GenCon – Part 7 (Friday Afternoon, 8/14/2009)

Phew… can you believe seven parts and I’m only on Friday? Exhausted reading these reports? That is how I was feeling Friday. It seemed like I had already been to a full length con and I still had two days to go!

Panels, Panels Everywhere…. Er that was Saturday

Gencon – Part 6 (Friday Morning, 8/14/2009)

D20 Crowd Surfing

This is what the crowd in front of the dealers room looks like at 9:50 AM

This is what the crowd looks like when someone throws an inflatable d20 in the air.

Okay, it looks better than that… definitely more alive, but my iphone’s camera has no flash, zoom or shutter speed to speak of, so as far as action shots go, that’s the best I could do.

It was fun times, that was until one of the GenCon staff members plucked the d20 out of the air with a firm reprimand of “Who does this belong to?” Luckily the awkward silence was broken by the doors to the dealers room opening and everyone ignoring said GenCon staff member. I’m sure he doing his job, preventing people from getting hurt, thankless as that job is.

Dealer’s Room

We had to be quick, as True Dungeon was starting in 45 minutes. I stopped by the Burning Wheel booth again to try and meet Luke Crane. I failed at this but did see Brennan, Paul, and Joe who all looked a little weary from lack of sleep but were still friendly as ever. Speaking of friendly, this very sweet booth babe was kind enough to kick my butt at rock-paper-scissors:

Meeting Luke

And just as I was about to leave I saw Luke walking through the crowd and chased him down to the Burning Wheel booth. I was really exited to hear what I he had to say about all my work on Mouse Guard. I hoped to wow him with the props I made and my techniques for subtly introducing setting, mechanics and situation. 2nd Strike. He was very reasonable when he told me he thought it wasn’t needed. I gave him some examples of how I thought it improved game play and he pointed out the ways he thought it detracted from the game.

It was kind of a heartbreak for me, because for the life of me I couldn’t sell him even so far as to look at the work I’d done. It’s a major pain the ass to haul a 44” x 22” foam board map through the airport, even if it folds in half. It sat in my room, alongside the chess pieces, mentor and obstacles cards, laminated skill sheets, dice colored by cloak, custom fate/persona tokens, hard plastic character sheet tents with custom traits, and of all things leather pouch of chuck-e-cheese coins, pointlessly brought to the con.

In retrospect I’m not sure what I expected to happen. Luke has made it clear in the past that his games work as is and generally suffer from tampering rather than benefit.

True Dungeon: Five Aspects

The True Dungeon session at 10:50 made for a good reason to cut off my discussion with Luke. Without anything to actually show him, I was at a loss and felt myself backpedaling. We ended on an up note talking about The Gift and what players got out of playing it, as well as what I got out of running it as a GM.

Then it was a the mad dash to the Marriott, to arrive on time for Five Aspects. Zach and Justin we’re already checked in and equipped with character sheets, Rogue and Paladin respectively. I had weaseled a +1 Darkwood staff off one of the guys we played the mini quest with (Thanks again for that Quinn) and so I was exited to see that the Druid was still available. Some of the more experienced players warned me that Druids have to remember the names of a bunch of leaves. While this seemed somewhat daunting I decided that I was up to the task and did not regret it.

Our first room was a training room. We had 12 minutes to practices our trade. The cleric studied prayer beads, the bard arcane symbols, and myself the identity of leaves. The other more martial characters practiced combat and Speedball our rogue practiced disarming traps. All in all this was pretty cool.

When the buzzer went off a forest dryad came to meet us and sequester our aid. Yeah, baby! Who’s happy to be a druid now! The dryad told us that a powerful mage needed us to rescue a medallion of protection in order to fend of Smoke the dragon. Dungeon adventuring hook #14 for the win.

We proceeded through traps, mortal combat and puzzles. Mostly to get our butts kicked and limp out of the dungeon, but with treasure in hand.

What rocked

The class specific abilities were awesome. Zach had a blast picking locks, climbing through corridors and sneak attacking ogres. I was felt really cool busting out my knowledge of Hickory, Maple, Oak and other leaves and using that for some powerful spells. I did pay as much attention to how the fighter-y classes worked but I assumed they had some equally interesting bits.

Great swag. I can totally see how doing True Dungeon would be addictive. You get goodies like masterwork thieves tools, magical lutes, and greater mistletoe. Afterwards there is a whole trading and collecting element that you can essentially play outside of the normal game. The system is engineered to reward players on several lives.

Interaction. The NPCs, the scenery and the props are all great. As a big fan of creating the environment, I really appreciate all the work they put into creating a tangible setting.

What could have improved

Some of the GMs were clearly less than excited. They had been running people through the same module for a while and we wary. Or maybe they were just having a bad day, or just not into acting in a way befitting of the mood. Either way, their lack of excitement and encouragement dragged things down in some rooms.

This is not a LARP. This is the Anti-LARP. There is no role-playing. Just don’t look for it. You can find it in other places. A few japes about druids getting busy in the forest with the dryads is as far as you are going to get. Manage you’re expectations wisely.

Playing with experienced players once again took some of the novelty from the game. This time I really can’t fault them, they weren’t pushy or trying to hot the spotlight, they just knew what to expect and that made the experience less novel and more mundane for me. Nothing really to do about that except if you happen to have a large enough group that you can fill up an entire slot (6-10 players I think) with your friends.

The puzzles were really hard and lacked context. I had no idea going in whether these puzzles would require logic, real world knowledge, or Dungeons & Dragons specific lore. Sadly the clues did little to clarify this. What ended up happening was that we were punished for guessing wrong so severely than in at least one case we gave up because the punishment for giving up was less than the punishment for waiting for the clock to wind down. This was disappointing and frustrating. The experienced players we were with said these were the toughest puzzles they had seen, so that was some consolation.

Next up… afternoon seminars. More John, Robin and Luke.

GenCon – Part 4 (Thursday Afternoon, 8/13/2009)

Twitter was back online at this point. Let see if it helps my accuracy.

Yep, it already did. I forgot to mention the killer bike we saw in the art area of the Dealers room.

If I was going to ride a bike, this would be the one. Which is another way of saying there is no way in hell I will ever ride.

True Dungeon (Mini Quest) AP Report

GenCon – Part 3 (Thursday Morning, 8/13/2009)

Warning: Lots of name dropping in this post. It is absolutely done to make me look and feel important. The sake of clarity has also been given minor consideration.

Twitter was still down (read: Twitterific was being a piece and I didn’t feel like banging on it) so we’re getting into hard-to-remember-and-sporadically-accounted-for time here. By the evening I was tweeting like a bandit so it should be better then.

Thursday Morning Events

Gencon – Part 2 (Wednesday, 8/12/2009)

Wake up!

The morning went fine. Dropped off the kids at school/day care and told them I’d be gone for a week (they already knew but it’s good to remind them) and that they’d get to see their grandparents while I was gone.

I did a little last minute packing before Travis showed up to give me a ride. My departing travel plans were rather sane (look for the upcoming Monday post for some that aren’t) so flying out wasn’t a problem. Normal airport TSA business and I was on a plane to Denver. The first leg was unremarkable. I finished Storm of Swords and pulled out Feast of Crows but really couldn’t get into it.

Chance meeting on the Flight

The flight from Denver however was when I could feel the excitement around me. Just like when you are driving to Burning Man and you see all these cars around you with camping gear and crazy equipment hanging out all over the place, I started getting exited. We’re all on a plane going to GenCon. What I didn’t know was that Zach, my roommate was also on the same plane.

About half way into the flight the woman sitting next to me saw the George R.R. Martin Book and asked if I was going to GenCon. We had a really cool chat about gaming, the industry and how to break in. Turns out she was the CEO of a little company called Paizo. Damn straight skippy, I was sitting right next to Lisa Stevens. Lisa has some cool ideas about invigorating retail RPG stores and was interested in the events I’ve put together and my retail experience. I’m not sure that it will ever turn into anything but I handed her off my first business card.

First Impression at the Con

Zach and I met up in the airport and caught the airport shuttle to the Omni hotel. Zach was crazy prepared. He had every event planned, along with backups. I was feeling a little intimidated by all his prep at first but very happy we were going to the con together.

Picking up badges at the desk was actually way easier than I thought it would be. I’m really glad I arrived Wednesday night as U think after that the lines would have been crazy. I saw Zach off to the Hyatt where the “Gaming Wenches” event was being held (though from what I could tell that title just made the place a sausage fest, dudes everywhere). He hopped in a game and I spent some time just breathing in the con. I walked through hallways watching people game, listening to snippets of conversation and generally basking in the glory of all things gaming. I love seeing people game. The joy they have acting out tragic dwarves or lying werewolves or figuring out some cool strategy is something beautiful.

Meeting the BGs

After a bit of walking, I got to texting and found out that Meg from Brilliant Gameologists was having a little get together at her room. I meandered my way over to the Embassy Suites (which are definitely the place to be btw) and got to meet the crew. From Left to right I’m going to try and get this correct: Meg, Chris, Mary, Mike?, ?, Chris, Kerry??? Okay, I still fail. But that is better than I’ll be able to do with any other group I met. It was great getting to meet Meg and talk with her friends. Mary seemed so unassuming and quiet. Why is it always the quiet ones that surprise the hell out of you?

Picking up Justin

I got a text from Justin ( ) that he had arrived just as Josh (also from BG) returned. Apparently they Josh and crew had knocked over a K-Mart because the guys brought back like 30 bags of food. Josh’s diet is no-gluten, no-dairy, which makes going out a royal pain. Still, I was pretty sure the 44th brigade had a new mess hall.

I went to the Omni to get J-dog checked into the room. We dropped off bags, donned badges and were ready to roll. I was however, crazy hungry (this seemed to be a theme all con, Zach was living off Cliff Bars and I wanted to eat all the time). We decided to have dinner at the Ram, a sports bar next to the convention center. The entire menu had been redone for GenCon. Apparently Privateer Press was their sponsor because the menu was full of things like the “Arcanist Club”. I had that along with a Privateer Porter and a gorgeous waitress named Sam. Though Justin accurately dubbed me “man-whore” for flirting with her (I continued to sell myself the entire weekend whenever I had the chance), Sam was very cool and took a picture with me.

Never wear a red shirt to “Are you a Werewolf”

Notice anything about my undershirt in that picture above? Red looks good on me but it also paints me an ugly target for are you a Werewolf. After dinner we caught back up with Zach at the Hyatt and played a few rounds of “Are you a Werewolf”. That was great and all, except that I got killed every time. And damn it…. I was the Werewolf too! Also met up with Amrit, who was apparently there alone this year. We did our “Fists to the Heavens” pharaoh greeting but then got split up due to lynching.

In the first night GenCon becomes a zombie story.

I’m not sure why exactly but around 2-3 in the morning we rolled back to our hotel by way of the Mall. A sprawling mass that covered several blocks and connected hotels together by way of skywalks. We got lost or at least it felt like we got lost, but it was AWESOME inside. The shops were all closed, the chairs put up on tables and the entire place was eerily quiet, like some kind of ghost town. It seemed like we accidentally slipped into a space that we shouldn’t have. We kept asking “are we supposed be here?” From inside the city seemed to stop, everything was quiet and serene. That is until we saw the janitor. A gaunt man probably in his late 40s. His sallow cheeks and dead look wasn’t terrifying at first. As we watched though, it was clear he was having serious difficulty closing a door. The kind of exterior door that closes by itself. When we greeted him he did not reply, only continued to fuss with the door. I’m fairly certain he just didn’t realize we were fresh meet yet. A slow zombie that one. This encounter colored the whole con for us, it was awesome.

A little Dominion before bed

Back at the hotel we broke out Dominion and played a random round. It wasn’t very busy in the hotel but that seemed reasonably give that it was a) past 3AM and b) the first night of the con, before many had arrived.

And that… was a slow day.

GenCon – Part 1 (Tuesday, 8/11/2009)

Finally work was done. Those two days were 16 solid hours of misery as I prepped for GenCon. Thankfully only work was a drag. Friends and family made the prep bearable if not outright fun at times.

I had no idea what to pack. First instinct was to bring the world. All my game books that I might get signed by the authors. Lots of board games to play if we got bored in our room. End result. Forget it all. I wanted room to bring the swag back!

I opted to bring all the gear for my Mouse Guard pedagogy (which weighs a ton) as well as A Penny for my Thoughts, post-it’s for memory triggers and a little Tupperware bowl of pennies. I realized I was sorely lacking in geek shirts. A problem I aimed to rectify.

Late Tuesday night I started reading Adam Jury’s blog (GenCon tips) and realized if I wanted to network with people I really needed business cards. And my work cards probably weren’t going to do it. So, 2AM I’m over at longs and picked up a nice package for printing business cards you can punch out and still look pretty sharp. Thank you Microsoft Publisher for making the design REALLY easy. I think this is the first time Publisher has ever impressed me.

4AM, I was thinking about things I need to bring, but I needed to get up in a few hours to take the kids to school before I got picked up to go to the airport, so I commanded myself to sleep… Or at least tried.

Good Omens Con 3 – A Rocking Good Con

Good Omens Con was last Saturday. We had 14 games and somewhere around 50 players. Included in that roster was guest GM Carl Rigney who ran Don’t Rest Your Head in two sessions. Also we had the author (Paul Tevis), editor (Ryan Macklin) and photographer (Jeremy Tidwell) of A Penny for My Thoughts there to sign the game.

Put all that together at EndGame (who graciously hosted us) and you should have a rocking good time. For me though, there was something else going on. All the work I had put in to making this con happen had paid off and I felt like I was walking on air that day. Every time I got to see a gamer that I knew who told me a story about what happened in their game, or that I didn’t know and we were introduced for the first time, I felt a little more content, a little happier.

I was watching everyone gaming at one point, seeing faces of people laughing, sniggering, thinking or anticipating and thought THIS is what I was meant to do. I work a 9 to 5 job in IT that pays the bills. It’s not half bad, but it’s not what I love. I’ve been self employed before (for a little over a decade in fact) and I know that it isn’t and easy lifestyle. Work is never done and at the end of the day, you’re always the one on the line if something goes wrong. All that said, I never feel as happy working IT/IS as I do running games and putting events together.

Something that Paul Tevis has said a number of times.  “A lot of people want to have written a book, but don’t want actually write a book.”  I feel that about a lot of things.  Sure I’d like to have written a game, or published a game, or created some great piece or art work but I don’t have any inclinations towards actually doing those things.  What I do love doing is making things happen.  I love the prep, the execution.  I even love the wrap up (breaking down tables and all).

Will I lose my love if I turn it from hobby to career? Maybe, but I doubt it. I know cool people like Fred Hicks and Chris Hanrahan who have forged a career out the gaming industry and still love to play. So for me, Good Omens Con 3 was a great time but it was also a wakeup call. I’ve GOT to do this more than once a year.

Thanks everyone for making the con not only a great success but also a very clear message to me: “Sean! Do what you love!”

Kubla 2009 – Monday 5/25/2009

As always my Mondays at conventions are spent chilling out, perusing the dealers room and saying goodbye. It’s a shame really, that of four days, you really only get three to game, but I suppose every event has it’s “dead days”. When I go to Gen Con I plan on being there Wednesday – Monday so I can soak it all in, but that is a real rarity for me.

Monday 8:00 AM

The better half and I woke up, got dressed, packed and then headed downstairs for some breakfast. We spotted Cassie just before her game started, chatted with her and Brent some and then meandered.

Monday 9:00 AM

We checked Wasabi out from the Game Library again and played it with just the two of us. Kevan came down about half way through and we talked about the game and the con, a nice way to wrap things up.

Monday 11:00 AM

My mom showed up with the kids, on time, which was great. We headed home, hit some traffic and then basically passed out, exhausted from the weekend. I rode my bike around a bit for exercise and then prepared to play L5R in the night.

Thanks Kubla folks, for another awesome con.

Kubla 2009 – Saturday 5/23/2009

Here be the tale of my Saturday at Kubla.

Saturday 8:00 AM

I really wanted to get a recording of Justin snoring but by the time I got out of the shower he stopped. Apparently he was wearing ear plugs because I had been snoring earlier. Touché

I headed down to the registration desk to ask them to remove me from the 9:00 AM game. I think I signed up for it accidentally. It was a Watchmen game and I’ve neither read the comics or seen the movie. Also BASH has never been a system I was really excited about, so it was just a bummer that I got into the game in the first place. Con staff was cool and told me they would take me off the list and let the GM know. Kubla staff rocks.

Saturday 9:00 AM till 3:30 PM

So instead of playing RPGs I hung out in the morning. I bumped into people, walked around the dealers room, and generally just chilled out. It was quite nice.

For lunch Sean, Kristin, Blinkie, Todd, Matt and I all went out the Elephant Bar and Grill. Good eats but the sampler platter (which I got) was WAY too much food. I was stuffed.

We played Wasabi in the Atrium. Wasabi is a really fun Z-Man game that mixes scrabble and Freddy’s Fast Food of the Damned into a fun make your sushi roll bonanza. Alex, Meg, Blinkie and all made tasty delights. If I weren’t so gorged from lunch I think playing would have made my tummy rumble. Great production value on that game and enough strategy that it would be fun to replay a few times.

Saturday 3:30 PM – Buried Secrets

Something I’ve been looking forward to for a while is Todd Furler’s Unknown Armies game. This one was even more subtly supernatural than the previous game but kept me on edge about the origins of certain people. As he’ll run it again at Gen Con I don’t want to give away any spoilers, I’ll just go over what rocked and what could have been improved.

What rocked

I got to play with Alex, Matt S., and Mike B. Not that the other players weren’t great, but getting to hang out with my friends while gaming is always a plus. Great players overall.

Todd does a great job of framing the game, giving us a good idea of what to expect and what to drive towards. We all started the game with a common thread in our heads of “let’s make this a great story.”

Todd is very flexible, allowing us to move around the story with ease. For instance, there was a scene where we were questioning an NPC. Clearly he wasn’t supposed to give us all the answers but we put him in such an uncomfortable situation that he finally spilled is guts. I think some GMs would have frozen under that or simply made the NPC act unaffected by his situation, but Todd rolled gracefully with it.

Many of the character interactions, especially between my character and her husband, a senator and his aide and my character’s husband and his friends were just great. We had some excellent dialog and laughs around the table.

The story was very “Twilight zone”. Out there, but not too far out there. Close enough that one could imagine it was real.

Ken’s character’s particular issue. I won’t say it hear but I busted up when I heard what it was.

What could have been improved

Due to the nature of the game there were lots of personal scenes between just two or three players. This felt very LARPish which isn’t a problem per se but it meant that a lot of us missed out on conversations that should have been “on screen”. Not sure what there is to do about that.

I had a secret that I really wanted to get out in the open but couldn’t figure out how to do it. My secret was awesome… just couldn’t fathom a way my character would say it. In our last episode on Secrets, I talk about it a little more. Warning, some spoilers there:

Some of our concerns turned out to just be there to make our characters feel like senators (some political issues to talk about), which was great for giving us fodder for a discussion but later felt like it was brushed aside. Also I didn’t feel a strong threat from outside forces. The mob came up a time or two, but didn’t feel like a real danger. I think both of those could have been solved by having some of our political enemies work against us, creating more urgency for our characters.

The players (and GM) of Buried Secrets:

Saturday 8:00 PM to Midnight

The problem with waiting to write this down, I’ve mostly forgotten. I didn’t make it into Matt Steel’s game, which was okay as I was exhausted. A failed attempt to podcast and drink ending in sleeping around midnight. Will fill in more if/when I can remember it.