Thursday, August 28, 2014

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

Me and the
Monster in the Darkness
Saturday: By my own entirely non-rigorous and unscientific estimation, Saturday is the busiest and most crowded day of Gen Con. Most people who get one-day passes to the convention seem to come on this day, and as Indiana schools are already in session, most parents who want to take their school-age children to the festivities do on this day as well. Saturday at Gen Con is also "Cosplay Saturday", and everyone who wants to dress up as their favorite science fiction, anime, or fantasy characters is encouraged to do so on Saturday. This means that the convention halls will be packed on Saturday, and in many cases, packed with people wearing big, flashy costumes that often have wings, giant swords, portal guns, extra-wide epaulets, or other features that make them take up more than their usual amount of space.

Saturday was also the day the redhead and I had our last, and unfortunately, least enjoyable, role-playing game session. I initially had high hopes for the session when we signed up for the game, as it was the first installment of a living campaign called Legends of the Shining Jewel that used the Pathfinder system. I am a 3.5 edition Dungeons & Dragons die-hard who still runs a regular campaign using that system and Pathfinder is a clear descendant of that rules set, so I figured we had a good game ahead of us. But when we showed up bright and early on Saturday morning, we were told that what we had signed up wasn't what was supposed to be scheduled, and they didn't have anyone ready to run the game session that we had signed up for. The on-site event coordinators blamed "Gen Con" for messing up the schedule, but this seems to me like an evasion. Our "wrong" session was clearly printed in the Event Guide, and the coordinator on the spot knew that people were scheduled for this particular game well in advance of our arrival. There was really no excuse for them not to be ready for people to show up for this game session whether or not they intended to have this session or not. Instead, when we arrived, they fumbled about for a bit and then drafted a DM on the spot to run the session, shoved the adventure materials into his hand, and sent us over to a completely different room to find an available table to play at. This was, to say the least, not a good first impression.

Once we had found a place to play, we dawdled about a bit so that latecomers could be directed to our game session. Apparently, once they had decided to actually run the session, the campaign coordinators also decided to use it as a dumping ground for anyone they couldn't place in one of their "preferred" games. We ended up with an odd collection of players of fairly disparate experience and with characters of very different power ranging from first through fifth level. I played a gnome druid, while the redhead played a halfling rogue. We were joined by another, much higher level rogue, a sorcerer, and a barbarian fighter-type. When the session began, the hodge-podge method of assembling the party faded into the background because it became clear that the DM was woefully unprepared to run the game. This was partially not his fault, as he was pressed into service at the last minute, so holding the hemming and hawing as he flipped through the pages of the module to figure out what was going on against him would be kind of unfair. But at various points he was not merely unprepared, but displayed a distinct lack of knowledge of the game by, for example, mixing up what particular weapons or spells could do. But we let those elements go, because they didn't really mess up the session.

But two things really did mess up the session. First, the adventure simply wasn't very good. Three times we started a scene, and three times our characters had nothing to do with the resolution. Two of these scenes were combat scenes, and in both of them our enemies simply vanished or scampered away in the middle of the fight. The resolution of the story had almost nothing to do with our efforts. In short, the adventure could have proceeded quite nicely without any players sitting at the table at all. Second, the DM simply could not resist telling war stories about his adventures. He told us about his 18th level angelic cleric that he played in the Legend of the Shining Jewel campaign. He told us bout his cleric's half-ogre cohort. He regaled us with tales about how he played a drow character before R.A. Salvatore wrote his books featuring Driz'zt, which meant that he knew how to play a drow character much better than all of these Johnny-come-latelys. And so on. Every time the game started moving, the DM would grind it to a screeching halt with another digression about his personal gaming history. In the end, after the adventure had come to its unsatisfying conclusion and we just wanted to pack our bags and move on with our day, the DM passed out campaign information and encouraged everyone to join the campaign in their home region, clueless with respect to our frustration and disappointment.

Angela, Kameron, and Me
From this low point, our day got progressively better. Our initial stop to go see author Kameron Hurley, who, at the time, was merely a Hugo-nominated writer having a book-signing, and get her to sign her four books God's War, Infidel, Rapture, and Mirror Empire. This foray was entirely my idea, as the redhead was only vaguely familiar with Hurley's work, but she humors me when I get enthusiastic about an author, and as I had read (among other things) Hurley's brilliant essay We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle, and Slaves Narrative (for which, on the next day, she won one of her two Hugo Awards), I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to meet her in person. When we got to her table, she was incredibly nice and not only signed my pile of books, but chatted with us for a bit.

The Shake-Ups on Stage
From there, we had a slate of concert performances to attend, starting with the The Shake-Ups, a power pop band that had converted all of their songs to be about My Little Pony. Neither the redhead or I are big fans of My Little Pony, but our friends P.J. and Savannah are both in the band, and their music is quite catchy and fun to listen to, so we had a good time. The band played to an audience of enraptured kids plus a collection of Bronies and other fans. Their set included (I think) Pinkie Vibrations, Be My Fluttershy, and Our Little Timelord, but the highlight of the concert was when Savannah took her tambourine out onto the floor and got dozens of kids to put aside their shyness and dance. The band also held a coloring contest for the kids, complete with prizes donated by Enterplay, the maker of the My Little Pony collectible card game. The sheer undiluted glee displayed by most of the audience, especially the younger members, made this one of the most enjoyable events of the entire convention.

Immediately following the Shake-Ups performance, the performance area was cleared to prepare for the Five Year Mission concert. But before Five Year Mission could take the stage, their opening act Ford Theater Reunion played a set, and it was, well interesting would be the best word. Unlike the previous year's opening act for Five Year Mission's Gen Con performance, Ford Theater Reunion wasn't bad, they were just very much off the beaten path when it comes to music. With an accordion and a clarinet, they don't present as a typical rock band, and their style seemed sort of like Fiddler on the Roof meets punk rock. I'm not sure I would go out of my way to listen to them perform, but I'm not sorry that we heard them the one time. During one of their songs, their lead singer did do a funny "the floor is lava" routine, and they had a very creepy collection of dolls on display. Despite hauling around a suitcase full of very creepy old dolls, when I asked, the band members had never heard the Jon Coulton song Creepy Doll, which I found mildly odd.

Chris, Mike, P.J., Noah, and Andy
But then it was time for Five Year Mission to take the stage, now at full strength after Chris' recovery from his health scare on Wednesday. As usual, they were simply fantastic, and delivered a great performance of high octane nerd rock. In the set they played (among other songs) Space Seed, I, Mudd, The Naked Time, and Metamorphosis, as well as Mike's Klingon rap version of The Trouble with Tribbles. If you like Star Trek, there are few things more fun than going to a Five Year Mission concert. And the only thing better than a regular Five Year Mission concert is a Five Year Mission concert at Gen Con. My only regret is that they seem to have phased several of my favorite songs from their Year One CD out of their live act, such as The Cage, Charlie X, Balance of Terror, and Shore Leave.

Sunday: The final day of Gen Con is a day of exhaustion that involves most of the attendees trying to cling to just a few more hours of convention time before they have to go home and rejoin the real world. The redhead and I spent the morning of the last day volunteering at the ENnies information booth in the Exhibitor Hall. For those who do not know, the ENnie Awards are a set of awards that recognize excellence in role-playing games that have been handed out at every Gen Con since 2001 with categories including Best Cover Art, Best Family Game, Best Cartography, Best Blog, Best Podcast, and so on. For the most part, our job was to hand out ENnies-themed buttons, direct people to the list of games that had won the previous Friday, accept submissions for the 2015 ENnies, and keep people from making off with the displayed copies of the winning games. The last task was needed more than I would have thought, because apparently some of the game companies that had their own booths in the Exhibitor Hall had sold out of their products, so the only seemingly available copies in the building were in the ENnies information booth. And those were not for sale. The redhead and I had to turn away some very disappointed gamers whose eyes had originally lit up when they saw something they were desperate to acquire sitting on the tables we were guarding.

Exhausted post-Con
at JoAnne's
Volunteering at the ENies information booth turned out to be quite a bit of fun, but like all good things, it came to an end. After our shift, we didn't have anything else scheduled for the rest of the day, leaving us the time to wander the Exhibitor Hall for a bit. Eventually the redhead elected to camp just outside the Exhibitor Hall and eat lunch, while I made a few forays into the packed room to make a few last minute purchases. Based on my observations, several dealers do discount their remaining stock on Sunday, probably because they don't want to incur the expense of packing it up and shipping it home themselves. If you wait until Sunday, you can probably pick up some good deals. On the other hand, if you wait until Sunday to try to purchase something, a vendor might sell all of their stock before you get there. So waiting is a calculated risk. I wasn't looking for anything in particular, and came away with a few pretty good deals. Before we knew it, it was time to leave. We stopped at Jo Anne's on the way back to where we were staying - both Savannah and Lorraine loved Angela's Star Trek fabric dress and wanted her to make them each one, so we needed to get fabric. After what seemed an interminable amount of time getting fabric, we made our way back to our friends' house, packed up our car, and headed for home.

We'll be back in 2015.

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

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