Bronycon. Yes, that's a convention dedicated to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and its fans. There are a surprising number of MLP (My Little Pony) conventions these days, but Bronycon is still the biggest and widely regarded as the best. The brony phenomenon, while not as new or shocking as it once was, still causes no small amount of confusion among people who don't “get it.” Why are grown men and women watching this show? Why do they love it so much? It was made for little girls, right?
To that I say: Yes. So what?
To answer the usual questions as briefly as I can: Friendship is Magic is a very well-made show with quality writing, complex characters living in a rich world, great music, and an air of feel-good positivity that seems harder and harder to find lately. Bronycon is a time for fans to come together to share their love of the show and the community that arose from it.
Allow me to wax philosophical for a moment. At times like this, when the news and social media are filled with violence, sadness, anger, and death, it's more important than ever to also find time to celebrate friendship, joy, and peace. As someone that went to the convention to have fun first, and write articles second, it was nice to have a weekend where the atmosphere was positive, with no negative. Take that as you will. Also keep that in mind that Bronycon logged about 7,500 attendees this year: something is resonating with people, and not just a strange tiny group on the internet.
Now, since we are a gaming blog after all, let's look at some of the games of Bronycon 2016.
Bronycon 2016 Report: Games Bronies Play
MLP Collectible Card Game: I’ve already written at length about this game in other articles. I'll admit that I haven't been keeping up with it lately, mostly due to a lack of local support. It's a rather unique type of trading card game where the object is not to attack your opponent, but to earn points for solving Problems. Game play is based on having your Friends (creatures) work together with each other and sometimes even with your opponent's Friends in order to overcome these Problems. It's a great concept and a lot of fun to play, with MLP's ideals of friendship and harmony worked right into the mechanics of the game.
Ponyfinder, Heroes of Equis, and all the Tabletop RPGs: Among the infamous Rules of the Internet, there's an apocryphal rule stating that if something exists, there is a pony version of it. Tabletop games are no exception, so it's no surprise that there are various MLP-themed knockoffs of Dungeons and Dragons.
I had the opportunity to play a round of Heroes of Equis, which was a homebrew 5th Edition spinoff that replaced the races of Dungeons and Dragons with those from My Little Pony. Earth Pony Barbarian, an Alicorn Cleric, a Pegasus Ranger, and a shape-shifting Changeling Rogue (which need to be nerfed, plz). I chose the Alicorn Cleric and joined an excessively large party on a quest to rescue a young princess from a group of evil Sirens. The session hadn't been scaled to handle so many players, so it ended up being a bit of a cakewalk, but it was fun to play around with the new races.
Ponyfinder is a pony-themed campaign setting that uses Pathfinder rules. It does not use official MLP characters or areas, preferring to avoid copyright issues by creating an entirely new world called Everglow. Some of the races and locations read like off-brand MLP clones (which, to be fair, is exactly what they are), but on the whole it’s a well-crafted expansion for Pathfinder. It’s a complete and published module and can be added to an existing Pathfinder campaign with minimal stress on the game world.
There were a couple of other MLP tabletops floating around, but unfortunately I didn't have the time to try all of them.
Baltimare Arcade: Bronies love music. Aside from the fourteen hour, two day concert that was Bronypalooza (yes, that was an actual event, see the panels below), there's nowhere that fact was more apparent than in this arcade. Rock Band and DDR setups lined the walls, loaded up with custom tracks from the show and the fandom. The rest was a mixture of classic competitive games like Mortal Kombat, Super Smash Bros, and Splatoon, alongside more rhythm and musical games such as Amplitude and Audiosurf.
If anything, there may have been too many of the music-based games, as the big DDR and Rock Band installations drowned out anything you might have hoped to hear from the smaller consoles. Trying to play Amplitude when you can't hear a note of what you're playing is a pretty futile endeavor.
Still, in addition to being a great place to unwind with some video games, the Arcade was a small showcase of musical talent. I highly recommend Eurobeat Brony – who goes by the name Odyssey when not making MLP music – and Forest Rain's early work.
Stabletop Games: As you might imagine, this area was devoted to board games, card games, and role-playing games, including the D&D games I talked about before. Most of the usual suspects could be found here: Monopoly, Sheriff of Nottingham, Cards Against Humanity, and so on. There was a lot here to do, so I found myself returning there between panels and trips to the vendor hall quite often.
I learned a couple of new games here too. I played a couple rounds of Pony Coup (which was just like regular Coup, but with ponies), as well as a couple rounds of Spyfall, which was not pony-related at all. It’s a weird little game where you have to, through asking questions, discover which of the players is the spy amongst you, while the spy figures out what location you are all in by asking tricky questions of their own. The idea is to ferret out the information you need while deflecting suspicion away from yourself, and at the same time not giving away enough for the spy to figure out where they are. It’s not my sort of game, but I can think of some more devious (Wyatt and Dana *cough*) sorts who would have great fun playing.
Stabletop Games had a lot for me to do, and I often found myself returning there between panels and trips to the vendor hall.
Escape Equestria: This was brand new at Bronycon 2016. It was billed as a room escape, though the object of the game wasn't actually to get out. Doctor Whooves had had an accident and become separated from his time machine.
(This is not fanart, it’s an actual screencap from Friendship is Magic)
I was in a group of three. Working together, we had 45 minutes to solve various puzzles in the Doctor's lab, find the correct password to override his ship’s controls, and send it back for him. It was my first time in an escape room, and though the experience was hurt slightly by overeager volunteers who were a little too generous with their hints, there was an undeniable rush that came with solving the clues and putting the pieces together. My group ended up solving the puzzle with 4:45 left on the clock.
And that's how I saved all of time and space.
Previewing Project Eris: And now for something completely different. Project Eris has no relation to MLP at all, except that the people working on it are bronies. It's set in a magical cyberpunk future that's a lot like Shadowrun turned up to 11: powerful corporations run what’s left of the world while the average person just struggles to survive. It’s intended to be a role-play heavy, rules-light tabletop RPG.
Project Eris is still in the very early stages. In my opinion it’s a bit too rules-light at the moment, to the point that it’s not even clear what your stats mean. For example, one character had an INT (intelligence) score of 15, but there was no baseline for what exactly that meant. Likewise, the mechanics are very nebulous: If your relevant stat is “good enough,” then whatever you’re trying to do will work. If it’s borderline, you have to roll to see if you succeed. What is “good enough” is entirely up to the GM, though the instructions do at least provide some rules of thumb here.
There's no official art as of yet, so here's an artist's drawing of the actual dwarf planet, Eris.
That said, it’s a cool world to play around in. I played as a magical Celt whose tattoos put him in tune with the magical plane, at the expense of his connection to the physical world. Put more simply, I was a spell caster with the usual high mental and low physical stats. On the other hand, one of my spells could summon a sword made of magical energy so that I could go roaring into battle like my ancient ancestors. I also had a very fun item that let me combine the effects of two spells: for instance, I could combine my Mana Blade with a spell that created a small cyclone, effectively creating a tornado of swords.
Our party also had a Yakuza member in what was basically a suit of power armor, a millionaire’s daughter with biological implants to boost her abilities, and a mercenary with body armor and a high-powered rifle. Project Eris is a chaotic mishmash of magic and technology, but it’s got potential. I’d love to see a more solid framework of rules get hashed out, and I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for future developments.
Panels at Bronycon: The Expected and Unexpected
Bronypalooza and The Grand Galloping Gala: Not panels, per se, but I’d be remiss not to talk about these events. Bronypalooza was a huge gathering of talent from the Brony fandom, and ran the gamut from rock music, to metal, to EDM, to hip-hop and rap. Back in 2013, this event actually shook the building it was held in, and so the convention moved it to the basement for all years after. That should say enough about that.
The Grand Galloping Gala, named for the biggest social event in Equestria, is a dance that ran at the same time as Bronypalooza. It was a formal event, meaning that you couldn’t even get in without either formal dress or a full cosplay. It was just a straightforward dance originally, but they’ve apparently done a bit more with it since. This year, the dance had the theme of time travel, complete with short skits by actors playing Doctor Hooves, Derpy, and the Mane Six (the main characters of Friendship is Magic). They played music from various decades as they “time traveled,” and the attendees danced and mingled.
Living With a Tantabus: On MLP and Sobering Up: In Friendship is Magic, the Tantabus was a creature that Luna, the princess of the night and dreams, created to punish herself for the evil deeds she did before the series began. The Tantabus haunted her dreams every night, turning them into nightmares where she endlessly relived her time as the evil Nightmare Moon.
This is where a lot of the silliness around Bronies fall away, and instead, you're left with just another community looking out for each other. This was a panel about addiction, and it meant to deal with some serious issues. I could easily write an entire article about this panel alone, but if I were to distill its message into one point, it was about forgiveness. Take responsibility for what you’ve done, do what you can to make things right, but also learn to forgive yourself for your mistakes and move forward.
[Exclamation]! Writer Mad Libs: On a much, much, much lighter note, there was a panel where we got to watch some of the show and comic writers play Mad Libs. This was mostly noteworthy because it was the first time I got anywhere near these people, including the one and only (we hope) M.A. Larson.
There’s not really a lot to report about this one, except that the people on stage had great personalities and chemistry with each other. It really gave a sense of the community that’s so central to this show and its fandom.
Why I Travel To Bronycon
That was just a few of the panels and events that Bronycon had to offer. They ran from the usual Q&A panels, to the surprisingly deep and personal like the Addiction and Recovery one I talked about before, to some that were just highly unexpected. I personally also attended a guided meditation panel and an introductory brewing panel, neither of which I would have imagined I’d find at an MLP convention. I was able to sit and play games with total strangers, and everyone left those tables having had a good time.
Why do I go? It's because it's a place where you're allowed to be excited and happy, and no one is going to look at you funny for doing so. It's a convention of fandom like any other, but one that gets under some people's skin for some reason, and really inspires others to try and be better people. For me, I choose the latter.
Actual footage of me right now
This has been a look inside the world of Bronycon, a magical place of friendship, games, and sleep deprivation. It will return in August of next year, and it would make me very happy to see you there. Right now, though, I’m off to nap for a century or so.
Questions? Comments? WTFs? Leave us a note here or on our Facebook page and Sprites and Dice’s resident brony will address them to the best of his ability. Until then, pony on, my friends.