|Five Year Mission|
Thursday: Thursday was my most gaming heavy day. Actually, because Angela and I had the exact same schedule, it was our most gaming heavy day. The day started early, partially because we had a game session that was scheduled to start at nine, and partially because Kristine needed to be at the convention by eight to get her game session set up.
A side note about accommodations: The hotels next to the Indiana Convention Center are expensive. To save money, we booked a hotel about fifteen minutes away from the convention center and reserved a parking spot in a lot a little less than a half a mile walk from the convention center. This meant that we spent about half as much as we would have if we had booked a room in one of the designated convention hotels. I don't necessarily recommend this for everyone, but I did notice that we weren't the only Gen Con attendees at our hotel. If you do decide to book a hotel far enough away that you have to drive to and from the convention, I highly recommend reserving a parking spot in one of the nearby lots. We didn't reserve a spot on one of the days we were there, and parking was difficult to find and much more expensive. One drawback is that if you are with a group, the length of your day at the Con is largely dictated by the schedules of the other people. In our case, our schedule was essentially dictated by Kristine, whose schedule began every day at eight in the morning and ended at midnight.
Our first game of the convention was "Defenders of the Empire" a Victorian themed Steampunk adventure using the Ubiquity system, a rules-light dice pool role-playing game. Most of the pregenerated characters were historical or literary characters - our party included Professor Moriarty, Doctor Watson, Sebastian Moran, Aleister Crowley, and a robotic Richard Burton. I played Professor Bainbridge, a decidedly egotistical mad scientist with a penchant for naming his inventions after himself, and Angela played Emma Deerfield, a woman fed up with the restrictions placed on her by Victorian society who invented a potion that allowed her to transform into a hulking version of herself. The adventure had our group tracking down the mysterious disappearances of British ships in the Mediterranean near Sardinia. Our party lured the pirates out of hiding with a decoy merchant ship and then used the Banbridge submersible to fire the Bainbridge steam-powered torpedoes and cripple the pirates before Moran took to the deck armed with the Banbridge repeating speargun to fight off boarders. Burton, with his powerful robotic body powered by a Bainbridge battery, was able to smash his way through several pirates as well. Of all the adventures we played over the course of Gen Con, this one was probably the most fun in terms of the adventure, although the system was a little bit too light for our tastes. In addition, many of the pregenerated characters had conflicting personal goals, resulting in some party infighting, which is a style of play that Angela hates. Whether this was a result of the Ubiquity system itself, or simply the adventure set up wasn't clear, but it did detract a little bit from her enjoyment of the session.
For our second game, we played through the adventure "Fafnir's Treasure" using the Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok game system with the game's designer Andrew Valkauskas as the GM. Of all the games we played at Gen Con, both Angela and I agree that this was our favorite combination of a good adventure using a fun game system that was overseen by a good GM. The setting for the game is the worlds of Norse mythology during the twilight of the gods leading to Ragnarok and the game system itself is interesting in that it doesn't use dice in its mechanics, but rather resolves actions using Futhark runes drawn from each player's bag, which gives the game a very "Norse" feel. I played Jokull the runecaster and Angela played Sigyn the shield-maiden death dancer. Our group also included Fjori the skald and Vanadis the witch. After sailing in to an icy bay and finding a town seemingly overrun by strange forces, we ended up siding with the forces of Muspelheim (to the extent that it mattered in a single session game like this) and going on a quest for the Ring of the Nieblungs. The blend of a atmospheric setting supported by a perfectly attuned game system, a fun adventure, and a GM who was both good at running a session and knew the rules inside and out made for a great session. Of all the games that we played at Gen Con that I had not played before, Fate of the Norns is the one I am most likely to acquire and use to run a campaign.
At the end of the session Valkauskas also handed me a card for another project he is involved in called Biome Blox, which is currently in the Kickstarter phase of its development. The basic idea for Biome Blox is to create LEGO compatible blocks that gamers can use to build scenery for their game sessions. In addition to trees, waterfalls, arches, doors, and walls, the Biome Blox will have "cover" pieces to put over the tops of LEGO pieces and transform them into terrain usable with miniatures. As the owner of large piles of LEGO and LEGO compatible blocks, the idea of a modular set that would allow me to use my existing collection to augment my role-playing sessions is very enticing. I plan on contributing at least something to their Kickstarter so this project can get off the ground.
Our final session of the night was our only real misstep of the entire convention, and it was only a tiny one. The session was a fusion of 3.5e D&D and Call of Cthulhu. Although the game information provided said that it was suitable for people with no experience with the system, it required twentieth level D&D characters, which the players were expected to provide. To a certain extent, the misstep was our fault, Angela signed us up for the game and didn't realize that we were supposed to provide our own characters, and I didn't check to see that a link was provided in the session description where this was spelled out. On the other hand, I simply cannot see how one can bill a twentieth level game session as being suitable for beginners with no experience with the system. In any event, we showed up without characters, which would have been a problem except that one of the other players had created two characters for the session, and allowed Angela to play one of them - a twentieth level halfling rogue, which suited her perfectly. The DM had a pregenerated arcane archer that I could play, so we sat down and started. The party consisted of a fighter, a thaumaturge, a mystic theurge, Angela's rogue, my arcane archer, a monk, and two paladin/clerics who had been specifically created with fighting Cthulhu's minions in mind.
As we played, I was reminded just how awful the arcane archer prestige class is, and this particular character was poorly designed making him both a terrible spell-caster and an ineffective archer. Most of my time was spent firing arrows at enemies that usually missed, or if they hit did minimal damage, and because I was a sorcerer, looking through my rather unimpressive collection of low level spells and deciding casting one of them would be even less useful than firing Styrofoam arrows at enemies. Because we had an eight member party, my lack of punch didn't really hurt us much, but I did quickly redesign the character during our first game break, after which he was marginally more useful, although still hampered by the fact that the arcane archer prestige class is quite simply a terribly designed class.
I was also somewhat annoyed by the DM, who didn't tell anyone about how the Sanity mechanics worked in conjunction with the d20 system. We were given a sanity score based upon our Wisdom, and made periodic sanity checks through the session. But even though we had two characters who had spent a couple dozen skill points on occult knowledge about Cthulhu, and a couple of twentieth level spell casters, he didn't inform anyone that some spells could restore sanity until someone complained about their dropping sanity in the last half hour of the session. Unfortunately, early in the session, when we were confronted with an NPC who had gone insane, he told us that no magical help would do anything for this person, leading everyone to believe that sanity loss was irreversible. And then when he fessed up that some spells could restore sanity, he had to consult a DM at the neighboring table to figure out how the mechanics worked. This sort of disorganization is bad enough, but hiding the ball from the players by withholding information that characters would know (even if the players would not) until the players intone certain magic words is simply bad DMing.
|Cthulhu showed up. We all went insane.|
The world ended.
Gen Con, August 14th-18th, 2013: Friday