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!
So. Where to begin? Well, I spent the first part of the year cranking out a bunch of books for Fantasy Flight, playing in my band, and generally being as aggressively indolent as possible. It was a time of ups and downs, strikes and gutters. Honestly, a lot of the time I spent wondering what the hell I was doing, and wondering if I shouldn’t just go to sea or take up driving a truck or something. Then, out of nowhere, came Gen Con.
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
No witty picture today. After spending a night on the floor in an undisclosed location, I’m not sure I even possess any wit. Anyway, here’s a few nice things about Friday at Gencon:
- Crowd: Happy, (mostly) healthy nerds in their glory. Costumes are good for the most part. People are nice. Lots of exposed flesh, some of it even worth being exposed! Also, there are a ton of people here.
- Vendor Hall: I see game companies. They’re everywhere, and they don’t even know they want to hire me! But they will. The vendor hall is rockin’, Fantasy Flight has a huge-ass booth with a large demo area wherein I played Descent and where I’ll go mad today playing Arkham Horror. Sadly, White Wolf seems much reduced, has no product for sale, and their booth is essentially a sad imitation of a New Orleans beer hall. I’ve been in LARPs that were better outfitted than that booth.
- Panels: I sat one panel with Sam from Fantasy Flight discussing Rogue Trader. I attended another given by Matt Forbeck, Bryan Tillman and his afro, Owen K.C. Stevens, and Jeff Tidball. Very informative and I took copious notes. They were all, to a man, gracious, generous and hilarious.
- Ennies: I went to the Ennies last night as a guest of Fantasy Flight. Unsurprisingly, Paizo swept everything, earning about a brazillion awards for Pathfinder. Eclipse Phase and Diaspora also won some very well deserved awards, which was nice.
So, yeah. There you go. I’ve already had a good time, met some great people, and ended up with my business card case more full of other people’s cards than my own, which is pretty good I’d say. I’ll be driving tomorrow, so I can’t promise anything in the way of an update. Y’all have a good weekend.
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.
Cthulhu was my co-pilot
I have returned from the hinterlands, brothers and sisters. I’ve returned from the state of my birth with a full report on the absolute train-wreck that was Origins 2010. Marvel at tales of scheduling cock-ups! Gasp at the sheer audacity of running a major convention like a pack of Ritalin addled tweens! Look on in horror as no one shows up and attendance numbers go in the toilet! All of this and more were the wonders that awaited me when I rolled into Columbus on Wednesday night.
Good, eh? Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that bad. It was pretty disorganized, though. I won’t go into the details, since I’m pretty over it now. I’ll say this, though.
GAMA needs to get their shit together, and pronto. Whoever is running that chicken shack needs to hitch up their pants like a big boy and make some major changes. Origins and the Gama Trade Show need to be rolled together into one big party. GAMA needs to hire a goddamned web developer who can get a navigable and easy to read website with a usable event sign-up live more than a month before the con. Origins is a good con, a great con, a con with over thirty years of good will and positive feelings attached to it by the hordes of people who usually attend. GAMA seems to be unable to leverage this into anything meaningful, and is apparently content to dither around like a pack of hens while they piss their con away.
Whew, now that that’s over, lets talk about some other stuff. In no particular order, here’s what’s been eating up my time lately.
- Pandemic - The wife and I and our friends play a shitload of board and card games along with our dice-throwing trad games. Usually it’s Settlers of Catan or Flux or one of the brazillion versions of Munchkin, or something like that train game that Mayfair does. Recently though, we can’t get enough of Pandemic. Seriously, ZMan games hit it out of the park with this one. It’s one of the best designed games I’ve ever played. The gameplay is fast and brutal, it requires the ability to work quickly and smartly with other players, and punishes you for a lack of planning and foresight. Seriously, there are more ways to lose this game than there are to win it. Also, there’s a version where someone gets to play an invisible bio-terrorist wherein hilarity invariably ensues. Go out right now and get the game and its expansion, you won’t regret it.
- Holiday Travel - Over the Independence Day holiday, the wife and babby and I all packed up and headed out to the west side of the state for a weekend at ace GM Munin’s folk’s place. Once there we had a hard few days of fireworks, shooting guns, going to the beach, floating down the river, playing airsoft, playing disc golf, eating a lot, playing, well, shitloads of board games, watching Zombieland, and generally having a good time. While there, I took the opportunity to talk game design with Munin, Selnaric, Namaimo, and the wife, and familiarized with Dream Pod 9′s interesting mech game Heavy Gear. Of course, that leads me to…
- Design/Book Stuff - So, remember that novel I keep telling you about? I’m currently in the process of getting the world, which is a hard-science real world setting set 400 years in the future during the human diaspora, straight so I can write in it. I’m also toying with making some of my other settings (AEGIS vs. SPIDER and my Paranormal Police games) into ruleless settings and selling some PDFs. There’s also a non-fiction book about gaming that I’d like to write, and I’m looking into that as well.
- Bringing up Babby - The Kid is nearly four months old now, and dadding is becoming increasingly labor intensive. Eventually we’re going to have to get some kind of daycare so that I can actually get work done during the day. Speaking of…
- Work - I’m down to only one Rogue Trader assignment for Fantasy Flight, but more are probably on the way along with (hopefully) more stuff for Deathwatch. Despite Origins being mostly crap, I did have an opportunity to talk with Tara from Catalyst Games about some possible freelancing for Shadowrun 4, along with the guys who do Cthulhutech. Fighting the great old ones? In space? With lasers? Sign me up! I also need to get back into doing those quick essays for Demand Studios, no matter how bad their editors are.
- Rogue Trader - Since our Shadowrun/Cthulhu/In Nomine game finally ended, now it’s time for me to run my Rogue Trader game. My man Zorak has put a Wiki together for us, wherein we’re putting our characters and ships and NPCS and lots of other background stuff to give the game some flavor, as if Rogue Trader doesn’t already have enough flavor.
Welp, that’s it. That’s how I spent my hiatus. Now I need to get back to, you know, writing so that I can pay my bills and buy The Kid shoes. In the coming days I’ll probably post to elaborate on all that stuff up there, or maybe I’ll just talk about spaceships and motorbikes and space-motorbikes.
Okay kids, I’m out of here. Time to load up the car and hit the road. I’m off to Origins to shmooze, see old friends, make new friends, and generally have a larf. Hopefully I’ll see some of you there. If any of you are going to be there as well, drop me an email, my address is in my profile over there at the left. Sorry this note is so brief, I’ve been buried under con prep. Perhaps I’ll do some on-site blogging from Origins, or at least some tweeting. I’ll surely have a lot to talk about come Monday. So, have a good week/weekend y’all. We’ll talk next week.
If writers are, in the words of the inestimable Chuck Wendig, procrastinating shitheads, then I am their high-priest. Origins is six days away. Guess who has two thumbs and has only one of his four games ready for Origins. This guy. Right. Six days to port three games into new systems, build characters in those systems, and get familiar enough with those systems so that I don’t look like an idiot. But that’s not really what I came here to talk about today. Not really anyway. There’s something else I’ve been putting off. Something in regards to Origins, and something that I need some advice on.
Now, amongst my tens of avid readers, I wager there are a few who actually make a living in the trad-games industry in one fashion or another. So, like I said, I need some advice. One of the main reasons I’m going to Origins is to grow my brand as it were. I’m hoping to wander around the dealer hall, meet some people, make some contacts, and hand out cards, resumes, and writing samples. What I want to know is this, what’s the best way to go about it? What can I do to set myself apart from the thronging masses of neckbeards who want to parley their 9,000 page masterwork werewolf Star Wars slash-fic into a lucrative career in the games industry? Should I go clever? Should I play it straight? When is the appropriate time to start this conversation, right there at the booth or maybe an after hours meeting? Obviously I probably need a resume. Do I need to have a writing sample? My bibliography? What can I do to make an impression, and make sure my inquiries don’t get shuffled into the trash? What else should I do/know?
Since I’m at a loss, I turn to you Gentle Readers. Help me internets, you’re my only hope.
- Who: Who is involved? In particular, who are the player characters, and who are their allies and adversaries? Using the CSAR team in the above example, in a team of eight (your typical number of seats at a con game), you’d have some medics, some comms guys, a scout, and some marines maybe. When you make characters for your con game, make sure they fit both the story and with each other. Make sure each has specific skills and/or talents that will have a direct impact on the game. No one wants to pay a couple bucks to play a game and then sit around picking their nose for four hours because you only made one hero and seven hangers-on for the game. As for NPCs, typically a name and a few stats will do. Don’t over-do the NPCs, you really don’t need to. My NPC enemies are typically a few lines on a 3×5 note card. The basest combat stats including any weapons or powers, useful attributes, and a couple notes about their personality.
- What: This is where your story goes. Continuing with the CSAR example, say that a carrier battle group was in transit through hyperspace, and one of the ships developed a problem with its FTL drive. That ship drops out of transit, and the rest of the group carries on with promises that they’ll send a CSAR ship back for them. Okay, good. What happens then? What happens when the CSAR team (our players) finds their lost ship? Is she okay? Still intact? Crew alive? Since this is a con game the answer to all of those questions is probably no.
- Where: This question deals with your setting. The where is typically dictated by your system/game of choice, and not specifically the con game itself. A good con game, one with a good enough premise, can be run in any setting. I have a con game whose premise is “Ambassador is murdered at gala opera opening” that was actually inspired by that time Chechens took a whole theater hostage and the Spetsnaz gassed the whole place to catch them. Since it doesn’t say anything about specific setting, that adventure could be run with any game from a hyper-modern near future game like Shadowrun to an old-west setting like Deadlands to even a higher-tech fantasy style world. In fact, I first ran that game as an Iron Kingdoms game set in the dwarven capital city.
- When: Honestly, the when isn’t that important. The when is essentially now, with now being whenever you run the game. Check your events guide for run times.
- Why: The why explains the story’s set up. In the above “ambassador killed” scenario, the why begs the question, “Why was the ambassador murdered?” Well, there could be any number of reasons, and it’s up to the players to find out.
Once you’ve got those questions answered, you’re pretty much ready to go. Some other things a con game GM needs to keep in mind are:
- Pacing: Let’s face it, con games are artfully designed railroad games wherein the GM leads the players around by the nose. To mitigate the players’ feelings of lack of control, the GM needs to walk a fine line between railroading and allowing free play. This makes sure that the players can affect the story through their actions, and that you can finish on time so you can get to the dealer hall before it closes. The way I do it is that I have a set opening, like the opening credits of a movie (Ambassador is killed, theater is locked down) and a set ending (players uncover identity of murderer) and everything else in between is the players’ responsibility. I make sure there are checkpoints along the way, goals I want them to achieve to move the game along, and players typically get to them no problem. If not, I’m there to give them a gentle push via clues or NPCs. Lead you players to the game’s conclusion, don’t push them, no one wants to have a GM just tell them a story for four hours and not get to do anything cool. Trust me, I paid money to be in a game like that once.
- Prep: Do your homework. Roll up strong characters, give each one a little bio to help introduce them to the players, have your NPCs ready, know where the story is going, and above all, be ready to think on your feet. Even though a con game is pretty linear, players can and will go off the reservation and you’ll need to be ready. Hell, at the end of one of my modern horror games, the players, who were all cops mind you, turned on one another like jackals and engaged in a firefight in the basement of an old hotel that was under construction. I certainly didn’t see that one coming, and neither will you when everything goes all sideways and the players start messing up your narrative. Be flexible and let them run. Encourage creativity at the table, but make sure you still get where you’re going at the end of the story.
- Presentation: I’m a sucker for props. Character dossiers, maps, photos, charts, you name it I’ve probably used it in a con game. Hell, I even have a specific Iron Kingdoms GM Kit I use when running an IK game. They help set the tone and immediately get the players in the proper headspace that usually takes weeks of sessions in a regular game. If you’d like to know more about using props, check this post out.
That’s about it. Honestly, while it seems daunting, prepping and running con games is a breeze. Intellectually taxing sure, and hard on the voice, but fun and rewarding too. Just think of it like directing a long movie with a lot of improvised dialog. Also, I’d recommend having a stock of con games available. I’ve got a big ol’ binder full of pregen characters and plot notes that I can whip out at a moments notice if needs be. So, go for it. Get yourself a good idea, gin up some characters and have a blast.