Okay. After driving 22 hours and 1,400 miles over a 72-hour period, I have returned from Austin's own Chupacabracon and am here to provide the gory details.
(Actually, the con was thankfully quite gore-free, being instead filled with lots of gaming and talk of gaming and more gaming.)
This was only the second gaming con I've ever attended (Gen Con 2015 being my first) and was my first "regional" con. The scale proved quite the contrast to Gen Con's monolithic excess. For one thing, I was actually able to stay on site at the con, a trip from the convention hall to my room taking, at most, five minutes. What a concept! I was able to easily drop in on games and seminars alike. Hell, even the Celebrity Game Professionals in attendance dropped in on things; Ken Hite showed up in the audience at one panel to just hang out and occasionally heckle the folks at the front of the room. This was the same panel that John Wick, wandering past the open door to the room, decided to "crash" (his words) as a panel member while he finished up a plate of grits and bacon.
If this implies a certain level of loose accessibility, then you are picking up what I'm putting down. I had brief but productive conversations with Mr. Wick himself, Shane Ivey of Arc Dream Publishing, Jodi Black of Pinnacle Entertainment Group, and Sean Patrick Fannon, late of the Savage Rifts project/behemoth.
The panels, too, were more like upper-division college seminars, with audience numbers being only slightly greater than the number of panelists! There was a nice level of back-and-forth interaction with the audience, and a very loose and open approach to running the seminars. I think my favorite was the "Inclusivity and Diversity" panel, which was thoughtfully moderated by Kevin G. Nunn; the only frustrating element there was the fact that, at only an hour in length, there was really only enough time to merely touch on the changing face of the gaming hobby and bring up some important talking points to take home and muse about.
The highlight of the con for me, though, was finally getting to participate in some actual convention gaming. I sat in on two games, neither of which I knew I was playing in until about 10 minutes before they started.
The first--and boy, what a baptism of fire to the world of con gaming!--was a Savage Rifts game run for me and eight other folks by Sean Patrick Fannon himself. Not only that, but that particular game was filmed by a professional camera crew, presumably for editing and release to the masses of Kickstarter backers!
So yes, I've finally gotten a chance to find out directly how this whole Savage Rifts thing is coming together, and I have to say: believe the hype. This was the most fun I've had playing in the Rifts universe in more than 20 years, and the game very much felt like Rifts while still running like Savage Worlds. Fannon and company keyed in on the secret behind the setting: that it's basically post-post-apocalyptic superheroes, and our nine-person team really had that "superhero team-up" vibe going on, with various powers and abilities nicely complimenting each other.
Highlights from that game include:
- My character (a Crazy) and the team's Juicer raiding a Coalition camp and, with a combination of sheer bravado and liberal grenade-lobbing, getting the entire company to chase us back up the road, where an ambush was lying in wait. (This sequence also featured a preview of an exciting new rule that's slated for inclusion in the next printing of the Savage Worlds core rules...)
- The Glitter Boy, with help from the Wilderness Scout, getting camouflaged with mud and a net, lying in wait, then taking a shot at the UAR-1 Enforcer as it came into view--and taking down the Enforcer with a single well-placed shot!
- The Cyber-knight just wading into combat and absolutely owning a succession of skelebots, Dead Boys, and Dog Boys.
- The Juicer ("Rod Grit"), his death wish in full effect, standing at the foot of a bridge with a chainsword in hand, staring down an entire platoon of grunts, daring the Coalition forces to come at him, underlit by surrounding flames summoned by the team's Burster. A wonderfully, heroically hellish vision.
My inclusion in that game was so last-minute, I didn't even have dice or a pencil or my Savage Worlds rulebook with me; even worse, it meant I had to skip lunch, so I was a little subdued from hunger. Yes, I am a convention newb and am still having trouble managing my time and resources. Nevertheless, I had a total blast playing Gregor the Crazy (and yeah, Crazies in Savage Rifts definitely seem more balanced with Juicers now and get to be properly delusional right out the gate), got a few laughs, and didn't make too many rules oversights, so all was well in the end.
The other game I played was an adventure for Sean Tait Bircher and Robin English-Bircher's The King Is Dead setting for Savage Worlds. This is a setting I've been tracking with interest ever since the Birchers first started working on it, and I'm looking forward to them Kickstarting the setting this autumn. In the meantime, you can get a feel for the setting--a horror-fantasy mashup centered on bringing down a ruling caste of (literally) vampiric aristocrats in an 18th century that never was--via their recently-released adventure, VARGR, which is being sold as a Pay What You Want product.
Both Sean and Robin were running TKID events all weekend, but due to the constraints of my schedule I only managed one game with Robin. She revealed after the session that this was something like only the second or third time she'd ever run a game, to which I say: this woman has a very bright future ahead of her as a GM! She did a phenomenal job, especially considering the rather hectic and distracted environment that was the main gaming hall on that "Savage Saturday Night".
That is, of course, one of the potential issues with con gaming: the constant background noise. I found that my hearing's not quite what it used to be, and it was tough at times to separate what was being said at the table from the general roar of a dozen gaming tables all around us (including two Savage Rifts games!). Not much to be done about that, I'm afraid. And in the end, I still had an absolutely fantastic time (quite literally "fantastic," as I was basically playing an Age of Reason X-man and the adventure culminated with my character, who was something of a mashup of Beast and Mystique, in disguise as a half-vampire princess, jumping from the basket of a hot air balloon and falling into the river below, transforming into a giant fish at the last possible moment...).
- Being seven minutes away from an In-N-Out! As a former 20-year resident of California, I miss my In-N-Out experience something awful, so it was great to indulge in that particular peccadillo.
- Having John Wick enthusiastically compliment my Esoteric Order t-shirt and tell me he'd pay me $25 for such a shirt; guess it's time to finally start looking into merch options...
- Seeing the inimitable Rob Schwalb and Greg Stolze prognosticate; those men both have, in their own ways, extremely entertaining ways with words.
- The lovely drive from Santa Fe to Austin and back. I had some harrowing experiences out on the road (particularly on the return leg) and I do believe I'll fly out next time, but, having returned in one piece, I can say I'm really happy I had that experience.
- Making some excellent networking connections and talking excitedly about certain upcoming projects I'm not quite at liberty to post about just yet.
My main complaint was the hotel itself, which was pretty funky. My room smelled rather strongly of the wacky tobaccy when I checked in; there were no towels in the bathroom; the bath tub was never cleaned to my level of comfort (there were still droplets of someone else's shampoo visible around the edges, for example) and the tub's faucet handle was half-broken; the fact that when I called down about the lack of towels, they told me that I'd have to come down and get them since they were short-staffed that night; the oily stain on one of couch cushions (and the two stains on the flip side of the same cushion). Not the worst hotel experience I've ever had, but pretty bad. If I hadn't gotten a good convention rate, I would've been even more miffed.
Will I be going back next year? If at all possible, that's a big ol' YES. I'll try and not make my schedule so tight, either, so that I have time to go enjoy some local cuisine, hit up some Austin book stores and game stores, and just generally be a little more relaxed. Hopefully they'll have it at a different hotel, but if they don't I'll even put up with another weedy, grease-stained hotel room.
ETA: And the video footage of the Savage Rifts game is up!