Tag Archives: Gen Con

Gen Con Day One: Starships and Superpowers

Our phone alarms went off at the same time: 5:30 AM. I, groggily, got up and limped to the shower. I had pulled a muscle in my foot when I was mowing the lawn a couple days before. It hurt… a lot. But gradually loosened up as I bathed and started moving around. Foot pain and Gen Con don’t really mix very well, but I’d just have to do my best not to whine about it too much.

rabbleI treat day one of Gen Con like a dog treats a new room. I like to look around–figure out the space. Get a feel for the people, the smells, the noises. Learning how to RPG again in a room full of other groups of people playing took some getting used to, for sure.

As we drove to the Indiana Convention Center we got a glimpse of a beautiful sunrise shining through the thin clouds. I had a feeling it was going to be a pretty good day.

The parking situation this year is weird. Gen Con has contracted a company to relieve some of the parking pressure downtown, so we bought a 5-day parking pass. It wasn’t a bad deal–the parking is farther away, but it includes a shuttle service.

Of course, we found out the shuttle service consists of 2-3 buses or vans. It’s not too bad, but there are a lot of people to serve.

So we arrive at the convention center at about 7:15. I get in the press line, and begin talking up Trent from The Board Game Family. It’s his first Gen Con, so he’s come alone to check out the sights, sounds, and overwhelming amount of games. I’ve heard some of his stuff before because of the Dice Tower Network, but I keep it coy. I mean, I’m not really the type to gush over the work people do, but as the conversation went on, I told him that I had heard of his site and the work he’d done, and marveled at the success he was having. I highly doubt he’ll ever read this, but he was a nice dude, and I hope he enjoyed his convention.

Next up was wandering around waiting for…

Mutants & Masterminds.

This is, by far, my favorite RPG. I love superheroes. I love wacky adventure. I love that the system can be tailored to whatever superhero story you want it to be. John and I played Captain Metropolis and Bowman, respectively. Captain Metropolis is to cities what Swamp Thing is to swamps. He’s super amazing. My character, Bowman, is not all that spectacular, but I really enjoy playing underpowered heroes for some reason. It turns out to be a really good time. Bonus points for Steven, our GM, actually showing up to run the game… We’d struck out three years in a row previously.

Next up was a run at the exhibit hall where I bought way too much Pokemon stuff for my kids (and, okay, for myself). If you would’ve told me ten years ago that Pokemon would become a thing in my life again, I would’ve laughed you out of the convention center. But here we are.

Following that, lunch at Circle City Bar and Grille. We got free mugs for being in the first 30 people to ask for one. Free mugs! The food was good, but a bit overpriced.

After realizing that we had misread when our X-wing game was going to take place, we ended up jumping into Empty Epsilon: Multiplayer Starship Bridge Simulator.

The game is really fun, but the presentation was plagued with a lot of first-day issues that seem to creep up when a new group is trying to put a Con game together. There were some networking issues and the staff seemed to be a little frustrated (they were all finding their legs), but we ended up getting grouped with some nice guys from Austin, TX and a guy from right here in Indianapolis, so it worked out okay. Also, we were totally better at running our ship that our co-op bridge crew across the simulation. We’re just that good.

After buying more Pokemon stuff (because I have a problem), we set off for the hotel, where I sit now. I think steak is on the menu tonight, and then we’ll be back to bed to hit Gen Con tomorrow. Hopefully my foot will feel better and I won’t be such a hobbley mess.

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Gen Con Continued: Wrath of Con

Indy at nightWhen you last left me, I was itchy, angsty, and a little bit torn about this whole Gen Con thing. Well, after little sleep, some canceled games/no show GMs, and meeting some very cool people, I am happy to announce that Gen Con 2015 finally won me over and was a complete success.

Day 2 was a good one because we were able to sleep in a little bit and only had a couple events. That led to a scouring of the exhibit hall for swag and trying out Lynnvander‘s Deep 5, a game of space and betrayal. I didn’t get to play, but my cohorts said that it is super fun. I hope to be able to try it as soon as possible.

I also worked the booth for 3D Virtual Tabletop and AdventureAWeek.com. I was super, super impressed by how smoothly 3D Virtual Tabletop worked and absolutely loved volunteering to help out. One of the things I love about Gen Con is how its basically built on the backs of volunteers… Gamers working to give other gamers a great time. Sometimes it doesn’t work out (like when your GM doesn’t show up), but when everything goes smoothly, it is a thing of beauty. AdventureAWeek is also a solid service, providing all kinds of adventures for a low price. Seriously, if you want to DM some games and want to save time, the combination of 3D Virtual Tabletop and AdventureAWeek.com is a surefire winner in my book.

I also wanted to briefly give a shoutout to Mike Myler, who is going to be Kickstarting his Hypercorps 2099 cyberpunk setting for Pathfinder. He’s a nice guy and has a lot of hustle.

After volunteering, we went and played a game of the Doctor Who RPG… And had a crazy amount of wibbly-woblly, timey-wimey fun. In our group, we had a fellow who didn’t really know the show very well, but he immediately decided to play The Doctor, and he played a very dark, violent version of the Time Lord. It was hilarious. John played Clara Oswald, the Doctor’s “conscience,” and he had his hands full keeping our Doctor under control. Would definitely play that again.

We finished out Day 2 by playing Conquest of the Starlords, a game that has been in development for 10 years. If the creator is reading this… Kickstart that thing. It is a beautifully complicated game for hardcore tabletop gamers: both complicated and treacherous, Conquest of the Starlords should be a “real” thing.

Saturday, Day 3, we were running on very little sleep after getting back to the hotel at 2:30 AM to get up at 7. But we had to get moving to watch Tracy Hickman’s Killer Breakfast. A gloriously corny comedy of errors and death, Killer Breakfast is the perfect way to watch low-level player characters die in hilarious and dangerous ways. I loved it, but I think the corniness of the event wore on me a bit after two hours.

Next up was the event we were really looking forward to, a game of Mutants and Masterminds, my absolute favorite RPG game. Unfortunately, the GM no-showed. So, over 5 years, we are 1/5 for playing Mutants and Masterminds. John and I were discussing running somewhere around four games of M&M next year, just so we could play a couple times. We love the system, and it seems like it sells out every year. There really should be an organized play option.

Tragedy struck again on Saturday when another one of our events was canceled without any kind of notice. I would love for Gen Con to have system that would email you when your event was suddenly unavailable. I’m actually surprised that something like that isn’t available yet.

We ended the night with a party at BL&Ts hosted by Lynnvander, CoolMiniOrNot, and GeekChic. There was so much candy. And gaming. And just having fun with new friends. Looking forward to hanging out with those guys again next year. We played a game of Zombicide with the creator of the film “The Rangers.” It looks really great. Give it a watch when it’s available.

Today. Sunday. Day 4. The bittersweetness of Gen Con ending. I’m never more simultaneously distraught and relieved than when it’s time to pack all my stuff (heavier due to some exhibition hall swag) into the car and check out of the hotel.

Dice BagWe learned how to make scale mail dice bags. I didn’t finish mine because I just straight got lost in the middle of it, but I plan on going back. I’ll show you a picture of John’s, however, since he actually persevered and finished his. Our group is 2/5 for completing dice bags so far.

And with a couple laps around the exhibition hall, the Con ended. Congratulations to Gen Con for running another successful one, and to all those who won Ennies or were just brave enough to follow their dreams, make a game or movie or some piece of art, and come to Indianapolis to make their dreams come true. Best of luck to all you crazy people; I’m pulling for you. And I’ll see you next year.

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Gen Con: Day 1 – What Am I Doing Right Now?

Bug monsterToday started around 5:15 AM, which is weird because I really like to sleep. I, however, had a Geek Monolith to feed, and I had to drag my friends there with me. As with all days of Gen Con, before going into the convention itself, we needed to find parking. Luckily, at about 7 AM, it’s a pretty simply proposition.  Next up was the press line: it went quickly, and I got to talk to some other press people about our thoughts on the convention, how big it’s getting, and what exactly our expectations were. We were all in agreement about one thing: there were going to be more people than last year.

Our first game of the day was Damage Report, a pick-up-and-deliver game by Break From Reality Games. I thought it was better as a concept than as an execution. I love the idea of a real-time game where there are no turns and everyone has to work together, but I simply felt like all I was doing was getting in the other players’ ways. I was constantly reaching over and around people to pick up stuff… Even though I had my morning coffee, I just wasn’t easing well into it.

After that, we explored the Exhibition Hall to see all the booths hawking their wares. I couldn’t believe how busy it was in there for a Thursday. The new game Titansgrave (an RPG setting by Wil Wheaton and Green Ronin Publishing) sold out in about 3 hours. So crazy. Also, I felt like Magic: the Gathering was everywhere. Absolutely everywhere.

Next up, we headed to the Marriott to play some Pathfinder in Lynnvander’s Legacy of Mana setting. It was a wild and twisted ride, and I have to give props to our GM, Cameron, for rolling with the punches even as we derailed his game. It was a great time.

Finally, after some snafus trying to play some Magic, we played a GIGANTIC version of Battlestations, a cooperative board game/RPG that makes you feel like you’re on the crew of a starship. I’m going to be absolutely honest… I didn’t really feel like I had a lot of agency. I didn’t understand the game until about the last ten minutes of our session, and even though we won the game, I didn’t feel very fulfilled by doing so.

Dinner at the City Bar and Grille in the Marriott (which was a pretty bad experience overall, unfortunately), and now I’m back at the hotel writing this. Day One is over. Maybe now I’ll go for a swim. I’m hoping that Day Two can build into a better day.

PS: I have poison oak on my face. It might be affecting my Gen Con. Still, hanging out with my friends is pretty awesome. I’ve got a great group of dudes with me.

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Gen Con: Day 0 – We Can’t Stop. We Won’t Stop.

Gen Con 0I’m currently sitting in the back of a van full of large men. This is the commute to Gen Con. We’re just outside of Columbus on the way to Indianapolis: listening to a terrible playlist I put together based on the suggestions of the guys on the trip. I’m feeling a bit of existential angst.

The day started pretty normally with my daughter yelling, “Daaaaaaaaddddyyyyy!!!” in order to tell me that she was awake and that I should also wake up and get her out of her crib (she is currently possesses too much trepidation to climb out by herself). Windows 10 was ready, so I upgraded my laptop… probably a terrible idea before going on a trip, but I’m nothing if not brave/stupid when it comes to these things. I’m liking Windows 10 quite a bit right now, actually. Not that you care about my opinion about it. That’s not why you’re reading this.

Anyway, we’re five geeks in a van heading out to play games with 50-60 thousand other people for a long weekend. The plans are much the same as other years: games, steak, water, aspirin, swag we don’t need. The thing I’m realizing about the Geek Monolith is that it must be fed. And we feed it by buying stuff. A lot of stuff we don’t need. We want new games. We want video game-themed shirts. We want toys we can put on our shelves and look at as they gather dust. We want different games. We want more games. We want. We want. We want. Money. Money. Money. Cash in. Cash out. Day in. Day out. And I’m torn. I love the Geek Monolith. I want to see it flourish.

Yet, there’s a part of me that feels a bit guilty participating in this mass edifice of want. I think of the lines at San Diego Comic Con… people waiting for hours, even days, in order to see actors in a movie that’s coming out this winter. SDCC exclusives that geeks will trample other geeks in order to get. I think of Gen Con, where people stand in looooong lines in order to get games a few weeks before everyone else can get them. The Geek Monolith doesn’t just demand that we buy things to feed it; it demands that we get them as soon as we can so it can be fed quicker. And we scamper towards it to feed it.

We love the Monolith. But does the Geek Monolith love us? Will the tabletop gaming mouth of the Monolith be satiated this weekend, as we look for Wil Wheaton and Jen Page and Geek & Sundry and Wizards of the Coast and Paizo and Fantasy Flight Games? As we look for those elusive exclusives? Or will it leave us empty… just demanding that we keep feasting on tabletop games until we are satisfied? But, will it ever truly satisfy us beyond that couple of days? Are we happier for feeding the Geek Monolith? Does it do anything for us? Probably not.

Maybe there are mental benefits. I’m sure there are studies if I wanted to look hard enough. I don’t think the Geek Monolith promises us satisfaction. Only temporary satiation. But still we feed and feed the Monolith. We won’t stop. And we wouldn’t even if we could, would we?

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Gen Con 2014: Stray Observations

I’m still decompressing from the crazy gaming weekend. This year was so big that I ended up finding quiet corners a few times to get away from the sensory overload of the exhibit hall and the main corridors. Basically, I felt like Nicolas Cage confronting Christopher Eccleston.

While the Con is still on my mind, I wanted to mention some things that I didn’t talk about in either of my previous posts.

1.) I am impressed by all the young, ambitious people I meet at Gen Con. I met a gentleman who is producing independent films, a game setting for Pathfinder, and seems to have numerous other projects in the works.  I also met a guy that runs his own gaming store near Cincinnati. Last year I met a woman who designed her own game that’s releasing in September. It’s exciting to see people following their dreams and achieving them.

2.) I like the more laid back nature of the convention hotels rather than gaming in the main conference center. We had the opportunity to play a game of Dungeons and Dragons in the D&D area of one of the exhibit halls (Hopefully, I can procure a new D&D Handbook and talk about it in a later post), but I think I would’ve found it a lot more rewarding if I didn’t feel the press of the crowd around me that was doing the same thing. For instance, we played a big RPG game of Vampire in one of the hotels, and even though there were about 10 people at the table, I never felt crowded, drowned out, or rushed. It was nice. Same thing for the Legacy of Mana (link in the first paragraph) game I played. The meeting rooms in the hotel were mostly quiet, and much more conducive to roleplaying games.

3.) Open gaming is the thing to do. Whether it’s testing a random new game or just setting up a game for you and your friends to play in one of the gaming rooms, open gaming is something I wished I had more time for at the convention. I’m so obsessed with getting into events sometimes that  just sitting and being with friends gets pushed into the periphery.

4.) Brazilian steak houses. Go to one. Now. Stop what you’re doing and go to a Brazilian steak house. If you love meat, you owe it to yourself. Dining at Fogo de Chao was one of the great experiences of this trip to Gen Con.

5.) Talk to people. Gen Con is basically a safe place for gamers and that makes people a little more open. I talked to a lot of random people in line, all of which were super friendly. I didn’t get their names, and I didn’t need to, but it definitely made the time in line go faster. Also, take business cards or some other giveaway object. People love that stuff at conventions.

So, when you’re at Gen Con, you want it to last as long as possible. Perhaps getting into ALL THE EVENTS isn’t the way to do that. You’re there to play some games with friends, and basically to escape from the pressures of life for awhile (unless you’re there to work; that’s probably an entirely different convention experience). So enjoy it. Do what you want to do, not what you feel like you have to do.

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Madman at the Table

Gen Con was awesome this year. I met a lot of people, attended some great panels, and played a lot of fun games. This year was a unique one for me. I was given the opportunity to run a game for Kobold Press.

Playing tabletop roleplaying games is my favorite hobby. I like game mastering them. Tabletop games give me something that video games do not: adult interaction.

I’m a work-at-home dad. I’ve been freelancing for a little over 3 years, so most of my interaction with humanity comes in the form of chatting with my children. Which is great, I love my children. However, being able to chat with people about life, the universe, and everything is great. I crave those times when a group of people get around the table to snack and game.

Makeshift candy tokens.

Makeshift candy tokens.

So I was both excited and nervous as I dove into running a game for people I didn’t know at the biggest tabletop gaming convention in the US.

It started off about the same as most events do for me, with me realizing I had forgotten something. My battlegrid. And all my gaming tokens. Derp.

My solution? I bought a glossy paper battle mat from Paizo and I bought a bunch of Hershey Kisses and Starbursts to use as tokens (the benefit is that once the group killed or captured the bad guys they could partake of the sugary goodness).

The people I played with were all really nice, though. And none seemed bothered by my poorly drawn maps or my general lack of “real” tokens.

We played a scenario called Madman at the Bridge. It was created by Wolfgang Baur and adapted by Ben McFarland for Pathfinder. The PCs must find out why the bridge isn’t lowering, and why the clockwork guards are going haywire. I won’t go too much into the details, because I don’t want to spoil the scenario for anyone

While the dice weren’t always in the favor of the PCs, they did a great job of using creative thinking to “win” the scenario.

The biggest reward for me was stepping out of my comfort zone. I’m a bit shy, but I was forced to put that all to the side to make sure that everyone had a good time. Judging by the compliments I got, everyone seemed to.

The sorcerer and the fighter.

The sorcerer and the fighter.

Quotes of the game:

I’m not THAT kind of cleric!  — our cleric, on being asked if she had a heal spell.

I know the boat’s on fire, but I’ll be okay. — Our barbarian, after leaping onto a barge to engage the enemy, only to see the boat get set on fire.

These dice… ugh!  — One of our players, after he couldn’t hit anything for an hour or so.

 

 

 

 

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CONfessions of a Journeyman Gen Con Attendee: Part 2

This is the recap of the experiences I had at Gen Con 2013. Part one can be found here.

Day 3:

When I went to bed on Saturday morning, I was running on fumes. Upon waking a few hours later, though, I was energized and ready for Kobold Press’ Freelancing 101 panel.  (The Tome Show recorded the panel). Wolfgang Baur, Ben McFarland, Colin McComb, and Brandon Hodge discussed the steps to break into freelancing for the game industry (and some cheats for breaking in as well).

All of these guys have a bunch of experience in freelancing, so their advice was useful. I would strongly suggest that you listen if you’re interesting in busting into the tabletop games biz.

1004508_10151790782957438_1057252889_nAfter that panel, I attended Publishing 101. This one was a Wolfgang Baur solo affair, and he related stories from the first year of starting Kobold Press. He did a great job of relating the trials and triumphs of getting into publishing. I’m sure I’ll be listening to both of these panels again soon.

We were hungry, so our group ate some brunch (street food–I got some delicious wings) and did some shopping in the exhibit hall. We had a lot of downtime, so we spent part of it simply sitting and watching people. We also got to watch some games of Giant Star Trek Attack Wing.

Giant Attack Wing played exactly like regular Attack Wing, just on a much larger scale. In fact, I think they just attached a bunch of old Trek toys to larger versions of the bases, and let people play. They had giant dice, giant movement markers… it was pretty cool.

After our period of laziness, we headed over to True Dungeon.

True Dungeon is basically a life-sized dungeon supplemented with actors playing monsters. I was expecting something like a LARP, but it was something very different. Combat was resolved with something that reminded me of shuffleboard (you wanted to try to hit a 20 on a play area shaped like the monster). I think it was an interesting experience, but I can see it being a major money drain.

Your equipment is represented by tokens that you put on your character card before the game starts. You can buy extra packs of tokens, but you are given a certain amount before the game starts as well. There are also tokens for spells, potions, and other useable items; though, you have to give them up to the room’s DM when you use them.

1209341_10151790783407438_425928493_nIt was fun, but I had a few problems with my playthrough. 1.) There were two many people. The party was 10 people, and I think it was just too much. There were rooms when six people would be doing something, while four just hovered around. 2.) There was a dude in our group that stank really badly. That isn’t True Dungeons fault, but this guy was pretty pungent. Maybe he was staying at the convention center and got sick one night or something, but it was pretty bad as far as Con funk goes.

All-in-all, it was fun. I got to play a barbarian, and I was pretty good at the combat game (so was John, and he had to throw two at the same time because he was “dual-wielding’). Now that I’ve done it once, though, I’m hesitant to do it again. Maybe if I get 9 friends to do it.

 

1005481_10151790783302438_334450510_nAfter that we had dinner  at the Marriott hotel attached to the convention center. The food was pretty delicious. Miranda and I had the Turkey leg covered in gravy and served on a bed of mashed potatoes. As you can see, it was pretty delicious.

After that was the Masquerade Ball. This year’s theme was “Dance of the Dead,” but I don’t think theme mattered that much. It was a lot of fun to see all the costumes. And watch people lay on the floor and play their Nintendo DS.

Finally, the night ended with Artemis. We were all getting pretty exhausted at this point, but I think we overall had a good time. Our captain was getting a mite bit douchey and not really listening to his crew, but you know, sometimes that’ll happen. You just play the best game you can. We beat level 4, which was my personal record, so that was good. After that, it was time to sleep. The drive to the hotel took a lot longer than it normally would, since I was tired and kept missing turns.

Final Day

We slept in on Sunday. I’m sad that we skipped our first game, but I was barely able to move when my alarm went off that morning, so I just slept. I think the rest of the group was glad. After waking, we had the long task of packing up all the stuff we had bought in addition to all the stuff we bought. The back of the van was stuffed full of gaming paraphernalia.

We got to the convention center around 11:30 AM and played a fun little game called “Cosmic Encounter: Cosmic Alliance“. It’s a game of making and breaking alliances and stabbing your buddies in the back. Our game basically devolved into two teams, in which one side of the table started picking on the other side of the table. It was fun, but not very sportsmanlike.

After that, Tyler and I entered a tournament of Star Trek Attack Wing. He won his first game and lost his second, and I did the opposite. Either way, he walked out of there with three new Attack Wing ships to add to his fleet, so not a bad tournament. Certainly much better than the Magic: The Gathering tournament I took part in.

After that, we waited in line in the parking garage to go home. We were sad and exhausted to leave, but I’m already planning on how to do things better next year. If we decide to go (and I hope we do).

Tomorrow, I’ll relate my tale of running a game at Gen Con for Kobold Press.

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CONfessions of a Journeyman Gen Con Attendee: Part One

Gen Con is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s one of those times when I can completely geek out about gaming, and it’s perfectly okay to do so. It’s a time where I can chat with established game designers and meet with up-and-comers. If I was physically able, I could game 24 hours.

Now that I have steady internet (the hotel wi-fi was extremely slow and spotty), I can relate a little about my experiences.

Day 0:

This year, my Gen Con started in Columbus, Ohio on August 14. I received an invitation to attend “The Sundering” event hosted by the Thurber House at the Columbus Museum of Art. The Thurber House frequently hosts author talks and signings, and I was excited when RA Salvatore, Ed Greenwood, and Erin M. Evans were announced as guests pre-Gen Con.

All the authors seemed like extremely nice people, and Ed Greenwood even chatted with me about  beards for a few moments while he was signing a couple of my books. All seemed excited (especially Ed and Erin) about this new Sundering series, so I’ll be delighted to finally begin reading them.

You can see more pictures from the event, as taken by the Thurber House, here.

Day 1:

John already went into detail about our first day of Gen Con, but I wanted to talk about my experiences a bit as well. Let me start by saying that this was easily the busiest first day I’ve seen since attending. The lines for retail were un-real, and I kept hearing rumors about people finding copies of the completely sold out Firefly game. Finding a copy of Firefly was like living in a weird gamepocalypse where conjecture and rumor are your only companions and you don’t know if someone is deliberately throwing you off the trail.

I just decided that I’ll get the game online sometime.

Turns out, it WAS the busiest Gen Con ever. There were almost 50,000 attendees–almost a 20% growth over last year!

Thursday was also my first face-to-face meeting with some of the good folks from Kobold Press when I attended their book signing at the Paizo booth. Ben McFarland, Brian Suskind, and Wolfgang Baur were super friendly. You should go buy their books; did I mention they won two Ennie Awards?

Next up was the Magic: The Gathering tournament, where everyone but me did amazing. Seriously, I lost all my matches. I only won a free booster pack because I was given a by in the last round. The judges must have felt bad for me or something.

We ended the night by checking into the hotel and eating. I had pork loin. I remember it being delicious.

Day 2:

Friday is a blur. I started the day by running “Madman at the Bridge” — an adventure by Kobold Press. I had a great time, but I’ll detail it later this week in another post. It was the first game I’ve ever run at Gen Con, and I doubt it will be my last.

After that we played a game of Battletech. It wasn’t the tabletop game but instead was a series of 16 pods networked together that basically let us experience 16-player MechWarrior. The pods are completely enclosed, and you get a radar screen and a HUD screen, as well as various levers for movement, shooting, and firing your jump jets. It looks like a lot of fun, and if I get time, I’d like to experiment with it next year. I heard that late at night is the best time to go, so maybe I’ll take an evening to play a bunch of rounds of Battletech.

After that, we played a session of Artemis: Spaceship Bridge Simulator in order to get our Gen Con newcomers prepared for our 2-hour session on Saturday night. We did well, and I didn’t have to give up my engineer position.

After that, shopping and food ensued. St. Elmo’s has some awesomely spicy shrimp sauce that I recommend you try at least once in your life.

And finally, we ended the day with the Giant Pathfinder Society Scenario “The Siege of the Diamond City.” I’ve never experienced so many people playing the same Pathfinder adventure at the same time. I think Paizo did a good job of making the group feel like we were contributing to the greater experience. However, the part of the adventure we played seemed a little basic. I’m guessing it was necessary in order to keep things simple for the people who had to calculate all the information presented.

All right, that’s the first half of Gen Con. Tomorrow, I’ll detail Saturday and Sunday, and on Friday I’ll talk about running a game at Gen Con.

 

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The Long Con

Another GenCon Indy has come and gone. In celebration of surviving the annual pilgrimage, here are some quick tips for outlasting four or more days of pure indoor living.

Strategic Food Outcomes

By stigma and stereotype gamers, comic book fans and geek aficionados are not considered the healthiest demographic. Couple that with a nerd culture that is damn near synonymous with Hot Pockets and Mountain Dew. Now consider that thousands of people enjoying accommodations in the hospitality industry with commercial vendors and restaurants as their only food source.

What you have is a perfect storm of garbage eating. You’re going to have the strong temptation to eat whatever is delicious (because hey, it is a vacation after all!) and whatever is readily available. During this last con I had Starburst for breakfast and at least one day where I ate 1500 calories worth of pasta, pizza, breadsticks and Cherry Coke at a Fazoli’s.

This isn’t a preach about eating better or losing weight. The simple fact is that the best four days of gaming is a marathon, and you need to do whatever you can to stay energized for maximum satisfaction. Half a week of chips and candy will bring anyone to a crawl and dehydrate you. It will also carve a hole in the wallet where sweet games, comics and merchandise could go instead.

Go in with a food strategy, stay hydrated and bring snacks where possible for the best results.

Pack For Bear

Aside from the snacks and water you should already be toting, you’ll need enough space for your phone charger, spare clothes, entertainment, and all the swag you are going to buy/win and any other essentials you find necessary. That means you’ll need a pretty serious bag. And you need something you can carry around for up to 18 hours of standing and walking.

My suggestion is a backpack, which we do see a lot of at conventions. Tote bags, hand bags, fanny packs, plastic cases and pretty much everything else can be spotted at a sizable con, but a backpack is, pound for pound, the best choice you can make if you’re in it for the long haul.

You Need The Me Time

Most of us only get to go to a few conventions a year. When we go, we want to go hard. During our trip we would wake up at five or six in the morning and not get back to the hotel until midnight or later. By Saturday, members of our party were hurting for some rest. Unless you’re a vendor or someone else there to promote a brand, it’s a great idea to plan out some time to decompress.

Not to mention a great way to alleviate the aches of walking all day. Almost anyone, regardless of physical fitness level or convention veteran status is going to be feeling it after a couple days, especially if you’re following our second suggestion.

Pick a morning to sleep in or take an afternoon to play some games with friends. Read a book or listen to some music. And definitely get away get out of the artificial lights and Cheetos stank of the convention center for a while. Most conventions take place in landmark cities that deserve to be explored.

Con With Purpose

During GenCon this year there was a Dance of the Dead masquerade. It was held in the ballroom of Indianapolis’ Union Station area. While 20130819-162610.jpgdancing and mixing it up with other guests, I noticed a body sprawled on the ground next to the dance floor. For a moment I thought someone had literally died, raising the irony level considerably. That was until he refreshed the screen on his Nintendo DS and I realized he was gaming.

If you’re going to make a full trip to a convention, do it with purpose. Figure out what it is you like and find it. It may very well be that our friend lying on the dance floor was taking my advice to get a little me time, but it struck me as an odd location. And it also made me think that was time he could be spending doing something not normally available at home.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Con Alone

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Nothing sounds worse than traveling to a strange city alone for a massive convention.

I look forward to next year knowing that The Con is a marathon and I need to stop sprinting.

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Gen Con: The Best Laid Plans of Gamers and Geeks

 

shepard

Super Creep Face. I don’t normally look like this, I promise.

 

I’m super-mega excited for Gen Con this year. Not only are John and I both attending again, but we’ll be bringing a couple of friends along with us. Twice the people means twice the fun, right? Probably.

I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to approach the Con this year. It’s my third year, and I feel like I’m only scratching the surface of what Gen Con has to offer. There’s so much to do! Even if I went the entirety of the four days without sleeping, there’s no way I’d get to do a tenth of what’s available.

So, here’s the plan.

1.) Meet people — I’m a naturally shy person. I don’t generally like to “put myself out there” when it comes to meeting people, but I think it’s time to put on a friendly convention persona. I bought some business cards and stickers to hand out, and I volunteered to run a game for the good folks at Kobold Press. I really envy people that have friends they meet up with at Gen Con every year. So, I guess my goal is to make friends and influence people.

hypnotoad

HIRE ME TO EDIT YOUR STUFF.

2.) Do more — I’m signed up for some panels, some games, and I’m going to the big masquerade ball. I might even don a costume. I’m trying out my first True Dungeon run, and I’ll pretend to be on the crew of a star ship with Artemis. I’m also hoping to come away with some signed swag. My favorite game developers are going to be there! Maybe they need an editor. 🙂

3.) Eat food — I had the best steak of my life last year, so I’m (of course) going to hit that place again. Indianapolis offers a lot of great restaurants. I don’t plan on over-indulging, but I’m definitely going to enjoy my meals.

4.) Play games — Whether for a specific event or just demoing stuff on the floor, I had a blast playing games (I mean, it’s “The Best Four Days in Gaming after all), and I’m going to play a whole bunch of them! What’s a gaming convention without trying new stuff?

5.) Keep up — Last year, I kind of burned out by the last day. I don’t want that to happen this year. I’m going to take some healthy snacks to help keep energy up; I want to do this right. It’s not often that I get to be a dude without kids for a few days, and as much as I love my children, I’m going to savor being without them for a few days.

In the end, I just want me and my pals to have a good time. Gen Con is only two weeks away. John and I will keep you up-to-date on our adventures. I hope to see you there!

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Tips for Running a Game at a Convention

Gabrielfe

This elf helped get people to play my game. Team work!

While I’ve been playing Roleplaying Games for a long time, it’s only been this year that I’ve started to run games at various conventions. I first got my feet wet last weekend at Ratha Con, a new convention in Athens, OH. My next experience will be running a game for Kobold Press at Gen Con.

So, with my vast wealth of experience (one game I’ve run at a convention), I thought that you might benefit from what I learned.

Before the Game

1.) Prepare

This goes without saying, but prepare for the game.  I didn’t have an already published adventure to run, so I created my own. I had a three-hour game, so I planned for three relatively short encounters battle encounters, with some investigation thrown in for good measure.

I figured that my players would consist of a lot of newbies (which is awesome! I love introducing new players to RPGs!), so I didn’t make the encounters too terribly complicated, and I made sure that there would be no character death. Since we were playing a superhero game, I wanted my players to feel mighty, so I threw some bad guys at them that were tough, but wouldn’t be overly hard so long that the players worked together.

2.) Advertise

Since I was at a small con, I should’ve gotten to the venue much earlier and talked up my game a little bit. Luckily, I had my wife with me (she was cosplaying an elf). She can really turn on the charm; so she was able to secure some players for me just by being awesome. If that isn’t what marriage is supposed to be, then I don’t know what is.

So talk the game up at the convention and on social media. Post it on forums. Be proactive in getting people to play your games.

Bring extra dice!!

Bring extra dice!!

3.) Set-up

Bring extra dice, a battle mat or maps (if you need them), tokens for tracking characters, pencils, and character sheets. I would generally recommend bringing your own pre-generated character sheets (I’m not a huge fan of power gaming), so that things are fair between players.

A note on character sheets: I knew that I would have a maximum of 6 players, so I brought 14 different characters for the players to choose from.  I really wanted everyone to be able to play the type of character they wanted, so I gave them plenty of choices.

4.) Right Before the Game Starts

Before the game started, I reviewed the rules of the game with the new players and let them look over their characters and character backgrounds. I was present if they had any questions for me. I let this go beyond the start time, because I think it is important that players get a good feel for who their character is and what they do.

During the Game:

1.) Be Nice!

I did my best to be welcoming and personable. I’m there to be the facilitator of the players having a good time. I try not to take the game too seriously, because it is, after all, a game. If you get a hardcore group of gamers at an adventure, it’s cool to go all serious, but for most convention situations, it’s probably best to smile and keep the game as light as possible. My wife, Gabrielle, suggested that I bring some candy to share; that seemed to make everyone happy (everyone likes Starbursts).

2.) Be Patient!

Sometimes your newbies just don’t know how to play the game. It’s okay to show them things on their character sheet that they might not have known, or to give them hints about the cool stuff their character could be doing. Stopping to explain a rule is fine, too. Go with your gut and remember that the goal is to have some fun.

3.) Be Ready!

Sometimes a character will throw a curve ball at you that could potentially “ruin” your game. That’s okay! I try to build games in optional modules that can be plugged in where needed. Maybe you need a little more time? Throw in a module with an extra encounter.

I also try to have a list of NPC and location names with general descriptions, that way I can easily put extra elements into a game.

In order to keep things from going off the rails too much, I started the game with an encounter: the governor was getting kidnapped! This set the tone for the mystery and immediately had the players ready for a fight.

After the Game:

1.) End the Game with a Bang

I ended my convention game with a big set piece (Brainiac had to be stopped and all the world leaders needed to be rescued!).  While I don’t know if I completely succeeded, I wanted to make the players feel like they were the heroes of the story. Defeating a bad guy and rescuing major political leaders was definitely a heroic thing to do.

2.) Thank Them for Playing

This is the time to say a big “thank you,” get some of the player’s contact information if you’d like to keep in touch with them, and get feedback on the game. If they aren’t in a hurry to get somewhere else, try to ask them what worked about the game and what didn’t. And take criticism with a smile. You’re only going to get better if you know what you need to work on.

3.) Pack Up

Just like it sounds. Get your things off the table as quickly as possible (there might be another group coming in after you), and, if you can, clean up. I generally try to leave things just as clean as I found them; it’s just common courtesy.

Running games at a convention, I found, is a really good time. You get to meet some new and interesting people, and really, any excuse to game is welcome.

(Hey, if you’re coming to Gen Con in August, I’m running this game for Kobold Press. You should come and say, hi!)

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Gen Con Planning Tips

I love Gen Con so much. And I think a lot of readers of this site might enjoy it too, so I thought I’d give you a few tips for maximizing your convention experience. If you are bad at planning, or just have no idea where to start, I’m here to help.

1. Register Early

Gen Con’s badge registration generally starts in January. THIS IS THE TIME TO GET BADGES. Not only will you save money with early registration, you won’t have to stand in the MASSIVE line to buy your badge at Gen Con.

Early registration also applies to event tickets. Event tickets generally go on sale a few months before the convention starts, and if you want to do awesome things like True Dungeon, Artemis, or play in all your required Pathfinder Society scenarios, you NEED to buy those event tickets early. Gen Con is rapidly expanding, and that means more people are coming and selling out events. A week after registration is often too late if you want to do one of the really popular Gen Con attractions.

2. Contact Info

Bring business cards with your contact info. You are going to meet some great people who are going to rush away as soon as your game is over to get to their next game. Business cards with a phone/text number are an easy way to touch base with people later. Trust me, there’s rarely any time to chat with people after the game. Plan ahead.

We didn’t take business cards this year, and we immediately regretted it.

3. Indies

Indy game developers all over over the exhibit hall. PLAY THEIR GAMES! Maybe even take a chance and buy one of their games. A lot of these devs have to put their shyness to the side in order to sell themselves and their games; give them a shot and take a listen. They will really appreciate it.

This is how I found out about awesome games like Castle Panic, Bears!, and Quack in the Box.

4. Be Bold

No one ever got anywhere by being shy. Gen Con is pretty laid back, but the energy level is often very high, so there’s no time to be bashful. Do you want your favorite developer to sign a book? Ask.

You’ll find that game developers and celebrities are often just people like you, and many will even be flattered when you ask them to sign something that they put their heart and soul into.

This worked for us when I was talking to Joe Carriker, who was nice enough to demo A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying for us. He was the line producer and a heckuva nice guy. After John bought ALL the available books for the game, I asked Mr. Carriker if he would sign them, and he seemed a little big surprised that we would care enough to do so. Game creators make us happy. Why not try to make them happy to?

5. The Early Bird

Get to events a bit early, if at all possible. This will give you opportunities to chat with the people you’ll be playing games with. In our case, we got to chat a little bit with Tim Clonch, our Mutants and Masterminds GM, for a few minutes. Arriving early also allowed us to meet our fellow Artemis crew members for the session.

6. Don’t just attend game events

There is so much to do besides gaming at Gen Con: The Masquerade Ball, building larping weapons, making chain mail, seminars, speed dating, cosplay, zombie hunts, a film festival, music acts… the list goes ever, ever on. If I wouldn’t have stopped to listen to some of the musicians, I never would have heard a bunch of Klingons singing the Ewok song from the end of Return of the Jedi.

7. Get more people.

John and I decided that two just isn’t cutting it anymore. If you are one of our friends and are nominally interested in gaming, expect a call, text, Facebook message or email because we want to roll up to the Con in style with a bigger entourage. Seriously, if you are reading this, whether you know us or not, you need to get to Gen Con. It touts itself as “The Best Four Days in Gaming,” and it’s true. You WILL have a good time.

These tips should help you have an even more awesome time at Gen Con. For next year, The Cool Ship is considering hosting some events (we have some awesome ideas). If you’d like to roll with us at the con, let us know in the comments.

 

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Con Men: GenCon Day 3

I’m just going to get this out there and say it.

If you knew about Gen Con, and you didn’t go, you lose. Plain and simple. You lose.

Know what I did today? I hung out with Green Lantern. I sang my way into battle alongside a warhammer-swinging Paladin. I served with Captain Malcolm Reynolds and a sexy assassin aboard the mighty starship Artemis.
The day started early. John and I got up around 7 o’clock (after about 4 hours of sleep), and headed out to the Con. We walked nearly the entire length of the Indiana Convention Center to get to the JW Marriott hotel, where our first event was being held. Let me say that every gaming session that happens should be in a meeting room of a fancy hotel: comfortable seating, hard candy, ice water, big tables, pens/paper provided.

Anywho, the game was called “Dead End” and was built using Mutants & Masterminds/ DC Adventures. We got the opportunity to play as many of the members of the Justice League, but mostly all the players picked B and C-list heroes. Our team consisted of Green Lantern, Batman (played by John), Dr. Light, Plastic Man, and our only D-list hero, Booster Gold (played by me, because I think he’s hilarious).

The team had their work cut out for them. Lex Luthor, Clayface, Sinestro, Deathstroke, and Gorilla Grod had all teamed up to build a dimensional portal… but our terrible Justice League team managed to fight them and send them to jail… except for that slippery Lex Luthor… he jumped through the portal. On the other side… we found Marvel Zombies.

Hands down a great game. I wish I could remember the DM’s name because he did an amazing job. He was part of North Coast Gamers from Ohio. If you’re reading this, DM, email me. I would love to ask you some questions about your DMing style or just chat. And I will definitely look for your event next year.

Next up came some Pathfinder Society action. This one… was a little disappointing, I have to say. The DM was really, really tired. And we had a really loud, jerky power-gamer incarnate sitting at our table. The guy couldn’t relinquish control of anything.

Other than that awful, harassing person, the other people at the table seemed legitimately cool, and I mostly had a good time. I felt bad for the DM, though. He looked like he needed a nap. I wonder how many games he had to run that day.

Pathfinder Society is a lot of fun. I’m going to be looking for ways to play nearer to home. I’m pretty sure there is a group in Columbus that plays. I need to start leveling up my character!

Next came the movieMisfit Heights.It’s a zombie puppet musical that we went to see because we liked that Vampire Puppet show fromForgetting Sarah Marshall.I don’t consider myself much a film critic… but I was a little disappointed. It’s ultra-low budget, and you can really tell. The picture was OFTEN too dark to see. The singing wasn’t really great. The sound editing seemed a little off. It also seemed a little overly long. However, I did laugh out loud more than a few times, so I suppose it was certainly worth seeing. And it was free, so the price was hard to beat.

Finally, the highlight of my day. Artemis, a starship bridge simulator. I’m going to try my best to adequately describe to you how amazing I think this game is.

How it works: Artemis is basically a program that runs using a LAN or internet connection. 6 displays are linked together, and each display represents a different station on a starship: Helm, Tactical (John got to shoot the bad guys), Communications, Science, Engineering (this was my specialty for the evening), and the Captain.

The Captain has the job of overseeing all the stations and giving orders. He’s the macro-organizer of the ship, and you mostly have to depend on him to organize all the stations to work together. The guy who volunteered to be our Captain was pretty amazing. He seriously took to it instantly, and by the end, we were all calling him “sir” or “captain.” Pretty impressive.

The Helm steers the ship by controlling the maneuvering engines, the impulse engines, and the warp engines. Our Helmsman started off a little shaky, but by the end was controlling the ship like a pro.

The Comm officer monitors communications throughout the star system and relays them to the Captain. Our comm officer was played by a cosplayer dressed as Malcolm Reynolds. It was weird to have the Browncoat hero sitting in the comm, but he did a great job. Comm officers are also able to get enemies to surrender and can also taunt the baddies into attacking us rather than one of our allied ships or space stations.

The Science Officer is responsible for keeping tabs on approaching ships and scanning the many anomalies in the darkness of space. Our Science Officer was played by the girl hanging out with Malcolm Reynolds (wife, girlfriend?) who was dressed as a sexy assassin. She did a good job keeping tabs on the bad guys.

The Tactical Officer is responsible for shooting bad guys and defending the starship. John was our guy, and he was the king of setting off nukes in such a way as to kill 3-5 ships in one fell swoop. After learning how to manually control the lasers, he basically became the boss of killing bad guys. Seriously.

Represent.

Finally, my part the Engineer. I was the guy responsible for shunting power into various systems, making sure those same systems don’t overheat, and sending engineering teams to fix any damage to the ship. I don’t want to toot my own horn too much, but I think I did a pretty excellent job of Scotty-ing (I’m giving her all she’s got, Captain!!) my way through the game. By the end, I was a master of repairing shield damage and shunting enough power into John’s lasers to cut enemy warships into ribbons.

Basically, everyone should play Artemis. Now, I’m trying to figure out how to turn my shed into a starship bridge. I was so impressed with the game, I’m even considering getting an Engineer’s badge to show off my love for both the good ship Artemis and the lonely Engineering station.

After that, we headed to BW3s for some chicken wings, and we got to watch this woman at the bar have a terrible date.

All-in all, a pretty awesome day at the con.

Editor’s Note: John ended up remembering the DM’s name.

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Gen Con Adventures: GenCon Day 1

None of this bad stuff would have happened if Peyton was still here.

Well, today has been… pretty weird/terrible.

It started out pretty well. I was packed and out the door by 6 AM. John and I were on the road and discussing life, politics, etc.

Finally, after what seemed like an extremely short drive, we were in Indianapolis. Gen Con was just within my reach. All the games were going to be played.

But I suddenly realized that I forgot the tickets. They were sitting on top of my microwave in my kitchen in my house. I called my wife, John and I turned around, and away we went. We met at an A&W somewhere between Albany, Ohio, and Indianapolis, Indiana. We decided to have lunch at said A&W, and the service was absolutely atrocious. The food wasn’t spectacular either, but John declared that the root beer was delicious.

Back to Indy we went. All the games were before us. Nothing could stop us.

Except the insane amount of road construction. We literally spent nearly an hour and a half within sight of our hotel… but we couldn’t get to it. A bridge was out for road construction… and there were no signs for a detour. An insane amount of driving ensued, but we got checked in. The room is really nice!

So, off to the convention center we went! All the games were again before us. But…

John couldn’t get his press badge. I actually watched as the press coordinators left the room, but I was too far away to do anything about it or say anything to them.  John thought about buying a day pass… but at $50, it was a little too steep a price to pay.

So, I played some Pathfinder… Which was fun. But, John went back to hotel and slept.

A super late dinner at Scotty’s Brewhouse after that, and now I’m writing this piece; I can barely keep my eyes open. So I’m going to sign off. Hopefully, things are better tomorrow.

 

 

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Gen Con Coverage!

John and I are going to the most magical place on Earth.  Not Disney World.

GEN CON!!!!

And we are going to play ALL THE GAMES!*

(*Editor’s note: We’ll be playing a lot of games… not all of them.)

So every day we’ll give you coverage of what we did, who we talked to, what swag we got, and other awesome things. Maybe a cosplay gallery? We’ll do what we can. We want to party with Wil Wheaton, but we’ll settle for partying with Nichelle Nichols.

So keep it your interwebz tuned to The Cool Ship (because we all still “tune” things, right?).

And if you happen to be at Gen Con, come say hello.

 

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