Monday, September 8, 2014

GenCon Recap: Saturday, August 16

My GenCon Saturday started with sleeping in!  Unlike the previous two days, I didn't have anywhere to be until 9:00a.m. for Kobold Press' seminar about trying to be a freelancer.  I don't really have any desire time to be a freelancer, but I think these types of panels offer good advice on how to make good adventures.  Also, I wanted to support Kobold Press, because they are one of the few established outfits in the industry that takes submissions from people without any publishing credits to their name.  The session was interesting and I took a few nuggets away with me: you'll probably have to give your first piece away but try and start getting paid for your second, know multiple systems because you never know which systems will be in vogue over time, and whenever you do get rejected always ask for feedback on how you can improve your work for future publication.

I confess: I snuck out of the seminar early.  After meeting the folks running all of Monte Cook's games the night before, I was hoping to catch a Numenera game on a generic ticket.  The Kobold seminar was at the very back of the hotel to the southeast of the convention center.  The Monte Cook Games room was at the very end of the hotel to the northwest of the convention center.  So, I got to walk the entirety of GenCon!  It is a long effing way.  

It was longer when I arrived to find out that had I been one person earlier I could have gotten a seat at the table with my generic ticket.  Poverty.  My friend from the bar the night before did manage to get a generic ticket slot though, so that's good though.  I hadn't been able to sign up for a Numenera event in pre-registration.  I was shocked at how quickly these games filled up.  I think that less well-known games are harder to get tickets to because it's a lot easier to find a game of Pathfinder or D&D when you aren't at a Con.

So, it was time to make the long walk back to the Convention Center proper.  With a hole in my schedule, I decided it was time to do something unplanned.  On a whim, I walked into the Dungeons & Dragons room.  I'm inclined to dislike 5th Edition based on the game's management's history, but I figured I could at least check it out.  All their events are set up in a castle and so I stepped inside.

Much of the castle is dedicated to people actually playing D&D, which is nice to see.  They have a tiny retail section in the castle as well and I'm hoping to browse through the new Player's Handbook and edition launching adventure, Tyranny of Dragons.  It's a two-part adevnture set in the Forgotten Realms, a setting that I really liked back in my 2nd Edition days.  The first one is called Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

I come up to the retail area.  It's basically a check out line without any browsing space.  I ask if I can take a look at the game or if I have to get in line to purchase.  The guy behind the counter tells me I have to get in line.  This sales tactic is probably coercively effective on customers that feel less license to be a dick than I do.  I get in line and start browsing the book.  I'm going to have time for either the Player's Handbook or the adventure--and I go with the adventure.  The artwork is top notch and the plot looks good from my five minute overview.  

Unfortunately, I have to put it back once I'm at the front of the line.  I'm a no go on purchasing--this was pretty much a classic customer service fail.  Don't make me stand in the checkout line to browse your product.  I am considering purchasing a book, which a lot of people put a lot of time into writing.  I am not purchasing this, this, or this.

So, back to the Exhibit Hall.  I finally make it through this time.  I also make my first impulse buy of the Con: a copy of Iron & Ale.  You can read my review of it here.  

After finishing my rounds at the Exhibit Hall, I'm walking past a board game company's booth just as an announcer is calling for a single player to jump into a game being demoed.  It's called Hyperborea. It promises an opportunity to, "Embark on an epic quest to build your mythical nation into the greatest empire known to mankind. Capture land, defeat monsters, and discover new technologies on the rise to greatness."

Everyone plays a different army attempting to be the first to capture the most gems.  There are army movements, special resource cards, and a lot of divisions by three going on.   If 13th Age is like Pathfinder with 1/3 of the rules, then Hyperborea is like Settlers of Catan with 3 times the rules.  Seriously, if you like highly complex board games with tricky rules interactions, Hyperborea is for you.

I didn't mind playing it, but didn't love it either.  The woman who explained the game was top notch and the family that I was playing with were big time board gamers.  Super nice too!  Apparently, he worked at TSR back when it was TSR, because they were talking about meeting up with Margaret Weiss and had the father seen Tracy?  Mom from the family ultimately won the game.  It was competitive too--this is not a family that minds going head to head.  It infected me a little bit too, I had to remind myself that these people were TOTAL strangers.

Finally, it's time to play The Strange!  Unfortunately, the girl from the night before that I thought would be my GM actually had the session starting two hours previous.  Well, maybe not unfortunately because our GM was actually awesome!  We had a great party.  I also got to meet my first Gaymer (and he was hot!) at the session.  I was feeling a little shy though so I didn't ask for a ribbon from him.  Wish I had.

The Strange takes place in modern day Earth, but with so much more going on.  Have you heard of dark energy?  Well, Monte Cook and Bruce Cordell have.  And they've decided that it's actually a connection to something called the Strange, which is essentially this network that connects our universe to all sorts of other alternate realities.  Some of these realities have alternate physics.  For instance, another reality, Aredyn, functions a lot like a traditional fantasy game.  There's another alternate reality, Ruk, that has a strong super-science cyberpunk feel.  Oh, and there's the Strange itself, which is also home to planetovores.  In fact, Ardeyn is actually a creation by the Earthling (Terran?) that first discovered the Strange.  He created it as a sort of decoy to throw any planetovores off the trail of the real Earth.  There are other worlds, or recursions, as well.  All in all, this is a really interesting setting.

The system isn't that different though--the Strange RPG is based on the same cypher system that runs Numenera.  One day I'll write a more in depth post talking about what I find interesting about the system, but here are a few interesting details.  
  1. Players do all the dice rolling - Players have rolls to make for any skill check and have target numbers to hit to either hit an enemy in combat or to dodge an attack from an enemy.  This frees up the GM to focus on the story--and it shows in how much more immersive the story can be when the GM doesn't have to fiddle with rolling her own dice.
  2. XP has value - You can use XP to level up, but I wouldn't recommend it.  XP has so many other uses.  Most importantly, XP is used to reroll whenever you feel like it.  You also don't get XP for defeating monsters.  Rather, you get XP for advancing the story's plot.  When the GM wants to screw with you (known as a GM intrusion), she offers you 2 XP.  You take one and give the other XP to another player at the table.  If you don't want the terrible thing to happen, you can pay one XP to the GM to avoid it, though this is frowned upon.
  3. Your strength is also your hit points - Players have three stats in the cypher system: might, intellect, and reflex.  You do extraordinary things by adding effort to your rolls, but adding effort also takes from your character's might, reflex, or intellect.  So, applying effort on a might-based skill actually means that your character will be giving up hit points to perform an action.  It's an interesting mechanic that really makes a player think about how doing something will affect your character's survival.
Usual rules apply: no details on the adventure.  I will say that I got the chance to be a particle physics grad student by day and a go go boy by night.  I also got an opportunity to pretend to be an interpretive dancer when infiltrating a cult.  I went a little far on this one and ended up being "that guy" at the table.  To my fellow players, I apologize.  To Austin, thank you for cluing me in that I needed to rein it in a little.  I'm glad that you got to be the hero on this one in the end!  (Did I mention that we saved the world?)

Also, did I mention that the cosplay at GenCon is amazing?  I have now decided that it's imperative that I create a cosplay vs. drag queens YouTube! compilation.  I'm only shocked that someone else hasn't beaten me to this particular punch.
Cosplay v. Drag Queens is going to be a thing!

It's also time for dinner.  I wander over to the food trucks and also get an opportunity to see the greatest board game of all time: The Cones of Dunshire.  Yes, that game.  Mayfair Games is holding a charity running of the game.  I wasn't willing to pay the $100/head to get in on the game itself, taking pictures for free (well, and picking up a t-shirt) had to be enough for me.

Then, it was time to check out the Film Festival.  I wanted to catch a couple of films.  First, there was a showing of the entire season of Walking in Circles.  It started late and I got a great chance to talk to a nice girl who was hiding out in the viewing room from a crowd of raving zombies.  Someone had organized a giant zombie tag game.  But, the game doesn't happen inside any of the event spaces or in the Exhibit Hall and she was getting some much needed rest from her undead tormentors.  Walking in Circles was fun, but not particularly memorable.

What I've really come to the film festival to see is Gaming in Color, a documentary about homosexuality in gaming culture.  As a Gaymer, I'm interested in seeing how we get portrayed.  The two guys who made it (and who organized the Gaymer X Con in San Francisco) are also present to talk about it on a panel afterwards.  I'm holding off on my review of it as well, because it will make for an entire post.  For now, I'm going to say two things.  First, I'm very glad that this documentary got made because it raises some questions that we should all be looking at for how homosexuals (and all minorities) fit into the gaming world.  Second, I was shocked at how offended one part of it made me and a little bit angry about it.  But more on that later.

Finally, the documentary and the panel are over.  It's almost midnight and I'm a tired puppy.  I hail a cab back to my apartment and fall asleep reading a 13th Age adventure module I picked up the day before.  My Sunday schedule is light and the PFS games start at 9:00 instead of 8:00.  Maybe I'll pick up one with some generic tickets in the morning?