The Hardboiled GMshoe's Office

Gen Con 2017 Recap


Lisa and I return to Gen Con for the 50th anniversary event!

Lisa’s commentary will be in italics.


As an employee-of-the-year treat from my boss, we flew first-class from Dallas to Indianapolis with a car service at both ends. It was Lisa’s first first-class flight, in fact, which made for a nice treat.

Indy welcomes us to Gen Con.

The flight was very early, however, so thank God the Conrad had a room ready for us, giving me a chance to get some emergency work done and the two of us a chance to take a nap before heading out to the #rpgnet chatroom gathering at Scotty’s Brewhouse. (I really can’t say enough about the quality of the service at the Conrad. They were even nice enough to replace the toiletries that I forgot like an idiot.)

Adam R. Thompson, Mike Myler (Veranthea Codex, et al), Ken Spencer (Why Not Games), and Devon Oratz (End Transmission Games) showed up to the gathering, along with Adam’s cousin and her husband. Service was pretty crappy, which was surprising, considering how good it was last year. The beer was good, at least, and we picked up the collector’s edition die.

Lisa: It was a fun get-together before the gaming began on Thursday.  Mike even gave us some cooking tips on using a crock-pot and making fried rice. We just hung out there drinking beer until around 3:30 or 4 and headed out to scope out the Convention Hall and see where we needed to pick up press badges the next day.

We stopped by the Yard House for a quick bite to eat, then headed over to the Sun King keg tapping party. The beer this year, Dragon’s Delight, was a nice Belgian-style number, and the band, Lez Zeppelin — an all-girl Led Zeppelin tribute band — was outstanding. Our buddy Jeff Mechlinski (Strange Machine Games) stopped by to say hello while we were there.

Lisa: Lez Zepplin kicked it into high gear, and they were awesome. The lead singer was from Greece, and I think the others were from England. They could really give Robert Plant a run for his money.  


Sun King’s Dragon’s Delight.


All-female Led Zeppelin tribute band Lez Zeppelin.

Next, it was over to the IGDN social at Loughmiller’s Pub & Eatery, where we said hello to Eloy Lasanta (Third Eye Games), John Kennedy (Smug Pug Games), and Ryan Schoon (Edara: A Steampunk Renaissance). The pub was having a bit of trouble with a leaky ceiling, but that did nothing to dampen the spirits of the attendees as the group’s officers doled out the annual awards.


I have to say that the con managed the amazing attendance this year quite well. I know this wasn’t the case, but it didn’t felt any busier than last year. In particular, the staff handled the distribution of press badges and the queuing for early entry with a great deal of efficiency.
Lisa: We got in the huge press badge line and waited about an hour but met some nice gaming folks. After that we had just enough time to go and get in the early access line.

A collection of Gen Con cosplayers.

We began our day with a whirlwind tour of the dealer hall. Along the way, we met up with Henry Lopez (Paradigm Concepts), Josh Harrison (FASA), Dominic McDowall (Cubicle 7), Andrew Peregrine (Cubicle 7), Mik Barree (End Transmission Games), Jodi Black (Pinnacle Entertainment Group), Clint Black (Pinnacle Entertainment), Darrell Hayhurst (Ulisses Spiele North America), John Wick (John Wick Presents), Jeff Combos (Exile Game Studio), Nathaniel Dean (Reliquary Game Studios), James Gray (Fat Goblin Games), Ivan Van Norman (Hunters Books), and a bunch of new folks.

Darrell Hayhurst, Torg author, at the Ulisses Spiele North America booth.

I’m a huge fan of Torg and have been eagerly awaiting the new edition. Lisa, by contrast, had kind of shrugged about playing Torg until she talked to co-author Darrell Hayhurst. Then she was all about it.

Jodi and Clint Black show off their newest example of gaming furniture from Carolina Game Tables.

We ran into Rusty Zimmerman (Catalyst Game Labs) and reviewer Joseph Wolz, both pleasant surprises. We met with Lee Pruitt of Ravendesk Games, who provided me with a review copy of Vurt, a game for which I’d hosted a Q&A a while back — a strange mix of cyberpunk and dreamworlds. I’m looking forward to delving into this one. We played some fast, silly games like Happy Salmon (which Lisa bought and proudly kept clipped to her purse), Cobra Paw, and Five-Minute Dungeon.
My online buddy Egg Embry and his two friends joined us for a nice lunch at the Ram. I was amazed that we were able to get in there in 30 minutes — an accomplishment for any Gen Con, but for this one in particular. The food and service were great.
Lisa: These guys were super nice. Egg liked asking Dan and I how we first started gaming and what games we had played. 
Jason Vey (Troll Lord Games) ran a great game of his Amazing Adventures pulp RPG for us in the evening. The evil mastermind escaped to fight another day, but you don’t become an evil mastermind by being easy to take down.
Lisa: I was really looking forward to playing voodoo queen Marie Laveau again this year. It was a fun game, and we also got to see some interesting characters walking through the convention center late at night. We even got a little bit of a free show on the balcony upstairs from us, where a cosplayer and her boyfriend were taking naughty selfies.

Jason Vey consulting his adventure notes during his Amazing Adventures game.


A game of the new edition of Over the Edge was up first, run by the esteemed Cam Banks (Atlas Games), the same gentleman who got Lisa into character while playing Feng Shui two years ago. The new (albeit in-progress) system is very promising, now using only 2d6 and interpreting the pips for special results. Cam improvised the whole session, basically, which ended up with my paranormal TV personality turning loose an intelligent colony of human-possessing spiders on the world. A highlight of the trip!
Lisa: It was a fun game. I played a detective with the flaw of alcoholism, which came in very handy for the GM when he got the chance to use it on me.  There were all kinds of creepy crawly spider things. I really liked this one and would play it again.

Cam Banks makes a literal point during his game of Over the Edge.

We had some food truck BBQ for lunch. Surprisingly tasty! I had a “BBQ sundae”, which consisted of brisket in chipotle sauce over gouda mac and cheese.
A demo of the steampunk Western horror game Through the Breach was next, and it proved to be a complete waste of time. The GM barely understood the rules, and to make matters worse, he couldn’t make himself heard over the general din of the exhibit hall. The setting still looks great, but I think the system may be too crunchy for my tastes. Honestly, it was hard to tell. It seemed like we spent an hour and a half creating detailed characters, only to have task resolution handled by totally random card draws.
Lisa: I was so wanting this to be the most awesome game, since I had checked them out in the exhibit hall two years ago. They have some cool artwork and the setting looks like a fantastic sort of steampunk thing. When we got there it took a while for them to finish the game before us, and then we had to wait a little bit for the GM to show up. When he got there, he turned out to be a young kid who looked kind of confused. The couple playing with us were very excited, though, since they had played Malifaux, the miniatures game on which it was based… but I was already thinking, “Oh, no, here we go”.  The GM looked at the core book and said that it was not the edition he had played before. He basically had to look up how to do everything. It might have helped a little if we would have had pre-generated characters. The adventure was a pretty nice train robbers setup but would have been better if the GM had known how to run it properly.  I was kind of disappointed. Maybe I would give it another try with a different GM. 
Huzzah! We were able to get in on a game of Torg with one ticket and two generics! We played alongside brothers Adam R. Thompson and Jonathan M. Thompson (Battlefield Press). I was a little disappointed that it was a one-cosm “Day 1” game in Pan-Pacifica rather than a cosm-hopping adventure, but it was still a great “Resident Evil”-style thrill ride. And hey, we managed to beat what was supposed to be a hopeless “Kobayashi Maru” scenario!
Lisa: I was very hyped about this one also because of the setting. This world we played in kind of reminded me of Blade Runner and was set in Japan. I played a 22-year-old fashion designer who did not really have that many combat skills and who almost ended up dead at the end. If I play this one again, I hope to get a tougher character. It was fun, though, and had a lot of action.
Then we were off to a late dinner with Adam, Jonathan, and Jonathan’s lovely girlfriend at the Rock Bottom Brewery.
Lisa: We thought everything would have been calmed down by then, but there was a huge party going on with a piano player and lots of singing. 


We got a bit of a late start. We went to the dealer hall for a bit, where we got to say hello to Brandon K. Aten (Wet Ink Games) and Alan Bahr (Gallant Knight Games) and ran into Jason Vey wearing his excellent John Constantine costume.

Jason Vey as John Constantine poses with Lisa.

Then, after a quick lunch at the Yard House, it was over to Lucas Oil Stadium. It was quite an experience to be on the field of the Colt’s home turf, and a bit surreal to be there for the purpose of roleplaying games. I was glad for the extra space, but things were a bit disorganized. There was just a general area for board games and roleplaying games — rectangular tables for board games and round tables for roleplaying games — but no way to further identify which table was for which event.
Lisa: I was kind of nervous about the day’s lineup of games since we were playing two new ones that I had never heard of.
Eventually, though, we managed to find the table for Josh Brining’s I Was a Teenage Creature on the field. The game went quite well despite us being a group of three. I enjoyed the mechanics that made how your character feels about what he’s doing as important as how well he can do it. It’s a great game for angst-filled teen urban fantasy/horror like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Teen Wolf.
Lisa: It was kind of awkward because the kitsune character of the guy who played with us had a crush on Dan’s character. I played a vampire in this one and liked all the physical stuff she could do. She had super-speed, which really came in handy. Overall, it was a fun game. Josh did a very good job of playing a very creepy and mysterious Asian gentleman who turned out to be a dragon. I really liked the game and definitely would play again.

A kitsune player hangs on Josh Brining’s words.

Shortly thereafter, we played in Mickey Barfield‘s Wicked Pacts game, which proved to be our favorite game of the con. Great investigation and interaction combined with a slam-bang magical showdown at the end. Neither the system nor the setting is anything totally new and wonderful, but Mickey combines some of my favorite elements from different games into something that simply hits my sweet spot. The system, in particular, proved to be remarkably transparent — just crunchy enough to make actions feel meaningful without undue complexity. I can’t recommend this one highly enough. And Mickey himself is a top-notch GM with a fantastic penchant for NPC voices and personalities.

Lisa: I was thinking that this had better be good, because this was our last game, and I was tired. When we got there, I had to wolf down my awesome food truck cupcake and then head into the game.

Mickey had some character sheets laid out before us, and I started looking them over. I decided that by God, this time I was going to pick a character with a lot of skills and awesome weapons. Mickey let us roll for picking order, and I was nervous because I thought the character I wanted, the Demon Hunter, would be picked by someone else. Luckily, though, I got her, and man, was she powerful. To add to that, I got even more powerful by the extra game cards Mickey gave us. I was able to heal people in the group and kick ass. Dan’s character, the Grunt (a physical magician), was also very tough.

We played with some very nice people on this game. There was a guy with pink hair from California who played an awesome Seer who was flirting with one of Mikey’s NPCs named Isaiah, a hick from the sticks type. I hope Isaiah shows up in other adventures. Mickey’s disgruntled cop character was also cool.

The game started out kind of slow because we did a lot on investigation first before we tried to do anything risky. It kind of benefited us, because we could have made it a short game if we rushed into anything quickly. At the end it really picked up with all the werewolves and their leader Tad, a billionaire magician kid, coming at us in a Penthouse apartment, but we took them down. It was a roller-coaster ride all the way through. I would definitely play this one again. It was so nice to finish the Con with an exciting, memorable game, and it makes me look forward to the next one. I have to say that for the most part, all of the GMs were very good at running their games… but this year, I am going to have to give it to Mickey for making it all come together for us. 

Mickey Barfield holds forth during his Wicked Pacts game.

And as an unexpected  bonus, Lisa even won a game of Mickey Barfield‘s Pathogen: Unclassified in a d20 roll-off — the first RPG of her very own!

Lisa poses with her first-ever RPG!

Overall, a great day!


Another late start due to an exceedingly late night, but we did have time to hang out in the dealer hall a bit. We visited with Jeff Combos (Exile Games), Christopher Zeke Coughlin (Reliquary Game Studios), Nathaniel Dean (Reliquary Game Studios), AJ Schmidt (Universal Horizons), Rebecca Vanacker (Universal Horizons), and Sean Jaffe (Nerdy City), then hung out in the art exhibit. I picked up review copies of the 1879 Gamemaster’s Guide and the Cabinet of Curiosities for Clockwork: Dominion.
Lunch at the Ram, then back to the hotel for a cocktail before waiting for our car to the airport. Our flight was delayed 50 minutes for some reason, but we were entertained by Gen Con attendees setting up an impromptu game while they waited.
Another great Gen Con in the bag. As always, there were people I wished I’d seen and things I wished I’d done, but there’s always next year!
Lisa: It was a fantastic Gen Con this year, and I am looking forward to 2018. Thanks to everyone we met for making it a year to remember.