Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Event - Gen Con, August 13th-17th, 2014: Friday

Friday is, in my opinion, the best day of Gen Con. By the time Friday rolls around, very few people are stuck in lines trying to get their badges and tickets. Most of the opening day chaos of Thursday will have died down and events should be running smoothly. The surge in attendees that accompanies Saturday and makes the convention a virtual madhouse packed to the gills hasn't hit yet. On Friday, the bone-tired fatigue of Sunday is still in the future.

But as fun as Friday is, it is still in the middle of a marathon of gaming, and if you don't want to be drooling on the carpet of the Exhibitor Hall on Sunday morning as people step over you, you need to plan at least a little bit. I fully endorse the Undergophers' "3-2-1" rule that states that a Gen Con attendee should get at least three hours of sleep, two meals, and one shower every day. That's per day, not per con. And that's a minimum. More of each would probably be better. And no, a Snickers bar is not a meal. But to expand upon the Undergophers' general advice, here are some specific tips on how to survive this endurance test.

Bring a water bottle. You can buy drinks at several places in the convention center. They are expensive. You can also get chilled water in several locations to fill your water bottle. This is free. You will want to stay hydrated through the event. So plan ahead and bring a water bottle. The redhead and I also fill our back packs with drinks, snacks, and our lunch. Sure, you can get all of these things at the convention center, but as one would expect, they are all sold at a fairly steep mark-up. If you bring your own, your wallet will thank you. You can also go outside to the food trucks or nearby restaurants, but this will be something of a hassle, as the lines are quite long, and will take time out of the middle of your day.

For dinner, we planned on eating at the food trucks on Georgia Street right outside the convention center. Most of the trucks serve good food (and usually generous portions of it) and if you plan well and schedule your dinner break for an off-peak time, the lines are quite reasonable. Note that which food trucks are on Georgia Street changes, as they rotate on a regular basis. The french fry truck that was there during lunch time will almost certainly be gone by dinner, and the truck serving engine block tacos at dinner will certainly not be in the same place tomorrow. And it may not be back at all. I think (although I don't know) that the food trucks have to sign up for a spot on the food truck row on Georgia Street, and can't be there except at their designated time. So if you see a truck that serves something you think you would like, don't wait until tomorrow to get it, because it might not be there. As an alternative, Noodles & Company is right around the corner from the convention center, and it is fast and inexpensive.

Also, unless you are staying at one of the Gen Con hotels, you're going to need to find a place to park your car. Even if you are staying at a convention hotel you might want to park your car elsewhere, as I have been told that some of the hotel charge quite a bit for parking. Most of the parking right next to the convention center is quite expensive, ranging up to thirty dollars a day for a spot. But if you are willing to hike a half a mile to a mile to get to the Con, there are numerous parking garages and lots where you can rent a space in advance for a very reasonable price. The redhead and I use Parkwiz to solve this problem (as we have never actually stayed at one of the convention hotels), and it has worked out very well for us thus far.

Friday: Our day started with a role-playing session titled The Heroes of Altamira that used the 7th Sea game system. By all accounts, the 7th Sea game system is intended for swashbuckling role-playing - one of the base statistics for characters is even called panache, so the redhead and I selected characters who would have been right at home in a Three Musketeers-inspired story. I played a swordsman from Montaigne (the "France" analogue in Theah, the fantasy version of Europe the game is set in), and she played a courtier from Montaigne. We built a small back story in which she was a diplomat from her country visiting Altamira in Castille and I was her bodyguard who was smitten with her. Once we sat down, it became apparent that none of this would matter in the slightest.

One issue was that the adventure scheduled for the session was part seven or eight of a series of adventures, and once again, multi-part adventures for convention games are, in my experience, often difficult to pull off. Fortunately, we weren't expected to step into the shoes of pregenerated characters, so there was no pretense that we were emotionally invested in the previous adventures. We did have a player in the group who brought a character named Don Gallo who had played through the previous adventures in the series, but as he had played through them over the course of several years at Gen Con, he remembered almost nothing. Despite this, the GM kept expecting everyone to understand the heavy significance of the various people, objects, and events that he dropped into his narration of what was going on, and when we didn't it seemed to frustrate and fluster him. His usual response was to simply repeat the significant information, and when that didn't work, launch into a lengthy explanation of why what he was referring to was important. This, as one might expect, slowed the game to a crawl at several points.

But the main problem with the session is that the adventure simply didn't deliver much in the way of swashbuckling fun. The players were gathered in a bar when a drunk walked in and accosted the one character who had been in previous adventures. After sending him on his way, we found rooms for the night and woke up to being arrested for the drunkard's murder. But the local law quickly revealed that they didn't think we murdered him at all, and asked us to investigate the matter. So we went to where he had rented a room, bought all his possessions, and found a journal that talked about corruption at a nearby prison. So we trooped back to the local law and they worked with us so we could infiltrate the prison posing as a group of Eisen mercenaries who had recently been arrested. From that point on, the railroad tracks became very apparent, as instead of investigating as prisoners, we were thrust into a series of unavoidable prison brawls that culminated in the warden revealing that he knew all along that we were spies and directing a hundred prisoners to kill us and when that didn't work sending a wildly overpowered and heavily tattooed enforcer to fight us.

If we had had a chance to make any decisions along the way in this process, this might not have been so annoying. But any time anyone tried to deviate from the preordained script, the GM would just grin and say "no, that won't work". For example, both the redhead's courtier and Don Gallo were characters who primarily had social skills, but any time they tried to do anything to defuse a brawl or investigate, they were shot down by the GM and compelled to resort to punching people in the face instead. Further compounding this railroading, the final "boss" brawler was essentially impervious to the characters. As a word of advice to GM's: If you create an opponent for the characters to face in a railroaded combat scene who is so overpowered that he is almost untouchable by the characters and on the rare occasions when they do, he shrugs off the damage, then you screwed up. The appropriate response is not to sit on your side of the table giggling and preening over how awesome your non-player character is. You're the GM. Creating a wildly overpowered opponent is trivial. It isn't an accomplishment. It is a failure on your part.

In any event, the game eventually stumbled to a close. Some of us chased the fat warden down, whereupon he made a confession and died of a heart attack. The others finally scared the overpowered brawler away by firing a cannon at him (swords and daggers having been entirely ineffective). The GM then read to us the list of things we found in the Warden's office, which were supposed to be meaningful references to the previous adventures, but even Don Gallo had no idea what he was talking about. This was not the worst game session we participated in this Gen Con, but it was only saved from that designation by the chaos and disorganization of our Saturday morning game and that GM's self-absorbed cluelessness.

The redhead modeling her dinosaur
dress with Aubrey and Angela
With The Heroes of Altimira behind us, our day was sure to get better, and given that our next event was to go see the Doubleclicks perform, the upward slope was quite steep. Making this even more fun, our friend Savannah was able to join us for the concert. I have written repeatedly about my love of this band, and in their second appearance at Gen Con, they were as brilliant as usual, fully justifying the fact that when we planned our convention schedule, their concert was the first thing we signed up for. They played several of their old favorites including This Fantasy World, Spock Impersonator, and Clever Girl, A Lullaby for Mr. Bear, and Oh, Mr. Darcy, as well as their powerful anthem Nothing to Prove. Angela and Aubrey also mixed in some of their new material from their recently released Dimetrodon CD including Love You Like a Burrito, Wonder, and Ennui (On We Go). The only problem with their performance was that it wasn't long enough, which is a problem I have with every one of their performances, but that might be because I could sit and listen to them play for hours. One of the most fun parts of going to see the sisters perform are the funny and snarky on-stage interactions between them, and they were as good at this as ever. After their performance, we got the only thing they had that we didn't already have: A purple dinosaur button to go with the redhead's dinosaur dress. They were brilliant, and if they appear at Gen Con next year, we'll be in the front row again.

Me and Brian Patterson
Our final scheduled event of the day was the mostly one-person panel hosted by d20 Monkey creator Brian Patterson (sometimes better known as Brian Fucking Patterson) titled d20 and Dick Jokes. Before the panel kicked off, Brian's lovely fiancé Lisa distributed "Brian Bingo" sheets to anyone who wanted to play, which featured squares to mark off for such events as "Says the phrase: jerk knee", "Talks about Karthun", "Says he's a whore/hooker for Christmas", and "Asks to see the bingo cards", as well as a number of other silly and funny quirks and mannerisms that only someone who knows him very well would put on a Bingo card about him. And as the panel unfolded, it became quite apparent that Lisa knows Brian very well, and before too long the room was filled with the sound of pencil-scratchings as audience members checked off one box after another.

Most of Brian's panel was a question and answer session, and he fielded questions on a broad range of topics from cast changes on the d20 Monkey comic, to his creative process, to why there has not been any pixelated dragon wang on the web comic. He also talked about white Christmases, his impending move to Colorado, his evil cat Emma, the current "dungeon run" story line on the comic, his love for bards (and his recent preview of the bard class for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons), and a variety of other topics. But then he brought Tracy Barnett to the front and together they announced the merger or Sand & Steam and d20 Monkey into a new venture named Exploding Rogue Studios. And then they announced that their first joint project would be to create a publish a multi-system sourcebook for Brian's campaign setting Karthun. There was, as one would expect, much rejoicing at these announcements. This was the only "panel" we went to at Gen Con, and it was well-worth it.

Afterwards, the redhead and I ate dinner with Dustin, one of the members of the cast of the Undergophers, and he gave me an extraordinarily generous gift. As we ate, we talked about GMing games, our experiences with old game systems, and the fact that we were missing the ENnies. Even though the primary focus of Gen Con is supposedly the gaming events, panels, and concerts, I think the best part is being able to meet and talk to people like Dustin and share stories about our common love of gaming. I can't think of a better way to create and maintain friendships between gamers from around the country than attending Gen Con and other events like it.

Gen Con, August 13th-17th, 2014: Wednesday and Thursday
Gen Con, August 13th-17th, 2014: Saturday and Sunday

Events     Home

No comments:

Post a Comment