Sep 4, 2014

GenCon 2014: The Review

Another GenCon is over, and so it's time for me to do a little recap of how this year was the best year yet (and it was).

Day Zero (Wed)

First off, I had planned to do daily updates of my experiences at the con, but that didn't happen. I ended up with either too many late night games, or too many early morning events to find the time. Maybe next year I'll at least be better about live tweeting during various events. Anyway...

I got into Indy on the Wednesday before the con, around early afternoon. The drive in (shared by me and one of my oldest friends from Philly) was nice, but once again we missed a crucial turn off onto the downtown roads and had to take a slight shortcut. The problem seems to be with my GPS not being up to date with the current traffic pattern of the area. I mention this only because this is the third year in a row that we drove to Indy, and this was the third time in a row that we missed the same exit. Sadly, a large part of the reason for wanting to go back again next year is to conquer that road.

Once we settled in to our room (which meant just dropping off bags) we picked up our badges and event tickets. I was impressed with how quickly the line at moved, and barely put any dent into the book I was reading on my iPhone Kindle app (GoT, book 3, BTW). I looked over my events and found that in my envelop slip I had someone else's events in addition to my own! I promptly turned in the other person's tickets (in exchange for some good karma and all that) and headed over to Scotty's Brewhouse.

Scotty's does a GenCon themed menu every year. Last year I tried going over there but the two hour wait was more than I was willing to put in for "Goblin Ears". This year it was early enough that we were quickly seated. After having a beer sampler and the Sandpoint Devil (chicken sandwich), we collected our souvenir dice and headed out.

I'm a sucker for souvenir this and that, and so is my close family, because on the way back to the hotel, I had to stopped off at the Hard Rock and pick up this year's GenCon pin for my mother in law. This year's pin, quiet frankly, was a lot nicer than last year's offering, and I can officially say I started my holiday shopping in August!

Day One (Thur)

The next day, or the first actual day of GenCon was filled with a bunch of various D&D games. I started off the day at 9am playing the classic first edition modules D1-D2. I hadn't played 1e in many years, and had forgotten much of the obscure bits of that edition, while some parts, like THAC0, seem destined to never be forgotten.

I had a blast playing this old module. No, it's not perfect, and there are things that might not be inline with modern roleplaying design (like death without save), but there seemed to be something poetically perfect about playing a classic Gygax module at GenCon at the start of the con.

I followed that up later in the day by running one of the new 5e modules at the con. After last year's impromptu D&D 5e game I ran, I was determined to sign up for a few slots this year.

I was assigned Defiance in Phlan, the short one hour delve that ran every hour on the hour during most of the con. Since this module was so short, there wasn't more to do than set up the basic premise and get right in to the action. This was a great way for folks to quickly try the game without the full commitment of a 4 hour module, and if they liked it, there was also the option to come back and replay the adventure as there were five different one hour scenarios to choose from.

What I enjoyed most about running the module was the various people. Everyone from brand new players, to older 1e vets looking to try the new game, to hardcore folks determined to get through all five parts of the module, everyone crossed my table at some point over the weekend. I hope they had as much fun as I had.

Later that night I was back at the D&D 5e tables, but this time as a player, trying to unravel the Secrets of Sokol Keep. I enjoyed the module, and the chance to show off my new 5e character, Brandon Cash (a gambler and reluctant hero, a combination of a pair of old TV western characters. Feel free to make your guesses in the comments below). I did pretty poorly in the first combat, but redeemed myself at the end delivering several decisive blows to drop weakened enemies left and right.

And with that, so ended my first day

Day Two (Fri)

The second day of the con was very different than the first. One of the things I try to do each year, is find something outside the normal. It's usually just playing a new game, or going to an unusual seminar. This year, I went full tilt and actually hosted my own seminar.

My talk was about inventive ways to use Lego in your D&D games, along with a Powerpoint presentation with a lot of picture examples and even some free samples from my new best friends at Brickwarriors (

The talk was a lot of work, but a lot of fun pulling it all together. I'm especially grateful for the dozen people that actually showed up. As I've said before, there's some much to see/do at GenCon, you have to pick and choose how to spend your time. I hope the folks who showed up felt that the time was well spent.

After that, it was my turn to listen in on a seminar. I went to the Caves 2.0 seminar where Scott Rice-Snow (Chairperson of the Department of Geological Sciences and Professor of Geological Sciences at Ball State University) talked about real world cave systems and how they differ from what we typically see in RPG scenarios. It was a wonderful talk, and now I'm very interested in doing more research that I can leverage in my own games.

I later spent a good deal of time in dealer's room looking over this and that and making a few purchases, like finding a 5e PHB for $35, and a few new Pathfinder RPG decks (Tide of Battle looks very interesting, especially if I can easily adapt to 5e).

At the end of the day I ended up playing what I thought was an All Flesh Must Be Eaten game, but was only loosely based on that system. It was a zombie game, but it was more improve and humor than what I was expecting. I was really impressed with how a single DM was able to handle a room of about 50 people and juggle all the various actions going on at each table.

Day Three (Saturday)

Saturday marked another D&D day. I started the day running Defiance in Phlan and ended the day as a player for the Epic adventure Corruption in Kryptgarden.

If you haven't heard these Epic adventures are only to be played at big cons and are multi-table events, where the actions at one table can positively, or negatively, impact what's going on at your table. It was the first time I've ever played such an event, and it seems they still need to work some kinks out of the concept--a DM has to prep for three different scenarios, while only 1 of the 3 will be run at the table. Players choose which path at the beginning of the event. Also, the sound system wasn't the best it could be, so it was hard for my table (which as about as far away from the main stage as it could be while still being in the D&D section of Hall D) to hear the updates that were going on.

And that wrapped up my last full day.

Day Four (Sunday)

Sunday was the last day of the con, also known as The Long Drive Home. After checking out of the hotel, and packing up the car, my buddy and me hit the dealers room one last time. I was looking for some last day deals, and the only one I found was for a product I had pre-ordered, so I felt a bit chump-ish seeing it now $10 less. Oh well. After picking up a few items here and there, like something for the wife and kid, and 1/2 off an old 4e module (I picked up up mostly for the battle mat, I'm a sucker for those things), we were off, once again on the open road.

The trip back was nice, and after a stop off at a local Stake and Shake, for one last "feels like GenCon meal", we were out of town... hopeful to return next year.