Saturday, August 23, 2014

GenCon Overview: Things Done Right and Wrong

I've been posting lots of my gaming materials and other tips and trips, and I've gotten away from covering my trip to GenCon.  Since GenCon was the main reason for my pilgrimage to Indianapolis, I really ought to get back to covering how the convention went.  So, without further ado, here are 4 things that I'm glad that I did and 5 things that I'll change for my trip next year.

Things I’m Glad I Did

James Jacobs, Adam Daigle, & Rob McCreary

  1.  Talked to the Paizo staff: Shocker, I'm a Pathfinder fanboy, so I was thrilled to get an opportunity to interact with the Paizo development and design staff that were present.  Though some of the Paizo staff have indicated that they don't love going to cons, you'd never know from the interactions that I had with them.  Everyone was unfailingly nice and approachable.  On the messageboards, I'd previously asked Creative Director James Jacobs for some advice related to a campaign in Galt.  I got an opportunity to say thanks at the show and he asked how things played out (alas, the PCs aren't there yet, so I had no answer).  I also had a fantastic interaction with Adam Daigle (who is really cute in addition to being a top-notch designer) who talked about how much he enjoys his GenCons...especially after the booth closes at 6:30pm.  The seminar interaction was also top notch.  Having an opportunity to request a short intro guide (5 pages or less) with Wes Schneider was a great opportunity to put some concerns to the people that make the game and to see that other people agreed that this would be useful.  Thanks everyone else that was in the seminar!  The staff were also really honest: it's highly unlikely that we'll see a Campaign Setting book about Trade & Travels that covers what life is like on the road for merchants, highwaymen, and other Gentlemen of the Road anytime soon.  (As an aside, I think Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road would make a fantastic setting!)
  2.  Talked to 3rd Party Publisher Staff: And not just Pathfinder 3rd Party publishers, but all of them.  I loved the opportunity to chat up people at the booths.  The fact that these people also make some of the games that I love was fantastic.  Chris Pramas from Green Ronin was right there and more than willing to chat.  I talked about how excited I am for the forthcoming Advanced Bestiary and he seemed really happy...until he got pulled away to talk to someone that had problems with his work.  The developers and designers of all the game systems were just right there and you really had an opportunity to let them know what you enjoyed about their systems and adventures.  I met a great girl (I've forgotten your name!  I'm so sorry!) at the Kobold Press booth who talked about how fun it is to do development work for them and she was able to show me a lot of her stuff and talk about what inspired it.
  3.  Explored other systems: Variety is the spice of life and gaming of every sort is on the menu at GenCon.  My two favorite systems to investigate were The Strange RPG and 13th Age.  The Strange is Monte Cook Games' newest offering in its Cypher System.  It was a Kickstarter project that just published before GenCon.  I'd backed both it and the original cypher system game, Numenera.  In the cypher system, only the players ever roll dice, which really frees up a GM to do what needs doing most: the storytelling.  The Strange takes place in a universe very like our own, except that some people have learned how to harness dark matter to travel to other realities, or recursions.  The session we played, The Eschatology Code, really helped me wrap my head around how The Strange could be moved from a neat concept into an actual playable system.  I got to play the role of a quantum physics grad student by day/go go boy by night and save the world, which was a treat.
    I also got to check out 13th Age, which has a decidedly fantasy focus.  It's character creation system means that characters are immediately tied into the game world and are more story than numbers-based.  If you're a role-player, this is awesome.  If you are a roll-player, RUN AWAY!  Our party formed an impromptu theater troop and made a monster cry with a sad, sad opera.  It was hilarious and so, so, so fun!  Our GM Graham W., was top notch and an expert about saying, "Yes," but then building some real consequences into our actions.
  4.  Wore my Arkansas hat: I grabbed my hat at the last second from its shelf.  Arkansans are few in number but large in heart.  Twice during the convention I got hailed just for wearing it.  The hat helped me find two friends on the first night.  GenCon was old hat to them, and I got a listing of tips for surviving GenCon from them (most of which I followed).  Two of my fellow 13th Age players also ended up being from AR and they offered to meet up again the following day.  It also helped that one of them, Peter, had done what I'd done and just up and game to GenCon the year previous.  Having an iconic symbol on your person that connects you to something larger is a great way to help establish quick bonds.  The hat will be among the first things in my bag next year.

Things I’ll Change Next Year

  1. Come with friends!  I had a great time this year and got some good opportunities to think.  But, I must admit that I also got a little lonely from time to time.  Next year I will definitely bring at least one friend with me.  We probably won't play all the same games together, but it will be nice to have somebody to meet back up with and (especially) to go to the bar with after things settle down.
  2. Closer hotel & no rental car: I stayed almost a mile away from GenCon and that meant an extra half hour trudging to and the con each morning and evening.  Well, each morning.  After 16 hours at Gencon, I cabbed myself home each night because I was exhausted.  Next year I want to be much closer.  I couldn't swing a room at the Westin (that's expensive!), but we're going to stay at the Sheraton, which is only a few blocks away.  Also, I didn't need my rental car at all.  I drove it only to and from the airport.  Next year I'll find taxi/shuttle transport into the city and back to the airport and not bother with a car at all.
  3. Run a game: I'm a big fan of giving back and running a game seems like the easiest way to do that.  Pathfinder Society games can be a little intimidating, but running a game is the best way to learn it inside and out.  Rather than trying to GM PFS, I think I'd like to run another system.  I also learned that the smaller publishers love having someone run a game in their system and are pretty liberal with goodies that make the game more fun--and which you can take home with you!
  4.  Events: I had no idea what True Dungeon was.  Now I know.  I will go next year.  It MUST happen.
  5. Seminar Tickets: I picked up a lot of seminar tickets this year under the theory that they are free.  But guess what: seminars don't really sell out.  You don't need generic tickets to get into the free events that aren't sold out either.  Plus, GenCon's registration program won't let you double book for events.  So, no seminar tickets next year.  Instead I will go ahead and leave those times open or possibly register for something else.
So there you have it.  That's what went right and what I'd change.  With Gencon 2015 a year away, I want to know exactly what I liked in the moment this year to better plan for next.  Oh, and watch out True Dungeon.  I'm gunning for you.

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