Back to GenCon! I returned this year for the second time with my lovely wife, Lisa, and this year we both went for the first time with press badges. Accordingly, I’d like to include Lisa in my GenCon recap. Her comments will be in italics.
Lisa: The first time I went I thought I would feel out of place. While I am a gamer, I am not a super-experienced gamer. Dan first initiated me into the experience by running Call of Cthulhu. I really like horror movies, so I really liked this game. I started playing off and on in other games he and his friend Robert ran. They both are very patient and made it pretty fun for me. I had tried earlier to play in a game that his other friends ran, and it was not such a pleasant experience. They pretty much ignored me and really made me think I did not belong in their hobby. Long story short, I went gone back and forth over whether I wanted to keep doing this.
As it turned out, last year went so well, I wanted to try again and see if I had improved as a gamer.
Lisa and I got into town at 11:00 a.m. and went to Scotty’s Brewhouse for lunch, then came back to the hotel and napped before going back to Scotty’s for dinner. (We really like Scotty’s.)
Lisa: There were already a lot of gamers there. I had to get my new Pathfinders shirt. I don’t play the game but really like their goblins.
There, I was pleased to be able to pull together a gathering that included Lee Garvin (Tales From The Floating Vagabond), Rusty Zimmerman (Shadowrun freelancer), Benjamin Rogers (Harsh Realities), Jeff Mechlinski (Age Past), and Andy Klosky (Cold Steel Wardens).
Lee demoed his card game Badass Zombie Killers, which is, indeed, badass. Surprisingly, the game ends when the zombies actually show up. This game is all about preparing for the zombies by jury-rigging the most badass zombie-slaying weapon while sabotaging your fellow survivors’ efforts. I, personally, managed to create My Mother’s Pink Electric Gas-Powered Nail Gun-chucks before a rival player swiped it from me. (Which pissed me off, so I nuked it with an EMP.)
Lisa: It was pretty fun. Even though it was not the first day of the convention, we had already started gaming.
A little later, Ken Vinson of Brass & Steel stopped by as well and invited Lisa and I to a steampunk LARP on Saturday. This pleased Lisa, a rabid steampunk fan, to no end.
Lisa then went back to the hotel room. I stopped by the RPGnet gathering (where I saw my #rpgnet buddy MonkofLords) and the IGDN gathering (where I visited with Eloy Lasanta (Third Eye Games) and Ryan Schoon (Edara) and met Michelle Lyons-McFarland (Chill)).
Finally, I met the ODAM Publishing guys, Matthew Tarulli and John Borgese (along with their buddy Gil), for a drink at our hotel bar, where they presented me with a copy of Of Dreams and Magic, their extremely awesome RPG debuting this year. In it, otherwise normal modern-day humans learn to tap into the power of their dreams to see the magic in the waking world and gain superhuman abilities. This is a game in which a PC might well be someone who can perform Voodoo rituals, plug his brain into a computer, and turn into a superhero. Or an elven wizard. Or a starfighter pilot. You name it.
GenCon Day 1 started brutally early to pick up our press badges. I’m not sure why GenCon couldn’t start the distribution of press badges on Wednesday, unless perhaps it’s the fact that they offer 100 Thursday early-access badges on a first-come basis and feel that this wouldn’t be fair to those arriving late on Wednesday. Regardless, I will say that the folks handled the distribution of press materials in a highly professional and friendly manner.
Lisa: It was not so bad when the line started going, and we met some other cool press guys. The pass allowed us to get into the exhibit hall an hour early, which was nice, because at 10 a.m., a tsunami of gamers came rushing through the door.
After getting in early with the press crowd, we made a beeline for the Ulisses Spiele booth to snag one of those swanky new Torg: Eternity shirts! As a huge Torg fan, I would not be denied.
As we had to wait a bit for someone to show up, though, we chatted with the people at the neighboring booth, Black Book Editions, about the forthcoming English edition of their popular French scifi RPG Polaris, which deals with humanity retreating beneath the ocean waves to escape an ecological disaster and finding an unexpected destiny. If the game is half as good as the artwork makes it look, I’m all over this one.
After nabbing a Torg shirt but finding the authors still absent from the booth, we were thrilled to meet gaming legends Greg Stafford (Glorantha) and Sandy Petersen (Call of Cthulhu). I’d very recently had Greg as a Q&A guest in my chatroom, so there wasn’t much new ground to cover. It was just an honor to shake his hand. Sandy was a special treat for Lisa, as Call of Cthulhu was the first RPG she ever played. We were both eager to learn more about Cthulhu Wars, his new board game about the Lovecraftian apocalypse. I have to say, the figures look amazing in person. I was delighted to learn that Sandy only lives about 30 minutes away from us.
Not long after, some more of the Torg crew showed up, including Ross Watson and Tim Brown, giving us a chance to learn a bit about the new version. I can’t tell you how happy I was to learn of some of the changes. No longer will superhuman ability levels cost Possibilities. No longer will ninjas have glass jaws, dodging effortlessly until they’re felled by a single punch. I can’t wait.
While we were chatting, Shane Hensley, lead designer of Torg: Eternity, author of the wildly popular Deadlands, and creator of the Savage Worlds system, arrived. This was yet another special treat for Lisa, a long time Deadlands fan. We also discussed doing a Q&A for Shane’s forthcoming Conan: Rise of Monsters (“CROM”, get it?) pre-painted miniatures game, which he’s creating along with Eden Studios’s George Vasilakos and others.
Now, before the convention, Ken Spencer of Cubicle 7 had asked me to stop by their booth. If he wasn’t there, he said, I should tell someone there that I was “cleared for buckeyes”. Turns out these are chocolate-covered peanut butter balls and are absolutely delicious. Many thanks, Ken!
After making the rounds of the exhibit hall floor and meeting with many other game authors, we took a break and tried out the GenCon food trucks for the first time. That was the best damn Cuban sandwich I’ve ever had.
That afternoon, Jason Vey ran a great session of his game Amazing Adventures, the 1930s pulp game utilizing the Castles & Crusades SIEGE Engine. Now, I have to confess to having been mildly skeptical about whether the system would be able to pull off two-fisted pulp action, but it did so admirably. We had a great time exploring a lost South American temple to a forgotten evil god.
Lisa: I was interested in it because it was an Indiana Jones kind of thing. My character was Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. I really liked playing this character. She had all kinds of spells and abilities to use. Overall this was a fun game. It went pretty fast, but Jason did a great job of getting game play for all the characters.
I met Jason for dinner and drinks at a pleasant Irish pub while Lisa got ready for bed. It was a nice way to wrap up the first day.
Day 2 began with another trip to the exhibit hall. Lisa got her first exposure to miniatures gaming in the form of Hordes from Privateer Press. She impressed me with just how deeply she got into the game.
Lisa: It’s a pretty cool game. I would consider buying it if Dan does not get lucky and get a review copy. I am hoping.
Then she finally got to me an idol of hers, Don “Silent Jim” Early of the movie Demon Hunters: Dead Camper Lake. I’d met Don before, but he was absent from GenCon 2014. It was great to see him again. I was happy to hear from him that The Gamers movie series will continue.
While we stopped by the Pulpasaurus booth to chat with George Vasilakos, also of Eden Studios, to talk some more about Conan: Rise of Monsters, I ran into Sean Patrick Fannon, who’s working on the Savage Worlds edition of Rifts. I’ve always been somewhat curious about Rifts but have always been leery of the system. While Savage Worlds isn’t my go-to system by any means, I might have to give this a try.
While passing by the Cubicle 7 booth, it was our pleasure to meet the people behind the French company AKA games, who are preparing the English translations of First Contact, an alien invasion RPG using the D6 System, and Shayo, a post-apocalyptic game set in a neo-feudal Japan. Both look absolutely amazing. Keep an eye out for these two.
Our Friday afternoon game was the steampunk fantasy game Edara, run by author Ryan Schoon. I wasn’t too sure whether Lisa would take to this one, to be honest. As much as she loves steampunk, Edara doesn’t take place in the usual Victorian England setting that appeals to her so strongly.
Turns out, I needn’t have worried. We both had a great time. Everything seemed to click. Ryan did a great job GMing, the setting was great fun, and the system, while seemingly pretty detailed, boiled down to a simple core mechanic that’s very transparent to the player. Lisa really loved her character, too: a sneaky spell-slinging Gnome named Lucy who fought with a magic wand in each hand.
Lisa: Lucy was pretty tough and held up pretty well. In fact, all of our characters seemed highly effective. I really like this game, and Ryan did an awesome job of running it. I like that it’s D12-based as well.
After a trip to the food trucks to try out the official beer of the convention, Drink on and Prosper — which was quite tasty, by the way — it was off to Jeff Combos’s 10th anniversary Hollow Earth Expedition game! Jeff managed to largely re-assemble the demo group (including yours truly) who demoed the game back in 2005, and he was kind enough to include Lisa as well.
Lisa: I was really excited about this one, since I knew how nice Jeff is and how much an experience game designer he is. I was truly thrilled to be a part of this group.
And Jeff dropped a bombshell on us: we were going to be the first players of Ubiquity (the Hollow Earth Expedition game mechanic) 2nd edition, which would be published as a generic system!
I am very happy to report that he has addressed nearly all of my concerns about the first edition, and I strongly suspect that he’s going to take care of the minor quibbles that remain. It runs like a dream and may well end up being my go-to system.
Lisa: Although the game uses an even/odd dice pool mechanic that can use any sort of dice, Jeff uses custom dice which can allow one die to stand in for multiple dice. Jeff gives you a target to beat, and you just add the dice up. I highly recommend this game for newcomers to the hobby who want to learn role-playing.
For her part, Lisa did some of the best roleplaying I’ve ever seen her do as she played a snooty professor and dinosaur expert to my rough-and-tumble explorer.
Lisa: I figured I would try to do something totally unlike me. I liked the fact that everyone had a flaw, and if you played it up, you received Style Points in the form of poker chips. I tried my best to earn as many as I could with my character’s flaw of “condescending”.
While I’m obviously biased, I think she had one of the best lines of the night:
Me: (while waving and yelling at a T-rex to distract it) “What’s the best way to handle one of these things, Professor??”
Her: “Not yelling at it like that!!”
Lisa: The setting is fun and also getting to act out your character is even more fun. Had a fantastic time playing this.
We ran into Jeff Mechlinski on the way back to our room — turns out he was in our hotel — and the two of us decided to get a late night bite to eat while Lisa got ready for bed. It’s always fun talking game theory with Jeff.
Lisa was a bit worn out on the morning of Day 3, so we regretfully canceled our morning Demonworld game. Instead, I hit the exhibit hall first thing to replenish my dice collection, having lost my dice bag the day prior — probably at the Edara game.
We finally caught up with Nathaniel Dean of Reliquary Games Studio and his co-author Christopher Zeke Coughlin, allowing us to discuss their steampunk game, Clockwork: Dominion. It’s an alt-historical Victorian setting with magic, a deistic cosmology with a crumbling reality, and, perhaps most interestingly, “steampunk” technology based upon real ahead-of-their-time Victorian-era inventions.We did manage to get to our afternoon game of The Singularity System, a sci-fi RPG run by author Devon Oratz with the help of the lovely and gracious Mikaela Barree. Sadly, while the setting was great military space opera and the system was rock-solid, a couple of whiny jerks made things much more difficult than they needed to be. Kudos to Devon for being a real trooper.
Lisa: The setting was kind of interesting, but we had some players who wanted to just make it their game and tell the rest of people what to do and when to do it. There was all kinds of shouting and everybody trying to talk over each other. It was mostly just chaos. I was the medical officer in this game and spent most of the time thanklessly healing people. I think the GM really struggled with keeping things together on this. On the plus side, he did try to make sure everyone in some way got their turn. I would probably play this again — just hopefully with different people.
After closing, we grabbed dinner at Scotty’s, where a promised hour wait took roughly fine minutes. Pretty amazing. Jonathan M. Thompson of Battlefield Press met us there, along with his brother Adam.We stopped by Ken Vinson’s Brass & Steel LARP on the way home. Lovely costumes and people, although we couldn’t really follow what was going on. Lisa expressed interest in participating in the future, though.
Day 4 began with our game of the as-yet-unpublished Sixcess-based steampunk-in-space game Extraordinary Voyages. This was one of our favorite games at last year’s GenCon, so we were very hopeful going in — even more so when we realized that the pregen characters were mostly the same ones from last year’s game. Lisa and I snapped up our characters from last year: a kind of proper space-Victorian lady and a roguish space-Arab pirate.
Lisa: My character was Igrayne, an artist and playwright with detective skills and a parasol sword.
Lisa: I was really hyped but the game started off pretty badly. One lady showed up 30 minutes late, and her husband’s roleplaying of his a snooty upper class doctor PC seemed limited to demanding tea and someone to carry his bags. Other than that, he really didn’t play that much. He told Dan to be quiet and let some other people participate, even though no one else wanted to make a move. It really put a damper on it for me. Also, the GM didn’t even introduce our characters, so no one knew what skills the others had. The game just went pretty poorly. I would probably not play this game again unless I knew the GM.
The remainder of the day amounted to a last whirlwind tour of the exhibit hall floor. No big surprises, really — just lots of review copies and lots of fond goodbyes. We did get to visit with Joe Dever, creator of Lone Wolf choose-your-own-adventure book series, and talk about the new Lone Wolf Adventure Game from Cubicle 7. For those not familiar with Lone Wolf, it’s a fantasy setting with heroes who amount to Jedi rangers. I’m on board.
We had our last meal in Indy at the Yard House at Lisa’s suggestion, which turned out to be a real find. The beer selection was outstanding, and my burger and Lisa’s pizza were delightful. This may be our new go-to restaurant for GenCon, and we were happy to learn that they have a location here in Dallas as well.
The trip home was a bit rough. First, I didn’t escape the “con crud” this year, and it was in full swing by the time we headed to the airport. Then we had an insanely long and slow line to check our luggage, and when we did get to the front of the line, my suitcase was too weighted down with review copies, forcing an emergency redistribution. The flight itself was fine, aside from agonizing ear pain as we landed, but baggage claim took at least 45 minutes due to a broken conveyor belt.
But! It was all more than worth it. We’re still basking in the afterglow of the con and can’t wait to return next year!
Lisa: I had a great time this year, especially visiting all the game authors and seeing what was new coming out. I think we received more attention this year than last because of the press passes. There were all kinds of people wanting us to see how their games were played. What a fun-filled 4 days. So now I say goodbye to memories of GenCon 2015. Hope to see you next year!