August 21st, 2012


GenCon 2012: Opening Salvo

Many of you have no doubt seen my various Twittering and Facebookings about GenCon over the last few days. The task of putting all of that in context in particularly daunting as the whole weekend is currently amalgamated in my head as a vast mass of AWESOME.

Lets start with Wednesday.

There were two sides to my first GenCon experience; the social side began on Thursday. Of the little group of (mostly) SoCal gamers with whom I was rooming (Morgan, Mike and Mike's friend Mike), I arrived first. I dumped my luggage in my room and took a quick recon of the convention centre, chatted with Trond at GM HQ and attempted to find Bridget. She was at a tapping party for the official GenCon beer, but Trond couldn't recall the location. I found an add for the beer and with the brewery being relatively close to town took a walk out there. That obviously wasn't where the event was, and they were closed, but I got to see some scenic vacant lots and demolished buildings. I returned from the somewhat-humid wilderness to my hotel room where air conditioning was applied. I had been warned that Indy might be humid, wet and generally nasty, so I was pretty pleased when the weather turned out to be mostly good over the weekend. Eventually the rest of the group (Chris, Sam and Andy) assembled for dinner and the Diana Jones award ceremony at a local bar. This is pretty much the grand meeting place for the indie design crowd. I met many cool people who I knew from twitter, forums and their games, but had not yet met in person, as well as many cool people who I had already met at various cons. That party culminated in several gaming luminaries riding a mechanical bull. Pictures will perhaps surface at some point, but I didn't take any.

Morgan gets his Morgan on. (Photo (c)Adam Koebel)

On Thursday, the gaming side crept in. I had been intending to run two of my Games on Demand shifts as four hour games, but as I had misread my diary and thought my 10am slot was on its own, I offered Psi*Run or 3:16. We played Psi-Run. I reduced the number of questions from six to four, but we still ended under time. Unfortunately, I didn't take notes about the PCs and don't remember much about this game.

I had taken Psi*Run and 3:16 as my two hour games and Dungeon World, Monster of the Week and The Sprawl as four hour games, but not wanting to run Psi-Run back to back, and with Gregor Hutton running a game of 3:16 already, I offered Dungeon World. I had the players all pitch dungeons to explore, then fashioned a mash-up of the most evocative ideas while they created characters. Mouse, the halfing thief attempting to join The Syndicate; Dalewyn, the elf bard seeking bestial lore; The Reverend Anvil Stone, curate of the Orthodox Church of Stonk, a martial dwarven cult; Erolwyn, an elven ranger with an owl companion; and Avon, the human wizard engaged in his practical examination in his final year of magic school. These brave souls set out into The Cavern-Maze of Carnage in search of Three-Headed Harpy of Avadoon. They had little trouble with the traps on the entrance or with the goblin followers whose sacrificial ceremony they interrupted, but the Harpy was a sterner challenge, vulnerable only in an open would in her chest, covered by a thick steel plate. Once Erolwyn had bought the beast to ground with a handily stowed net, Dalewyn and Mouse managed to cut two of the straps holding the plate in place and scale the creature's massive body. Dalewyn discovered that the wound was caused by a weapon still lodged in her heart, and driving it deeper, killed her. Unfortunately, the mighty creature crushed him and Mouse in the process; Mouse cut a deal with death to betray the Syndicate she could now afford to join, but Dalewyn perished.

I wandered the exhibit hall for a couple of hours, discovering among other things that Fantasy Flight Games had sold out of the Netrunner re-release in the first four hours five minutes. I also had a decent chat to the distinctively coiffed Adam Jury about Eclipse Phase, Transhuman Space and Story Games; I didn't have luggage space, but that is definitely a series I am going to pick up. When I returned to Games on Demand, I discovered the sizable (if small by GenCon standards) queue of demanding players that was to herald the start of a new session. I had met Paul Riddle, designer of The Regiment, the previous night at the Diana Jones event, so I abandoned my position in the queue in favour of a game of the Regiment in the Embassy Suites with a group that I shall refer to as the Las Cruces clique.

It was Red Dawn but with a group of adults (The Black Feet) against the Chinese invaders in Colorado. I played the Sergeant, Alan Dobb, a cheerful barber with a selection of inspirational moves. We successfully ambushed a convoy but were counterattacked by a Hind attack helicopter which young "Noodles" (Soldier) took down with a ManPAD (rolled a 10+ on Are you Crazy?). Unfortunately, we were ousted from our room by the people who had booked it, and unable to find a suitable table to continue, had noodles for dinner, then hit the bar for the rest of the evening. So, as the first day of gaming drew to a close, I had run two two-hour games and played one. The games were all good, but six hours of gaming seemed like slim pickings...

The ancient Greek word for foreskin and whale fluffers (Photo (c)Adam Koebel)

GenCon 2012: Monsters Everywhere

First up on Friday I was GMing in Games on Demand. I offered Dungeon World again. In this session, four characters ventured into the Wreck of the Mermaid Queen: Bob, dwarf cleric of Kalintir, god of healing and restoration; Korath the Righteous, Paladin of Kalintir; Apos, human wizard from a magical lineage with a dark secret; and Fade, aloof but curious elf bard. Korath's holy quest led him to the Wreck in search of the Mermaid Queen who bore the visage of his Goddess. They descended down a sheer cliff to the rocky shore, where Korath drove off a small band of attacking mermen with his divine authority; on the Wreck, Bob used the power of Kalintir to part a feasting band of ghost pirates; and a pitched battle against more mermen raged outside the Mermaid Queen's chambers. Finally, Korath confronted his goddess who invited him to consummate their divine relationship. Korath had a glimmer of a doubt, but enthusiastically accepted. Eventually, as the ritual union neared its climax, his companions learned that the Queen's last lover was now a ghost pirate and dragged him away. Discovering this, Korath spurned his goddess and the group fled her wrath, barely escaping the Wreck with their lives!

Little did they know what sexy horrors awaited them! Well, maybe the title gave it away... (Photo (c) Adam Koebel)

My only real foodie experience of GenCon was this lunch. Morgan, Jerry, Will and I wandered across the street to Harry and Izzy's for some of the famous St Elmo's horseradish sauce. It was suitably sinus clearing. The GenCon special Ale of Destiny by Sun King was pretty good too. I wasn't overly impressed by the prime rib sandwich I had, but I'd forgotten than I usually find those disappointing.

Back in Games on Demand, I had two back-to-back two-hour slots. I offered Monster of the Week and one of the three players preferred a two-hour game. I pitched a Night's Black Agents-style game in which the players were former members of an agency dedicated to protecting the world from monsters, but whom they had just discovered were controlled by monsters. Thus the Department of Demonic Control was born. I ran both slots with that premise, Chris and Sam played in both as respectively: Jack Cadillac, a Wronged whose wife had been killed and daughter taken by the DDC, and Merv, a Hardcase from a murky military background who had been persuaded to leave the DDC by the first game's third character, Dorothy Kowalski. Dorothy was an Expert formerly of the Demonic Demographics and Statistics Division whose niece had also been taken. In the first slot, Jack, Merv and Dorothy found their contact in Tuscon dead and followed the trail to an underground prison from which they rescued Dorothy's niece. While Dorothy delivered children back to their families, Jack and Merv continued their search for Jack's niece. In the second slot, they were joined by agents from other organisations in their hunt for a upper-level demon, Maali-alish. They were Mr Stirling, a Professional employed by a private individual and tasked with investigating Maali-alish (this had potential to set Mr Stirling up alliance with another demon, but the story didn't go in that direction), and Al-Shadim, and Initiate of the Brotherhood of the Silver Sword, tasked with killing Maali-alish. Mr Stirling attended to a small piece of professional business with the help of Merv, while Al-Shadim and Jack staked out a sighting of Maali-alish. They found him, chased him and caught him, but he bargained for his life using Jack's daughter as a pawn, then escaped to the crypt of a church. The group pursued him under the church to a pocket dimension in which a giant demonic engine was readying Jack's daughter for possession. A climactic battle ensued in which Mr Stirling collected evidence and de-powered the engine while Al-Shadim killed Maali-alish and Jack rescued his daughter, receiving a disfiguring and no-doubt thoroughly evil scar in the process.

I adjourned with Sam and Chris (and met up with the rest of our room contingents) for dinner at California Pizza Kitchen where a the chatty manager kept us entertained. Most of the guys went to an Irish bar for the evening, while I headed back to the Embassy Suites and was lucky enough to catch the Las Crucas clique about to play Undying, Paul's Apocalypse World hack of Vampire the Masquerade.

Paul discusses Undying on his blog. Essentially, it highlights two main aspects of Vampire that were central to the flavour text of the original, but largely absent from the mechanics: the internal struggle between human and beast (represented by the zero-sum stats Will and Humanity), and the struggle for dominance in vampire society )represented by Status as a stat and Debt as a currency). It works really well; certainly the rules for Vampire that I've played. I was Raphael, a Succubus (the playbook that more or less covers Toreador) with a high humanity, low will, and a burning ambition for status. Our game took place in a small Caribbean city in the age of piracy; there was a Liege of the city, his rival for power, a pirate captain, and the four PCs: Armando, the Nightmare; Elliot, the Wolf; and Shelly, the Puppet Master. After various expositions, confrontations and interactions we blew up the pirate king, and Raphael threw Elliot under the metaphorical bus for the Liege's favour. It would have set up nicely for a continuing game, and I look forward to playing this again in the future. It's as yet unreleased in any form, but look out for it.

By this point, was well into the swing of things and feeling pretty good about the amount of gaming I was getting in.