Archive for August, 2012

Convention Attendance Continues to Increase

Last January I posted about how the growth of convention attendance seems to be at odds with the decline in the growth of the industry.  Despite hearing about layoffs at major gaming companies, and the general feeling that most game designers these days have day jobs, convention attendance continues to sky rocket.  My own theory is that the culture is returning to one driven by the hobbyist rather than a professional industry.

While unfortunately I have little statistical proof of the decline of the professional industry, I did have this nice chart to point at showing GenCon attendance numbers:

According to an email I received from GenCon’s marketing department this morning we now know the numbers from GenCon 2012: over 41,000.  Yup, it’s off the chart.  I think it’s also worth noting that this was GenCon’s 45th year, which means we’re just 5 years away now from the 50th anniversary, which I can only imagine must draw record numbers.  I was at the 25th myself, I remember that being quite a big deal at the time.

Anyway, I just find this a very interesting phenomena, especially in this digital age.  It’s really kind of gratifying to see such low-tech activities like gaming that require face to face interactions finding a way to thrive, even if they’re not making anyone very much money.

GenCon Saturday

Saturday morning I was once again up for a 9 AM game.  Sigh.  This was one I was looking forward to though: the Castles & Crusades Society Open.  I’m not a big C&C guy, but generally they tend to run some pretty good old school stuff.  The term “Open” also implied to me some kind of tournament format, and I found myself thinking of the Stonesky Delve tournament of two years ago.  I was kind of hoping maybe this one would be similar, and that I might find myself with a second round to go to later that would be more enticing that what I had regularly scheduled.

Instead, I was treated to half an hour of sitting around awkwardly with several other folks wondering if the GM was going to show.  Finally we gave up, at which point I ran off to meet Jenn at the auction, which sadly was once again auctioning stuff I wasn’t particularly interested in.  However, TOVA was scheduled for 4-7 that evening, and then the charity auction after that.  I had tickets to a game from 3-6 and then 7-11, which unfortunately was making it difficult to figure out how I might catch one of the other of those auctions, and in the meantime I had nothing to do all morning.  Sigh.

So I wandered back into the dealer’s room to look at a board game I had my eye on the day before: Fortune and Glory.  I remembered seeing this game last year, and the pulp setting and cool looking miniatures and maps had caught my eye then as well.  I had spent some time watching a demo on Friday, but it seemed to be going long and I didn’t have the patience to wait to try it myself.  This time, I somehow lucked into wandering by just as they were starting up a new demo.  Thus, my morning was salvaged as I got to sit down to a pretty enjoyable game.  The game fits two niches I love to see: it can hold more than 6 players (8 max), and it has a cooperative mode (meaning Jenn may actually play it with me.)  The only thing holding me back from buying it was the size of the box compared to the size of my luggage.  I decided to hold back, and once we got home I ordered it online.  I will surely post more about this game in the future.

By the late afternoon I found myself too excited to see TOVA to attend my 3-6 game. TOVA was very good, as always, but I forced myself to leave it just as it was wrapping up to go to my 7 PM game.  I just didn’t feel right leaving GenCon having not played a single scheduled game on Saturday, which this year due to an early flight out would be my last real day of the convention.  So off I went to the Exhibit hall to find a Labyrinth Lord game being run by some guys who make terrain similar (in style at least, if not quality) to Dwarven Forge.  I knew going in this would be a miniatures heavy game, and though that’s not how I’d run such games, I was ready to embrace it and have a good time.

It got off on the wrong foot due to a complete snafu regarding the table numbering printed on the ticket.  Being in one of the larger halls I had to navigate about looking for the right hall number, section color, and table number.  After several failed attempts, and one encounter with a surly and unhelpful volunteer, I finally forced myself to go to another volunteer station and ask again.  This guy actually took the time to look at my ticket and look up the game on his computer (first guy didn’t even want to see my ticket), and lo and behold the information printed on the ticket itself was wildly incorrect.

I was the last at the table, though things hadn’t really started yet.  The terrain was laid out, and in that quantity it did look kind of cool, though when I later checked out their website I was amazed to discover that their prices weren’t much less than dwarven forge.  For the quality difference, I was expecting this to be bargain stuff.  I’m including no link to their product here on purpose.

The game started off well enough.  The strongest personality was a older gentlemen who clearly had some kind of military background.  He was there with his daughter, and I suspected but never found out for sure that at least one other player was part of his group.  The discipline the guy inspired in the group was kind of refreshing, and I enjoyed playing the game for a while as part of the well oiled exploration machine we shaped up to be.  Our leader wasn’t a jerk about it, and generally did a good job delegating tasks to everyone to make sure they were all involved, and all in all it was kind of fun.

But then it got a bit boring.  We were too efficient to be honest, and the DM was not doing anything to make our lives more difficult.  I think he was probably kind of delighted at how well we were doing, and wanted to see a group ace his dungeon.  Towards the end we had uncovered some very dangerous looking things: a door covered with runes and a statue with gems for eyes that some helpful lizard men warned us early against (clearly the dungeon was written in such a way that we could have easily bungled the lizard man encounter, killed the monsters, and then walked directly into danger without their warning).  It looked like we would end at least half an hour early, and everyone seemed content to walk away.

Not me.  Come on, this is a con game, who cares if our characters survive, or make slightly immoral choices?  An unknown amount of wealth guarded by supreme evil?  Surely we can’t pass that by, right?  Well, out-voted on every opportunity I finally decided to trail the group on the way out and see if I couldn’t pop out the statue’s eyes and cause a little chaos.

Unfortunately the GM totally didn’t embrace it, and handled it kind of haphazardly, first giving everyone a d6 roll to see me (of course someone’s going to hit that, there were more than 6 of them!)  Then letting them sort of talk it away in meta-game: he was only kidding, we know he wouldn’t do that with us looking, etc.  I argued I absolutely would, and it boiled down into a “well if you do that then I do this” kind of argument, trumped at the end with a sleep spell from the magic-user with no save.  Fine, if that’s the kind of kill-joy group I was playing with, I guess I’m glad we ended early.

And due to the early end, I found myself over at Cardhalla just in time to see it come down.  Well, mostly, my view was pretty obstructed, but I did see a good chunk of it. I also met up with Jenn and Mike, and we wandered about a bit to see the dregs of the auction and finally return to the hotel.

Thus ended my GenCon, not with a bang but a whimper.  All in all it was a solidly good convention, not the best nor yet the worst I’ve seen.  And if nothing else, it did exactly what I would hope from such events: it reinvigorated my interest in my home campaign and gave me nuggets of ideas for stuff to run at the next convention. Which I guess now is TotalCon in February.  Who wants to go?

GenCon Friday

Man, I’ve not been very good at getting these things written up, and the memories are fading.  I can’t believe GenCon was almost two weeks ago already.  Man, these things slip by fast.

Friday was my lightest day ticket-wise.  In the evening I had made arrangements with my group to run a pick-up game.  It seems odd to play a pick-up game at GenCon with all people you know, but as life pulls us apart a lot of these folks are people I now only see at GenCon.  So why not at least have one guaranteed game together?  I intentionally left the afternoon open when doing my schedule as my dealer’s room / auction time, and in the morning had one of those games that got cancelled.  I had bought a ticket from 10-12 for “Indie Games on Demand” as a last minute replacement, but wasn’t too excited about it.

Inspecting the schedule the night before I discovered Ken St. Andre was running another Tunnels & Trolls game Friday morning from 9-12.  Even though I had attempted to keep my mornings late, I knew I’d probably be up earlier than I wanted to so why not try and get into that game with some generics?  If I failed, I still had my 10-12 ticket to fall back on.  So that’s what I did, and successfully got into Ken’s game.  An amusing aside: I was wearing my TotalCon t-shirt that morning, and who should I end up with in Ken’s game but a guy I recognized from playing in one of my games at TotalCon.  What are the chances?

Ken’s game was decent.  In general he does run the kind of game I prefer at conventions.  I’m finding more and more that at conventions games with lots of investigation and interacting with NPCs have a tendency to fall flat.  They tend to focus too much on one player (whichever player is the most assertive), and they only really fly if both the GM and the players are good roleplayers and have a good level of energy for such stuff.  This was the downfall of last year’s T&T game, it was all investigation and unfortunately the GM was too tied to his material to improv much and bring in the rest of the players.

That said, Ken is a little ponderous in his GMing.  I get that he’s trying to run an intro game for folks who are used to “the other game” as he calls it.  Still, having a basis in “the other game” means we don’t need you to explain the fundamentals.  He mentioned that when he plays “the other game” he likes to just sit back and control his character in broad strokes letting other players versed in the system deal with the fiddly mechanics.  I feel much the same way, and didn’t really want so much instruction in his specific system’s mechanics.  Also, he unfortunately forgot to bring pre-genned characters, and I know I’ve heard many times the idea that “making characters is part of the fun” or “my system is so streamlined I want to show off how quickly characters can be made.”  Sure, sure, but no matter what directly 5-7 other people in character creation, no matter how efficient your system is, is going to be slow.  We lost about the first hour of the game to character creation.

All that said, the game was enjoyable: my character got to fail gloriously in pole-vaulting a river, fought a giant squid monster and a pack of goblins, and had his arms turned into tentacles from eating magic tainted soup.  All in all, a good time I’d say and probably my second favorite game I played, after the pirate game from Thursday night which I still think was extremely risky and am amazed it worked so well.

In the afternoon I did spend a fair amount of time wandering the dealer’s hall and attending the auction.  I bought several modules in the auction store.  I was really hoping to score copies of the G series now that I’ve played through all three with Delta, and maybe some of the later OD&D supplements.  No luck on the supplements, but I did manage to get my hands on a copy of G-123, though I would have preferred the separate modules.  I’ll post a complete list of the modules I did purchase and the prices later, I kept the slips but don’t have them on hand now.

In the evening I ran my pick-up game, which was full of old friends, some of whom did not know each other, and generally it was a good time.  I ran James Raggi’s Hammer of the God, which is a great module.  Unfortunately there was one moment where I made a choice I regret.  The secret door requires two things to happen simultaneously.  The party did one then the other, and I waffled for a moment on whether to allow that or wait and see if they figured out that they had to happen in combination.  I think maybe I even rolled a d6 to decide.  In retrospect I wish I had just pushed them through the door, as I think the encounters on the others side were more exciting than the ones the party eventually discovered.

They searched out quite a lot of the main floor, but shied from the more dangerous areas, which unfortunately I think is where the real fun of the module is.  They did manage to fight the strange chaos creature, which was fun.  They decided not to descend the well after discovering a giant flaming slug was a the bottom.  Too bad, there was good stuff beyond.  Instead, they doubled back and searched out the easier to reach areas which contained more unusual stuff that has a lot of interesting flavor but unfortunately I think just served to baffle the party more.  Ultimately I think I have to go back to the advise of the original group that won the 1980 AD&D Open, which is documented in some Dragon magazine (sorry, don’t have the issue number handy).  The advise is this: as long as there is a way forward, pursue it.  Much like in this case of Hammer of the God, in A1 there’s a blocked way that is difficult to figure out a way past, and usually a couple side passages you left behind.

Fact is, the best stuff is always deep in the dungeon and difficult to reach.  When encountering a difficult way, it is therefore always best to try and push past it.  Doubling back to an easier route may eventually lead to success, but probably at the cost of a good chunk of play time.  And as we know, at conventions play time is extremely limited.

Anyway, enough proselytising.  Friday was a good solid GenCon day for me, though perhaps not quite as wild and exciting as Thursday.  Unfortunately this would be the trend, the best stuff happened early and before I was really ready for it.  Not saying later stuff was bad, but just that the energy flow of the con for me was a wild spike at first followed by a gradual decline.  Hopefully next year will be more even keeled, or at least not hot on the heals of so much personal upheaval that I can properly look forward to enjoy the experience with the proper enthusiasm

GenCon Thursday

The easiest thing for me to do for these reports is simply try and go through my experiences chronologically.  No need to discuss the travel, here is how my first real day of GenCon went this year:

Got up early for my first game, my “Back to Basics” game I was running at 9 AM.  Originally this was meant to be my only early game this year, figuring I never sleep well on the first night anyway so I might as well start the convention off with a bang.  Strangely, I slept pretty well Wednesday night, and was only a little groggy as I headed off to my first game.

That game, by the way, was fantastic.  When I scheduled it I had left the description extremely vague.  As usual, I got a strange mix of newbies and old hats.  I had two kids that seemed in the 8-10 range (brother and sister, possibly twins?), whose mom came along to keep an eye on them but did not participate herself.  I also got an older mom with her teenage son, both playing.  The group was rounded out with three typical gamer guys with various D&D experience, and one no-show though his friend turned in his ticket.  The no-show would be filled in half-way through by a guy I played at least two games with last year who happened by and was happy to fill in a seat for an hour and a half.

The adventure is a one-sheet I wrote ages ago for my home campaign that was only very recently explored by my home group.  It’s made of six geomorphs by Dyson, and connects the Gloomwood forest to “the shelf”, a sort of land time forgot area in my world that also contains the tree of life and source of all magic.  The shelf is a plateau atop a huge cliff, and unless one is an expert rock climber the only way up is through a cave system behind a waterfall.  I gave my GenCon players a very brief bit of background and then told them to head into the caves and find a way up to the top of the cliffs.

The highlight for me was teenager’s mom playing a 5th level magic-user with a wand of cold blasting a bunch of aquatic trolls as they emerged from their underground pool.  Funny thing is she was disappointed in the fact that she didn’t kill any of them, though personally I think she saved the group’s bacon by freezing all the trolls in knee deep ice.  Frankly, I think I really enjoyed just being forced to come up with the results of what happens when a group of trolls standing in knee deep water get blasted with a wand of cold.  I gave them a save to not get trapped, which naturally all but one failed.  This same woman gave me the best GM compliment I think I’ve ever got.  She said to me, “I’ve been coming to this thing for years and always wanted to learn to play D&D.  I feel like I finally have.”

The game ended with a climatic battle against a purple worm, which only managed to swallow and consume one of the players before the rest beat the thing to death.  (Another enjoyable visual: 10-year-old boy playing a fighter drinks a potion of growth to attack the worm, all in a tunnel just big enough to hold either one.)  Plus, all this was done in just three hours, which I was worried wouldn’t be long enough, but seemed just fine in practice.

In the afternoon I was scheduled to play Tunnels & Trolls with Ken St. Andre.  However, I was really starting to drag energy-wise, and was anxious to see the auction and dealer’s room.  I had another game 7-11 that night, and figured I’d just have to pass on the T&T.  Good news is, he ran several sessions of it and as we’ll see later I was able to get in to another run on Friday.  So Thursday afternoon was spent roaming the exhibit hall, checking out the auction, etc.  I think I really needed that down time, as by the evening I was getting ready to play again.

Thursday night’s game was called “Corsairs of Umbar” and was set in Middle Earth using 2nd edition AD&D rules.  And all that is ultimately moot, as we spent most of the time just interacting with each other while the DM sat back and laughed at our foibles.  Our characters were all pirate lords that ruled a small area, plus a high priest and the head of a magician’s guild, and one “mysterious stranger” who turned out to be an exiled prince of Gondor.  Each player was given his character sheet and other background info in a sealed envelope.  There were clearly lots of side-plots and machinations going on.

Four of the eight players — the mysterious stranger and three of the pirate lords — were clearly buddies that had all come together, and perhaps spent some time earlier down at the bar.  This was concerning, but none were really seriously inebriated, and ultimately perhaps the extra good humor played well in this case.  They were actually lots of fun to play with, and perhaps more inclined to stab each other in the back.  As I understand it, we went seriously off the rails on this one, never even coming close to the main plot and instead being drawn into all our little side-plots.  I ended up befriending one of the four friends and we plotted to reveal the priest as an agent of Sauron.  This was actually a hilarious situation, as the player of the priest was also required to play his second in command, whom we had charmed into helping us.  Watching him play his own destruction was hilarous:

Us: “Lead us into the temple, friend!”

Charmed Priest: “Oh please tell me there are guards there.”

GM: “There are, but they recognize you and let you right in.  As you search the private sanctum of the high priest you find a zombie hidden in a closet.”

Charmed Priest, rolling eyes: “Of course there’s a zombie!  You know, these things happen some times.”

We ended up asking the priest to force the zombie outside, then shouted in alarm: “Look out, an evil necromancer is attacking us!”   Then we killed them both.  The player playing the priest later got his revenge when playing another character who was asked to arbitrate a dispute by use of a borrowed ring of detect lies.  The owner gives over the ring and is asked “were you part of the plan to betray us?”  “No, definitely not,” he says.  “He’s lying!” cries the ex-priest, who is himself, of course, lying (DM was never consulted).

Yeah, it was the sort of game I could never imagine running.  Everything pointed towards this game being a complete disaster, and yet, I think it was the most fun game I played in.  I’m curious how it ran for later groups.  I suspect it’s entirely up to how good a group you get, and in this case, I think I lucked out.  I wish I had the mental agility at the time to write down the names of the guys I was playing with.  I would play with those guys again in a heart-beat.

In retrospect, Thursday was clearly the best day for me.  It was only marred by my low energy in the afternoon, and my general mental unpreparedness for actually being at GenCon.  It’s too bad really, if all that stuff had happened on Saturday, I may have come away saying this was the best GenCon ever.

GenCon Report

Well, gone again is another GenCon.  I swear they always seem to fly by so fast.  This year was especially strange.  With all the big changes in my life just months before, I somehow missed all the anticipation time leading up to GenCon.  My head simply wasn’t in the right place to thoroughly enjoy GenCon this year, at least not until Saturday, and once I was finally in the groove it was too late, the convention was almost over.  Thus, I would rate this year a solid “good” for GenCon.  Not the worst by far, that prize easily goes to the year I ended up working a miniatures booth, but also not the best.  “Good to Very Good” in the parlance of the auction house I’d say.

I’ll go over specific stuff later, but for now, here are some lessons learned this year:

1.  Get the later flight home.  While it’s true I’ve almost never played any actual games on GenCon Sunday, the fact is my brain needs that time to wind down and say goodbye to GenCon.  I found myself doing that instead Saturday night this year, and in the later hours it took a good amount of will to show up to my last game.  Seeing folks entering the convention hall for one more day as I was off to the airport was especially hard.

2.  Don’t leave time for the auction.  I love going to the auction, but the fact is, even though I left time open to go to it when I ended up there it was always stuff I wasn’t particularly interested in: historic war games, unpainted miniatures, CCGs, etc.  I managed to miss the cool TSR RPG section due to being in a game at the time.  I will certainly try to get to the auction when I can in the future, but trying to guess at the schedule is foolish.  One exception: Saturday night is always TOVA and the charity auction, and I should make an effort to keep that night free.

3.  Enough with the early morning games already!  Also, 10-12 is not enough time for a real game.  Suggestion: ear-mark 10-12 for roaming the exhibit hall, then have an afternoon game scheduled, and then Thurs/Fri night for more gaming and Sat night for TOVA.

4.  The secret door in Hammer of the God is too well hidden.

5.  Run more stuff.  This year I enjoyed running my own games more than playing in any others.  Running games leads to an easier to predict schedule, though perhaps at the expense of flexibility (can’t really skip your own games).

OK, that’s all my very tired brain can come up with right now.  I may come back to this later after I write up actual reports on what I did and saw this year.

GenCon Sunday

I’m gearing up to head out to GenCon in just two more days, and getting pretty excited.  I had dreams last night about GMing a game at GenCon, though naturally it was fraught with problems — I had forgotten material, I was making people create characters which was taking up too much time, etc.  Still, it’s better than dreaming about the travel.

This year we’re heading out pretty early on Sunday.  Our flight is at 11:15 AM, and due to needing extra time to administer drugs to my wife (she aint gettin’ on no plane, foo) it basically means we’re leaving right after we get up.  There will be no early Sunday games for us, no roaming listlessly through the dealers’ hall as half the dealers are already packing up, and no searching for the alleged last-day deals.

Since scheduling that flight I’ve regretted it several times.  Each time I end up searching the airline’s site and discovering the same information: the next direct to Boston flight is at 4:55 PM, and it would cost us $300 to switch our tickets to that flight.  Sigh, why is there not a middle time of flight, and why on earth does it cost so much to change your flight?  Is 4 extra hours of GenCon Sunday really worth an extra $300?  Fact is, I rarely do much on Sunday at the convention.  It feels too rushed to me to try and squeeze in one more game.  If there was something I wanted at the dealer’s hall, I’ve already bought it.  Really it’s just so much wandering around feeling that bitter-sweet end of convention feeling.

Still, perhaps that kind of cool down time is important.  Will it feel more violent to go from playing games late Saturday night to a hurried check-out and drive to the airport to get home?  Is it better to rip the band-aid off with one quick jerk, or to tease it off slowly?

The indecision eventually leads me to decide to not rock the boat.  It’s easier to do nothing and just stick with what we’ve got, and if it’s unpleasant I will hopefully remember that next year and go with the later flight.  And really, how is it that I’m already moping about the end of GenCon when it’s still two days away from starting?

Eldritch Entertainment

Noticed on Facebook this morning that Tim Kask has announced a new website for Eldritch Entertainment, his joint-venture with Frank Mentzer, Jim Ward and Chris Clark.  Most notable in this update is the actual release of products for sale.  The site is clearly still in the work and seems to be changing by the minute.  Tim mentions in his post the availability of both PDF and print books, but so far it looks like the site only actually offers the print books.  A little digging uncovered the PDFs for sale on RPGNow.

For the past couple years I’ve played in a fair number of Tim and Frank’s games at TotalCon, and have heard before that we were play-testing future products.  I may even have an early signed proof hanging on my game room wall.  So I’m pretty excited to see that they’ve made it to market.

Now the only question is, do I buy up the PDFs right now for some e-reading on the flight out to GenCon next week, or do I wait in hopes that they’ll have some shiny new books for sale at the convention itself.  I suspect the answer may be both.