Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gen Con: Day 2 (Friday for those keeping track of such things)

Right from the start, days at GenCon bled one into the other. I'd only gotten a few hours of sleep when it was time to wake up and take care of my dogs again. 5 bells found me getting showered and then heading back to my house for the dog feeding/walking ritual. Needless to say, I was tired. I figured it was prudent to get some more sleep, so I grabbed a few more hours and headed out at about 11 AM for some food. I skipped my morning Pathfinder game. One thing I've certainly learned this year is to only schedule things at 8 AM if you know you just can't bear to miss them.

My initial plan was to spend some time in the dealer hall and see if I could find a pick-up game. Thankfully I checked twitter that morning. I'd scheduled a Hollow Earth Expedition game at 4 PM on Saturday, but I knew there was absolutely no way I could play in it now with my dog care duties. HEX is one of the games I was really looking forward to trying a GenCon, and I knew one of my only real chances was a rumor that @KJBauman was going to be GMing a pick-up game sometime during the con. I'd gotten this info from @d20Blonde, and she'd recommended him as the best HEX GM she'd played with. Sure enough, today was the day. There was one spot left in @KJBauman's "Danger in the Arctic" game in the Embassy Suites' lobby at noon. I responded (as soon as I saw the tweet) that I would really like to play in the game, and managed to be lucky enough to get the last spot. See how useful social media (Twitter in particular) is at a con? I grabbed a quick sub at Subway in the food court at the mall, and headed to the game. After a little trouble in finding the group, they found me and we sat down to play.

This game was an absolute blast. Without spoiling this for anyone that might get the opportunity to play it in the future, the pre-gens form a shameless rip off of the Johnny Quest team with the same interactions built in to your motives. I played the brilliant scientist who can't quite get everything from paper to reality without some issue. There were rockets and Nazis and zeppelins and snowmobile chases and dogfights and portals to the moon and Hitler in a jar. The game was over-the-top pulp at its best. While we didn't play strictly rules-as-written, @KJBauman's modifications worked wonderfully for this scenario with new players and experienced. In my last post I talked briefly about being able to tell a good game by looking at the players. Our GM was up on his feet constantly, animated, and made every situation (bad and good) into something fun. The players were smiling most of the game, and grinning a good portion of it too. There was at least one good full belly laugh every 10 minutes (honestly, I'm surprised we didn't get asked to calm down). As you can probably tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this game. If you EVER get the chance to play in one of @KJBauman's HEX games, just make the time and do it. He gets nervous about GMing it seems, but I think that's because he puts a lot of pressure on himself to make sure everyone has fun. No need to worry, he's brilliant at what he does and it was again educational for me to watch such a good GM in action (when I managed to briefly break my immersion with the specific intent of trying to learn some techniques). This was absolutely one of the best twitter tips I got all con. So glad I was able to be a part of this.

As for the game, the Ubiquity system really plays smoothly. Sure, you need a GM who can come up with good numbers for target successes on the fly, but the skill and combat resolution is fast and smooth, keeping the game moving and exciting. The HEX system of rewards for playing built in motivations and flaws, even when doing so might cause a temporarily bad outcome, really adds roleplaying depth to the game. Yes, this system absolutely encourages RP. Even if you just don't RP, you're still going to gain significant advantages for staying in character because you're going to get rewarded with extra dice when you want them for doing so. This is a game I'm really glad I got a chance to play, and I am happy to have purchased the core rulebook in advance. I'd play a full campaign if the opportunity ever came up, and I'll probably look for another HEX game at GenCon next year.

I got out of this game at about 4 pm, and had a little bit of free time, but not a lot. I knew I wasn't going to my scheduled HEX game on Saturday, and I'd made plans for the night so I wasn't going to the Pathfinder GenCon special at 7 PM. Armed with this, I stopped by GenCon customer service and returned these tickets so they would know there were places for generics. I also got some money back (I think there was a 5% return fee...it was something small and very reasonable). At this point I didn't have to wait long in line, and everything went very smoothly again. The GenCon staff really has this down.

I think I may have wandered the halls a bit, but soon I headed back to my car to drive home and take care of the dogs. I was also picking up my girlfriend so we could walk around and admire the cosplayers. She likes seeing what people have come up with, so this was a great way to show her some fun at the con. We were also going to go to the Goth/Industrial night at the Ugly Monkey though we weren't planning on staying long. I had to be up early on Saturday and she couldn't be out very long with her back injury.

I don't remember what I did for dinner, but what does that matter? I know we headed back downtown and I changed into my goth clothes. We then walked around the convention center admiring the costumes. The Westin convention rooms are where all the film and anime events are held, so it's a great place if you want to see cosplay. We spent a significant amount of time there, and talked to a few folks about their costumes. We were heading back to the con center on the up escalator when I actually started listening to the performer who had set up his keyboard by said escalators. I heard Japanese, and it suddenly struck me that he was, for all intents and purposes, playing lounge versions of anime theme songs. Needless to say, we turned right around and headed back down to listen for a bit. Turns out he had a huge book of music, so when my girlfriend requested Gessekai by Buck Tick (the theme to Nightwalker, and one of the most goth sounding Japanese songs I've heard) he found it in no time and launched into a very respectable rendition. What a find. These are the cool little things you can see at GenCon by just being in the right place at the right time. The artist in question is Gavin Goska, and you can find out more at http://www.subtleinversion.com/gavin (unfortunately his page is locked behind some ridiculous login wall that even site registration doesn't seem to get you access too. Not the best marketing tool). I recommend catching some of his act if you ever get the chance and like anime themes or J-pop.
A really well done Hit Girl. Wish this
picture was better.
An orc...and a good one.

At about 10 PM we headed over to the Ugly Monkey for some dancing. As I should have expected, 10 to midnight was just too early, and very few people had shown up by the time we got there. The music was mediocre at best, so I'm not sure we missed much (though it may have improved later). Indy's goth/industrial scene leaves a lot to be desired, but it's nice to see them still trying. Maybe I'm just too old, but the music that gets played just isn't my thing for the most part. I got to dance to all of one song, so this part of the night felt like kind of a waste. We headed back towards my car at about midnight, and of all the flattering things, I got stopped by a bunch of much younger women so they could snap a picture and compliment my on my look. My girlfriend gets stopped a lot..she's significantly more attractive than I should be with, so it was a nice ego boost to be the one stopped for once.

I knew I had an 8 AM game, so we headed home and I got to sleep as soon as I could. Another great day of GenCon had passed, and I'd kept busy the whole time and had a blast.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gen Con: Day 1

Thursday was the first "real" day of GenCom. I started off with my duties at home. I woke up at 5 am, drove home, took care of my dogs, and drove back. This was a repeat task for me every day at 5 am and 5 pm. It's just what I had to do to meet my responsibilities to my pets. The original plan was for my girlfriend to take care of this, but she hurt her back, and dealing with big, excited dogs was not in the program any more. She was very kind and did take care of them once for me, as you'll see in a bit.

After returning to downtown, I had a little time, so I managed a little extra sleep before waking up at 9 am so I would be sufficiently early to my 10 am True Dungeon run. I scheduled this first thing in the convention partly because I hoped choosing this time I would be more likely to get my pick, and partly because there wasn't anything competing for my time yet. It turns out the group I was in was 8 friends, some of whom were podcasters, including @Tresi, @bafadam, @Jennisodes, @linabaf, @WarrenLocke, and @TheGreatMrChibi. We spent some time going through our bags of tokens trying to optimize the distribution as best we could. Turns out that was something of a wasted effort. When our 10th player showed up, he immediately dropped a massive binder of tokens on the table and announced the he was equipping the party. It was nice to have good gear, that's for sure, but this particular individual was a little over the top and proud of his collection. It was pretty clear that we were somewhat beneath him since we were casual True Dungeon players. I think he was disappointed that no one really cared that he was there.

Finally, we rolled into the practice room and had just enough time for our cleric and mage to memorize their diagrams and prayer beads before we were ushered into the dungeon. This was a puzzle run, but there was a fair amount of combat too. I could take you through room-by-room, but I'm sure if you really want to know, the info is out there somewhere online. We did fairly well, solving more puzzles and defeating more monsters than we failed. Unfortunately the final puzzle was a solve or die puzzle. We had the solution, but somehow just didn't manage to locate the hidden item even though we were pretty sure what we were looking for. We entered the final room with the whole party alive, but didn't solve the puzzle in time. That was a bit of a let down, but that's how it goes. I think everyone had a great time anyway. I know I did. This event was absolutely worth the price of admission, and I will be doing this again.

I got out of True Dungeon at about noon, so it was lunch time. I knew Scotty's would start to get busy today, so I headed down there and picked up my collectible die. Lunch was less crowded than I thought it would be, but the wait staff had certainly been trained to cater to the GenCon crowd. My waitress asked me about the games I'd played so far, and while I doubt she really cared it was still nice to have that little extra bit of effort aimed at gamers.

Once lunch was done, I made a dash to the dealer hall to try to get a little exploration time in before my next game. The new dealer hall area is just about overwhelming. I realized after a few minutes in there that I was really glad my first trip in was with a purpose. I'd heard so many good things about Ptolus that I wanted to get a copy of the two book reprint being released by Malhavoc Press and DriveThruRPG.com. I'd seen comments on twitter that they were running out quickly, so I located the booth on the hall map and headed straight back to it. Good thing...there were only about 7 copies left. This is a monster of a product. 2 books that add up to about 2 inches thick, and additional electronic docs to follow (I believe it's 16 PDFs, including the map). It didn't come cheap, but what really great product of that volume does?

Setting up for Crucible of the Gods in the J. W. Marriott. From left to
right: @BrainClouds, @Hzurr, @saveversusdeath, and @DanielRoanoke
After wandering back to my hotel room to stash my new purchase and grab some character sheets, I went to one of the events I'd really been looking forward to. On Tuesday before the con, I'd gotten an invite from Sersa V (@saveversusdeath) to play his new fourthcore adventure, C1: Crucible of the Gods. I'm a fourthcore fan, so there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to play the new adventure with the creator of the module and fourthcore as a whole as the DM. My girlfriend had said she could take care of the dogs so that I could play in this, and for that she has my sincere gratitude. At 3:30 I found myself in the lobby of the J. W. Marriott shaking Sersa V's hand and then looking for a free table to play at. This game was everything I expected and more. It was full of incredibly difficult challenges that we mostly barely scraped by. It was non-stop pressure and excitement. Sersa as a DM made the experience even better. His style was very animated, and each description of what the party was experiencing came complete with very evocative language and sound effects. Yes, we all died. Doesn't matter...everyone seemed to have a blast playing, and I know I did. I'll repeat this rule in my description of later days as well, but when you stop and look around a gaming table and everyone is smiling and laughing or totally absorbed, you know they are having fun and you're in a good game. We lost 3 characters on the way to the final room (including my poor cleric), and then in the final encounter defeated the rest. I think we did a really good job overall though, and made it really far for our first run at this adventure  (this is a replayable module). The last man standing was @Hzurr, and in the truest tradition of fourthcore, he made a last minute plea to the gods and basically won the day. His exploits in the final chamber earned him a place in the module from that point forward (see Crucible of the Gods Update and New Content). I'd like to think that this game is part of what changed Sersa's mind regarding D&D 4E and fourthcore. He'd announced prior to GenCon that he was no longer going to be adding any fourthcore products, just finishing what was already on the schedule, and was going to pursue writing his own game instead (Wrath). While I'm excited for Wrath, I really thought losing fourthcore D&D was tragic. Now, thanks to a post con change of heart we get both! As an afterthought, it occurred to me after the whole con was over that this game was my first full game of D&D 4E. I'd played Encounters, I'd played some play-by-post 4E, but this was my first full adventure. What an introduction! Baptism by fire if ever there was.

If you're trying to match up my day with my schedule, you'll find I skipped my 2 hour Tower of Gygax run to play in Crucible. I don't regret that at all. I would have enjoyed Tower, but I am sure I picked correctly. It's OK to skip things at GenCon if better opportunities arise. They have the generic ticket system in place for just this possibility, and I'm sure someone got my spot and was glad for it.

It was about 7:45 pm now, and I had a little bit of time before my 10:30 Tower of Gygax event. I stopped by the RAM to see about dinner, but they had a fairly long wait, and I like the food at Scotty's better. I took a walk down there expecting an hour wait, and ran into @Hzurr also waiting for a table. He invited me to join him, so I ended up only waiting about 10 minutes and had good company for dinner. To top it all off, he was in my 10:30 game as well, so it all worked out about as well as it could. I grabbed a growler of the Abbey Ale on the way out, just in case there was drinking allowed at the late night event. Turns out no one did, so the growler stayed in my bag for later consumption.

I'm a "Champion of the Tower"
My 10:30 game was again DMed by @saveversusdeath. It was a three night adaptation of the original Tomb of Horrors hosted by Tower of Gygax and run with slightly modified AD&D rules. We were each allowed to choose 3 pregens, and you weren't eliminated until all three were dead.  It was a fun and casual way to play a real challenging dungeon with none of the brutality taken out. Some at the table had never played any of the 1E style rule sets, so it was nice to be the one in familiar rules territory for once. One player had never heard of percentile dice :).  It was a great night that lasted until around 2:30 in the morning. There was only one player who was a little bit of a jerk (questioned the DM because "that doesn't happen in the original" and as a paladin summoned his warhorse inside just to be a tool). The party worked around him and @saveversusdeath maintained his cool as a DM. I was one of the few players left at the end of the adventure with my first character still standing, and I got a badge ribbon for that. By the time 2:30 rolled around, I was tired but on a high like only a great day at GenCon can give you. I headed back to my room to try to grab 2 hours of sleep if I could.

That, folks, is what a full day at GenCon looks like. Some scheduled events, some pick-up games, some time in the dealer hall and making a lot of friends. You'll notice a lot of twitter handles in this post. I can't think of one thing that I did better than making a lot of friends and acquaintances on twitter during the year running up to the convention. I arrived with a bunch of people I wanted to meet and that knew me well enough to feel good inviting me to games. I really got far, far more out of GenCon thanks to attempting to be part of the community and pay things forward with this blog.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Gen Con: Day 0

Wednesday was really the beginning of GenCon 2011 for me. I woke up early because I couldn't sleep (thanks to a somewhat rough Tuesday) loaded my van, and headed downtown. One of the great things about my job is that I get to use the Indiana State parking garages, so I pulled up within 20' of the door to the overpass (hereafter referred to as the gerbil tube) between the J. W. Marriott and the convention center. On a whim I walked over to the Westin and asked if they had a room, and they did. I was able to check in at 10 am and move all my stuff right away, which made the day a little more relaxing. The room key was a Neverwinter special, which I thought was pretty darn cool.

My roommate (David Flor, @BrainClouds) was scheduled to arrive at 11:20, so I had some time to explore the convention center and get some breakfast.  Seeing the banners and WotC's statues really increased the excitement level, as it was clear GenCon was finally here for me.

Love him or hate him, he was there
I dropped in to Scotty's for some brunch and to pick up my Wednesday die. I figured I wasn't going to get back there on Wednesday, so it was a good way to have a nice meal and check Daily Die Quest off my list. By that time it was time to head back to my car and drive to the airport. The airport featured more WotC advertising in the form of a huge 3D dragon display and Neverwinter ads on the monitors at the baggage claim. Yep, Wizards really spent some money to get their message out, and since the ads were cool I was really happy to see such a imposing presence. After picking up David, we headed back to the hotel and then out for some lunch at the food court. I also stopped by Will Call, since it was open at this point, and got my badge, tickets, and swag bag.

Scotty's Wednesday die
At this point there wasn't all that much to do in the remaining time for me, so I headed home for a bit to take care of the dogs and get some food. I had a significant amount of pizza left over from the previous night so that was a free meal I couldn't pass up. After that it was back down town and time for the fun to really start. Wednesday night is Critical-Hits Drinking Dungeons and Dragons (DD&D) night!
Airport GenCon Welcome from WotC

DD&D really set the tone for my GenCon experience. An amazing night all around. I met so many of my friends from twitter, I don't even feel like it would be right to attempt to name them all here. The night was like a who's who of the D&D world. In addition to many of the best bloggers and podcasters out there, a goodly number of the Wizards of the Coast employees responsible for the game and big name freelancers were there. Everyone was super nice, and it was great to just hang out and talk gaming. When the game itself got rolling, it was great to get to watch the masters in action (@Davethegame@chattyDM, @Slyfourish and @SarahDarkMagic were the DMs). Without spoiling anything, the game consisted of 4 encounters/rounds. The first was relatively normal, and there didn't seem to be all that much drinking going on. The second round really took off when the roles of DM and player were effectively reversed and people really seem to enjoy this. By the time the third round rolled in, everyone was clearly having a great time. The final round was a sudden death round, but seemed to go well despite it being pretty late.

It was all I could do to roll back to the room and crash at that point. Technically the con hadn't even started yet, and I already had a great night. I hadn't even played a single game yet.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

That's a Wrap (For This Year)

Well, GenCon 2011 is in the can. I had the time of my life, and met soooo many great people. My apologies for not keeping up on the day to day posting prior to the con. Life got very busy, very fast. As soon as I get a chance to sit down and really process everything I'll post my experiences and review some stuff I got.  Guess I better reset that counter for next year too.