Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Gen Con 2011: Beyond Good and Evil

In which we learn, among other things, that you can subtract from Awesome several times and still have an end result of Awesome.

So, yeah, a lot of things could have gone better this year, and I'm not just talking about the usual, "there was so much to do that I couldn't do everything that looked cool" thing. I mean stuff went wrong. You'll see what I mean.

But this isn't just any con. I'm sure it's possible to ruin Gen Con, but it takes more than a few mistakes and misfortunes to keep "the best four days in gaming" from living up to its nickname. No, really, they didn't pay me to say that. That's how I feel. I can see that I'm being ambiguous again, so I'll try and clear it up:

Okay, now on with the play-by-play. As always, you can click on the picture for a larger view, but you may find out that some of them are blurry.

We got out the door as soon as Tom could get home from work and get the car loaded, picked up Christy pretty much on schedule, and made it to the Stone Soup Inn (after stopping for Mexican food in a generic Ohio freeway town) by mid-afternoon. Then we hiked over to the convention center and shuffled through the line to pick up our badges and swag. The heat and humidity were abominable. Tom's Cthulhu Mansion table, for which eight tickets had been purchased online, was empty, so we had some drinks at Olives (in the Omni Hotel), then at The Ram, and finally hooked up with (Yog)Paul and headed over to Scotty's to meet Caed (the other Robin), Jeff (from Troll Hoot) and other people whose names always slip away from me. One of them was Australian.

We had some D&D-themed food specials (the waitress did an excellent job of explaining Otiluke to Tom) and chatted. I got a strange compliment on my hair: "it blows in the breeze even when there's no breeze." Maybe that means I'm a gorgon.

It was probably Wednesday's combination of multiple forms of alcohol with the delicious and very spicy "Elder Dragon Chicken" that led to my digestive issues. Whatever it was, it kept me in the room most of the day and I had to cancel both of my Peryton RPG Fiend Folio Frenzy sessions. So much for showing off my game. Late in the afternoon, I wandered downtown, ran into Mandy in the Crowne Plaza lobby, and did some shopping. Got a couple of cool metal six-siders with blue pips.

After wandering around a bit more to check out the new convention center, I grabbed a quick bite to eat and sat down for a few minutes. I wasn't there very long before Ken St. Andre, his son James, and a guy named Brent drifted by and shanghaied me into a game of Magic: The Gathering. I hadn't played in a long time and it was fun to get back to it, although I had no cards of my own with me and had to borrow one of Ken's decks. I won the round but, not having built the deck, can't take much credit. This is one of the things I love about Gen Con: you never know when a game is going to just drop into your lap.

After a bit more wandering and a brief exchange of text messages with Tom, I led Ken and James to Acapulco Joe's for dinner. I found Paul on the way and dragged him along, because that's what I do when I find Paul. When we finally got there, I took a picture and told them to look exasperated because of the long walk, but only James played along. Inside, we found Tom, Scott (Sligo), Caed, Jeff, Colman, and... uh... I think maybe some other people. I'm not sure. It was a big table.

Everyone straggled back to The Stone Soup Inn for a private session of Tom's Cthulhu Dawn adventure. I think we did more damage to each other than any of the monsters did to us. We ended up staying on the boat instead of exploring the blacked-out city, which caused us to miss most of the plot. I think there were too many players for a serious Call of Cthulhu game, but it was still a good time just because so many people were hamming it up and Paul's roommate kept accidentally blasting our characters with his shotgun.

I tried to sleep in because of the upcoming Apocalypse All-Nighter, but I guess I just didn't stay up late enough the night before. Anyway, when I got to Crowne Plaza for my 2pm Aqua Teen Hunger Force and the Book of Beards session, I found only two players and this thing just doesn't work without at least four. Even though he had them to spare, Tom rudely refused to kill off any of the players in his T&T game for me, so I had to cancel.

Before I wandered far, Tom reported to Mike (Monk) and Kelly that I might be bored, so they found me and we hung out for a while. I got to see character sheets for the stuff Mike was running, including a Beavis and Butthead one which, even after pasting the time and date into this very blog some time ago, I had somehow not known he was doing. Kelly and I wandered around a little while Mike worked some more, and then we had a pre-apocalyptic dinner at the Crowne Plaza bar.

I didn't have anything scheduled for the seven o'clock slot, so I sat between the tables for Tom's Cthulhu Over Casablanca and Mike's Drag Racing Zombies from Beyond the Moon events and worked out some last-minute details for my upcoming Doctor Who adventure, Web of Light. At some point during these events, zombies attacked, diverting through our room from Caed's popular Zombie Walk. Hopefully the other gamers (who were not actually part of the Apocalypse event but had been stuffed into the room with us anyway) weren't too annoyed when people dressed like zombies staggered around their table and pawed the character sheets.

Not long after a chicken finger run to a very crowded Steak & Shake, my Web of Light event got started. The heroes were searching for the Doctor in a haunted (?) house. After deciding not to split the party, the insatiably curious reporter and a rock star from the 80's still went off to explore the house's alternate incarnations while the rest stayed in their own version, only occasionally meeting walking skins and ghostly figures while the others confronted faceless cultists and soul-sucking televisions. In the end, they hopped across worlds so many times (yes, I kept count) that nasty flying spider things appeared to clean up the timeline. They did all have the sense to flee at this point, getting out of the house just in time to watch the whole thing get sucked into the void. It was a fun bunch of players and an entertaining show for me.

At some point in that paragraph up there, it technically became Saturday, but, to me, the whole Apocalypse All-Nighter was Friday night, so it's all staying under this header.

Next up (at 3am) was Aqua Teen Hunger Force and the Book of Beards. A few of the best Aqua Teen players from last year's opening session showed up again and had recruited friends. It was, predictably, an amazing session. We had Frylock, Shake, Meatwad, Carl, The Cybernetic Ghost of XMas Past from the Future, and the Love Mummy. Meatwad was infected by the proto-super-corn Frylock was growing in Carl's pool. Eventually, it started ordering him to kill. The Love Mummy was used as an improvised steering device on Frylock's moon rocket. The adventure finished a little early, so we worked up a sequel, "The Search for Shake" (because Shake had been lost in space). Everyone switched characters and they proceeded to track Shake to Ceres, where a cult of space trees ("we don't know - WE'RE TREES") had propped up his algae-encrusted body as a totem. The session ended at around 5:30 when Frylock's attempt to revive Shake using the cloner resulted in the entire house animating as a giant algae-Shake-cornborg.

Tom's game was wrapping up at about the same time. It turned out that no one showed up for his 3 AM game, so they had just kept running with the one before it (The Horrible Fate of the Haunted House Hunters - the same scenario I played in at BASHCon). Caed suggested we all go to Steak & Shake for breakfast, and Tom's ghost hunters jumped right on that. Yes, I still consider this to be Friday night. One mediocre cup of yogurt and "fruit" with gigantic OJ later, we said our good-nights and Tom & I were marching back to the Stone Soup through almost tolerable weather while the sun came up.

I slept through a lot of Saturday. Tom wandered off some time before I did. Eventually, I hacked my way through the steamy jungles of Indianapolis to meet the gang at Claddagh. After thinking of nothing but the joy of air conditioning for miles, I found the bastards eating outside. Out. Side. Tom's survival that day was a narrow thing. Four quick glasses of ice water later, though, I was comfortable and enjoying myself. I caught up with several people I hadn't seen much of, including but not limited to Jordan, Todd, and Christy. The ever-enigmatic Christy disappeared pretty early, though.

That was pretty much it for Saturday. Mike & Kelly were heading back and it seemed like my best chance to make it to the room in a group before the bars kicked Tom out at midnight or whenever. I had an event to go to in the morning anyway, and still wasn't sure I had recovered the fortitude to drink heavily. Apparently, I missed quite a party. If my extra sleep contributed as much to the quality of the next day's game as I think it did, though, it was worth it. Anyway, I like this picture even though I wasn't there when it was taken:

Tom & I grabbed some quick breakfast stuff and crossed the Venusian lowlands to run Lilith Be a Lady Tonight and another Aqua Teen Hunger Force and the Book of Beards session. Having already played with my crew from last year, I was all set for this one to be just okay, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Everyone got into their characters, and the guy who played Carl did a great impression. Scott was there and, even though he had never seen the show, he got it right away and gave a nearly spot-on performance as Frylock. Some of my own ideas had taken a more useful form as well. This time, I remembered that Les Barbes Bizarre was written in hair and read with the tongue. Carl got clowned and lost his skin in a botched attempt to adapt him for life on the moon. Rather than destroy or guard the book, they sold it back to Future Wolf, who gave them a ride home in his "believable hair ship" but otherwise paid in IOU's based on the success of the screenplay he was trying to sell.

I finished quite a bit before Tom, so it was time for some last minute shopping. I ended up making all my purchases from the Who North America booth, grabbing a "You Never Forget Your First Doctor" t-shirt, a TARDIS handbook, and a DVD. I had been meaning to pick up Destiny of the Daleks or Vengeance on Varos but, when it came to it, I went with Kinda (the first syllable is pronounced like "kin"), which I had never seen, on a whim. It just seemed like more fun to see something new than to simply build my collection, even if it was a bit of a gamble.

We met at Champions for the victory dinner. That would be Tom, Mike, Kelly, Scott, Ken, James, and... maybe that was it. A guy called G'noll and his wife showed up to say hello but didn't stick around. Tom hit the exhibit hall and bought novels from all the booth writers who had successfully guilt-tripped him earlier. We also spotted David Nett from GOLD and chatted with him for a bit.

Scott took us to over to Arsenal, his gaming hangout, and then we went over to Jordan's neighborhood to eat, hang out, and play more games. I'll let you decide which of those locations the picture at right belongs to. Monday (no, Monday doesn't get its own header), we packed up and checked out a bit late, then went to Acapulco Joe's for a farewell lunch with Mike & Kelly before (sniffle) taking them to the airport. From there it was on home to Cleveland, where we were greeted with weather that was actually pleasant, and some happy cats.

I watched my Doctor Who DVD and quite enjoyed it. In the end, it was revealed that, "there is great danger in dreaming alone," which made it a wonderful epilogue for this year's Gen Con. So, while I could never entirely give up the indulgence of dreaming alone, I mean to bring along a few companions as often as I can. I'm thinking anywhere from three to 35,000.

As for next year, role-playing Aqua Teen Hunger Force has become one of the great joys of my life. I'm not sure what that says about my life, but the game is definitely on my schedule, probably with the show's new title, Aqua Unit Patrol Squad One. My modified BEAN rules worked really well, so I plan to stick with that. Staying closer to the convention center is a possibility. Finally, I mean to do a Micronauts scenario using a modified Peryton RPG system (much like what I'll be testing at Carnage this winter) and borrowing not only from that comic book, but also from Rom and other Bill Mantlo tales.

And, as always, there's Tom's blog, Part 1 and Part 2. Don't believe his lies.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Gen Con Gen Con Gen Con!

One more day! (cue music)

Tomorrow morning, if all goes according to plan, we'll be on the road to Indianapolis for Gen Con. I'm really jazzed about my events for this year, especially the Aqua Teen Hunger Force one (yeah, I know the title has changed - I'll catch up next year), for which I've practically written my own game. I did not, of course, invent the core mechanic, or the idea of using food as a randomizer, which seems tailor made for a show about animated fast food products. Anyone who's interested, please do bring some generics by even if the event is sold out. People often don't show, and there may be room to squeeze in one more even if the official slots are all filled.

I'll be sure to post a travel log with pictures when I get back. Hope to see you there!