Let’s just cut straight to the point, shall we? GenCon 2012 was a riot. It was also very, very good for me. I’ll admit, before the show I was kind of reticent about going. You see, and I’m not gonna lie to you kids, I’ve been feeling both burned out and discouraged these past few months. GenCon fixed that problem for me, and quite handily. So, what all did I do at GenCon? What games did I play? Did I run anything? What’s the big announcement? Well, I’m glad you asked!
Ask me anything…
So, my man Ross Watson over at Rogue Warden interviewed me today. Have a look here.
Okay, here it is finally. Now that I’ve been able to catch up on sleep and unpack everything that happened, here’s my post about GenCon 2010. Let me preface this by saying that this is from my point of view, and I’m just some opinionated smartass with a ‘blog. I am, in no way, objective or unbiased and I implore you not to assume in any way that this is real journalism. If I miss stuff here, it’s because I missed stuff at GenCon, and I wasn’t going to pretend that I was a really real reporter with a fedora and a little card that read “press” in my hatband. So, keeping that in mind and without further ado, here’s my report!
After a long and perilous ride from North Carolina to Indy, and a fitful night in a bed built for an eight year old girl at my man Zach Houghton’s place (yes, the Zach Houghton of RPGBlogII), I rolled into the convention center after a delicious breakfast at Patachou to get my press pass. The ladies in the press room were helpful and attentive, and after signing a whole bunch of paperwork I got my badge and I was off and running. Now, let me tell you, this was my first GenCon since ’08 when I was with Palladium. Back in ’08 the attendance seemed a little, I don’t know, anemic. Not this year, though. The dealer hall was packed. Packed I say! I heard that attendance was over 30,000 people, which is apparently a record for GenCon. I believe it, too.
Anyway, the dealer hall looked great. Seemed like everyone important was there. WotC seemed a bit subdued, with nothing major to release and a smaller booth than normal. Fantasy Flight’s booth was roughly eighteen square acres in the middle of the hall, where they had their retail part on one side of an aisle, and on the other was a huge game area where
slaves smiling employees demoed FFG’s fine selection of board games all day. In the broiling heat. While chained to their tables. I sat in on a demo of Descent ran by my editor Sam, and it was hilariously awesome. It’s mainly this comic as a board game, which I whole-heartedly support. Privateer was hopping, their demo area is always packed since they’ve got great games. Instead of their steaming Iron Lich they had a giant monster out front in honor of Monsterpocalypse. Hopefully some day they’ll get back to the Iron Kingdoms RPG. That will be a great day. In all, the hall was great and there was tons to do and see save for one glaring exception, White Wolf.
White Wolf didn’t have a booth so much as they had a scene. Their tiny little corner tucked back by the heads was tarted up to look like the shabbier kind of New Orleans opium den. Supposedly this was in support of an upcoming product having to do with the Big Easy, but you could have fooled me since there wasn’t any product. Right, they didn’t have a single book for sale. Not one. They had a DJ though! And (shitty) beer! And a faux edgy, spooky ambiance that was ruined by the hall’s bright-ass lights and the neckbeards milling around in their utili-kilts breathing heavy on the gothy booth girls. Way to go, White Wolf. Seriously, I’ve seen better room sets in a LARP for crying out loud.
After lunch I sat on a panel with Sam discussing Rogue Trader, which was pretty cool. After that I met up with Matt Forbeck, who is a pretty cool guy and a great game writer. He was sitting on a panel called “Writing in the RPG Industry” and was joined by Bryan Tillman and his afro, Owen K.C. Stevens, and Jeff Tidball. Once the panel was over, I had to hurry to grab a snack and a coffee since I had a hot date to make. I’d been invited to the Ennies by the FFG guys! Now, I’d never been to the Ennies before, and I’ll admit that I’d heard some uncharitable things about them in the past. The ceremony itself was very nice, though. A guy came out on stage in nothing but a towel and did a riff on the Old Spice guy, which was hysterical. I have no idea how he fit his huge balls in that towel, I certainly wouldn’t have had the stones to do that, no matter how funny. There were some great celebrity presenters like Stan!, Margaret Weis, and Monte Cook (who looks about fifteen years old), and in all it was a fun night. The results of this year’s Ennie Awards have been discussed at length already, suffice it to say that Paizo swept with Pathfinder. However, many other very deserving games like Shadowrun, Diaspora, Eclipse Phase, and Victoriana won awards, and Fantasy Flight won silver for Fan Award for Best Publisher, so it wasn’t a total rout.
Once the awards were all given out and there was sufficient milling around and congratulating everyone, Ross and Sam and I and a bunch of other great FFG writers and designers all decamped to Scotty’s Brew House for some late night burgers and beer. On the way, Ross asked me a seriously loaded question about what I’d do with Robotech if it were my property, and we got into this great discussion about high-concept, feral children, and giant robots. After a very nice time of talking games and drinking our faces off, we all split up and headed back to our respective hotels. I, having missed my ride back to Zach’s because he wanted to get home right after the Ennies, slept on the floor in an undisclosed location, but it was totally worth it.
I got up surprisingly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for having slept on the floor, and made it to a pre-con meeting with Sam about some rewrites I have with time to spare. Saturday was busier than Friday of course, with the added greatness of the costume contest. Now, I’m not really what you’d call a fan of cosplay, but there were some great costumes there. A couple dressed as The Joker and Harley Quin (and she in a vinyl outfit), the requisite nubile young women in chainmail bikinis, a dude in a great Mad Max/Road Warrior costume, and a pair of siblings, both under four years old, who were rocking excellent Mario and Luigi costumes. My personal favorite, though, was a dude dressed as, I shit you not, the Duck Hunt dog. Seriously! My word is bond. He was coming down the elevator and as one part of my brain dismissed him for a goddamned furry, another more astute part said, “Wait a minute, what’s he got in his hand? A duck. A wood duck? Wait, two wood ducks? Hooooooooly shit!”
So, yeah. Aside from the costumes, Saturday was more of the same. I spend the majority of the time talking games at booths with publishers, kissing hands and shaking babies and passing out business cards like crazy. I met some great people, like John Nguyen and Sean Callaway from Dream Pod 9. I didn’t get to make it to any panels, as my day was taken up with shmoozing and seeing old friends like Chris Perrin and Jim and Dianne Brown and Lonnie Langston. Speaking of Chris Perrin, his new awesome giant robot smash-em-up game Mecha is out and sold like crazy during GenCon. He and his partner Mark Reed even got a copy into the hands of Wil Wheaton, who seemed suitably impressed. You should ask Chris about that story, though. I don’t want to steal his thunder. I spent my meager dealer hall budget on a big pitcher of dice from the Chessex Booth, a copy of Cthulhu 101 by Ken Hite (which, by the way, won a well deserved Gold Ennie for Best RPG Related Product), and this here sticker for the Saturn.
Anyway, after a long day wherein I spent all my money and talked my voice out, I scooted back to Scotty’s with Jim, Dianne, Lonnie, and young Connor who was sporting an excellent Horton Hears Cthulhu t-shirt, which I will surely be getting for Katya. Now, Scotty’s seems like a typical meathead sports bar kind of place that I typically wouldn’t be caught dead in. During GenCon however, it’s a nerd-o-rama. They had a special GenCon menu and played nerdcore movies like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings on their huge flatscreen jumbotrons in the dining room. When we got there Saturday night, elements of the 501st Imperial Legion were there, with special appearances by Lord Vader and a sand person whose rifle was made out of an old Mosin-Nagant 91/30! We finally got sat after a long-ass wait listening to a frankly terrible wannabe nerdcore rap group singing awkward songs about D&D and Mega Man. Once inside, we were blessed with a showing of, and you’re not going to believe this Gentle Readers, Ice Pirates! I mean, holy crap Ice Pirates! I couldn’t have been happier. Finally, it was time to head back to Zach’s. I said goodbye to the Browns and Lonnie and his buddy, packed in the minivan and shipped back to Noblesville.
Welp, I don’t have a lot to say about Sunday. I got up and realized that I hadn’t slept in my own bed in 12 days and that I missed the hell out of The Wife and The Kid, so I decided to pack it in and head back to Detroit. After an incredibly surreal denouement to the story where I unexpectedly ran into John Nguyen from DP9 at a Panera in Noblesville and couldn’t string a coherent sentence together due to lack of sleep and want of coffee, I headed north out of Indiana and went home.
And that was that. In my opinion GenCon was a shattering success this year, both for GenCon, the publishers and merchants in the dealer hall, and for yours truly. It looked like everyone was having a blast, I got to meet a bunch of awesome people and make some further progress into the industry, and generally had a great time. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank the GenCon staff and volunteers for rolling out a pro convention this year and showing everyone a great time. Zach and Theresa Houghton for their hospitality at Chez Houghton. Michael Wolf from Stargazer’s World for putting up with me mentioning The War and being nerdy about the Fatherland. Matt Forbeck, John Nguyen, Jeff Tidball, Sean Callaway, and everyone else I met for being gracious and spending time talking to a stranger begging for work. And I’d especially like to thank the guys from Fantasy Flight for continuing to be awesome and showing me a good time like I was part of the team which, in all fairness, I guess I am. Thanks again, GenCon. I’ll see you next year.
*Image copyright Wizards of the Coast
Why, hello there Gentle Readers! So, there were no posts last week because I had a furiously busy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday then The Wife, The Kid, and I piled in the car and decamped for our annual pilgrimage to North Carolina. Now, after stops in beautiful Columbus, OH and quaint Lynchburg, VA, we have finally arrived in the Outer Banks. See, every year for the past ten or so years, The Wife’s step-uncle, who is a wealthy restauranteur here, has invited us down to spend a week. We, and when I say we I mean roughly twenty adults and children, stay in a huge, fuck-off house on the beach with a pool and direct access to the ocean whereupon we cook, eat, drink our faces off and play a lot of board games and cards. Last night The Wife and I spent a nice evening teaching our nieces and nephews, fine young men and women between the ages of ten and fifteen, the finer points of Pandemic, which was awesome. So, you may ask, is there some kind of downside to ten days of concentrated awesomeness in which we travel through the part of the country where American History was invented and culminates with hot and cold running mojitos and sand in our clothes? Well, kinda yeah…
You see, for me at least, this is also a working vacation. Ever since I started writing full time I’ve been bringing my work to the beach with me. It started when I wrote the majority of Macross down here back in ’08. Then last year, even though I had turned in the manuscript before we left, I spent the week worrying little bits of UEEF Marines. You see where that got me. Now of course I’m a freelancer and you know what that means, I don’t work I don’t eat. I’m well under water with stuff from Fantasy Flight. I’ve got two deadlines, one is an outline due at the end of the week and a full outline due the Monday I get back. Then I’ve got copious amounts of rewrites for a Deathwatch book since I still have a hard time getting my brains around various points of the 40K IP.
It’s not that big a deal, though. People generally leave me alone, I can filter out the chaos (mostly), and this year the added complication of caring for The Kid has been handled by a gaggle of enthusiastic nieces who just graduated from a Red Cross babysitting training course. Even with all the noise and slamming doors I got a few thousand words written yesterday, so I’m not too worried. Then, of course, I’m leaving early to truck on up to Indy for GenCon whereupon I’ll be kissing hands and shaking babies and
begging for work networking.
I, uh, I seem to have run out of steam here. So I’ll leave you with some local attractions that I enjoy, and I’ll talk at you again Wednesday. Probably.
For example, combat in Shadowrun 3rd edition, at least the way we play it, is dangerous. Like, really dangerous. This is especially true in our Harn game, the middle-ages crime drama, where something as simple as a broken leg could have disastrous consequences for a character. See, with no magic and no really real medicine to speak of, a deep cut or a broken limb can kill a man in Harn. Granted, this is more a result of the setting than the rules, but my point stands. Brawling is perfectly acceptable, but if blades come out something has definitely gone wrong. Iron Kingdoms is the same way, right? Need a clerical healing? You better have a lot of money or a lot of luck because that cure light wounds spell will fill your body with ravenous maggots just as soon as it’ll heal you, and that’s awesome.
It’s why I don’t go for cinematic games. I like a game where damage goes through your armor, where you can’t dodge bullets, where you run out of ammo, and where a wrong step or a misplaced comment can ruin your night. My friends and I call this hilarity ensuing. I play games like this, I run my games like this, and I write my games like this. When I was writing Robotech, I kept trying to increase the lethality of the game, which of course was every bit as constructive as, well, something not very constructive. I wanted more damage output from my weapons, less damage capacity in my mechs and armor, more reason to use different kinds of munitions, and more threat. I realize that this runs counter to what a lot of people consider the spirit of Robotech, and honestly I didn’t care. I still don’t. Of course increasing jeopardy and forcing critical thinking was never going to fly in a system that was designed, essentially, to let a player win at RPGs. Oh well, c’est la vie, right?
I’ll finish with a story. When I was working on my first assignment for Rogue Trader, which was largely rules and game design, I had a long conversation with Sam about just this very thing. One rule I was writing hinged on the GM making a roll that directly affected the players and keeping the result secret from said players. Sam pitched me an alternate idea, which was easier on the players, then asked me, “So, from a game design point of view, which do you think is better?” I replied, “Mine. Things should always be hard for the players, and if they’re going to do X (where X is the rule that I still can’t talk about) they don’t get to know if something goes wrong until the wheels come off.” Sam laughed and said, “Awesome, do it.” and that rule ended up in the book largely untouched. That’s just the kind of bastard I am, I guess. When I’m a player, I ask for little mercy, and when I’m running or writing a game, I offer even less. So, you know, caveat ludius.
Goddamn, it’s been forever since I’ve updated here at the Gamewerks. It’s not like I have a good excuse, ’cause I don’t really. I mean, I’ve been busy with being Nervous McNewdad, my family came on up to visit, I started finishing my basement, and I’m still writing about Space Marines. Also, I need to get this writing sample done for Pinnacle and I should probably, you know, get my games ready for Origins. What I have been doing is doing entirely too much moping about and not enough writing. Remember how I said I was gonna write a novel this year? Yeeaaaaah… It’s June already and I don’t have word one written. Awesome. So, I’m going to start the week with something a little different. Yet again, it’s a very special episode of MCGW.
Now, when I started this project I swore that I wasn’t going to make it into some mewling, navel-gazing, emo-LiveJournal tour de force wherein I talked about my feelings and cried about how hard my life is. While I’m not exactly going to do that here, I do want to just talk about some things that are on my mind.
A few months ago, I was asked to do a guest column about Robotech for my buddy Zach at RPGBlog II. He’s been nice enough to let me repost it here, so here it is.
Imagine, if you will, an event so profound that it changes not only your fundamental views of yourself and your place in the universe, but also alters the course of human history forever. Imagine living in a world much like ours, a world full of too many people and not enough resources. A world that has seen a bloody decade of global armed conflict with no end in sight. Now imagine that one day, it could be any day, you’re at work or school or a recruiting center or wherever your day may take you, and it happens.
Something huge tears a hole in the sky and comes screaming out of the firmament trailing fire and wreckage. Military satellites turn their cameras eagerly toward it, air forces and navies are scrambled, 24-hour news channels cut into the usual stories of war, starvation and economic collapse with a breaking story, Something that can only be described as an alien spacecraft has entered Earth’s atmosphere and crashed in the South Pacific. Please stay tuned to this network for further details”.
There is panic. Police and national paramilitary forces are deployed to keep the peace. Martial law is declared and curfews are enforced. Everyone, you included, is glued to their televisions as the first pictures come in from satellites and reconnaissance aircraft. There it is, just like they said, an alien spacecraft nearly a mile long, steaming, cooling in the ocean air on a tiny island at the bottom of the world. Cease-fires are immediately declared, ambassadors are deployed for the first time in years, and the world takes a collective breath as every man woman and child comes to the same realization
“We are not alone.”
“Whoever lost this is going to come looking for it.”
Can you even imagine? Can you imagine your reaction as you sit there in your living room or at the corner bar or wherever, staring at the incontrovertible proof that we are not alone in the universe, and that the neighbors may not be particularly friendly? What would you do? Where would you turn? Would you heed the call to action sent out by a fledgling United Earth Government? Would you gather weapons and food and loved ones and disappear into the hills? Would you turn to science or the bottle or the Lord for some comfort? This is the world of Robotech, a world fundamentally changed by a navigation error, a cosmic scale wrong turn that would raise the Earth out of her bloody conflict and bring her people together as never before, only to plunge them neck deep and screaming into someone else’s intergalactic war.
Robotech is an American cartoon developed in the mid 80s by producer and anime pioneer Carl Macek for Harmony Gold U.S. It’s a story stitched together from three radically different early 80s anime; The wildly popular Super Dimensional Fortress: Macross (the anime that launched a thousand sequels), the much (and in this author’s opinion, unfairly) maligned Super Dimensional Cavalry: Southern Cross and the beautiful and brooding Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. It tells a sweeping and compelling epic story about heroism, war, love, revenge, loss and survivor’s guilt. The finished story, which follows the life and times of three generations of warriors from Earth to the stars and back again over 85 episodes, is full of stunning set pieces, pulse-pounding action, amazing acts of heroism and sacrifice, gut-wrenching loss and even the occasional moment of grace. It is credited with bringing anime into the American mainstream, even more so than shows like Speed Racer and Astro-Boy, and stoked the fires of millions of young imaginations, including that of yours truly, with its compelling story and hard hitting action.
As a Role-Playing Game, Robotech offers a deep, deep pool of inspiration from which to draw. With three distinct time frames to work in, four counting the new Shadow Chronicles, there’s something in the setting for everybody. Want to be a flash fighter pilot flying the iconic Valkyrie variable fighter off a space-carrier? Looking to go toe to toe with the implacable Zentraedi and win the hearts of bridge officers and J-pop stars the world over? If that sounds appealing, you should give the Macross Saga a try. Or would you prefer to be a swaggering, two-fisted armored cavalry sergeant, trying to keep the peace during the reconstruction and desperately holding off the decadent and depraved Robotech Masters? That’s where Southern Cross comes in. Perhaps you prefer a hardscrabble post-apocalyptic setting, constantly on the run and using second-hand military surplus to fight against an enemy so fundamentally alien that we are to them as ants are to us. If that’s the case, then the Invid Invasion is for you. Finally, if the idea of returning from deep space like some intergalactic Prodigal Son, a conquering hero here to release the Homeworld from its alien occupiers only to be betrayed at the eleventh hour by a trusted ally appeals to you, then the Shadow Chronicles is your setting.
Robotech is, at its core, a multi-generational space opera. Within the course of the game players get to pilot transforming robots, fight aliens, chase girls and generally live the life of a professional military, or paramilitary in the case of Invid Invasion, bad-ass. Players and GMs of every persuasion can find a lot to love in Robotech. There’s plenty of giant robots and transformable mecha and spaceships and guns for the action oriented guns and gear crowd. For a perhaps more subtle and nuanced game there is plenty of opportunity for intrigue and suspense, especially in the Macross and Shadow Chronicles setting. It can be the basis of a one night beer and pretzels shoot-em-up killfest just as easily as it can be the base for an epic campaign run over years with a whole cast of characters. There’s so much rich history and potential for drama and action and pathos in Robotech, that a gamer could get lost for days within its complex story. As a Robotech fan, I heartily support this, and encourage anyone who enjoys science fiction and good storytelling to grab a copy and give it a try.