So Gencon 2011 has come and gone, and I have to say that I had a fantastic time! I ran 3 games (Dragon Age, and rpgKids), played some Drunken D&D, 4e D&D (which I miss playing) and a late night game of Fiasco. I also met up with some great friends both old and new. In this post I’m just going to dump everything I have to say about the con, including my pics and few audios. It’ll be a little longer than usual, but it beats me having to split it into multiple posts 🙂
I arrived Wednesday afternoon in Indianapolis and after checking in, I quickly made my way to my first event, Drunken D&D, hosted by the guys (and my podcasting partners) over at the ENnie winning Critical-Hits blog. Drunken D&D was a fun night, and obviously with a name like that, the game wasn’t all that serious. It was a mashup of rules from D&D, Leverage RPG, and Fiasco, and a fun time was had by all. My table was run by fellow blogger and my friend Phil “ChattyDM” Menard (who has joined the design team of the new Marvel Comics rpg), and it was fun. The game was an invite-only event, and I was pretty familiar with most of the people there, so it was like hanging out with friends. Fun times.
Thursday morning I had a busy day, as I was scheduled to run two games and play in a press game. In the morning I ran my first Dragon Age game of the con. After scrambling a bit to find a place, I found an empty table a the lobby of the Embassy Suites hotel (which seems to be the place to be for pickup games). As an aside, there was a table next to me playing the ENnie winning Old School Hack, and it really looks like they were having a lot of fun.
So my Dragon Age game went really well. I ran the Free RPG Day Quick Start scenario, and by removing one of the encounters (which didn’t affect the story at all), I was able to run it in about 3 hours. The feedback I got from the players was that the ideas behind the game, mostly the morality issues that the system encourages, were engaging and fun. Also the easy learning curve of the system was a highlight. I know some players actually purchased the boxed set that weekend after playing in my game, so I’m glad to spread some Dragon Age love around.
Later that afternoon I played in a 4e D&D press game ran by Greg Bilsland, who is a Producer for D&D at Wizards of the coast. The game was the first encounter in the new D&D Encounters Season, Lost Crown of Neverwinter. I have to say, I think WOTC is finally getting their marketing ducks in a row when it comes to Neverwinter. They are tying the encounter season to the new hardcover Neverwinter Campaign Setting (which I got, review will follow shortly), and also to some novels and video games.
I enjoyed the encounter, which was set on a city street, and Greg is a great DM. We played with the new set of Fortune cards, which even though I’m not a fan of, I can see why some players enjoy using them in their games.
Unfortunately, the D&D press game started a little late and I had to run off before it ended to meet a family with a 6-year-old little girl who wanted in on some rpgKids action. Again, I set the game up a the Embassy Suites, and it went great! Both parents and the girl (who shared a name with my daughter, who is also six) played, and we used the Lair of the Frog Wizard adventure that’s included in the game. At first Gaby needed a bit of coaching, but soon she caught on. My favorite moment of the game was when she said “I attack mommy!” when I asked her what her character wanted to do. All in all it was a great game, and I hope the family had fun, I know I loved running it.
On Friday, I ran my second Dragon Age game, and it went well. I had a better grasp for the story and the npc’s the second time around, and it ran much smoother. Unfortunately a few of the players had to duck out early, so I wrapped up the game during the last battle and finished early. The second group had a much different attitude towards the plot than the first, so for me as the DM it was interesting to see that.
Later that day I went to the ENnie awards. My blog wasn’t nominated this year, and my minicast (nominated for a 2010 ENnie) is on a semi-permanent hiatus, but the other podcast I am involved in, “The Dungeon Master Guys” did receive a nomination. I submitted rpgKids for an ENnie, but it didn’t make the cut. Either way, it was exciting to be nominated once again, and I was also there to support my friends who were nominated in the blog category. Unfortunately our podcast didn’t win, but some of my friends won in other categories and a good time was had by all!
Later that night I ran through my first “True Dungeon” experience. Let me tell you, I don’t know if I’ll do it again, because at $38 it is a little pricey, but if you ever go to Gencon it’s a must-do at least once. For those that don’t know, True Dungeon is set up in a banquet hall at the Marriott, and what they do is create an actual dungeon, with props and set decorations, and you and a few other players walk through it solving puzzles and resolving combats. There are seven rooms, and each room has a DM who welcomes you to the room, reads you some flavor text and then directs you towards the challenge in the room. So for example, we encountered a room that had a locked door as the way out, and through some mirrors and lasers, we had to figure out how to unlock it to keep moving through the dungeon.
Combat is resolved through a table with a whiteboard surface. On it, there’s a diagram representing the monster you are facing, with different numbers throughout its body. You are supposed to slide a puck on the table, and the number it lands on (if any) is your attack roll.
Another aspect of this is tokens, as these are your character’s loot. There are weapon, armor, and equipment tokens and these are how you equip your character.
Unfortunately, there is a rarity system and collectible aspect at play here, so people who spend money for these tokens on ebay have an edge over the people like me who depend on the tokens given to you there. Minor issue, but I’m not sure I like that too much, more so when I’m paying almost $40 to go through the dungeon.
Having said that, I really recommend going through it at least once. The puzzles are engaging, the combat entertaining, and the rooms are well decorated and the props are cool. Our last room had an animatronic of a dragon in it, and I’m glad to say we kicked his ass.
Saturday I started the day by having a wonderfully geeky conversation with screenwriter and game designer George Strayton. George has worked on shows such as Xena & Hercules, as well as writing the screenplay for the Dragonlance movie. On the game design front, he worked for West End Games on their SW d6 game, did some D&D 3rd Ed. work for Wizards of the Coast, and now runs his own company where he developed “The Secret Fire” role-playing game.
The secret fire is a roleplaying game clearly inspired by 1st Ed. D&D. It is not, however, a retro-clone held to the OGL license or anything like that. The rules are original, yet clearly inspired by the old school style of play. One of the more interesting mechanics in the game is the Character Wheel, a wheel on the character sheet that a player would pencil in different colors depending on what challenges he or she has faced during their adventures. I spoke to George for over an hour, and he’s clearly passionate about his game (as you’ll see). He’s also a genuine film geek like me, so we spoke a bit (off microphone) about Hollywood, screenplays, Star Wars, and tons of other stuff. It was a good way to start my saturday. Here’s a recording of our chat, where basically George lets loose for an hour on his game. 🙂
Later that day I had the privilege of sitting in at my first ever seminar at Gencon. The good folks from Lords of Tyr held a chat called “Raising 2nd Generation Gamers” and invited me to participate. I had the chance to speak to folks and tell them about my experiences running rpgKids with my kid, as well as listen to other parents share their experiences in gaming and kid raising in general. I loved the chat, and I got permission from them to post the audio I recorded on my web site. I hope you enjoy it.
On saturday night, I hit the Gencon media party, and then played a crazy game of fiasco with some friends, including ChattyDM, and E. the Geek’s Dream Girl. I played a transgendered Puerto-Rican ex-marine hooker named Nina who was looking to kill all the men who didn’t pay for her services once they learned who she was. The game was crazy, but a lot of fun. Fiasco is a game that’s hard to describe, you’re basically creating a movie around the table, but it’s sooo much fun. if you can set up a night of Fiasco, I recommend that you do.
Lastly, I have to talk about the dealer’s hall, and some of the cool stuff I saw. The WOTC booth was a lot smaller than the previous two years, and this year the theme was Neverwinter. Also, they weren’t selling anything a their booth, unlike the previous years.
Some of the cooler stuff I saw around the hall was a live action Angry Birds game, where you set up the pigs’ towers and knock it down with a bird, and a minis game called Super Dungeon Explore, from Soda Pop Miniatures. The minis look super cute, with a big head Japanese rpg look to them. I didn’t demo the game though, but the minis sure look nice.
Another game I tried out for a bit (at their very large booth) was Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing game, releasing soon as part of their recently acquired Star Wars license. The game is a tactical minis game, not played on a grid, with a squad of X-Wings facing a group of Tie-Fighters.
I’m not familiar with minis games like Warhammer, or Wings of War, so I can’t really comment on XWing’s similarity to these games. I can tell you that movement was based on a cardboard counter with a shape symbolizing the flight path and distance, and that a special set of dice determined the type of hit you sustained. I’m being very vague because honestly I played very little and I’ve never played a game like that before.
No Star Wars RPG was announced at Gencon, which was the game I was hoping to hear about. Perhaps next year.
One final piece of news that came out of the con that may interest readers of this site is the return of the D&D minis from Wizards of the Coast. They seem to have listened to the fans, and have figured out a way to distribute themed packs of minis, and at the same time are returning with a card based skirmish game for the miniature line.
Not only that, but they are going to have an open playtest of the minis game perhaps as early as next month! Perhaps WOTC is seeing how well these type of things work for Paizo and are looking to do the same. Whatever the case, I welcome that type of attitude.
So that’s my Gencon 2011 recap. I had a great time, met tons of new people, played great games and enjoyed myself tremendously. I want to send a shout out to my roommates on the trip, Sean Tidy and Thomas Denagh, who were great roommates, even if I barely saw them (although Sean ran a nasty 4e Fourthcore Revenge of the Iron Lich game for me).
I don’t think I’ll be able to go to next year’s convention. So I made sure to make this one memorable, and I think I succeeded. if you’ve never been to Gencon, I can’t recommend it enough. As a gamer, it’s like a party at a nerd Playboy mansion, only without the sex and naked chicks. Well… at least for me.
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