Aug 29, 2013

Myth of the "Full Gen Con Experience"

I've decided for my final Gen Con post to touch on a subject that just recently came to light for me. With 2013, I've now gone to Gen Con four years in a row. On top of that I also went four times when the convention was in Milwaukee (long live the Safe House).

In all that time I can honestly say that I've never had the "Full Gen Con Experience". And honestly, it's a myth (hence the title for this post).

While the convention technically goes on for four days, five if you count all the Day Zero things--more of which seem to crop up every year--there is really just too much going on at any given time to take it all in.

In all the years I've attended, I've only seen the costume parade once, stumbled in to the anime room once, and never played a game of MTG. I rarely attend the "Paint and Take" any more, though I love to look at all the contest entries, and I probably spend way too much time in the Vendor's Hall.

But this is just my experience. Many other people can tell stories of near round the clock D&D, or all night Werewolf LARPs, or countless German-language board games. That's really the beauty of Gen Con. You get to customize the con to your tastes. The down side is you can't do it all, nor are you meant to. Pick what you like the most (and sample a few new things, if your adventurous), and build the Gen Con experience you want. And don't worry about what you missed.

It may be the best four days in gaming, but my four days are probably different from yours, which are different from the next guys.

Hope to see you all there next year.

Aug 28, 2013

Gen Con 2013 - The Vendor's Room, Dinning at the Con, and My Biggest Achievement

For my penultimate Gen Con post of 2013, I want to touch on a few other things I did or saw, or in some cases didn't see at the con.

While a large appeal of the con is the chance to play all sorts of games, shopping in the vendor's room is just as big a drawl. With the chance to see up close and demo games you might not have known about, get a copy of an early release of a game (I'm looking at you Pathfinder card game fans), or get that sought after mini, or TCG card, not to mention all manner of costume accessories or home furnishings, it's easy to see why the room is always crowded.

This year I didn't have a real shopping list going in to the vendor's room, but I still found myself in there nearly every day. Thursday's visit was to pick up the few must have items (gifts for friends and family). I tried to get in to the Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) booth to see what they had on site, but the wait line was too long (as in stretching around their booth and through various walk ways). Being a Lego fan, I of course found the only Lego dealer in the room and checked out those offerings (and picking up a neat little custom minifig for my collection). Friday and Saturday was mostly just walking around with friends and eying up a few places I wanted to check back with on Sun. Since Sun was also the drive home day, the vendor's room visit was more a surgical strike. Go in, see what was left from the few places I had already scouted out, and hit the road.

My biggest surprise was how easy it was to navigate through the room. Even with people in full costume (I'm looking at you lady with the wings sticking out two feet on each side), and people stopping in the middle of a cross-way to Twitter or Facebook, it was still a relatively easy travel. Good job Gen Con planners!

Another highlight of Gen Con is the local eateries. Once again we made trips to Stake and Shake (they really need to coordinate the arrival of the Stake with the Shake; my buddy and I were practically done our burgers by the time the shakes arrived), and The RAM. On Wed night, after getting our badges and tickets, we tried to go to Scotty's Brewhouse, which once again, had a Gen Con themed menu, but when we arrived at 8pm and were told it was a 2 hour wait (for a table for two), we promptly went over to the Irish bar/restaurant across the street and had a wonderful dinner. Maybe next year we'll make it to Scotty's.

One of the things I didn't get to do was attend the Night with D&D event. I was already registered for another event at the same time, and by the time I tried to drop that event in favor for the D&D one, the Night was sold out. From what Twitter activity I've seen from the event, it looked like a lot of fun.

One thing I did get to do, and which was one of the high points of the con for me, was to actually run an event. I've been running most editions of Dungeons and Dragons for many years now, but haven't really had the courage to run at a convention. This year, after having played Next since the public playtest opened, and having played the Murder in Baldur's Gate event earlier that day, I went back and volunteered to run a table. Luckily they were understaffed at that time and I was able to step in.

As much fun as I had playing the event, and as much fun as I have with my weekly game, running at a con, with little prep, was a wonderful seat-of-your-pants experience. I didn't have any minis so I used dice for the PCs and colored beads for the NPCs, giving the table a real old-school vibe. I also had to improv when the rogue PC wanted to run across some roof tops to go after one of the archers. I ended up running a quick roof top fight and almost had the dying archer pull the halfling rogue off the roof, but making the Dex check avoided that scenario.

The guys at the table were all great, and mostly new to Next, so I had fun also educating them about Next and some of the neat new mechanics (Advantage/Disadvantage and Dying rules). Oh, and that Lego purchase I made earlier. That little minifig put in an appearance when I needed the big bad for the end of the module, a colored bead just wasn't going to do it.

I had so much fun, and got some neat swag for running the table, that I will definitely be signing up to run more events next year. And this time, I'll bring minis!

Aug 22, 2013

Gen Con 2013 - Jack the Ripper, Cthulhu, and a Some Murders in Baldur's Gate

I had originally planned to write each day of Gen Con as it happened, at the end of the day. Unfortunately my schedule left me with little time at the end of each day to do a proper recap. Here now is the first in a series of posts about my Gen Con experiences. Check back for more posts about my con experience.

Note: I just read a posting that seemed to indicate that Gen Con attendance was 49 thousand unique visitors, up over 20% from last year. Kudos to the Gen Con staff and planners, while there were more people this year, it didn't feel as congested in the hallways or the vendor's room as it had in the past.

As I've mentioned before, one of my goals at Gen Con is to try new games, to step outside my comfort zone. This year, I actually did that a couple of times.

One such game was Letters from Whitechapel, a game where one person takes on the role of Jack the Ripper, and the other players (up to 5) are the detectives trying to track him down.  Once the crime is committed, Jack tries to race back to his lair, while the detectives looks all over Whitechapel for clues to where Jack as passed through.

Over the course of four days, detectives can start to narrow down where the lair and try to position themselves in such a way to capture or trap Jack.

I thought the game was very easy to pick up, and my particular team was skilled (lucky) enough to actually catch Jack during the last evening. There are a number of optional rules that can be used once players start to get the hang of the game. This is certainly one I would recommend and happily play again.

Another new game I played at the con was Arkham Asylum. I actually own this game, but the sheer complexity of it made me want to be at a table with experienced players before attempting to run this on my own.

In this game, you take the role of an investigator going around Arkham to gather clues, and equipment (including weapons, tomes, and spells) to use against the various horrors that start springing up. I liked this game as well, though even after playing a full game that lasted about 3.5 hours, I still feel like I need to re-read the instructions and look for "how-to-play" videos on YouTube.

Lastly I played the Murder in Baldur's Gate adventure. This was apparently the same adventure that was part of the D&D Game Day, and serves as a kind of prequel to the upcoming Encounters season, also called Murder in Baldur's Gate. I really had fun with this adventure, though I thought it ended a bit too soon, the final encounter here is only relevant if you continue on to the weekly Encounters program. The adventure, which was slotted for four hours, only took our group 90+ minutes to complete, and I can't see how it could have been expected to run any longer than 2 hours.

Next time, I'll comment on some of the other things I did at the con, including one of my biggest personal accomplishments.

Aug 16, 2013

GenCon 2013 - The Delve, the Toon, and some friendly gaming

Yesterday was the first official day of the convention, and what a whirlwind day it was.

Things started out with me having to get up early so I could un-register for some events I didn't want.
I was planning to take care of the events on Wed, especially with GenCon touting it's "24 hr a day service" at the Badges and Events booths. Unfortunately the 24 hr/day doesn't start until 7am on the morning of the first official day of the con, otherwise, they close at 9pm. If I had known that, I would have taken care of the event issues right away. And I can't fault GC for this, it was noted that Wed had limited hours, I just didn't see it.

Anyway, everything got taken care of and I headed off to my first event, this year's version of the D&D Dungeon Delve. This time around, there wasn't really a dungeon, and little delving going on. Instead -- oh wait, I don't want to ruin it.

Suffice to say, I had an ok time. I found myself knowing some of the rules better than the DM at our table. Also I wasn't really a fan of how the story line included multiple tables playing parallel adventures. This meant that while we were doing something in X location, the table next to us was at location Y. This allowed for a "pod leader" to provide flavor text to the several tables at once at the beginning and near the end. This might have been great, except for the fact that the acoustics in the hall made it difficult to hear this person some of the time. Likewise, one of the other new wrinkles was that only one of the collected tables actually fought the big bad at the end (in this case a dragon). For the rest of the tables we basically just "re-fought" the previous battle, which wasn't terribly creative or fun. Also there were times when our table was l forced to weight as the others caught up.

I like the idea of the cooperative tables, but the execution left something to be desired.

Next up, after a dizzying turn in the dealers room, it was off to a game of Toon. This is a wonderful game, if you haven't played, owing more to improve theater, than a structured game. Somehow, for this game, it works. And while Toon is all about making silly, it's also a wonderful test of skills for a DM, to be able to keep up with truly random thoughts and players, and somehow keep things on track toward telling a complete story

Lastly, to finish up the day, I meet up with some friends for drinks and games. I don't see them often, but once there, we felt like no time had passed as we were talking, having fun, and rolling dice.

That may be one of my favorite parts of the con, catching up with old friends. If you go to the con, try meeting some people, you may end up staying in touch and having your own reunion moments the following year.

Aug 15, 2013

GenCon 2013: Day 0

So I'm now in Indy getting ready for the 2013 GenCon convention. Today is basically day 0, the convention hasn't really started, but on the other hand, it kind of has.

Like last year, I drove out to the con, and had a great time with my car buddy Brad. It was a great chance to catch up on what we've been up to, what our respective families have been doing, and of course, talking about all things geek.

Once we arrived and dropped off our gear, we headed over to the convention to get our badges. The line was super long, but moved much faster than we could have expected. In less that 15 minutes we both had passes and event tickets in hand.

Next up, time to get the swag bag. Oh, wait there's no swag bag this year? Bummer, but the coupon book looked better than it had been in previous years, so maybe that will make up for it, especially since most of the swag I would ditch before leaving the state at the end of the week.

One other little thing I noticed. In the past few years, the badges would have really nice lanyards, usually advertising a given product. This year, for whatever reason, the lanyards are just generic elastic string. Fortunately, I have my D&D lanyard from a few years ago, so I'll have to hold my 4-Day badge.

After getting badges/tickets, it was time to head out for some dinner. We had planned to go to Scotty's Brewhouse, but when the staff told us it was a 2 hour wait for a table for two (putting our seating time around 10pm), we had to move on. Across the street in fact to the Irish pub, where I had the chance to enjoy some Newcastle Brown Ale, fried pickles and a sandwich.

We walked around the con on the way back to the hotel and started getting ready for the next day.

For me, it might be some D&D Delve, then some Toons, and maybe a few seminars. We'll see how tomorrow turns out.

Welcome to GenCon!

Aug 8, 2013

Is Kickstarter Killing the GenCon Vendor's Room?

As I get ready for GenCon 2013, I find that this year, unlike most others, I'm not heading off to Indianapolis with a list of must-get items.

Now part of this is certainly due to the fact that this year Dungeons and Dragons is between editions, so there's no hot off the presses source book or box set for my favorite RPG, but it's not just the lack of D&D product that's reduced my shopping list to near nothing.

I'm starting to wonder, is Kickstarter is to blame. Is it killing off, or at least diminishing, the excitement of the GenCon vendor's room? In the past I would circle around the Reaper Miniatures booth, or gaze longingly at the various Dwarven Forge setups. But thanks to Kickstarter, if I took part in the Reaper Bones KS from a while ago, or the Dwarven Forge Game Tiles KS from earlier this year, I'd have little reason to visit either location.

Same for Larry Elmore, an artist I've admired since I read my first Dragonlance book, and who's booth I usually visit. This year, I'm just waiting for The Complete Elmore Artbook to come back from the printer and get shipped out to my eager and awaiting eyes and hands.

Likewise, I've supported a number of smaller items, like the Clashing Blades card deck and Foamy Dice, that I would probably have been keen to see and maybe pickup at the con. Now, I just sit back and wait for their respective packages to start arriving in the mail.

I wonder if this is the new face of our hobby, where the GenCon Vendor's room isn't the launch pad for so many new products, maybe just a few offerings from established companies, like WotC, Paizo, or FFG?