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.

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