I wrote last week about the awesome time I (well, we—my friends and I) had at Gen Con this year. Easily the most fun I’ve had at a Gen Con without staying downtown.
Which leads me right into the lousy time I had getting set up for the convention. Registering for Gen Con has become a hassle and a frustration. And it doesn’t have to be. The fixes are technically easy. They may not be politically easy, but I think they are palatable, and certainly better than the situation we have now.
Gen Con was great fun, as usual. This was the first year in 15 when I wasn’t running games, so I had a blissfully laid-back schedule. In a later post, I’ll talk about all the flaws in the organization, but once I was there it was great!
Since we couldn’t get into many RPG events that weren’t D&D or Pathfinder (and we aren’t interested in those), we instead filled much of our game time with Games on Demand. This year they solved the principle problem of previous years by making the “boarding” order random rather than first-come, first-served. So you could show up 15 min—or even 2 min—before the start time and not only get into a game but have a reasonable shot at getting into one of your preferred choices. (Last year, you could show up an hour and a half before a time slot and still not be the front of the line, so you basically had to allocated an additional 1-2 hours of line-standing if you wanted to play Games on Demand and had any preferences whatsoever among the games offered.) I had poor luck on the letter lottery, inevitably picking one of the last letters called, but there were enough games of interest to me that I never had to settle. I won’t talk about every game I played at Gen Con, but want to highlight a few.
I’m going to start with the best convention game that I wasn’t actually part of. It was Con of the North, many years ago—I think before Dread had actually been published. So people had heard of Dread—it was part of why we were invited to the con—but it wasn’t yet known, and our games weren’t yet swamped. One of the games that Eppy was running only had 3 players, which is pretty much the minimum for the game to really be fun, and he nearly lost 2 of them when he was doing the scenario introduction and they realized that they would be playing rabbits. Not anthropomorphic rabbits, not rabbits with magic powers, not people transformed into rabbits—just rabbits. [We had thought this was clear from the event description, but apparently not.] And that this was nonetheless a serious game. He nearly lost them again when he busted out the Jenga™ tower. Luckily for all concerned, they decided to give it a go.
Con of the North is the best convention for playing Dread that I’ve been to. At least half the gaming space is in cleared out hotel rooms with just 1 or 2 tables in them, so you don’t have the dull roar of a large convention hall, and at most you have one other group making noise. Luckily, for this game it was just them in the room. So as night fell on the rabbits they turned the lights down in the room. I had finished running my game, so I had come by to sit and watch. As the rabbits tried desperately to escape the owl stalking them, they all were hiding, verging on tharn, which would’ve made them easy prey. Eppy told each player that they would have to pull for their rabbit to keep their wits about them. One of the players volunteered to go first, and started examining the tower. Then, with no warning, in a silent room with just the light spilling from beyond the door, he smacked the tower, sending blocks everywhere, almost-shouting “I bolt!” at the same time. Everyone, Eppy included, jumped, and that rabbit became owl food, but gave his compatriots a chance to get away.
Hmmm…I’ve had many great, even amazing, convention purchases over the years. There are all the games I discovered there—particularly the small press games before there was realistic internet ordering—such as Providence, Fudge, Maelstrom Storytelling, Theatrix, The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Aria, and Everway—games unlikely to ever show up in my FLGS. Several of these went on to become my favorites, and, more importantly, they helped broaden my notion of what an RPG could be. Likewise, though after internet ordering was becoming an option, there are Burning Wheel, Sorcerer, My Life With Master, and Primetime Adventures. In a similar vein, I once picked up all 4 issues of Interactive Fantasy, and I still return to some of the articles in them when I need game design advice.
My best purchase this year is easy: a gorgeous limited-run print juxtaposing the Doctor’s name, River Song’s name (both in Gallifreyan), the Tardis, space, and the vortex. You can sorta see it in my picture of this year’s Gen Con loot.
But my best convention purchase of all time is undoubtedly my first set of Storypath Cards. Not the originals by Lion Rampant, but their [licensed] successors by Three Guys Gaming. Storypath Cards became a core part of the mechanics of Four Colors al Fresco, and without them it might never have quite gelled into a solid game (even if you don’t need a set to play the final version). They’re also one of my favorite tools for any traditional RPG—and some story games—for injecting a little player authority into a game. Nearly everyone who has ever played with them has said their eyes were opened to a new way to play. Despite the recent proliferation of card decks for RPGs, I’ve yet to see anything quite like them.
p.s.: I’m working with Three Guys Gaming to publish a new edition of Storypath Cards, hopefully this winter, probably via Kickstarter. Keep an eye on here or The Impossible Dream website, if you’re interested.