Origins was sick, and so was I. It was only a mild-head cold but the timing was as bad as it possibly could be. I felt it coming on the day before we left, and spent the entirety of Origins with a scratchy throat, clogged up ears, and an inability to scrape myself out of bed any time before 9 AM (which meant I missed every single morning game). Never-the-less, I pumped myself full vitamins and decongestant, filled my pockets with aspirin and cough drops, and soldiered on. Ultimately it wasn’t so bad, I only hope I managed not to infect all my fellow gamers.
The good news is that I didn’t have to run anything. Not knowing Origins I decided to just go and play this year and get a feel for the convention. I bought tons of tickets to events that sounded interesting, and also a few extra generics just in case. I probably missed at least half of what I signed up for, but almost always because I got pulled into something else (or just needed more sleep).
So, here’s how the convention rolled out for me:
Our plane was heavily delayed, so we were the last of the group to arrive. Jenn and I met up with Mike and John at the hotel after checking in, picked up our badges, and went out to dinner. I had been prepared to play some Fiasco that night, but between Jenn being hopped up on “I ‘aint gettin on no plane, foo” drugs and the rest of us being road weary, we decided to play something lighter. Luckily I also brought along some of the “Boss Fight Breakfast” D&D modules I ran at Total Con, which are pretty simple 2-hour games, and we played one of those in our hotel room to warm ourselves up for the convention. It was probably just right for our mood, and I’m glad we got to play a quiet private game together before the convention whisked us all away in different directions.
I was supposed to play in a Paranoia game using the new KickStarter rules, but I slept too late to make it. Instead, Jenn and I roamed the main game room and exhibit hall, and just got a feel for the layout of the place, which was probably for the best. We did this several times throughout the convention, and actually ended up playing a fair number of demos, and I really don’t recall when we played each one, but here’s the complete list of what we played during the entire weekend:
After lunch I went up to play Bloody Lane, a Call of Cthulhu game run by the Rogue Cthulhu group. They had a reasonably large ballroom reserved for them which they made very moody with fancy lighting, large inflatable Cthulhu type monsters, and a curtain across the entrance to block out the light. The game itself was pretty enjoyable, but I think our group was a bit over-large and the end felt just a tad rushed. Our GM was very cool though, and amazingly she was on the second of a 16-hour 4 game streak, with barely 10 minutes between games to scarf some food and clear the table. I have no idea how (or why) she managed it, but I am impressed.
I met back up with everyone for dinner, and then we all returned as a group to the Cthulhu room for my second scheduled game: Dead Light, a TOS Star Trek themed Call of Cthulhu game. Mike’s Mr. Sulu was spot on, rivaled only by John’s Bones McCoy. They shared the prize at the end, though I did my best to ham it up as Captain Kirk (and yes, I did manage to get my shirt off before the end of the game.)
Oh, but before I forget, that game wasn’t to start until 9 PM so we had a couple extra hours. Jenn had played a game of Star Trek: Five Year Mission, a co-op Star Trek card game that she liked well enough to purchase, so we spent a little time at the bar in the Hyatt playing that. It was a really good game, and a nice primer to get us into the Star Trek mood.
Two out of three games on Thursday is probably the best I managed to stay on my pre-reg schedule.
Friday morning I actually had nothing scheduled, so again took to roaming the main game hall and exhibitor hall. At noon I had a scheduled demo of Knuckle Sammich, a Kobolds Ate My Baby themed card game. We played with ridiculously over-sized cards and cleverly home-built cardboard sandwiches. The energy of our host Heather was infectious and I had a great time. During the game she mentioned they had a huge Kobolds Ate My Baby game scheduled to run that night at 8 PM, called the “Midnight Massacre”, when they try to kill as many kobolds they can in a single session. In the past apparently they’ve had over 100 participants. I had a ticket for another game from 7-11, but it sounded so enticing…
Jenn and I were supposed to be in a game called Baker Street that afternoon, but we were both a bit tired (I suspect she’s also got this cold), so instead we hopped over to the Reaper booth and did a paint-and-take. I chose a nice simple zombie-like hulking monster, with lots of muscle and few scraps of clothing. Jenn chose a female pirate/adventurer complete with multiple little bags and a spyglass hanging off her belt, two swords, streamers from her headband whipping through her hair… so guess who walked away with a completely painted mini and who only got halfway done?
Once again we got together with everyone for dinner, and I’m so glad that we got to do that basically every night. Getting to hang with John and Mike is a big draw for even going to these things, and I think if we do it again next year we’d all like to try and coordinate our schedules a bit more.
In the evening I unsurprisingly took two of my generics down to the first floor of the Hyatt for the Midnight Massacre. Sorry schedule. The room easily had 8-10 tables full of players, excitedly chanting “All Hail King Torg!” every ten minutes or so. My cough drop supply was sorely taxed that night. Unfortunately, my table suffered from two setbacks – first, we were assigned a GM who was doing his best but was clearly not really prepared to run this game. I suspect they had more tables than anticipated and our GM was roped in to fill the gap. He had to pause the action a few times to read ahead, and in several cases didn’t quite know how the rules were supposed to work. But no worries there, the guy sitting next to him was one of those very special gamers eager to take charge, quote rules, and aggressively take center stage with little regard to the fact that there are other people at the table. Oh, did I mention that pretty much everyone else at our table had never played before, and several of them didn’t even realize what they walked into? They thought this was a D&D game…
I feel bad for the four kids who were at the table when I sat down. They looked surprised but kind of excited about the whole thing. They were a little overwhelmed, but ready to be whisked up into it. Unfortunately, the double-whammy of a struggling GM and an obnoxious player just dragged all the energy away, and halfway through the game two of them bailed. In fact, our table of eight players was down to 5 by the end of the night. The energy in the room was amazing, and it was clear most of the other tables were having a great time. Our game was, well, OK. I think next year I really want to go to this again, and bring as many people with me as possible. Maybe if I prime the pump with gamers I know will be awesome (and maybe try to grab a table closer to where the GMs are congregating so we get an early fresh pick rather than a we-need-one-more pick), I think this event could be the best of the convention.
I had a ticket to a 10 AM game of Robo Rally run with real robots, but I think you know how this goes. After being up until midnight in a room of screaming kobolds, and still nursing that head cold, it just wasn’t in the cards. Oh well. A little more time wandering the halls and playing stray demos was just fine.
We met the guys for lunch, which was exciting to get to, as it turns out in the street right in front of the convention was Columbus’s Pride Parade. I’ve been to GenCon when there were other simultaneous events – I remember a roaming streets full of football fans once, and another time when we were kept up all night by motorcycle rally attendees revving their engines outside our hotel to all hours. If anything, I think the paraders meshed best with a convention full of gamers. We found a sky-walk to another hotel to use to get across the street, and from there saw a car go by made up to look like the Ghostbusters car with folks in costume parading around it that could have just as easily fit in the convention hall as the parade.
My 1 PM ticket was for another Cthulhu game, but it was a second run of the same game John had played and his review was not shining. On the other hand, I had been eager all convention to go check out the Indie Games on Demand room, where you just show up with some generics and play in a random Indie RPG. Unfortunately it was very popular, so the “on demand” part actually turned out to be a regular schedule of 9 AM, 2 PM, and 8 PM, with a line forming at least an hour before each game. I decided to risk it and got in line around 12:30, and was about #13 or so in line a good hour and a half early. I needn’t have bothered, despite the long lines they had enough slots to seat everyone, so the only reason to be early in line is to get dibs on a specific game you really want to play, and I went in with no expectations and willing to play anything.
The game did not get off to a great start. When we poked our heads in this room earlier the guy was telling us about Fall of Magic, which sounded pretty cool, so it was in my head to try that if I could. The guy in front of me got the last spot. As I started to look over the other games the fellow behind the desk says I should hold on, as they might be able to run a second table of Fall of Magic, so then I stand there as others stream by taking up spots in other games wondering if I’m going to get my first choice, or be stuck with whatever is left over. The guy tells me there’s a young player in line and as Fall of Magic is the only game appropriate for young players (man, what kind of other crazy stuff are they playing?), I could have a spot in that game if I don’t mind playing with a young player. No problem I say, and he sends me off to an empty table to await the others.
Eventually a woman and her 13-year-old daughter show up. Great, as far as young players go, that’s about as good as it gets. As long as I don’t swear like a sailor or fill the game with sexual innuendo I should be fine, right? Then a guy joins the table, and it turns out to be dad. Oh, so, it’s me and a family, huh. Kind of weird, but OK. Then we wait. And wait. The GM is still sitting with the other table and almost an hour has gone by. I’ve now been waiting for this game for almost 2 and a half hours, and I’m starting to get grumpy. The family seems happy to wait — I’m guessing they feel beholden for having the spots at this game held for them, so it’s just me left wondering what the heck is going on.
Finally the guy shows up. The game is GM-less, so he’s just going to teach and facilitate for the first hour and then let us go on our way. And just so I can get the last bit of complaining out of the way — at one point I mentioned I had to leave by 6 to meet friends for dinner. Dad says no problem, he’s sure they’ll get us out of there by then. They have a game at 7 and are worried about finding time for dinner what with the extra crowd for the parade outside, shall we try to end a little early? Suddenly we’re agreeing to end by 5, because that’s what the family seems to want, and since there’s 3 of them and just 1 of me, what am I supposed to say? So we really only get about 2 hours of gaming in.
All that said, what a fantastic game that is. The components are beautiful, and the mechanics are structured enough to really help anyone who isn’t used to story-gaming to get up and running, while still being open to interpretation enough that I can imagine it being taken in quite a variety of directions. And the family, it turns out, are all pretty darn good role players. It was a great game, worth the 2.5 hour wait, and I only wish we got to play more of it. But knowing when we were going to end perhaps helped us aim for that goal, and what started as a moody, somewhat bitter-sweet feeling story, ended in a crescendo of action and and a really satisfying cliff-hanger that felt like just how the author of our imaginary trilogy would end the first book.
So back to the crew for dinner, and sadly we realize it’s our good-bye meal as the others have early flights out on Sunday. Jenn and I don’t leave until 5 PM, because it was that or super early flights for us as well. My next scheduled game is 8-12 for Wegs Old Skool Dunge-o-Doom.
Now I’ve been aware of Wegs for some time, I saw their events at GenCons past, and always assumed it was another retro-clone or perhaps similar to a game like Dungeon Crawl Classics. Inspired by old school D&D, but with our own twist, is how I read it. Origins for whatever reason had a complete dearth of old school D&D games, so this I thought was my only chance.
The game was actually quite fun, but not at all the kind of fun I was expecting. Wegs is pretty out-there, and I think bears very little resemblance to any thing I would classify as an “old school RPG”. First of all, the vocabulary is entirely different. I have a deck of cards for my spells that say things like “do SPS damage each inning for SPS +1 spante”. Huh?
And the oddest bit though is that the DM is basically our opponent. We’re trying to escape the dungeon, and he’s trying to stop us. We decide what level to explore (1-8), and he then uses that number plus a deck of cards to build an encounter. And that’s the game – encounter after encounter. There’s no real exploration, each level is just a single room with a big fight in it. Our characters are built to have lots of interesting options for quick and exciting combat.
And it was exciting, there were lots of high energy moments and amazing dice rolls that turned the combat on its ear. We had four players and I was the only newb. I caught on pretty quick though, and I think we did pretty well as a team. We ended up playing past midnight, and it was a lot of fun. But if I hadn’t been willing to let go of my preconceptions, I could have easily been really disappointed by this game. Would I play it again? Maybe. I don’t think I’d go seeking it out, but if I wanted a couple hours of interesting tactical battle-mat combat, I’d say Wegs is a pretty darn good choice.
Alas, by Sunday morning things are wrapping up. Our traveling companions were probably already in the air as we made our final laps through the exhibit hall. I had one more ticket for a noon demo of a card game, but I ended up skipping it in favor of just wandering about and picking up a last few items I had been waffling on. I got myself a copy of Kobolds Ate My Baby, and had a real nice chat with one of the creators. I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing them publish the module we played on Friday. I haven’t posted much detail here, as I’m kind of thinking I might bring it to the next HelgaCon if it’s available by then.
All said, it was a really good convention. I could have done without the cold, and I think next year I’ll probably buy a few more generics and a few less official tickets to games I’m likely to just end up skipping anyway. I also sent out an email to Mike and John, suggesting next year we try to sync up our schedules more. The ultimate curse of the convention is that even with a great game and great GM, you can end up with people at your table that totally torpedo the energy and ruin the game. The best defense to that seems to me to stack the deck with people you know are great role-players. It once seemed silly to me to go to a convention to play games with folks you know outside the convention, but the fact is these guys now live across the country, so Ohio is a pretty good mid-way point and the convention is as good an excuse as any to get together and play some games.