaments for Dice Age. I later realized that Roy, the owner of Dice Age, had offered a 20% discount on related products to other event organizers, but that discussion never came up between us, and it only mattered a couple of times. I didn't buy many cards. I had already been conscientious of how much money I spent on the game years ago, and I was keeping careful track of my finances now.
I read Ryan Murphy's articles about making money in Yu-Gi-Oh! at the end of 2011, and I vowed never to lose another dollar on the game again. I also set myself the lofty goal of making back all of the money I had spent by the end of the year, as well as the “impossible” goal of profiting as much as I had spent. Breaking even was easy. When Dice Age became an Official Tournament Store, I couldn't play and judge simultaneously, but with such a small crowd (about a dozen at the time) judging gave me more opportunities to trade and thus make money.
Tournament attendance started to increase around March, and that was the point where I really gained momentum and started filling in the financial hole that I had dug. The players were mostly respectful, Chris (Aramil) and I alternated judging when necessary so that both of us had opportunities to play, and the game was expanding in Vancouver for the first time in years.
If I had gotten into eBay around that time and started making money faster, things probably would have happened differently. But I wasn't really thinking that I could do Yu-Gi-Oh! as a self-employed gig. Roy mentioned the possibility of a job down the line, and I naively believed that he might deliver on that someday. In the meanwhile, I was only earning a little more than enough money to sustain my hobby. It would eventually become a modest income while remaining too small to compare to formal employment. All the while I was doing enough work to earn more than my pay for an employer.
Another store, Hero Support, opened that summer and offered a reprieve of casual tournaments and easy trades where I could play with less competitive decks and still handily win. The downside was that it, like the Portland stores, was just too far down the freeway to really be practical on a gas tank.
Chris and I got accepted to be floor judges for Sam during Portland's April 2012 regional, the last regional the Portland area would have. Both of us made good impressions, Chris with his cool composure and me with my comprehensive ruling knowledge, that we were easily accepted at the Seattle regional that followed in September. Our goal was to get on the team for YCS Seattle/Tacoma in November.
I got into Magic: The Gathering around the same time, hoping to improve my marketability to a potential employer. I experienced some modest local success but never quite enjoyed playing the game.
Meanwhile, Dice Age's tournaments had boomed, eventually peaking around 32 players. I could uncomfortably manage twenty-some on my own, but the larger tournaments absolutely required Chris's assistance. Disrespect and raucous behavior became the norm for the players. I had started using eBay and was on the verge of breaking even. Meanwhile, Dice Age was making a modest income from Yu-Gi-Oh, much of which came from my work in running events and telling Roy which products to order and in which quantities.
Increased attendance pressed the question of whether I could continue to play or had to judge every tournament. It was a decision I felt that I had to make, especially looking at it as a potential job, and the decision to judge felt inevitable.
The tournaments were a toxic environment, and none of us realized it. Chris and I valued freedom of speech on the Facebook group and didn't care to censor anyone. The store was Roy's, so as long as players did what we asked as judges, we left it to Roy to solve other problems or occasionally ask us to tell the players to calm down, which we did. I had been running tournaments for the store for about a year by this point, and I was privy to the inventory numbers. While Roy continued to complain about the Yu-Gi-Oh! players, about their bad manners and how they didn't bring in any money for the store, I silently ran the numbers to see for myself.
In the beginning, Chris and I had always been consulted about store policies as they affected Yu-Gi-Oh! players, but in the space of a month or two we were handed two new rules without being consulted. The first was that all players would pay to enter tournaments, a fair decree that we disagreed with. The second was that players would no longer be allowed to buy and sell cards to each other inside the store. In a store with its own singles inventory this kind of thing made sense, but Dice Age had no such inventory and would not for months to come.
With so much of my income coming from my personal purchases and sales, that was the last straw for me. I was a few months out of college with no plans to go back for more education, and I had hit break-even with every sign pointing to an increasing income doing something I enjoyed. Roy's attitude made it clear that one of two things was happening: either he had no idea how much money Yu-Gi-Oh! was bringing into his store, or he was blatantly lying to me about it. Out of respect for him, I assumed the latter and walked away.
Players, former friends, criticized my decision, and to some degree it's true that I could have handled the situation more maturely and helped transition events to a new judge. But the fact is that you get what you pay for, and I hadn't been paid a dime for over 300 hours of work that had earned the store more than ten-thousand dollars in profit.
On a whim, I wrote an article about a Watt deck that had topped the European Nationals and sent it off to Jason Meyer. Months passed before I sent a followup email asking if he had read it, shortly before YCS Seattle/Tacoma, and he ran with the article and posted it on TCG Player.
Meanwhile, I didn't have a locals, and I was enjoying the reprieve now that I was out of the toxic environment. Rex and Nebiros used YCS Seattle/Tacoma as an excuse to fly into Portland to meet me, and I spent two of the best weeks of my life with two of my closest online friends. We drove up to Tacoma with Team Sparkbomb, getting there in the middle of rush hour and needing to head straight for the venue instead the hotel room that Chris's parents were kind enough to cover.
When pre-registration ended and it was time to clear out players for the night, I remember shooing them out somewhat bluntly alongside other judges doing the same. One of the players pointed out that if we would ask politely, explaining our reasons of wanting to get some sleep before the event, it would have been nicer and made more sense. I did that for the rest of the evening, and it's a small detail I've never forgotten.
I was very nervous that night, and I was even more nervous when Chris and I went to the judge dinner. Sitting there at the table with a wonderful meal in front of me, I felt the same intimidation that I had felt over a decade earlier when I had first walked into Batcave and encountered experienced players for the first time.
And then, as Chris and I were leaving the restaurant, I called the other half of the group so we could meet back up with them. While I was on the phone, Sam and Jason walked by. Jason said hello, I automatically replied in kind without thinking much about it, and it wasn't until I got off the phone that Chris said, “Jason Meyer just said hello to you!” My greatest regret of the weekend was not finding the opportunity to shake Jason's hand.
We had an awesome split-level hotel room. Nebiros claimed the king-sized bed upstairs while Rex and I took the queen downstairs and the others took couches and cots. I thank Chris to this day for letting us have the beds.
Saturday was an unforgettable blur. Seven-hundred some-odd players filled the convention center and the event served as my first insight into the highest competitive level of Yu-Gi-Oh. I also got some insight into judge politics, hearing and learning about things going on well above my head that impacted the game in ways the average player knew nothing about. At one point on the floor, I remember a player walking up to me carrying a booming mini-speaker, seemingly without a care in the world, and I politely smiled and asked him to turn it off. I want to believe he had that song playing just to make me smile.
I didn't judge on Sunday, so I missed out on the true judging experience of the full weekend, but it was nice to relax during the slower day. I got to just hang around with friends, watch people trade, and veg out in a place that I really enjoyed being at. Rex clearly remembers Sorosh Saberian walking away from his loss in top four muttering, “Forty-three card deck... forty-three card deck...” and I wish I could remember it too. I got some insight into how desperate some of the pros were to make sufficient trades and sales to cover their travel costs, under pressure from their sponsors to prove their worth. I also watched vendors dump valuable cards on the cheap so that they didn't have to carry too much inventory back home.
It was never quite that good ever again, not that I could expect anything to compare to two of my best friends flying into town for a major tournament. I was immensely proud of being published on TCG Player, and I enjoyed each article I wrote, but I never quite managed to write the articles that I wanted to write and eventually gave it up. Hero Support was too far from Vancouver to become a suitable locals for me. CCG House, the local store where I had played Magic, was unwilling to host Yu-Gi-Oh. And the Portland stores were too far away to convenient.
Somehow, despite my loss of connections from cutting ties with Dice Age, I was still making steady income from the game. I set new ambitious profit goals for 2013 and met them. I briefly judged at a store out in Gresham before realizing, for no reason I have been able to identify then or since, that it wasn't where I was supposed to be. I judged two more Seattle regionals. Despite a strong reputation with Konami employees, my unwillingness to work Sunday kept me from flying to future YCS events.
The lack of a local store, combined with the steady realization of how toxic the Dice Age crowd had been, was what ultimately took me away from Yu-Gi-Oh. Time passed, the game changed, and it all shifted from a day-to-day part of my life to become memories. Years later, I would come to find that the experience and skills I had developed in Yu-Gi-Oh! would help me with my job as a dance instructor. The professionalism I developed while judging had become a part of my character. Business savvy learned from trades and sales was second-nature. Showcase and competition events ended up being surprisingly similar to regionals, and I spent most of my first showcase on a nostalgia trip feeling like I was back home at a regional.
Getting into Yu-Gi-Oh! in eighth grade was integral to everything that followed. Getting into Neopets eventually led to Sparkbomb. I started to rethink the ways I saw the world. I developed a foundation of professionalism that has carried into my career. I was published and paid for my writing, something that had been on my bucket list growing up. And I experienced one of my favorite hobbies from both the consumer and retailer standpoints. The person I am today is a result of flipping on the TV and happening upon one of the greatest Yugi vs Kaiba duels. Yu-Gi-Oh! may be in my past, but I'll never forget it.
I'm still stunned that the game ended with a full team claim. As an MC, your perspective is always different from the players. Why did so-and-so do this? How can't so-and-so see that? Why isn't so-and-so using my role the way it was intended? How are the innocents so blind? Why isn't something really obvious being considered?
I'll only comment on a few odd gameplay points and decisions, particularly those by players who I don't think will mind. First, however, I think my time would be best spent explaining the methodology and set-up.
For All-Stars, I knew that I needed to host an all-roles game. Most of you are well aware that I prefer plain innocents due to old problems with role trading and role-chains where innocent players rapidly learn everyone else's claims and kill off players based on the knowledge gained.
During the very first All-Stars game on IDB in 2005, the innocents won with the loss of a single life (the player Hypocritical, who had a counter-kill power that was triggered by his execution that ended up killing a baddie). During the Nights, baddie crossfire claimed the lives of other baddies, and role trading and innocent coordination took care of the rest. It was a massacre and arguably the most one-sided Werewolf game in our history.
This historical point, combined with a string of Werewolf games on Sparkbomb with similar results during 2006, have always led me to prefer a higher percentage of baddies than others. The common 33% number is one I perceive as a minimum in such games. Additional teams raise that percentage higher, and I would argue that it should be upwards of 50%. A game with four or more nightkills might well go above that, but that's a discussion for another time.
Going from the anecdotal to the analytical, baddies perform their best by assisting the innocent town. The chance of crossfire between baddie teams will commonly result in baddie deaths. Daytime communication also assists the innocent cause and is more likely to result in a baddie execution than might be expected from the numbers. Furthermore, any baddies with investigative powers will typically end up assisting in this as well.
Beyond that, my greatest influence is probably Neopetsmom's games. She has a very distinct approach to her set-ups, and her frequent hosting makes it easy to consider how different mechanics she uses are perceived in our metagame. I'm glad that my preferences are so different from hers, because I think a diversity in games leads to better games and experiences all-around.
The key points I differ on from her are disliking the random factor (which she commonly includes in the form of shields). I also prefer game pacing to be maintained. In other words, I dislike protects and execution stops. The simple difference means I tend to enact protections that skip the protected target, and I prefer execution redirects rather than execution stops.
In particular, I recall her Return to Form a year and a half ago where I was on a baddie team where my teammate Cel was up for execution. We knew the identity of one of the innocent players. We had an execution stop that we used to save Cel, but it was ultimately a futile gesture and did nothing for us. In that moment, I wished we had an execution redirect that might have come at the cost of our nightkill that cycle. To my recollection, the innocent was shielded from our attack and we promptly lost.
In another of NPM's games, there was a lost of list manipulation going on and we weren't told who we targeted unless we had an investigative role. I think I was a baddie in this game as well (though I don't recall anymore), and not being able to keep my lie straight was infuriating because I had no idea what I had actually done.
I'd like to emphasize that I have the utmost respect for NPM. I look upon these experiences as positive ones because they shaped my design for this game more than anyone else, except for Rex (who helpfully edited this game from its potential disaster state into what I consider my best designed game).
Coming into this game, I wanted my players to feel enabled to make plays. To be certain about what their powers were capable of and what they were doing. A certain amount of secrecy is always needed in this regard, as you can't let a player know how someone else's power interfered, but I had hoped that players learning who their targets ended up being would avoid confusion.
I also wanted the game to be one of investigation. It should be well known that I think the standard dreamer role is overpowered. I also obviously didn't want to risk a role-chain of old. This came together in a number of interestingways in the design.
I wasn't certain how many players to expect for All-Stars, but I was hoping for between twenty and thirty. I created a rough outline of games at different player counts, and ultimately hit a “sweet spot” of sorts at 22. If we had hit high-twenties, I would have included a Spectre team.
This game started with an idea for an OMT that would become a two-man team, the Master and Apprentice. The Master would be able to recruit (convert) a single Apprentice from the innocents. If a player could not be converted, they would be killed instead. The Master could always opt to kill instead of convert during a night. And the Master could not be killed during the Night. If an Apprentice was killed, the Master could recruit a new one.
The Phoenix team was given a triad of manipulation powers and the ability to choose which of their team performed the nightkill each night. A single conversion rounded out their ability to manipulate the game.
The Werewolf team was designed fairly standard, with the addition of a Tracker. I was worried that the team members would be easily discovered and defeated, so I gave them four members and a Traitor. To keep investigation as an active part of the game, they were given both a daykill and an execution redirect, neither of which would be explicitly evil in the plot. The innocents had corresponding powers.
I allowed both the Phoenix and Werewolf teams to decide which of their players would get which roles. This felt like a fun addition to further empower the players.
The decision to include 9 evil players out of 22, plus an expected 2 conversions (or more depending on how things went for the Master), was intentional. In retrospect, I didn't consider the number of executions the innocents had available to them, and a revision of this game would either remove the execution redirect from the Werewolf Team or make their daykill come at the cost of performing a nightkill. From a numbers standpoint, I would also probably place the Phoenix nightkill before the Werewolf nightkill.
With three baddie teams, I anticipated crossfire, and I anticipated a high death count. They were counterbalanced in the forms of standard protectors, a jailer, a multiple-use necormancer, and the multiple-use heir. The bind power was a bit of a wildcard, but it was softer than a doubler.
I wanted this game to be one of investigation, so I tried to make my innocent roles as non-standard as possible. I tested out two new types of dreamers, the informant and receiver duo, and the baton dreamers duo. While this risked the possibility of two pairs of players clearing each other and uniting via their knowledge, it allowed a way to break the dreamers and limit the number of dreams that would occur in the game.
The Respawner (necromancer) was given the ability to sustain one resurrected player at a time, and he could switch that resurrection to another player with the limitation that each player could only be resurrected once. The Ban Hammer (jailer) lacked the usual evidence to back the claim and was also given a daykill. I excluded the Day aspect of the jail simply because I dislike taking a player out of the game, and it would have created a way to disrupt the few day powers. The Looter (gravedigger/heir) might appear to be an OMT. The Pyromaniac Runner was a combination of commuter and bodyguard. And a Binder is fairly uncommon. The Spectre (tracker/dreamer) was included to help offset the fragility of the dreamers.
Meanwhile, the bus driver was evil. There was both an evil disabler and an innocent jailer. And there was an evil tracker. A mass claim would likely get some players killed, but I expected there to be a lot of doubt all around.
In retrospect, at 22 players, I would have dropped the Baron Werewolf (Daykill/Execution Redirect) and given those powers to the Fang Werewolf (starting spokeswolf). I might have dropped the execution redirect and modified the daykill to come at the cost of the nightkill. Perhaps a second daykill (not usable on the same day) would offset this properly. And, in place of the fifth Werewolf, I would separate the daykill power from the jailer and create a vigilante. However, I would certainly keep the existing number of werewolves if a 23rd player was added.
The decision to reveal only alignment upon death was made late into the process. Innocents have a natural advantage with more information, which is also the reason I don't reveal role names to players in my games. This placed an increased importance on the Looter, who not only learned role names but also learned the exact power of innocent players as they died (with the exception of the Respawner).
The decision to include nobody votes (a staple of All-Stars) came spur of the moment when I created the game thread, and between that adjustment and miscommunication with Rex I botched one small detail: the Traitor vote negation.
Rex had assumed that the vote negation would be public and that the Traitor, not the Werewolf Team, would be told it existed. I had not properly separated it in my notes and informed the werewolves, and I had also made it not appear to the players. In a game with nobody votes, it was incredibly powerful on Day 1. In retrospect, I agree with Rex's assessment completely.
The role names were one of the last things I thought of for several roles (including finalizing a few as players died). Using role names to confirm/refute truth is something I destest in gameplay, and therefore role names were not revealed to the players at the start of the game. Both Baton Dreamers were intentionally given the role name “Baton” and both protectors were intentionally given the generic “Protector” to further limit information revealed on death (provided the Looter was killed and role names were revealed publicly). In retrospect, I should have had the Phoenix names specify team as well as the Werewolves, as players familiar with Sparkbomb lore would have an advantage. Lastly, anyone converted by the Phoenixes would gain the prefix “Recruited ” to their role name, and anyone converted by the Master would gain “Apprentice ” to theirs.
The role assignment was as follows...
Player Name Team/Common Role Role Name
RocktheFox Phoenix Pariah
spiritbox Phoenix Covert Operative
Sinical Phoenix Executive
Celairiel Werewolf Matriarch
Blacjak Werewolf Fang
Meta Werewolf Baron
thezodiac Werewolf Optic
Voce Angeli Werewolf Traitor
lion wiggles Master Master
InuyashaOhki Tracker/Dreamer Spectre
Neopetsmom Dreamer Baton
Steev Dreamer Baton
Liz Dreamer Informant
Trajectory Dreamer Receiver
weee5067 Phoenix Protector Protector
thelilbear Werewolf Protector Protector
Red Necromancer Respawner
Lieutenant-colonel Franc Gravedigger/Heir Looter
Silver Pyromaniac Runner Pyromaniac Runner
Zen Governor Tagger
Zilary Jailer/Vigi Ban Hammer
Qanda Binder Binder
When I saw the randomizer pair Celairiel, Blacjak, and Voce, I nearly rerolled. I knew that Blacjak would be visiting them during the game, and this was a roll that could be perceived as favoritism. Meanwhile, Sinical had control of a trio of manipulation powers, and RocktheFox was with him. I wasn't sure what to make of Lion Wiggles with the Master role. Lastly, with Silver in the Pyromanic Runner role, I suspected she would never use the intercept power to take a hit for someone.
There's a moment of fear and doubt that comes before you trust your players to make the best with the set-up you've created for them. The rest would be up to how the game went.
I was simultaneously disappointed and relieved when a werewolf went down Night 1. Disappointed that Lion hadn't opted for the conversion (which would have still resulted in a kill), and relieved because Voce was destined to unite with her team by Day 2 and upset the expected balance. Sometimes games correct themselves, and this was one of those times.
Then there were the unexpected things. I don't know why Sinical claimed dreamer. I assume he thought others would remember my dislike of neutrals. I don't know why Lion opted for a kill first convert later approach. I didn't expect Franc to keep to himself so much (or to misunderstand his role and not spend more time using powers). Nor am I certain what Zen's strategy was in framing players with his messages. (He was disabled on Night 1 when he planned to incriminate Liz.)
Nor did I expect for three dreamers to go down on Night 2.
Night was always interesting to resolve, and coming down with a headcold on Day 2 didn't help. I don't think I have ever needed to use Excel previously to resolve a game's events, but it was quite welcome and necessary in this one. The most entertaining moment of the game, from an MC standpoint, was probably when Franc used the execution redirect to kill RocktheFox, maintaining Sinical's bus drive for the night, which caused the Phoenixes to recruit Silver instead of Weee. Bad luck just kept following them throughout the entire game.
Also, Rock's PMs in team chat were hilarious. What he lacked on thread in the early game was more than made up for in PMs. And then he started giving it to us on the thread, too!
The mark of a successful game, to me, is how closely a game pushes towards a Final Day of three players, one of whom is the last surviving baddie in a situation where neither innocent is sure who they can trust. Watching this game play out, with the apparent assumption that there was no more than three teams of three, I worried that the four living werewolves would suddenly take the game and cause a tremendous upset. It was a relief when Red being daykilled, Weee's imprisonment, and the werewolves killing Silver all came together to result in Voce's death. At that point, the game had course-corrected itself for a second time and created an exciting late-game balance. If the remaining werewolves won, they would have earned it completely. If the game pushed further, excitement would simply continue longer.
At the end of the game, there were a few remaining factors in play. Zilary could daykill a Werewolf and shift the ratio, or she could imprison Blacjak and prevent a kill. Or Lilbear could protect someone, provided she didn't get disabled.
As for the ending itself, it should serve as a cautionary tale to never reveal your hand until you've won. Not just when you think you're going to win.
It was an absolute treat to host this year's All-Stars game, headcold and all. Thank you everyone for providing a wonderful experience, and here's hoping those of you that died early this year make a comeback and snag next game.
Priority and Roles
Priority was as follows...
Commute – Pyro
Disable – Wolf
Intercept – Pyro
Bus Drive – Phoenix
List Replace – Phoenix
List Swap – Phoenix
Kill – Master
Protect – Anti-Wolf
Kill – Wolf
Protect – Anti-Phoenix
Kill – Phoenix
Dream – Baton A
Dream – Baton B
Dream – Informant
Dream – TrackDream
Dream – Traitor
Convert – Master
Convert – Phoenix
Track – Wolf
Track – TrackDream
A lot of this is fairly standard Disable → Manipulate → Protect / Kill → Dream → Convert → Resurrect → Track. The most important point to mention is that events always resolved in this order. In addition, invalid targets would be removed from lists when it came time to resolve (so if a Bus Drive had swapped an Innocent with a Werewolf, the Werewolf Kill would simply skip the Werewolf and go onto the next target). This appears to have caused some confusion on Night 2(?) when Sinical swapped himself with Lion and everyone assumed powers that targeted Sinical were scrambled rather than bus driven.
Roles were as follows... (There may be a few minor errors about targeting and such that were clarified in later PMs. None of the dreamers can self-target, for example.)
Win Condition: Eliminate all other players.
Team Members: RocktheFox, spiritbox, Sinical
Role Selection – Before Night 1, you may choose which team member gains which role powers between List Replace, List Swap, and Bus Drive. Each of you must gain one. In other words, you get to choose from among your team's roles.
Kill – Each Day, submit a list of five (5) names. The topmost living player will be killed. Also, in addition to this list, you must include the name of one of your team members. This player will be the one to perform the kill. This power cannot be used against one of your team members.
Convert – You may submit a list of six (6) names. At the end of Night, the topmost living player will be converted to your team. In most cases, that player will retain their original power(s). Note that not all players may be converted. Your team's Kill power cannot be used on the Night this power is used. This power can only be used once.
List Replace – Each Day, you may submit two lists, the first with three (3) names (your target) and the second with six (6) names (their new target). This power cannot target your teammates, and it cannot target the same players that either the List Replace or List Swap powers targeted on the previous Night. The topmost valid target on your first list will have their night list replaced with the names on your second list.
List Swap – Each Day, you may submit two lists of three (3) names each. This power cannot target your teammates, and it cannot target the same player that either the List Swap or List Replace powers targeted on the previous Night. The topmost valid target on each list will have their lists swapped for that Night. This power can only affect one list that a player would submit.
Bus Drive – Each Day, you may submit two lists of three (3) names each. All powers that would affect the topmost valid target will be shifted to the topmost valid target on the other list and vice versa. (All powers that would target Player A will affect Player B, and all powers that would affect Player B will affect Player A.) Note that this power cannot cause powers to be used on invalid targets.
Win Condition: Eliminate all other players.
Team Members: Celairiel, Blacjak, Meta, thezodiac, -Unknown Traitor-
Role Selection – Before Night 1, you may choose which team member gains which role powers between Kill, Disable, Daykill and Execution Redirect (both of these powers come together), and Track. Each of you must gain one. In other words, you get to choose from among your team's roles.
Vote Manipulation – At execution, if any Werewolves have voted for the Traitor, their votes will be removed. The true vote count will not be revealed, but an announcement will be made that the votes were manipulated. This power will only occur once for each Werewolf.
Kill – Each Day, submit a list of four (4) names. The topmost living player will be killed. This power cannot be used against one of your team members. If the player controlling the Kill power dies, surviving werewolves may choose which among them Heirs it (including the Traitor once he/she unites with you).
Disable – Each Day, you may submit a list of two (2) names. The topmost valid target will be prevented from using powers that Night. This power cannot target the same player on consecutive Nights.
Daykill – Before nightfall, you may submit a list of one (1) name. That player will be killed immediately prior to execution. (Their vote will also be removed.) This power will kill in the same manner as execution. This power can only be used once.
Execution Redirect – Before nightfall, you may submit a list of one (1) name. Regardless of the vote count, that player will be executed. Your team's Kill power cannot be used on the Night this power is used. This power can only be used once.
Track – Each Day, you may submit a list of six (6) names. You will learn who the topmost valid target ended up targeting that Night.
Win Condition: Eliminate all other players.
Team Members: -Unknown Number and Identities-, Voce Angeli
Dream Muddling – You will not be dreamt as a Werewolf unless you are the final living Werewolf.
Dream – Each Day, you may submit a list of six (6) players. You will learn whether or not the topmost valid target is a Werewolf or not. The first time you dream a Werewolf, you will be united with your team.
Heir – You will inherit the power(s) of the first Werewolf to die. You cannot inherit the Kill power in this manner.
Win Condition: Eliminate all other players.
Kill – Each Day, you may submit a list of three (3) players. The topmost valid target will be killed. You cannot use this power on the same Night that you use the Convert power or if the Protect power is triggered.
Convert – Each Day, you may submit a list of six (6) players. If the topmost valid target can be converted, they will join your team. If they cannot be converted, you will Kill them instead. In most cases, a converted player will retain their original power(s). You may only have one convert at a time.
Protect – If you would be attacked at Night, you will be skipped on the relevant list(s). You will be informed if this power is triggered. You may not Kill or Convert on the same Night that this power is triggered.
Track – On each odd-numbered Day, you may submit a list of six (6) names. You will learn who the topmost valid target ended up targeting that Night.
Dream – On each even-numbered Day, you may submit a list of six (6) players. You must also choose Werewolf or Phoenix. You will learn whether or not the topmost valid target is on the chosen team or not.
Dream – On each odd-numbered Day, you may submit a list of six (6) players. The next Day, your partner will learn whether or not the topmost valid target is a Werewolf or not. The day after, you will learn the result of your dream and their dream. If your partner dies, your power will return results for you the following Day without the delay. (You are A and your partner is B. On Day 1, you target X. On Day 2, B will learn whether or not X is a Werewolf. B then targets Y. On Day 3, you will learn whether or not X is a Werewolf and whether or not Y is a Werewolf.)
Dream – On each even-numbered Day, you may submit a list of six (6) players. The next Day, your partner will learn whether or not the topmost valid target is a Werewolf or not. The day after, you will learn the result of your dream and their dream. If your partner dies, your power will return results for you the following Day without the delay. (You are B and your partner is A. On Day 1, A targets X. On Day 2, you will learn whether or not X is a Werewolf. You then target Y. On Day 3, your partner will learn whether or not X is a Werewolf and whether or not Y is a Werewolf.)
Dream – Each Day, you may submit a list of six (6) players. The following morning, your partner will learn whether or not the topmost valid target is a Phoenix.
Dream – Each Night, your partner will target a player. On the following Day, you will learn whether or not that target is a Phoenix.
Protect – Each Day, you may submit a list of five (5) players. If the topmost valid target would be killed by the Phoenixes, the Phoenix attack will be negated for that Night. Both you and the Phoenixes will be notified that a successful Protect was used.
Protect – Each Day, you may submit a list of four (4) players. If the topmost valid target would be killed by the Werewolves, the Werewolf attack will be negated for that Night. Both you and the Werewolves will be notified that a successful Protect was used. This power cannot target the same player on consecutive Nights.
Resurrect – Each Day, you may submit a list of one (1) dead innocent. At the end of Night, that player will be resurrected. If a resurrected player is killed, they cannot be resurrected again. This power can only resurrect each player once. This power can only allow one resurrected player to live at a time. If you use this power while a resurrected player is alive, that player will die and the new target will be resurrected.
Gravedigger – You will learn the role name of each player as they die. If you die, future deaths will have their role names revealed publicly. You will also learn most of the power(s) of each innocent player as they die. Note that not all powers will be revealed to you.
Heir – When an innocent player dies, you may choose to inherit their power(s). You can only possess the power(s) of one player at a time.
Run Away – You may cause all powers that would target you to be skipped during the Night. This power cannot be used on consecutive Nights.
Intercept – You may submit a list of one (1) player. During the Night, any powers that would target that player will target you instead.
Message – Each Day, you may submit a message. That message will be posted anonymously the following morning (regardless of whether or not you live to see it).
Tie-Breaker – Before nightfall, you may submit the name of one (1) player. If the execution is a tied vote and includes the targeted player, that player will be executed.
Execution Redirect – Before nightfall, you may submit a list of one (1) name. Regardless of the vote count, that player will be executed. This power can only be used once.
Imprison – Each Day, you may submit a list of two (2) names. The topmost valid target will be unable to use their powers, and the imprisoned player to be skipped on all lists. This power cannot target the same player on consecutive Nights.
Daykill – Before nightfall, you may submit a list of one (1) name. That player will be killed immediately prior to execution. (Their vote will also be removed.) This power will kill in the same manner as execution. This power can only be used once.
Bind – Each Day, you may submit two lists of three (3) names each. All powers that would affect the topmost valid target of the first list will also affect the topmost valid target of the second list. (All powers that would affect A will also affect B.)
The Shoutbox was discussed at the beginning of the year, but it's come to my attention that the “Bring Back the Shoutbox” campaign is introducing many of you to this subject for the first time. To those of you just now joining this conversation, it may appear like several members are making a reasonable request that I'm flatly ignoring. While I have decided against restoring the Shoutbox, my reasons for doing so were stated plainly some months (and years) ago. I'm going to rehash some of the things I've said elsewhere, but for the sake of completeness I'll try to offer a more complete picture here.
In the past, the Shoutbox served a similar function to that of the home page today. It gave a quick glimpse as to what was happening on the site. It also served two other purposes: it provided a place for members to make global announcements that reached a large number of people, and it offered an easy method of communication for off-topic comments, questions, links, and more light-hearted discussion than is usually seen in threads.
It was this last point that received scrutiny, not because I don't want all of us interacting with each other, but because of the question of whether or not the Shoutbox had a negative impact on forum activity and, by extension, the site as a whole.
First, for the curious, I'll give a bit of history. Much of the Sparkbomb history has been lost (particularly from the first three years), but we do still know a few things about the Shoutbox's origin. Marcus (Coaster) installed it fairly early on (probably in October of '04). The global Shoutbox, the one that was found at the top of each page, wasn't always enabled. It was enabled at some point early on (before the end of '04), but it may have been flipped on and off a few times during those first few months. Rex thinks that it wasn't enabled during the begining of '05, and while I'm unsure I am inclined to agree with him. For the sake of putting an accurate date of birth on the Shoutbox, let's assume that it was enabled by the spring of '05. It was a permanent fixture of the site until April 1st, 2012 (a seven year run). As a combination prank/experiment, the Shoutbox was disabled, and it was never reenabled despite plans to make it into an Announcementbox. This decision, which most of the Staff agreed on at the time, makes more sense in the context of the role the Shoutbox played during the Renaissance Era (April 2009 onward).
Quite a bit of thought went into this decision, and part of this came from trends I observed over the years. The first is a memory of the Shoutbox originally being added to Sparkbomb and forum activity subsequently plummeting as the Shoutbox absorbed all community interaction. During the two years that followed (Sparkbomb's first era), the Shoutbox was a fine addition to the community that lacked any of the controversy surrounding it today. Forum and Shoutbox activity were both stable, the forums were private and hidden from Google, and there were more important things to worry about like stockpiling items in the Spark Game.
During the Renaissance Era (April 2009 onward), the Shoutbox acted a bit differently. Random Chat, a forum allowing off-topic and non-discussion conversation, was as an alternative place to encourage the antics that had previously been relegated to the Shoutbox. The community also experienced several up-and-down periods for activity during this time, effectively needing a jumpstart every seven or eight months to get momentum going again. Each time this was necessary, I felt that the Shoutbox was a hindrance. It's easier to make a shout than it is to make a post, after all. And once people are in a habit, it's difficult to get them to break their habit. During Sparkbomb's low activity periods, the Shoutbox retained some activity in the community, but this benefit was offset by how difficult it was to get forum activity back up and running.
In late March of 2012, I discussed the Shoutbox with the Staff. We disabled it as an April Fools prank, and we agreed that leaving it disabled for a few days would help us to gauge the effect on the community. The Staff was split on the issue, but there was large agreement about a couple of key points. Firstly, the Shoutbox as a chat system was largely unnecessary and potentially harmful to the site in the context of forum interaction. Secondly, the community needed a method of posting readily visible announcements. Unfortunately, the other necessary component to go with the removal of the Shoutbox, an activity push (in the form of All-Stars, a Competition, or something else), never materialized due to my real life schedule. (I was wrapping things up with my A.A. and seeking employment via Yu-Gi-Oh, and I had mentally regulated Sparkbomb to the back of my mind as a hobby.)
Permanence is another element the Shoutbox lacked. A Shoutbox, like an IRC chat, is fleeting. Words come and go. If a person isn't there for a conversation, they miss it entirely. And even if they could go back and read it, so many IMs fly by in this kind of setting that catching up is impossible. (Just think about how difficult it was to keep up with the first few days of All-Stars.) As an example, I'm sure many of you who were around a few years ago will remember the Lixyl marrying maple syrup episode. This joke might have began in the Shoutbox (I don't know if it did or didn't, and there's no way to know now), but it came to life in the threads. And because it came to life in the threads, everyone who was active on Sparkbomb at the time remembers it.
The next point is a bit anecdotal, but I trust that all of us will at least agree that the following pattern exists: very few active communities have a Shoutbox. None of the larger communities across the Internet do, to my knowledge. The successful communities that each of us have come from (IDB, PPT, X-Evo, etc) did not use Shoutboxes. Meanwhile, nearly every community I've seen that used a Shoutbox(/Chatbox) dwindled and failed. I know that correlation is not causation, but I would argue that there is a connection. Furthermore, without forum activity, there is no reason for someone to join a community. Nobody joins a community because of a Shoutbox: they join it because there's something about the community that draws them in.
This leaves two key points unaddressed: what's the situation today, and how can announcements rapidly reach every member of the community? There have been some jokes made that the Status feature on the home page has replaced the Shoutbox, and in some ways this is true. Statuses allow a similar experience. The home page is steadily becoming more and more of a hub for the community. It includes a list of Active Topics, a Staff announcement blurb that's going to be expanded in the future, a list of active Status Updates, and recent blogs. Statuses, though limited to the home page, can be used for announcements in the way that the Shoutbox once was. The home page isn't perfect yet, but it is steadily becoming the central hub for the community.
As for implementing a Shoutbox on Sparkbomb in the future, I think that it would be more of a detriment than a benefit to the community, despite how many people want it as an element of the site. For me, this subject was put to rest months ago. I understand how essential ease of communication is, and I understand how useful a more effective announcement system would be. These are elements of the site that I'm continuing to work towards improving.
Nebiros' wall was covered in pictures and sticky notes. She had dredged up posts, conversations, and role plays that had previously been long forgotten. She had found old pictures and screenshots, including some of her ancient drawings that hadn't been properly destroyed. Years of working alongside Rift had given her insight into things no one else knew. She understood better than anyone the significance of the number three to Sparkbomb's design. She had gleaned details about the Sparkverse that no one but Rift knew. More than these things, she knew the person Rift had been over a decade ago, and she understood how he had changed throughout the years to become the person that was rebuilding the Sparkbomb Mansion now. If there was any insight into Rift's way of thinking, she had it somewhere on the wall in front of her, and she would find the Relics before anyone could so much as say Shaft.
Compiling the data on the wall had taken most of the night, but she couldn't sleep now. A quiet beep from her tablet reminded her that the Random Chat forum would be opening soon. That would be the event of the morning, with everyone rushing into the newly opened room to search for a Relic. Before that, however, Nebiros wanted to test a theory in the parlor.
The stained glass window was beautiful with the sun shining directly on it, but Nebiros spared only a moment to enjoy it herself, letting SparkCam take in its beauty for her. She could enjoy it tomorrow morning. Right now, she was looking for a clue. The night before, she had checked on the Door to Nowhere—that's what she was calling the door in the window of the southeast tower—to see if the time of night or position of the moon had any effect on it. Liz had had the same idea, and the two of them had politely noticed each other in the same way they had before the announcement. Nebiros had considered offering to work together, but she had no idea what the two of them could try that one couldn't do alone. She was sure there would be something, and whoever thought of it would contact the other.
For now, she thought that sunrise might cause something to change in the parlor. She wasn't sure what she expected. Maybe sunlight would focus through the stained glass and onto the dais, or maybe it would reflect off of the dais. The dais was positioned at an angle, curving up from the floor, and Nebiros' eyes darted to the walls and ceiling. If the light was going to reflect off of it, it would light up a part of the wall somewhere above where most people would think to look. However, neither the wall surrounding the stained glass, nor the side of the room opposite her, nor the wall above the elevator, nor the wall behind her gave any indication of a change.
She moved to stand in front of the elevator door. This was the view of the parlor that Rift would have had most often, coming down from the Staff Room, and it was the view that the rest of the community would have least often. Nebiros scanned the walls again, but nothing struck her from this angle either. Slowly, taking each step down the stairs one at a time and pausing, she reassessed her surroundings. Yet each step revealed nothing special, and nothing changed that she could recognize. Once she reached the base of the stairs, she walked over to the dais and looked up at the stained glass.
It truly was beautiful, each piece of glass illuminated by the sunrise. The effort that she and Rift had put into creating it had made her certain, along with the grandeur of the parlor, that a Relic was hidden here. Turning away from it, she looked back at the room. The right side of the room, under the balcony, had a few couches gathered in a semi-circle, and the left side of the room had an open doorway leading into Random Chat. The new forum was open already, and she was late. Taking one last glance down at dais and making a mental note to return to the parlor at noon when the sun would be directly overhead, Nebiros made her way into Random Chat.
Empty booths stood on either side of her, but the sound of gossip indicated that others were out of sight just around the corner. Random Chat was labeled as a cafeteria on the map, but seeing the booths wrapping around its outer edge made Nebiros think of it as a diner. The booths on her right ceased, and the center of the room was filled with a bar. Cel, Kirby, Humming, and Liz had all taken seats at the bar. Behind them, Traj and Star were sitting together in a booth. Bed and Sinical had taken a corner booth on the far end of the room. At first, everything seemed normal, but the fact that no one was searching made it clear that she was even later than she had thought.
The three different groups in the room made it clear that no one had found a Relic. It was no surprise to her, and she couldn't identify anything about the room that was special. No, that wasn't true. Liz was sitting at the corner of the bar, and she was watching something that Nebiros couldn't see. The room formed a U-shape, and Nebiros made her way past the bar to see the last leg of the U. She found Blackjak, fumbling around at a booth that was separated from the others, hidden in the corner of the room beneath the staircase. Nebiros approached him slowly, not meaning to sneak up on him but not wanting to disturb him either.
“I am the wind,” Blacjak said, turning around abruptly and rushing past Nebiros. She stepped sideways to get out of his way, bumping open a door that led to the room behind the bar. Her momentum should have carried her inside, but an invisible force stopped her. Wasting only a moment to wonder what Blacjak had meant, she quickly turned her attention to the door and gave it a push. She could get it to open, to reveal what appeared to be a combination kitchen and stock room, but an invisible force kept her from entering it. In the corner of the room was another door labeled Broom Closet. That triggered something in her memory, some inside joke from a few years prior that she wasn't privy to, but she didn't know what it meant. More importantly, she couldn't get to it to check.
She turned around and investigated the booth Blacjak had been looking at. Nothing appeared to be special about it except for the picture above it and the fact that the booth was separated from the rest of Random Chat. She recognized the picture of two people sitting on a park bench and knew that it was a role play setting. It probably just meant that Random Chat was a place where people could gather and meet. The other possibility, the less likely one, was that Random Chat was much bigger than it appeared.
“When I find a Relic, I'll wish for the Mansion to go boom,” Sinical said with a slight slur, lifting his hands in the air to mimic an explosion. Bed looked at him nervously, and he flinched when Sinical threw his arm out and pointed at him. “Or you know what? Bacon! Bacon's good too.”
Nebiros wondered if she should get involved. Bed certainly looked uncomfortable, and Sinical was being more than a little loud, but the situation didn't seem to be out of hand. She looked around the rest of the room to see if anyone else seemed concerned, and she nearly doubled over with laughter when she noticed Sparkbot behind the bar. It wasn't Sparkbot himself that made her laugh so much as what he was wearing. He had an apron draped over the front of his body, and he was using a towel to clean a glass. Nebiros found herself taking a seat beside Humming.
“What are you doing, Sparkbot?” Nebiros said.
“Mixologybot is taking orders and delivering meals and drinks,” Sparkbot said. Humming laughed and Nebiros giggled.
“He went behind the counter as soon as we got here,” Humming explained. “Nobody had any luck finding Relics, so Sparkbot asked who wanted a meal.”
“There are meals?” Nebiros said.
“Yes!” Celairiel said, seated on Humming's other side. “You can't taste it, but look at how nice these hash browns are.” She held up her plate so Nebiros could see it more clearly. The hasbrowns looked like something out of a commercial advertisement. They also reminded her that she would need to log out and grab breakfast at some point.
“You can order a meal every few hours,” Kirby said, “and you're limited to three drinks with them.” He was holding a simple glass of orange juice. “Everyone tried ordering something different to see if maybe the first person to order a certain meal gets a Relic with it, but so far nothing special has happened.”
“What do you recommend, Mixologybot?” Nebiros said, turning to the robotic bartender.
“Mixologybot's favorite drink is the N.A.T. Oil Shot,” Sparkbot said. “Mixologybot has no preference regarding the meals.”
“The Oil Shot looks scary,” Humming said quietly.
“I'll give it a try,” Nebiros said. Sparkbot set to work, spinning around and grabbing two bottles from the shelf. He pulled out a shot glass from under the bar, and he started by filling it partway with motor oil. Humming and Cel looked horrified, Kirby looked uncertain, and Nebiros simply watched with wonder. Next, Sparkbot cracked an egg and let it fall into the glass. Then he poured from another bottle, adding squid ink to the mix. After a dash of hot sauce, he took a mixing stick and swirled it around the shot glass more quickly than was safe, spilling some of the viscous liquid onto the counter. Finished, he pushed the glass over to Nebiros, who eyed it warily. She passed SparkCam to Humming.
“Here, uh, goes nothing,” she said, taking the glass and downing it in a few gulps. Even though the drink wasn't real, Nebiros couldn't help but wonder what it actually tasted like. Motor oil. Squid ink. Raw egg. Hot sauce. More than all of that, it bothered her how thick it was. How could anyone drink such a thing, even in virtual reality?
Lowering the shot glass back to the table, she waited for some adverse side effect. Perhaps her vision would blur, or perhaps she wouldn't be able to walk straight, or maybe, just maybe, her avatar would pass out on the spot. She waited, and nothing happened. She slowly realized that, repulsive as the drink had been, it hadn't even contained any alcohol.
“Sparkbot, why wasn't there any alcohol in the shot?” she said.
“All of the drinks are non-alcoholic,” Sparkbot said. Nebiros glanced towards the corner booth at Sinical, who certainly appeared to be drunk.
“It seems like the food and drink is just for show,” Kirby said. “It sets the mood.”
“I like it,” Nebiros said, and the other two women nodded in agreement. She swiveled on her bar stool to better face the others, and Humming handed SparkCam back to her. “So nobody's found any Relics yet?”
“Nobody's talking about it if they have,” Kirby said. “We were just discussing how Rift wasn't very clear on what kind of wishes the Relics can grant.”
“If we can get a dance hall, that would be great,” Cel said, looking to the others for agreement. None of them gave a reaction other than polite smiles, and Cel rolled her eyes impatiently. “Controlling the weather would be cool, too. Is it always sunny around here?”
“It always was before,” Nebiros said. She wondered if that would change with the updated software. “What about you guys?” She gestured to Humming and Kirby. “If you could wish for anything, what would you wish for?”
“I'm not really sure,” Humming said. “It's a difficult question, and it probably has to be something that's possible at Sparkbomb.”
“I've never been the wishing sort,” Kirby said. “What about you?”
“No idea,” Nebiros said. “I figure something will come to me if I find a Relic.”
She moved her hand, and a visual interface appeared on the bar. It listed meals and drinks, and Nebiros started scrolling through it. There was a full variety of options: breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all available at any time of the day. Thinking of her own stomach, she selected bacon and eggs.
“Nebiros, how would you like your eggs cooked?” Sparkbot said.
“Sunny side up,” she said. Sparkbot went into the back room, but Nebiros could still see him from where she sat.
“I think someone already chose bacon and eggs, if you wanted to try something different,” Kirby said.
“I hear the bacon is good,” Nebiros said. Random Chat was a dead end, at least for now, but she was quickly realizing just how much she missed having the company. Two years away from the Mansion had been too long.
Sparkbot worked quickly, preparing the meal with a speed that was impossible in reality. In under a minute, he had prepared two perfectly cooked strips of bacon and three eggs. He set the plate down in front of her, and she decided that she would take the time to socialize. She needed some time to unwind after thinking about the Relics all night long. While she ate, and as the conversation continued, she couldn't help but feeling that something was going on right behind her. But each time she glanced back, all she could see was Traj and Star eating in silence.