GenCon 2013 Wrap-Up

Those of you who follow this blog1 may have noticed that I kinda pooped out on posting during GenCon this year. The fact of the matter is that I just got too tired, and too busy, to keep it up regularly. So, I figure that I owe you folks a wrap-up post, talking about what I saw and did at GenCon this year.

The Pagan Publishing/Dagon Industries booth just before the doors open on the first day. Note the looming presence of Scott Glancy.

 

Overall, it was a fun show. I got see a lot of my GenCon friends, and see a lot of neat games, and eat some good food, and stuff like that. There are a few things I want to call out specifically as being awesome2 at the show, though:

Kickstarters and Preorders

I have said previously that some of the joy of GenCon has evaporated now that game companies don’t feel the need to launch their big, cool stuff at the show. With the advent of web sales and preorders and Kickstarter, it’s not as vital a push for a company to have the new hotness launching during GenCon. Last year, I already owned pretty much everything I was interested in getting before the show.

This year started to seem to be the same, but then a number of companies started sending out e-mail, offering the option of picking up preorders3 and Kickstarter rewards at GenCon. I jumped on board with that idea, and the first day of shopping, I wound up with a respectable stack of books and games that I had already paid for – it was like a free shopping spree.

This did a surprising amount to redeem the feelings of excitement and expectation that had been cooling over previous years. I really hope the trend works out well for the various publishers who did this, because I really liked it.

One of the Kickstarter rewards I picked up at the show was the Travels book for Shadows of Esteren. I left the book at the booth when I picked it up on Thursday, and the good folks there said they'd get is signed by everyone. When I finally remembered to pick it up again (I left the show without getting it, and if I hadn't had to come back to drop off Scott's keys, I might not have remembered it at all), I found that Gawain, the artist, had done a sketch for me in the book, as well! Those Esteren folks rock!

One of the Kickstarter rewards I picked up at the show was the Travels book for Shadows of Esteren. I left the book at the booth when I picked it up on Thursday, and the good folks there said they’d get is signed by everyone. When I finally remembered to pick it up again (I left the show without getting it, and if I hadn’t had to come back to drop off Scott’s keys, I might not have remembered it at all), I found that Gawain, the artist, had done a sketch for me in the book, as well! Those Esteren folks rock!

Games on Demand

I talked a bit about this last year, but I’m going to talk about it some more this year. I think this may be the single greatest thing on offer at GenCon, for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it gives folks a chance to try a bite-sized piece of games that they ordinarily wouldn’t get to4 play. I spent Thrusday, Friday, and Saturday evening hanging out there, playing some great games, and the folks running it did yeoman duty in the face of high demand, confused participants, and the whining of entitled gamers. I cannot praise them highly enough for keeping things running, and keeping their spirits up.

They had a new priority system in place this year, where people could stop by a little early to pick up a boarding pass, then come back just before the session started and pick their preferred game from the offerings in the order of the boarding pass they had5. Then you find your table and you play.

Demand was much higher this year than last year, and there was always a crowd around the table long before the boarding passes started getting called. Only once did I make it into my first choice of game, but there was always something interesting and fun to try, and even right at the end, there were a couple of choices open to most folks.

About to play a game of Leverage at Games on Demand.

About to play a game of Leverage at Games on Demand.

Atomic Robo RPG

My first night at Games on Demand, I got to play in a session of Atomic Robo The Roleplaying Game, run by Morgan Ellis, one of the designers. He offered us two choices of scenario, and we chose the 1950s scenario, whose title was something like The Abominations That Ate Albuquerque ((The other scenario sounded pretty cool, too, set in modern Japan, where we would play Science Team Super Five)). I actually got to play Atomic Robo himself, and it was pretty awesome.

Edit: I received word from Morgan Ellis that he is NOT one of the designers of ARRPG. He is listed on the product page because he produced some of the stat blocks used in the game. I apologize for misunderstanding. Still, getting stat blocks in the game is not nothing, and he did run a great game.

The game is Fate-based, but tweaked to emulate the action science and comedy of the comic books. We had pregen characters, but looking at the sheets, character generation seems pretty quick, picking a number of roles – like Action, Science, and Banter – and prioritizing them on your sheet, which then grants you ranks in various skills. There are, of course, aspects and stunts involved, too – this is a Fate-based game, after all.

Now, I’ve run an awful lot of Fate games, but this was actually my first time playing one, and it was great. The system nicely captures the mix of comedy and action that drives the comic book, and gives the same importance to science that makes the comic stand out in that regard. I got to use my Fancy Robot Eyes to analyze cow carcasses, wrestle with giant wasp larvae, crack wise with the ranchers, ride a horse, and blow up a Buick dealership to kill the queen wasp.

One especially neat innovation of this game is the brainstorming mechanic. This often happens in concert with other scenes, and is where the scientists try to figure out what is going on. It is, in essence, an extended declaration, where players get a chance to spin a theory based on evidence gathered, and roll to see if it’s true. It cycles through this idea a few times, allowing you to refine your theory and build a plan based upon it, and, in the end, you wind up with an aspect based on your theories that you can invoke6 when you put your plan into action.

This means that, though the GM will have a default plan for what’s going on, the brainstorming session by the scientists may, in fact, change what’s true. And I think that’s awesome, both as GM and as player.

Here's a glimpse of the Atomic Robo character sheet. Note my poor attempt at drawing Robo's head on my little tent card.

Here’s a glimpse of the Atomic Robo character sheet. Note my poor attempt at drawing Robo’s head on my little tent card.

Firefly RPG

The show saw the release of Gaming in the ‘Verse: Firefly Gen Con 2013 Exclusive. This is a teaser product, giving people who are too excited to wait for February a chance to try the new Firefly RPG early. I picked a copy up, and got to play in a game on Saturday night, run by Rob Wieland, the line developer on the Echoes of War series of adventures for the Firefly RPG.

The book is very well done for its purpose. You get enough rules and material not only to run the two adventures included in the book, but also to create your own characters and run a campaign. There aren’t as many resources and options as are going to be in the core book, but there literally is enough here that you could play for an extended time without needing anything else. Balancing that is the fact that, the way things are presented, the exclusive makes you want the core book, not because the exclusive is lacking stuff, but because the cool stuff in the exclusive promises even more cool stuff in the core book.

And that’s the way to hook a customer with a teaser product.

As far as gameplay goes, this game rocks. Several years ago, I ran a short campaign using the Serenity RPG which, while fun, kind of petered out. Part of that was the size of the group, and part of it was the system. The original Cortex system7 was completely serviceable system, but it was somewhat bland and took a long time to prep for sessions89.

The Cortex Plus incarnation of gaming in the ‘Verse is tighter and cleaner, while at the same time being more open and freeform. If you’ve played games like Marvel Heroic Roleplaying or Leverage RPG, you know what I’m talking about. It’s easy to build scenarios and it’s easy to improvise in play. The game setup is fluid enough to incorporate character actions and whacky schemes almost effortlessly. And everything flows pretty quick.

I had a blast playing the game, and chatting about it with Rob afterwards. And, now that I’m home, several of the folks in my home group are interested in giving it a try. So, that’s a win in my book.

I got to play Wash in the Firefly game. He survived! Also, he drove a boat. It was a life-changing experience.

I got to play Wash in the Firefly game. He survived! Also, he drove a boat. It was a life-changing experience.

The Noteboard

Okay. Go take a look at the Noteboard.

I had no interest in this product. I mean, I’m running fewer and fewer games that require a battlemap10, and I already have my Tac-Tiles and Dungeon Tiles for that. So, when I was picking things up at the Pelgrane booth, the incomparable Beth Lewis practically had to browbeat me into buying one. And, when I came back a couple of days later to buy four more of the things, she sat behind the cash table, mocking me with her knowing smirk.

In the time between when I reluctantly bought one Noteboard and when I came back to eagerly buy four more, I had seen them used for so many things at the gaming table. My favourite function was using it to substitute for sticky notes or index cards in Fate and Cortex Plus games, both of which generate a lot of extra little paper bits with stuff written on them. So, extra aspects or distinctions or assets or complications can all be written on the Noteboard, rather than on a bunch of sticky notes that get thrown away.

And you can use the bag to erase it. Then fold it up and put it in your pocket.

I decided that I needed a spare or two, and that the other GMs in my group needed one, as well.

Seriously. For a simple, inexpensive little accessory, it has so many applications. You need one. At least one.

The Noteboard. Seriously, you folks need one of these. At least one.

The Noteboard. Seriously, you folks need one of these. At least one.

Saladin Ahmed

Saladin Ahmed is one of my favourite authors. His first novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, is a marvelous sword-and-sorcery story set in a middle-eastern-derived culture, and is a ton of fun. His short story collection, Engraved on the Eye, is full of fun short stories, sprinkled with a couple of stories that really made me think about some things. Following him on Twitter11, he’s been friendly and gracious, and has helped me really expand my reading of non-white, non-male authors.

I also used Throne as fodder for part of my Storm Point game, which seemed to tickle him.

Mr. Ahmed was attending the GenCon Writers’ Symposium, and I had the chance to sit in on a reading he gave1213. Afterwards, he signed my copy of his book, and took some time to chat with me one-on-one.

This is, I think, the mark of an author who appreciates his audience. He was tired, he was hungry, and he had a bunch of stuff he still had to do that day, but he took the better part of a half-hour being friendly, welcoming, and gracious to a fanboy. Authors don’t owe us that – they have lives and are people and need food and sleep and all that stuff. Mr. Ahmed’s took his time to talk with me, and that makes him a class act in my book.

If you haven’t read his stuff, you should do so. Now.

As I said, Saladin Ahmed is a class act all the way. And the book is very good. Go buy it.

 Food Trucks

I think they started showing up last year, but this year there were tons of food trucks just outside the main exhibitor hall. And they were there until late at night. This meant that I had the chance to try a few of them, though the pickings were pretty slim when I was heading back to the hotel after gaming until midnight. Still, I got to eat some good perogies, a nice pulled chicken sandwich, and a Cuban sub. The food was awesomely good and terribly unhealthy, and that’s not even touching on the four or five cupcake trucks that were in the mix.

It looked to me like the trucks had time slots they were booked for, and had to leave after a few hours to let someone else in. Given the huge crowds lined up in front of EVERY SINGLE ONE of them14, I imagine they were going through their stock pretty quick, anyway. The downside of this is that I didn’t make it to some of my favourite eating establishments this year. I will have to budget my meal consumption more carefully next year.

Randomness

So, yeah. Turned off the interstate to get some gas. There was a big, pink elephant at the gas station, advertising the liquor store inside.

We’re back in the Crowne Plaza, the old train station hotel with the weird ghost statues. This one was odder than most, lying as it was on the roof of a train car. Found that the hotel is under renovation, and the two statues that stood beneath this one, reaching up to be hauled aboard, were temporarily taken out.

There was a lot of good cosplay at the con, as usual. Most of the costumes, though very nice, don’t really get me excited. But there were a few that caught my eye for various reasons.

Dot Warner, of the Animaniacs. Awesome.

Dot Warner, of the Animaniacs. Awesome.

Bob Ross, from The Joy of Painting. This costume thrilled me so much that I called Scott over to see it. Right in front of a very attractive, scantily clad woman who turned out to be a professional cosplayer. I felt that I had been very rude, afterwards, and I'm sorry about that. But still - Bob Ross cosplay! Right?

Bob Ross, from The Joy of Painting. This costume thrilled me so much that I called Scott over to see it. Right in front of a very attractive, scantily clad woman who turned out to be a professional cosplayer. I felt that I had been very rude, afterwards, and I’m sorry about that. But still – Bob Ross cosplay! Right?

Two generations of Rebel pilots. Welcome to the Geek Alliance, little space pilot!

 

 

  1. I know there are a couple of you out there. []
  2. Or at least interesting. []
  3. Including offers to prebuy show exclusive books. []
  4. Or, in some cases, want to. []
  5. I think it’s a perfectly functional system, but this is where most of the whining came in. “But the game I want is full!” “But I’ve got actual tickets for this slot, so I should get to pick my game before the people who have been waiting here for two hours!” I never had a boarding pass in the top half of the range, and you don’t hear me complaining. Suck it up! []
  6. Possibly multiple times, if you roll well enough on the brainstorming. []
  7. Though I don’t believe it had a name back then – I think the name Cortex was applied some time around either the BSG or Supernatural licensed games. And now it’s Cortex Classic. []
  8. Well, part of that is the weird way I was trying to run the game, and the less said about that, the better. But the system certainly didn’t speed things up. []
  9. The campaign also wound up going to a really, really dark place, which was not what I wanted, despite it being totally my fault. []
  10. Just the Storm Point 4e game, right now. []
  11. His handle is @saladinahmed. DO NOT follow him if you’re not interested in having your ideas about race, politics, and equality challenged. []
  12. Though not on the world-building panel he was part of. I regret that – his insights into building a non-European-centric world would have been interesting to hear. []
  13. Also present at the reading was Joel Shepherd. I hadn’t heard of his books before, but his reading convinced me to go pick up the first book in his Cassandra Kresnov trilogy. []
  14. Except at midnight. Then the crowds were only big, instead of huge. []

GenCon 2013 – Day Two

GenCon day two is done. A slower day at the booth, so I was able to get around the hall and finish the shopping I needed to do, plus a little extra. I wasn’t able to get everything, but I was able to confirm that the stuff I couldn’t get just wasn’t there.

I missed seeing Thomas Denagh when he came by the booth1, and Cam Banks was terribly busy when I visited the Atlas area, so I didn’t bug him. Hope to catch up with both tomorrow, just to say hello.

I also tracked down where Saladin Ahmed is making his appearances. I was too late to get in on the panel he was on discussing world building, which would have been awesome, but I did get a ticket for the reading he’s doing on Friday. I’m looking forward to the reading, and getting a chance to say hello in person.

Tonight at Games on Demand, I got into a Leverage game. I got to use the line, “I get d6 for the pornography, right?” so I count it as a win. It was a fun game, run by Bob Smith, who did an awesome job getting everyone through the adventure in the two-hour time we had available. Next time I play, though, I think I should take the Mastermind, because I kept stepping on the toes of the poor gentleman who was playing our Mastermind. I tried not to, but obviously I’m just a pushy control freak.

Now to bed. Long day tomorrow.

  1. I was out at the time, checking out the Mayfair booth to see if I could spot Thomas Denagh. I don’t expect anyone to believe that, though. []

GenCon 2013 – Day One

So, the first day of GenCon 2013 is done.

It was a good day, despite the fact that it started early, because of the VIG1 early admittance. Things were busy, but I managed to get a lot of the stuff I was supposed to pick up from various Kickstarters, as well as a most of the things folks at home asked me to get.

Highlights of the day include seeing folks like Amanda and Clark Valentine, finally meeting Christy Cardenas in person, seeing Ken Hite and Robin Laws, and chatting with Beth Lewis2. And then, in the evening, I got to play in my first-ever Fate game3 at Games on Demand – and it was the Atomic Robo Roleplaying Game!

I even got to play as Atomic Robo, and bash giant insects with Buicks.

It was a lot of fun, but now it’s late and I’m going to bed. Thanks to Morgan Ellis who ran the session for us tonight, and to the other folks who played.

And especially, thanks to Games on Demand, which is one of my favourite things about GenCon.

Good night, all.

  1. Very Important Gamer. []
  2. Who is scary good at upselling at the Pelgrane Booth. Seriously. Fear her. []
  3. I’ve run plenty of Fate games, but never got to be a player. []

GenCon 2012: Day Three

I’m back in the room early tonight, thanks to a nasty headache. Just need some time in the quiet, which is hard to find on the dealer room floor. So, no Games On Demand for me tonight.

Today was a pretty good day, all around. I got to read some Shadows of Esteren this morning, found some dice and dice bags I liked, and discovered that Conspiracy X had been reprinted. I’ve done about all the shopping I was planning to do1 , though I’m still toying with the idea of grabbing a copy of RuneQuest 6th Edition.

And some very deserving folks won some Ennies, do that’s good, too. Margaret Weis Productions took home a couple at least for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, Pelgrane Press got a couple for Ashen Stars and Liber Fumo2, Jeremy Keller won a judges’ award for TechNoir, and Evil Hat won Fan Favourite Publisher. Congrats to all the winners.

I mentioned that I got to read a little more of Shadows of Esteren. I’ve got to say, I’m really liking the way things are going with the game. Gonna try reading some more tonight. And there’s definitely a review of the game in the offing.

But now, I think, a hot shower and some ibuprofen. And a couple of pictures for you.

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  1. Plus a little bit more. []
  2. And I just met Paula Dempsey on Thursday and told her how much I loved that book! []

GenCon 2012: Day Two

First of all, for Tyler, here’s a picture of Night’s Black Agents:

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And, as a bonus, a picture of The Zalozhniy Quartet:

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The big thing to talk about today is Shadows of Esteren. This is a game that just finished its Kickstarter for an English edition – the original is French. It’s a dark fantasy game that doesn’t resort to strong sexual themes and imagery, relying instead on mood and moral quandary. The system looks very interesting, the world pushes all of my buttons, and the book is just gorgeous. I haven’t finished reading it, but expect a review when I do.

Here’s the mini-review: both Clint and I were impressed enough on short familiarity that we bought the starter set, which is a GenCon special that includes the rule book, map, character sheets, and a couple of other goodies. If you’re at the show, looking for an interesting new fantasy game, go see these guys. They’re friendly and approachable1 and informative, and have a great game with some very sweet price deals at the con.

This evening, I got to try out Dungeon World at Games On Demand. The group was a little large, and time was short, so I don’t think the game showed to best effect despite the heroic efforts of the GM. Still, it was fun, and gavel some great insight into the game, so I appreciate that. Thanks to the GM2 and to the players for making it a good time.

That’s it for tonight. Now to bed.

  1. Okay. They’ve got an artist at the booth doing sketched in the front of the books for Kickstarter supporters. He’s working in pen and ink and watercolour. As I walk up, I overhear him telling a customer that he can only do about twenty pictures a day. Only twenty. I’d be happy if i could do ONE ad good as his – ever. The guy’s amazong. []
  2. Whose name I didn’t get. []

GenCon 2012: Day One

Day one of GenCon 2012 is over. Busy day.

Things started pretty wild when they opened the dealer room doors. There’s always a pretty intimidating rush of people, but it seemed like a larger crowd this year. I was grateful to be in the booth, avoiding a trampling.

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I managed to sneak out to grab my preorders for Night’s Black Agents and The Zalozhniy Quartet from Pelgrane Press, where I met Paula and Steve Dempsey, which was a treat. Then I headed over to Margaret Weis Productions to snag my preorder copy of the Marvel Civil War Event Book. I got to say a quick hello to Cam Banks and meet Amanda Valentine – a most excellent editor – and also Jen from the Jennisodes podcast. She gave me a Ninja Panda Taco button, which was nice because I’m looking forward to that game coming out.

I managed to get some generic tickets and found the Games On Demand room, where I ran into Matthew Gandy, another excellent editor. He filled me in on how the room worked, and Clint and I came back for the 8:00 slot to play some Apocalypse World.

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The game, though of necessity short, was a lot of fun, and gave me some much-needed insight into how it works mechanically. Many thanks to Trevis for running it, and to the other players for making it fun.

And now to bed.

GenCon 2012: Arrival

So, we made it to Indianapolis. Stopped for lunch at The Tamale Place, which was easily as good as we had hoped. I was a little disappointed that they were out of their dessert tamales, but after seeing the huge amount of food you get with the tamale combo, I decided it was just as well.

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Scott, Jarred, and Terry1 had beat me to the booth, and set up was close to done when I arrived. We finished up pretty quickly, and then went off for supper at The Rock Bottom Brewery.

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Now, I’m back in our room, getting ready for tomorrow. We’re staying in the Crowne Plaza, which has a bunch of railway cars in it, along with some not-creepy-at-all white mannequins of rail passengers and conductors and the like scattered about. The cars are all named; there’s the John Phillip Sousa, the Louis Armstrong, and this one, which is right outside the door of our room.

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And that’s about it for tonight.

  1. Terry’s a new addition to the gang this year. []

GenCon 2012: On the Road

Posting by iPhone, so this is gonna be short.

We’ve made it to Rochelle, and had dinner at Vince’s Pizza, thus proving it wasn’t a product of our imagination. I actually tried the pizza, which was amazingly good. Clint had the ravioli – a huge plate with bolognese sauce and a meatball the size of a child’s fist as a sort of garnish.

So, yeah, great food, good conversation, pretty painless drive, and tomorrow we’re on to Indianapolis and The Tamale Place.

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GenCon 2012: Fast Approaching

Early1 Tuesday morning, Clint and I get in the car and drive down to Indianapolis for GenCon Indy. This is the thirteenth year in a row we’ve done this, and we’ve pretty much got the road trip down to a science. I’m spending a fair bit of this weekend running around, making sure I’ve got everything I need for the trip in order, and I’m not leaving anything hanging at home.

I’m looking forward to the trip, though it’s a long drive. We’ve got a good pizza place2 to solve our normal first-night food issue3 in Rochelle, and Clint has discovered The Tamale Place in Indianapolis for us to try. Gotta say, it looks great.

And it’s my twelfth year doing booth weasel duties for Pagan Publishing and Dagon Industries. It’s always fun to spend time with Scott and Jarred, good friends that I only see once a year. There are a lot of folks that I count as friends but only see at GenCon, which is the primary reason I keep going.

The other big reason for going to GenCon is, of course, the games.

Things have changed over the years, though. It used to be that, if you were releasing a new game any time between, say, April and October, you tried to release it at GenCon. That made GenCon a wonderful place to see the best new products from various companies, a place to grab all the newest toys first.

It’s not like that any more. With changing distribution models – pre-orders, Kickstarter, PDF-only products, stuff like that – companies aren’t as tied to the GenCon release. Sure, it’s still nice to have new stuff out at GenCon, but it’s not the necessity it used to be. For myself, most of the really cool new things that I want and are going to be available at GenCon, I’ve already bought4. So, while I’ll still be wandering the exhibit hall, I’ll be looking for stuff I’ve never heard of that looks cool, rather than hitting up my favourite companies to see what they have that’s new5.

But there’s a different aspect to games that I’m going to get into more this year. I’m gonna try to play some. I generally don’t play games at GenCon, partially because I spend most of my time manning the booth and partially because I don’t seek out the games. This year, I want to make sure to hit up Games on Demand – they’re actually IN the convention centre this year, so easier to find – to try and play some of the games I’d like to run in the next few months. Specifically, I’m looking at trying out Technoir and Dungeon World, and maybe sitting in on another Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game. And I think I’m going to pack my Fiasco kit on the off chance I can swing a game or two of that.

So, that’s the plan. If you’re at GenCon, come stop by booth 715 and say hi. And if you’ve got a cool new game that you’re excited about, come tell me. I can’t come home empty-handed, right?

  1. Far earlier than I’m usually willing to get out of bed. []
  2. Vince’s Pizza. []
  3. We usually wind up hungry in Rochelle, IL, and are faced with chains like Pizza Hut and Burger King, which are not our first choices. []
  4. Though I may not have received them yet. I will, for example, be picking up my pre-orders of MHR Civil War and Night’s Black Agents at the Con. []
  5. ‘Cause odds are I already know what’s new. And have bought it. []

GenCon 2011 – Home

I’m home. Laundry is laundering, I’ve had a shower in my own shower, and I’m about to head to sleep in my own bed.

The trip back was uneventful, and we made pretty good time. Border crossing was painless, and the torrential downpour that hit us on the way into Winnipeg stopped long enough for us to get into our respective homes with our precious purchases intact.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to say hello at the Con, and to all the folks who had nice things to say about the blog. And thanks again to Scott Glancy and Jarred Wallace for treating me so well at their booth. Same time next year, gents.

Now, I’m going to bed. Work tomorrow. And the (ir)regular posting schedule will resume in the next couple of days, starting with a New Centurions post, and followed closely by the next emergent storylines post.

Good night, all.