This is Joshua Wehner's archaic Blog

I Already Miss the Klingons

Liz + Batman
Liz + Batman

We just got back from GenCon . Here's my rapid-fire report on the goings-ons:

  • We 'spontaneously' decided to go at the last minute on Wednesday night. Originally, nothing was supposed to happen that weekend, but we weren't sure where we'd be, our status, etc. Then we arranged for my parents to come visit that weekend. Oh well. But then, they couldn't make it. Off to GenCon we went...
  • We stayed at the Courtyard . We wanted Embassy Suites, but they sold the last room while we were off eating dinner and deciding to commit. Repeat warnings about Snoozing and Loozing here, I suppose... All in all, the Courtyard wasn't the nicest hotel, but it worked out well. We were still walking distance from the Con, but not actually physically connected to it (across the street diagonally).
  • We left at 7am Friday, arrived in Indianapolis around 4pm and were checked-in, registered and "out and about" by 5. We sync'd up with Chris, Brian & Tom, then found Kristin hanging out with the Mizzou contingent. Then met up with Andrea & Corrinne for dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory. (Food was okay to good, atmosphere and stellar company made it so I didn't even notice.)
  • We didn't participate in a single scheduled, sanctioned gaming event. I'm sure it was possible to do so, but we wound up having so much fun it didn't matter.

Played at GenCon:

Star Wars d20 with Tom Azar & The Mizzou Crew

Kristin's friends from Missouri called us when we were eating dinner. "Want to play Star Wars?" We'd never played any Star Wars RPG before, but said "Sure!" anyway; I'm glad we did - the game was a blast. Tom is a very animated, creative GM and the rest of the group played their crazy, conniving characters to the hilt. I expected difficulties playing the "bad guys" of the Star Wars universe, but the mission set-up worked out better than I can describe.

True Tavern

The True Tavern isn't a game, per se, but a Ren Fest-like "hang out", a life-size foam & cardboard reconstruction of a fantasy medieval tavern. It's connected to the True Adventure/True Dungeon setting, where players sign up to go through a similar life-size, cardboard "dungeon" and win prizes (generally seemed to be tokens that represented Adventure treasures). Players hung out in the Tavern trading tokens afterwards. We went for the beer & atmosphere — which was better than expected.

We spent most of the night in a small room off the main tavern/dungeon set-up. A hand-ful of gaming buddies (ie, not affiliated with the official Adventure) had taken over and re-styled the room as a "Thieves' Guild"; they harassed passing Players, but ultimately traded tokens with them. It was a blast, just hanging out. We both want to try a scheduled Dungeon run next year.

WizKids' Pirates of the Spanish Main

Liz tries on a chainmail headdress.
Liz tries on a chainmail headdress.

DemoGirl caught us on the way through the Exhibit Hall to see something else, but what the hey... I'd seen references to the game on DorkTower, so... Pirates is a Collectible Card Game sort of, where the Collectible Cards are punch-out assembleable pirate ships. With the remaining non-punched-out materials and dice (also included) you play a minis game.

I thought the basic concept was interesting (the idea of assembling the ships from little bits of laminated cardstock) but, as Liz has repeatedly reminded me, the gameplay itself was kind of... boring. The game seems to need some kind of Instants, or some other tactics-altering effects. ("I play tsunami on your frigate!") Otherwise, it's just turn, turn, turn, shoot, turn. Repeat. But then, I'm not, by default, a fan of minis games.

Tim Kleinert's (aka timfire) The Mountain Witch RPG

Tim helped us make sense of The Forge's combo-booth and offered to demo his game, while we waited for Luke to finish (see below). The Mountain Witch is a fairly small-spec game: You play samurai/ronin traveling up the mountain to kill the Witch. Other details vary from game to game, but this is the same basic outline every time.

As I understand it, the game's basic premise involves a Trust mechanic that utilizes chips that one player passes to another to demonstrate/iconize his/her trust in him/her. There are some nice elements in the game (I particularly liked the cover and interior art) but either the organization or Tim's rapid-fire demo failed to convey a strong overall package. For example, it wasn't clear to me whether the Trust tokens represented my character's trust in Liz's character, or her character's trust in me, or what. (Players grant each other tokens between "chapters", and spend them during combat.)

Luke Crane's (aka abzu) The Burning Wheel

I set out for The Forge multi-booth looking for demos of this, Sorceror, Dogs in the Vineyard or My Life with Master. This is what I got. Burning Wheel is a gritty-yet-stylish Tolkienesque fantasy game with an emphasis on combat in a narrativist bent. The game's two major points (from my perspective) are:

  • Lifepath-based character creation ("I was born a noble [add five points diplomacy], trained for knighthood [add five points strength], etc.") and
  • Scripted Combat (each participant writes out three "volleys" of actions, with a bit of complicated rock-paper-scissors strategy — eg, "Attack" beats "Defend", but "Defend" beats "All Out Attack" etc.)

I was most curious to see how the Scripted Combat played out in person, and found that it added a bit of tactical complexity without too much rules overhead (though it did add a bit). I also found Luke's energy and chutzpah contagious, and the scenario he set up was just shy of brilliant (and the other demo players really got into it, though Liz was a bit put off that he "told her she couldn't do what she wanted to", she attributes most of that to the Must-Simplify-Demo-at-Con mentality.)

Robin Laws, Mike LastNameForgotten & Shane LastNameBarelyUnderstood Seminar Employment: How to break into The Industry

Not a game, per se, but a seminar we attended. I still want to work in the games/hobby industry, though this seminar nearly-if-unintentionally put me off of that altogether. Good tips, good grounding in the reality of the industry. We also found out that Robin lives/works in Toronto AND that there's a gaming convention in Toronto next weekend. If we're not overdosed on conventions by then, we'll probably check it out.

Tom Azar's "Return to Undermountain" D&D Deathfest

Tom Azar GMs a massive game of D&D
Gamers whose characters will die. Soon. And often.

This was a massive D&D game with representative members of all Kristin's past & present game groups (about ten people altogether). As I understand it, the premise was that Tom had prepared a stack of D&D characters, we'd each pick one and then, when a character died, we'd pick another from the Pool and keep going. That's more or less what happened, but the large size of the party slowed the death rate down slightly. Slightly.

Tom has an enormous amount of creativity (that I'd only glimpsed in the Star Wars game) and it came out here, in its full gorey glory. Tom stacked the dungeon with all manner of gruesome (and disturbingly high-level) beasties and death-traps, yet, a surprising array of actual clues and puzzles. The format, and the excellent company all made this an unbelievably enjoyable game.

Drinking & Time's Up

Late, late Saturday night, we went to BW3s for wings and beers, then (briefly - as in, we walked one complete U-turn around the inside of the place) to the Claddagh Irish Pub. Some sporting event (baseball?) had just let out, and the pub was too full of people by half. We went instead to an older Diner/Pub/Restaurant further away from the sports arena and had a good ol' fashioned conversation. Good stuff. Afterwards, we played Time's Up until all hours (3am).

Time's Up is way, way more fun that it deserves to be (it's really just Charades) but it works so well. This was actually the first time we'd played the "official" version - the only other time Liz & I had played it, we made our own cards. If you haven't played it, the game combines elements of Charades & Taboo: you have a stack of cards with names (from fictional characters to authors to actors, and on and on) and you have to get your team members to guess the names.

The trick is that all teams use one stack of cards that recycle for three rounds, which progressively limit the range of your ability to act things out. In the first round, for example, you can say anything but the person's name; by the third round you can't speak at all. In my experience, the recycling aspect generates a tremendously silly amount of fun, as players reference previous clues in their charades.

The (Long) Road Out

Liz at the Falls
Liz at the Falls

We went to brunch Sunday with the whole gang, then hit the Exhibit Hall one last time for souvenirs and last-minute impulse buys. We stopped off at Liz's parents Sunday night for dinner with the family (including Liz's brother and wife, who just returned from their Honeymoon).

Monday, after some state-side errands (banks & post office, basically) we drove to Canada by way of Niagara Falls. This was my first time at the Falls and, while they are really cool, it doesn't seem like there's much to do there. It's kinda like, "Oooh. Pretty nature. Okay, let's go home." But maybe that's the long drive talking. Who knows?

Bags Made Heavier By:

  • GURPS Imperial Rome, Egypt & All-Star Jam 2004: Since finally getting around to reading GURPS Russia, I have been on a historical fantasy kick. And the booth was having a buy-two-get-three sale, so All-Star got picked up (which was perfectly after-the-fact — I don't think I'd ever have bought All-Star on it's own merits.)
  • The Burning Wheel: See above.
  • Liz got a "Got Dice?" baby-doll T-shirt.
  • We got a nice caricature of the two of us.
  • Gifts for some friends who couldn't make it.

Next Year Resolutions

  • More. More time, more games, more friends. I had a great time, next year, I must overindulge!
  • Group True Dungeon, with a Tavern hang-out after.
  • Play Josh's Crazy Game Idea (coming soon) with more people.

Permalink • Posted in: D&D, gaming, travelComments (2)


Sarah Aug 24, 2005

What an enjoyable review of Gencon. It was fun to see it through the eyes of newcomers to the con, and find out about all that I missed. I especially enjoyed the social time (including Time's Up!) with you and Liz. I hope to see you all again next year. In the meantime, there are talks of scheduling a MadCon/WisCon in Madison after the holiday season. We are hoping for a couple of full days of board gaming. I know it's quite a drive, but maybe you'd be up for a visit. Jay and I both recorded our GenCon events on through a couple of geeklists. He's on as MUKid and I'm the beloved MUGal.

Take care and give Liz my best.


Parmeter Aug 24, 2005

So that's where you've been hiding! :)