Archive for the ‘GenCon’ Category

Old GenCon Photos


And for a little more GenCons past nostalgia, here are a couple photos.

GenCon '97 - Look how excited I am to be working the exhibit hall, and rocking my GenCon '93 shirt!

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GenCon '97 - Look how excited I am to be working the exhibit hall, and rocking my GenCon '93 shirt!

GenCon Past and Future

For unknown reasons I find myself again contemplating GenCon.  We missed it again this year — partly because we’re going to have some work done and are strapped for cash for vacations, but also because GenCon has become something of a mess recently.  It appears to be tied up in the geek culture explosion, with record attendance around 56,000.  I’ve read some interesting articles about how everything geek culture is exploding and merging.  For example, can you imagine any convention, be it comic, video game, or board game targeted, without a large amount of cosplay?  GenCon without storm troopers parading down the hall sounds crazy, but back in the 90’s, I’m not even sure if I remember there being a costume contest.

Unfortunately the downside to all this growth is that it’s getting very hard for an individual to go, never mind organize a handful of friends.  Hotels fill up within hours of registration opening up, and the booking sites are just an exercise in frustrating web timeouts.  I have at least one friend who intended to go this year but was simply unable to book a hotel room and so ended up having to stay home.  Certainly the vast attendance numbers is part of the over the top splendor of going to one of these things, but it seems to have reached that tipping point of just being too darn big.

Looking ahead, in 2017 it will be the 50th anniversary of GenCon.  Given that my very first GenCon was the 25th anniversary (1992), I really want to attend that one.  I imagine that one will be particularly insane, unless somehow this bubble bursts before then.  It may be wise to go to one or two before then just to figure out how to work the logistics, but one or two more is all that are left before it happens, and frankly next year is looking pretty doubtful with Jenn planning us a trip to England.

Anyway, the reason I wanted to write this post was to once again collate my notes and remind myself which GenCons I have been to, and which I missed.  This is really only for my own future reference, so I apologize to any other readers, but here it is, the GenCon roll: (note, early pre-blog dates will link back to the same original recap post I first wrote about my earl GenCon attendance)

1992 – My first GenCon, a Christmas present from dear old dad.  To this day I can’t believe he actually did this for me.  Also, GenCon’s 25th anniversary.

1993 – My second GenCon, and the first we drove to, or should I say, my friend Chris’s mom drove us.  Also the year Magic the Gathering came out.

1994 – The only GenCon I ever attended entirely alone, and at a time when I was really too young to do so.  I would miss the next year as I got ready for college and said goodbye to high school.

1996 – Once in college I rarely came home for the summers, instead preferring to work on campus.  My friend Lam did likewise, and thus he and I would attend GenCon together for a few years running.  This year we had a really great time, flying out of NY together and catching the CCG bug with L5R.

1997 – A bad year for GenCons – the year Lam and I drove a truck full of miniatures out, got stuck working the exhibition hall, and saw the seedy underbelly of professional convention attendance.  I vowed I would always attend in the future as nothing more than a consumer.  Also, the year WotC bought TSR, and the last year I’d attend at Milwaukee.

Here follows a gap of not attending.  I tried to go in 1998 but Lam didn’t or couldn’t go, but then ended up going last minute without me.  I’ve always been kind of annoyed by that.  Then I graduated college and either didn’t have the time, money, or interest to go.

2004 – Though I started playing with a group of co-workers in 1999, it wasn’t until 2004 that for some reason we decided we should all go to GenCon together.  We rented a van and drove out there.  This is probably the last serious road trip with a bunch of friends I would take, and I think it was also my favorite.  Also, I think this was the only one I attended with Dan.

2005 – The first year I blogged about going to GenCon, so plenty of details and photos in this link.  This is the only year I attended with Scott.  It’s kind of sad that I never got to go to GenCon with both Scott and Dan at the same time.

2006 – Now we are starting to get into a groove of going with Joe, BJ, and Adam.  They’ve been doing this with us since 2004 and it’s solidified as a tradition.  Adam always vanishes into the depths of serious competitive Call of Cthulhu, but Joe, BJ, and I play a fair amount of organized D&D 3/3.5 together.

2007 – The year E3 crashed and video games started to appear in force at GenCon.  I believe this is also the year I started seriously getting into Savaged Worlds and thus ran my first game at GenCon.  Also the year they announced D&D 4th edition.  There are some amusing photos out there of me, Joe, and BJ reacting to this announcement, but I don’t seem to have any because my camera was on the fritz.  Also, this is the last year I’d attend a GenCon while Gary Gygax was alive and present.  I wish I had made a point of meeting the guy during one of these, but sadly I never did.

2008 – Not a tone of great photos from this one sadly, as I replaced my camera with a big heavy SLR that was too painful to use at a convention.  At this point I’m pretty heavily into Savage Worlds, which I think actually started the year before.  Still going with Joe, BJ, and Adam (and of course as always Jenn), but we’re starting to lose steam and won’t attend the next year, though many of us will regret that choice.

2010 – By this year we have a whole new group of friends to go.  Adam is still going, but as always we barely see the guy, and new friends from 38 including Mike join us this year.  Also I’m now in the throws of old school D&D, running Labyrinth Lord games.  This is also the year I discover the Auction, which will quickly evolve from a side interest to a major event I will schedule the rest of my convention around.

2011 – John from 38 joins the band, and I continue to immerse myself in the old school.  This is also the year the size of the convention starts to show, and the scheduling system is very difficult to deal with.  Still, I manage to play in some great games, and the OSR is in full bloom.  I also spent a huge amount of time and money in the auction for the first time.

2012 – Adam and Mike join us again, and this time my family including two younger brothers, my mom, and stepfather all make it down (though only my brothers attend the convention, my family parents find other entertainment).  This is also the year we miss Sunday due to inconvenient flight times.

And that’s basically it.  We had flights and tickets for GenCon 2013, but ended up moving in August and had to cancel our plans.  Then in 2014 we didn’t even try to attend, and thank goodness, because it sounds like it would have been extremely difficult.  I hope this is not the end of my history with GenCon, but clearly careful planning will be required for the future.  In the meantime, I continue to expand the local conventions I check out, and this November I’ll be attending Carnage on the Mountain in VT.


PostScript – I just realized at some point I set up a category on this blog for posts about GenCon, which can all be gotten to here.

GenCon Attendance Continues to Rise

Last year I posted about the phenomenon of rising attendance at gaming conventions.  Unfortunately I only have numbers from GenCon to support this argument, other conventions don’t seem to publish their numbers, but I do attend some others and suspect it’s a general trend.  This year I wasn’t able to attend GenCon, but despite my absence it seems their numbers are again through the roof.  I got an email recently in which they claimed “more than 49,000 people attended the convention with attendees from all 50 states and more than a dozen countries.”

Here’s the updated chart from Wikipedia:



I cannot help but wonder how long this growth will continue, and what on earth is powering it?  Seriously, do I need to worry about a time in the future when the convention is so huge that it’s no longer enjoyable?  I’m not really sure if that is a legitimate concern.  So far GenCon has done a reasonably good job of keeping like activities in similar locations, which I think helps create the microcosm of “your convention” vs. the convention at large.  Unless your tastes are all over the map, chances are you won’t have to spend half the convention running back and forth across town as you’ll really spend most of the time in one of two or three hotels and the main dealer’s hall.  In fact, for the past couple of years I’ve only ever entered the TCG and Miniatures halls on the last day before leaving, just to see the splendor and say so long to the convention.

To put these numbers in perspective I decided to look up another convention which I had a vague idea was significantly larger: E3.  Turns out E3’s attendance last year was actually only 48,200, still a huge number, but actually lower than GenCon’s 49,000.  Another interesting fact is that the first E3 was held in 1996 and drew 80,000 attendees.  It is interesting to note that not only has it shrunk in its lifetime, but the year of the first one has an interesting parallel on the chart above, the first year that GenCon’s attendance started to flag.  Is it possible that in the mid 90’s interest in video games was stealing from tabletop, and that now almost 20 years later that trend has reversed?

All this is just a bunch of silly conjecture based on not nearly enough data I’m sure.  Still, I find this chart fascinating and am excited to see what the numbers are like next year.  More though, I’m just excited to get to go back to GenCon again.  I can’t believe I missed it this year.

The Game Train

GenCon has come and gone, and I’m surprised to see how quickly it passes even when I’m not there.  As we continued to pack up our belongings this weekend Jenn and I chatted a little about GenCon, and I voiced a crazy idea that’s been lurking in the back of my head for a few years now.  For context, it’s important to know that Jenn hates flying, and I mean, she really hates flying.  We basically have to pull a B. A. Baracus to get her out to GenCon each year.  The drugs Jenn takes actually leave her sedated not unconscious, so she’s able to make it through security and off the plane to check in to the hotel, but the Wednesday evening lead-up to the convention is kind of oddly colored by the fact that Jenn behaves mildly drunk and sometimes has conversations she does not recall the next day.

So, perhaps now with the title to my post above you’ve put together my plan: take the train.  Just now while thinking of what to write for this post I looked up trains between Boston and Indy, and it’s actually not that bad.  You can get a ticket to Chicago for about $100, which is actually much cheaper than flying.  Oddly the final leg is a bit tricky with Amtrak often showing an 8 hour lay-over in Chicago to wait for a train up to Indy, which is pretty silly given that Google Maps shows it as just a 3 hour car ride.  Perhaps it would make most sense to then just rent a car in Chicago and drive the final stint.  But I digress…

Obviously the major downside to the train is how long it takes: about 36 hours just from Boston to Chicago.  That’s quite a difference from the 3 hour plane ride.  But here’s the best part: you make the journey part of the convention.  Even when taking the plane I’m always amused to watch the airport gate slowly collect obvious members of the tribe.  I’d say at least 50% of the people on that flight from Boston to Indy are going to GenCon.  So why not leverage that and game on the train?

The best part of train travel is how unrestricted the space is.  Planes are packed tight, trying to eek out every extra ounce of weight savings and cram in every extra customer possible.  Also, they’re super loud — listening to music or watching a movie is almost impossible without noise cancelling headphones.  Not so on the train, the train is spacious and relatively quiet.  Every car has at least a few seats on either end that face each other, and the dining car has table space if required.

I figure, if I could get at least four other friends on board (or aboard?) with this idea, that would be plenty to have an awesome day of game playing on the train to and from the convention.  Of course the more the merrier, and if we’re lucky perhaps we could even draw in some extra chance travelers that are also on their way to GenCon.  Naturally we would have to come up with some train themed games to play.  Deadlands is the first thing that springs to my mind, as I’m pretty sure I’ve read or played a couple scenarios that heavily feature a train.  Max says he wants to do a murder-mystery LARP and not inform the rest of the train riders that it’s not actually real.  Clever to be sure, but also I would think an easy way to very rapidly get yourself tossed off the train just a couple hours into the ride.

I know it’s all a silly pipe dream, but I think it’s kind of a neat idea.  Maybe some day I’ll have enough vacation time saved up and have enough gaming friends crazy enough to make it a reality.  Or as long as I’m fantasizing, maybe some day this country will figure out that the rail system has been neglected for far too long and make the train a more enticing alternative.

I left my heart in Indianapolis

Had things gone by original plan, I’d be in Indianapolis right now, probably just about to sit down to my first game of GenCon.  Ultimately I know I made the right choice in cancelling those plans — even last night I was signing and scanning things for my mortgage company, there’s still a good many things in my house not yet packed in boxes, my darling wife is suffering from a nasty summer cold, and today the oil company comes to take a final reading of our oil tank.  Flying out to Indy yesterday would have been the height of foolishness, and yet I can’t help feeling the waves of disappointment knowing 40,000 gamers are out there rolling dice without me.

This has simply not been a good year for gaming conventions for me.  I barely made it to TotalCon and didn’t make it to GenCon at all.  Fortunately HelgaCon was pretty solid, though for some reason it appears I didn’t post a word about it here.  That’s very odd.  I think I’ll just have to make 2014 the year I refocus on gaming conventions.  I just noticed on facebook that TotalCon event submission will start soon.  Time to start dreaming up some good stuff to run.

No GenCon, Moving

Unfortunately it looks like I will not make it to GenCon this year.  The good news is the reason — its very likely I’ll be moving at the end of August.  Everything is proceeding as hoped for in the house sale and purchase.  We have a signed Purchase & Sale agreement for our current house, which means there is now real money on the line should things fall apart.  We haven’t quite gotten that far on the purchasing side, but it’s getting very close.

GenCon aside, I hope this move will have a positive impact on gaming for me.  When I started this blog we were still living in our first house.  It was a small house, but also a very short walk to the original offices of 38 Studios.  This was a golden time of gaming for me.  I was running a campaign with friends many of whom were co-workers, and it was very easy for them to pop over to my house after work for a game.  We’d crowd around the dining room table and play right up until bedtime.  My oddly early schedule has in the past made scheduling games a bit difficult, so hosting things at my house was always preferable as I didn’t have to drive anywhere afterwards before collapsing into bed.

When 38 moved to Providence the game lived on, we just started playing in the office.  This was a bit more difficult for me personally, as now I had a 45 minute drive after the game before reaching my bed.  Also the bitter irony was that the house we moved to in Medway was much larger, large enough to finally realize my dream of having a dedicated game room.  But it was in Medway, far away from pretty much everything, and the fancy game room was used but rarely.  Still, 38 provided more players than I could handle and I got to play very regularly.

When 38 collapsed, the game room suddenly became very handy.  Everyone in my game was laid off, and having a weekly D&D respite was very welcome.  You’d think with everyone suddenly having oodles of free time we’d play all the time.  But no, everyone was dealing with the crisis in their own ways, frequently off to go on interviews, prepare for moving, or otherwise just try to cope with the unexpected change.  For a while though we kept the regular game schedule transposed here to my house in Medway, and found solace in killing the orcs of clan Chafee.

Eventually though the game petered out everyone drifted away.  I got a new job in Cambridge, a painful hour plus drive away.  I ran a couple games for folks in the new office but while there was interest there for more, I couldn’t handle that commute after a game and nobody in Cambridge wants to drive out to Medway for D&D.  I’ve now been without a game for almost a year.

The new house is half the distance to the office, and I’ve been promising folks I’d run another game at the office once I moved.  The new house also has a pretty spectacular space for gaming.  Also, it has central AC and a pool, and yesterday it hit 99 degrees outside.  So, despite missing GenCon, I’m pretty optimistic about my future chances of having a regular game to play.  At least in the summer.

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.