Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wandering through GenCon

We arrived on Wednesday night around 7:00 pm and went right to the Will Call line to pick up our badges and tickets. I'm glad we did because it introduced us to the overall theme of GenCon 2011 -- waiting in line. We spent an hour waiting to pick up our badges. After that, we grabbed dinner and then turned in for the night.

Day 1

The day began with a beautiful sunrise, the gold and pink hues in the sky creating a terrific mosaic over the Indianapolis skyline. I'm told it was quite pretty. However, I spent the morning waiting in a 40 minute line for a bagel sandwich, then heading to the Exhibition Hall.

Peter Adkison opened the day with a roll on the main stage, right outside the newly expanded Exhibition Hall. As the doors parted, the vortex of games and dice drew in the crowd, almost against their will. The rush of people was both terrifying and strangely euphoric. What new treasures would we find in the hall? Who would we meet? Would any of the authors or artists fail their San checks and run screaming?

To be honest, the morning was very much a blur.  Hmm... That's not quite right. Blur implies speed, and that's just not what I experienced. It was more like being frozen in amber. Half of the morning was spent in the Catalyst Game Labs booth, picking up my Shadowrun stuff, then the second half of the morning getting my Paizo subscription. The Catalyst booth was bogged down with computer problems (another recurring theme), while the Paizo booth was just bogged down with people.

After lunch, our group got together for the one game we all signed on for and wanted to play. We Be Goblins! was a total success and complete fun to play. Although they only had four pre-gens for a group of six players (we doubled up on alchemists and clerics), the game was incredibly fun. My little Globber was able to "heal the party" only once, sadly though. They were as appreciative of my god's blessing when it turned out I channel negative energy and nearly killed the rogue and one of the alchemists. (I, however, was fine as my god provided me with a stick of feel good -- wand of cure light wounds). I think we finally broke our GM, though, when the other cleric cast Divine Favor on his pet toad and the Tiny toad proceeded to deal more damage to the Medium-sized Frog than anyone else in the family. Like all good goblin adventurers, we made sure to try and test the fireworks before returning home and Globber was chosen by the group to hold the blessed banger as they lit it and ran away. Fortunately, my god worked through me and aimed the banger at the big box of bangers, killing the entire party (except that sneaky rogue -- but he got his later).

After Goblins, we did some more wandering of the Exhibition Hall, before nearly collapsing and returning to our room to drop off our goodies, then grab dinner. My friends and I then headed to the Westin hotel lobby, where Keith Baker (of Eberron fame) was holding an impromptu gathering of gamers to "just chat". The next hour was a discussion that ranged from favorite moments to how to handle different types of players to what to do if you're blocked (as the GM) on where to go next in your campaign. Mr. Baker was very personable and helpful, and the informal gathering was a high point of the convention.

The first day ended as exhaustion set in and we realized our Pathfinder Society game was at a bright and early 8:00 am the next day. As dreams of silly goblins and precious swag danced through our heads, we fell asleep, imagining this is how Ralphie felt the night of Christmas as the cool blue steel of his Red Rider rested next to him. (Little publicized fact. Randy was found shot to death by 400 B.B.'s about a month later).

Day 2

As we awoke in the morning, we tried hunting out breakfast, but then simply decided to grab Starbucks from the lobby of the JW Marriott before heading over for the game. While waiting for the PFS game, we encountered the new regulations that we hadn't seen in the previous trip in 2009. Instead of simply opening the doors and letting everyone in, the people with "real" tickets were allowed in first, to ensure they all got seats before letting Generic ticket owners in. This was both good (since it guaranteed that "real" tickets weren't left in the dust because they were slightly late) and bad (this unfortunately meant that our friend Jesse did not get a chance to get into our game).

The game was part of the introductory adventures set up for new players/characters to start off. It was a interesting storyline, introducing four of the factions in the Society, and was paced well. The game was four hours long, but we were able to get 3 combats, a puzzle and lots of interesting roleplaying in. Overall, it was a good game, although my friend's Barbarian was actually taken out early in the big fight and the Oracle unfortunately cast Cure Light Wounds three times, for minimum healing each time, resulting in the big guy being stable but unconscious.

After the game, we wandered the Exhibition Hall, seeing what goodies we could find. No demos were tested this day, as we merely wanted to take in as much as possible. We found the Who North America booth, where the fans of the Doctor were drooling over the wonderful toys and giant TARDIS, and I purchased Jelly Babies to try. We then determined why the good Doctor was always trying to give them away (and why no-one took them) as they are the foulest gelatin-based candy I have ever tasted (and I always wind up with the vomit flavored Bertie Bott). After poisoning myself and my friends with the horrid British concoction, I bade farewell to my companions and headed off to the Shadowrun seminar What's Up with Shadowrun?  The seminar (which John Schmidt is uploading to his YouTube channel) was very fun and informative about their new products and what's coming down the pipeline. I'm a little biased (being a global moderator for the official forums -- here), but the Catalyst guys seem to really love their job and their products and go the extra mile for the fans.

The seminar over, I headed back to our shared hotel room, where we relaxed for a bit, going through our swag and new preciouses--er, purchases. Both my friend and I were astounded by the quality of the Runner's Toolkit, the Shadowrun box set that had a ton of useful stuff. Ultimate Combat was also a treasure for me, because I love to have options for games and the book is full of them. And, we spent much time drooling over the black & silver Limited Edition Runner's Black Book (Shadowrun) and the Degenesis game (Posthuman Studios), with it's beautiful artwork and crisp rules. Dinner came and then I was off to the first round of my Shadowrun tournament.

The big surprise for the tournament was that they dipped into the Street Legends book that was released and we were all playing some of the big NPCs from the universe. It took us a good half hour to not only wrap our brains around playing legendary characters, but to also go through all their abilities and goodies that we had to play with. At the end of the night, we were the first team to finish the objection (and the only team to do so on time). Stumbling back up to my room, I promptly crashed into bed as we got ready for Day 3.

Day 3

The day began with us being able to "sleep in" to 8:00 am, since none of us had anything scheduled until 10:00 am. My friend and I went to the Paizo seminar, detailing their upcoming plans for Pathfinder and Paizo. Yes, the minis are coming. Yes, there will be "theme packs" of things like a goblin swarm. Yes, there will be a Rise of the Runelords pack to coincide with the compilation/5th anniversary book and they are confidant it will include a Gargantuan-sized Rune Giant miniature. No, they are not planning to do compilations of the other APs at this time. No, they are not planning a modern/future/space/sci-fi Pathfinder at this time (although Lisa had tried to get an offer on the Star Wars/Lucasfilm license). Yes, they were the #1 ranked gaming product on ICV for quarter 2. No, Erik Mona doesn't do that with his minis.

After the seminar, we headed out for Exhibition Hall again, hoping to try some demos and spend some coin. The first stop was to Fantasy Flight Games to try out their Mansions of Madness, but the tables were already crowded and the next opening was a good wait. So, we wandered a bit more. We checked out dice, games, dice, t-shirts and dice. The full-sized TARDIS at Who North America became the common rallying point when we became separated (which was often), but we did drop by Steve Jackson Games and were able to Demo the Axe Cop card game, based off Munchkin rules.

As the clock struck 4:00 pm, I headed over to the lobby of the Marriott hotel, where I met up with Erik Scott de Bie, Jaleigh Johnson, Ed Greenwood, Steven Schend, Erin Novaks, Bruce Cordell and Matt James for the first official unofficial Candlekeep Symposium. For those of you not in the know Candlekeep is a forum and gathering place of Forgotten Realms sages and lore. We style ourselves after the sages in the Candlekeep monastery set in Faerûn as keepers of Lore and knowledge of the Realms. Again, this was an informal setting, with only about a dozen in attendance (yes, the authors outnumbered the fans). The discussion began with Ed asking us what we'd like to see come down the road for the Realms. From there, we again discussed writing suggestions, queried lore on our favorite people and places and had a grand time sharing a drink with truly outstanding folk. But time grew short and hunger called...

That evening, I attended the second round of the Shadowrun tournament. Our group quickly fell into characters for the game and we were off like a shot. And then the GM (a different GM from the first night--they rotated since they were also our judges for scoring) began to slow us down. He was a nice guy, but he seemed underprepared for the game. Rules, story and characters, he wasn't up to date on most of them. So we spent the night trying to hurry him along while not missing important things. Unfortunately, his lack of preparation did us in, since a couple of key story items were not brought up, resulting in us not knowing things were skipped, and we finished feeling we had the tournament easily in the bag. Much to our dismay the next day, we discovered we hadn't even scored high enough to get in the top three.

I turned in for the night, preparing for the final day of the convention, feeling like an American Gymnast at the Olympics facing off against the German judge.

Day 4

We awoke on day 4 with absolutely nothing planned. Grabbing breakfast at Subway, we headed into the Exhibition Hall and met up with friends to do a final pass through all the booths (and try to roll 20's on negotiation skills against the people that would be packing up stuff later). We grabbed the final purchases of the 'Con (dice, a River Song sonic screwdriver, Munchkin Cthulhu), then headed up to the Sagamore Ballroom and sat down at one of the many empty tables to play Munchkin all afternoon. This GenCon was the first time our friend Jesse had ever played a Munchkin card game and he fell in love with it. Unfortunately, I don't think he realized what complete bastards his friends were until we started playing.

The game was over and we bade our goodbyes to the friends that weren't going back with us, then went out for a glorious final night feast to celebrate our new treasures, old friends and cherished memories.

In retrospect...

GenCon is something special. It is a gathering of like-minded fools and their friends, intent to spend four days creating stories, slaying fell beasts and walking away with the treasure. Your first GenCon is always filled with wonder and amazement as you try and do and experience everything they offer. This being my third trip, I'm beginning to finally get into the rhythm of the convention, knowing what days to do what, where to go for this and -- most importantly -- how not to overdo it.

As a reporter for the convention, I probably could have attended more industry panels, tried more demos and recorded interviews with more celebrities. However, if I had done all that, I would have missed out on simply enjoying the close nature of the panels and informal gatherings I did attend. If you go into something, looking for a story, you come out with facts and figures that you regurgitate for your readers. If you go into it to just enjoy it, you come out with stories and memories that are dear to you. Some of the best memories of GenCon 2011:

  • Giving a t-shirt to Keith Baker. It was a simple graphic tee we had made up for our group based on our Eberron Adventuring Guild, and we gave it to him to say "you're part of the guild". From his reaction to the shirt, it was apparent that he enjoyed the gift and sentiment.
  • Meeting the Catalyst Game Labs crew face-to-face. Especially Bull (Missions Developer). Being the only moderator on the boards that's not working for Catalyst, I've gotten to know these guys pretty well from the forums. To actually meet them in person was a blast and I hope next time I get to spend more time with them (especially at Claddagh, for the meet-up on Wednesday night before the 'Con).
  • Unofficial Candlekeep Symposium. Like the Catalyst crew, I've been wanting to meet the sages and authors that frequent the forums for many a year now. To finally get a chance to sit down and chat as fellow games and fans of the Realms meant a lot to me. Now, if I can just get them to put Ashe in as a character...
  • Scaring the bejesus out of Wesley Schneider. It was unintentional. But hilarious. The running quest became getting the Paizo buttons they released each day. We had gotten Thursday's, but missed Friday's because we were in the PFS game and they ran out by the time we got there. On Saturday, we attended the Paizo seminar, then rushed over to the Exhibition Hall to get our button. I spotted Wes at the front of the Paizo area and we asked him for the button. Upon finding out there were all gone, my friend had a Cartman moment and yelled out "Sonovabitch!". He didn't notice Wes' eyebrows shooting up and then stepping back from us, but I did and pulled my friend away before we scared him further. All I could think the rest of the day was how we put the fear of god into the nicest guy working at Paizo.
  • The Drive. Now, I'm not saying it's for everyone, but it was the cheapest method to get six people to the 'Con. My friend and I were the drivers of the orange Dodge Minivan (we could never agree on who was Chevy Chase), and spent most of the trip out and back keeping each other sane by being totally silly and cracking each other up. His wife, god bless her, looked at us like she was Gandalf and we were Merry and Pippin. Everyone else in the car slept.
  • The Energy. There's something about GenCon. I haven't been to ComicCon, nor DragonCon, but both are more about the entertainment industry rather than the game industry. Sure, GenCon is smaller than both, but it's more focused than the others too. At the other cons, you spend most of your time spending money to see celebrities, or buying cool toys, or spending money on Seminars. GenCon, you spend most of your time with friends (or strangers) playing games.

The Downside

They are growing. Having just reported the numbers today, they showed there were over 100,000 "turnstiles" at the convention (that's the count of people coming in the door). That's up more than 20% from last year and even more than the 69,000 from two years ago. We felt an energy at the convention that they are quickly reaching a breaking point before they have to make major changes. My friend Jesse went to pick up his badge and tickets Thursday morning and the line for the Will Call was over two hours to wait and double-backed on itself twice. The most heard complaint came from the wireless network, where it not only cost a lot ($10-$15 a day), but was incredibly slow. Then there's the rumor that once the contract is up with Indianapolis, they are considering moving the show to California. No matter what else, GenCon is heading for a change. Whether the gamers will be ready or willing is a big question.


  1. Great stuff, Droz! Thanks for taking the time to share your experience. I think you chose wisely.

    My immediate reactions:
    1. What is it that Mona doesn't do with his minis?
    2. The next time you part of a Wes-scare, feel free to yell or growl or something and then say that that one was from me. :D
    3. I'm not a big Realms guy (probably as much an accident of history as anything), but that sounds AWESOME. I could sit and listen to Ed Greenwood talk about anything. (I wish someone had gotten a picture of him punching Sean Reynolds.)

  2. My first trip to England, I bought jelly babies, Turkish delight, and ginger beer, the three British delicacies I had heard the most about. All three were awful! Seriously, Edmund Pevensie, you sold your soul for that?


  3. Joana,
    Did that go to the right post? :)
    I've never had jelly babies, and I've had mixed Turkish delight experiences, but I am sure you must have been given something other than real ginger beer. Mmm...ginger beer...

  4. Tiny reference to jelly babies in paragraph 3 of day 2. :)


  5. 1) I totally made up that thing about Mona. Except the part about their exclamations of joy when they first saw the WizKids/Pathfinder minis. ;)
    2) Will do
    3) Ha!

    Joana: I know all about British food and figured that should have been a warning, but I had to try them anyway. *shudder*