And That Was the Gen Con That Was

I went to Gen Con again. It went well, despite the usual Indiana weather.


This was my third year in a row attending, and also my third Gen Con overall. It was also the Con's 50th anniversary, and badges sold out for the first time ever.

Obligatory "look at all the damn people!" picture

Obligatory "look at all the damn people!" picture

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon; this year I was lucky enough to score a room at the JW Marriott, which meant I was only 10 minutes away (at most) from the convention floor. Makes all the difference. This has ruined me for future Cons, and I simply don't know what I'll do if I can't get at least a downtown hotel in the future.

After navigating the circus-like lobby, and upon entering my room, I noticed the message light blinking on the desk phone. Curious. I hit the Voice Mail button and discovered there was a message being held for me at the front desk. Dialed down and was told Greg Stafford wanted me to call him.

I got through to Greg. "Oh hey, David. I just wanted to invite you out to dinner with me and the Chaosium crew."

Pretty much my expression immediately after that conversation and for the next hour or so.

Pretty much my expression immediately after that conversation and for the next hour or so.

I'm pleased to say the high never really wore off after that auspicious start. I got to hang with the Chaosium crew, went to the Diana Jones Awards and saw a metric tonne of designers, publishers, and writers there, attended a bunch of great panels, talked to yet more awesome designers and creatives than you can shake a stick at (particular shout-outs to Chris Helton, Chris Spivey, the LotFP crew, Ben McFarland, Wade Rockett, Mark Diaz-Truman, Sarah Richardson, and Alan Bahr--whom I spent most of the Con trying to meet up with, only to randomly run into on Saturday afternoon), met with folks about projects and made sinister plans for the future, handed out all of my Esoteric Order stickers (and holy shit do people love free stickers), talked about a possible sponsorship for the Order, and even managed to play in a couple games (one of which was terrible, the other terrific). I also fan-boyed out at Larry Elmore's booth, and only just managed to mumble my thanks as I bought two signed prints from him.

Oh, and even though I was so busy that I only averaged 1.5 meals a day, I tried to make the ones I did have count.

That's 21 ounces of chopped steak, son.

That's 21 ounces of chopped steak, son.

Pricey but excellent breakfast at the JW.

Pricey but excellent breakfast at the JW.

As a history nerd, I especially enjoyed all the "Gen Con 50" events going on all weekend. The museum at Lucas Oil had some amazing displays...

If you've read  Playing at the World , you'll know about the role Elastolin figures (and this castle in particular) played in the development of proto-D&D. And if you haven't read  Playing at the World , you really owe it to yourself to do so.

If you've read Playing at the World, you'll know about the role Elastolin figures (and this castle in particular) played in the development of proto-D&D. And if you haven't read Playing at the World, you really owe it to yourself to do so.

Even though it's not my favorite bit of classic D&D cover art, this was pretty amazing to see in person.

Even though it's not my favorite bit of classic D&D cover art, this was pretty amazing to see in person.


But the highlight of the retrospective events for me (and an overall Con highlight in general) was attending one of the "old fogey panels" (as Stafford called them), this one with Stafford himself, Steve Jackson, Mike Pondsmith, John Nephew, and Jordan Weisman.

Pondsmith showed up 10 minutes late and so is missing from this shot, but my goodness I could listen to that man talk for hours.

Pondsmith showed up 10 minutes late and so is missing from this shot, but my goodness I could listen to that man talk for hours.

Folks, this was like the pages of my old Wargames West catalog come to life. Chaosium, FASA, Steve Jackson Games, R. Talsorian, Lion Rampant...these were the companies that I followed assiduously when I first got into the hobby, and here were their founders. And so many great stories were shared! Such a treat to witness this. (I noticed they were taking video of the panel, so hopefully we'll see it released soon.)

As much fun as Gen Con is, it's also a business trip for me, fundamentally. And I have to say this was the most successful one for me yet, by far, according to that metric. Expect to see a bunch of stuff from me out of Chaosium in the months and years to come, but also a handful of other publishers of surpassing taste as well. There's a lot in the pipeline, and I suspect 2018 will see my gaming-related publishing resume begin to expand exponentially. I have such sights to show you...

I swiped this off someone else's Gen Con post on the sosh-meeds and have now forgotten where I got it. Is it yours? Let me know and I'll credit!

I swiped this off someone else's Gen Con post on the sosh-meeds and have now forgotten where I got it. Is it yours? Let me know and I'll credit!

Apparently, as far as traveling to and from Gen Con is concerned, Tuesday is the new Wednesday and Monday is the new Sunday. The latter, in particular--I missed out on many more socializing and gaming opportunities because I flew out on Sunday morning instead of Monday. I'll have to stay an extra night next year, I guess.

It's fine, though. Gen Con was wonderfully exhausting as it was. This year really did feel special for a whole bunch of reasons, but it was still great to come home to finer weather and a very happy dog...


Off to Gen Con!

Just a quick update today and nothing substantive for Thursday this week either, I'm afraid. I've got a good reason, though: tomorrow I board a plane for Indianapolis to experience gaming's own Grand Guignol--Gen Con.

Last year was my first time going, so I feel a bit more prepared this time around. I'll be doing a lot more gaming than last year, including running a session of Pendragon (my first time out as a convention GM!). The game booked up fast--shockingly fast, if I'm being honest--but if you're planning on attending the con, have nothing going on between 1:00-5:00 on Friday, and want to be on the stand-by list, drop me a line here or on the sosh medes and I'll keep you in the loop!

Otherwise, if you're reading this and you'll also be there, I'll be one of the guys wearing an Esoteric Order of Roleplayers shirt. (Hot tip: Spreadshirt has a 15%-off sale coming up from the 4th to the 9th...) I accept friendly hellos and small monetary donations with equal grace, I can assure you.

As much as I'm looking forward to the trip, I'm also fairly itching to get going on my Uresia Hack project, so I hope to have some material on that next week (if I manage to dodge the dreaded Con Crud). I mean, I pretty much have to now, don't I?

[Con Report] Chupacabracon III

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...).

Other highlights:

  • 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.