Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gen Con 2013: All The Random Pieces

"It is a day so long in coming that I am uncertain how to celebrate it."
"Perhaps a quiet chuckle."
"Very well, then. Let us chuckle."

Gen Con 2013 was amazing. So many of the right things came together that the inevitable setbacks were hardly noticeable. In fact, I won't even mention them. Well, okay, I might, but just the ones that kinda make me laugh now that it's all done. Oh, and the weather! The weather was perfect. I couldn't have asked for a more pleasant weekend temperature-wise. (Click here for the musical accompaniment, but don't bother watching the video. Just come back to this window and read while it plays.)

Our first obstacle was Daci's scheme to keep us home by claiming one of the boxes. It was a clever plan, brilliantly executed, but somehow we found a way to deal with it. We loaded up the car and left Cleveland shortly after Tom got home from work on Tuesday. We took a new route, going past Toledo and then heading off through the corn fields to Indianapolis. The Machine says it takes twenty minutes longer, but it was a much more pleasant drive than the 71 to 70 route, partly, I'm sure, because we didn't have to go anywhere near Columbus.

We got going bright and early - before noon, anyway - had breakfast, rearranged some bags, and packed some stuff that we were borrowing from Jordan. We grabbed an early lunch at Acapulco Joe's, rented a dolly, checked in at the Canterbury, picked up all the badges for the GMs we were sponsoring, and I started setting up the booth while Tom disposed of the car and made his way back. We chatted with Eloy and John K. a bit in the process and invited them to our Old Home Eve at Claddagh.

Old Home Eve went well. We had a big table in a nice curtained alcove in a restaurant/bar with cool decor and good food. There was a revolving line-up of friends, friends-of-friends, and maybe one or two shape-shifting aliens at the table. It took awhile, but Mike and Amy finally fought their way through the I-70 traffic jams and joined us. Unless they were the shape-shifting aliens. You never know.

After the party broke up, Tom wandered off to drink some more with... I forget. Probably Caed-Robin, and maybe Jerry too. This was only Mike's second Gen Con and Amy's first, so we wandered a bit and I showed them around the convention center. It was my tenth year there, so, even when nothing is going on, the whole place is buzzing with memories for me. And I hate it when there's just one tiny little line hanging below the picture. There; that's a little better. I wonder why they put in so much image padding.

I was in and out of the exhibit hall Thursday morning, but mostly I remember pressing Jordan into taking me to the post office so we could pick up the new Qalidar books. It seems fairly obvious in hindsight that, knowing it would be close, I should have had the books shipped to the hotel. Instead, I had them shipped to Jordan's house. Since he has a job and stuff (I know, right? The nerve!), he wasn't there the first time, so they had to be picked up at the post office, and he had to be there to do it because I hadn't thought to put my own name on the package. Maybe he still would have had to be there because it was his address; I don't know. Anyway, Jordan had a limited amount of time to run all over town, and was nice enough to sacrifice his whole lunch break shuttling me and my books back and forth so I could get them and some comfy chairs (another favor he was doing us) back to the convention center.

Life was much better once that was all settled. I picked up the D&D Next book I had pre-ordered (Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle) and got to have some good chats with several people who dropped by. I may or may not have snapped a picture of Peter Davison that I wasn't supposed to take. I met Brian, an old friend from many online chats and emails, in person for the first time. Nobody was asking about the demo sessions I advertised, and I never brought it up myself because the prospect had always terrified me, despite the fact that I came up with what I thought was a clever mummy-cult encounter quickie.

When the hall closed, we headed over to Champions. Mike, Amy, and I met Brian over there and tried to reserve a big table for everybody, but they wouldn't put us on the list until we had at least six people present, or, apparently, until Tom showed up at the other door and made the same request with an even smaller crew. Scott and Caed-Robin were added to the pile. I think that was it. The ever-dwindling menu is making our sentimental haunt less appealing every year, especially when you can get better food for the same prices just by walking a block or two in the other direction. I dunno. We'll probably still try to pop in there at least once a year. My geriatric bitching aside, the company was more than enough to make it a great dinner.

After a frantic breakfast quest with Mike and Tom, Friday kicked into gear with my first Qalidar session, an adventure which never really had a title because I had no idea what the scenario would be when I submitted it. It was, however, the untouched second half of the adventure I started at the last Dark Gathering. This year, we were right in the middle of the convention center, instead of off in a peripheral hotel somewhere. I loved this. Tom was less keen on it because it was harder to grab a beer mid-session and he had grumpy old man issues with the climate control.

I had a full table for this one and, apart from a few abortive attempts at subterfuge, they charged in guns blazing. That wasn't really what I had in mind but, since it was still a challenge and they were having fun, I just ran with it. They did have quite a collective talent for mayhem. The ascendant took to collecting faces from the Typhon Corporation's cyborg guards, and the karcist went wild reanimating everything he could get his hands on. I was pleased that the disjunction mechanic flowed at its intended pace, because I had tested it much less thoroughly than the other rules and was still a little worried about it. I had a great time, but I decided to pump up the difficulty in certain areas for future sessions, because some of what they did should have been nearly impossible, instead of just hard.

Mike had started his Powerful Tales superhero RPG an hour behind my game, so I wandered over to the next table to watch them finish up. The way this game works is not something I'd have ever thought to do. It has a phase where you find out what's going on in the larger world and allocate resources that's kind of boardgamish, and then an action phase that plays like a normal role-playing game. The three players not only looked like they were having fun, but all came back later and asked him to send updates as the game developed, so apparently it worked. Jerry had, as usual, a full load of zombie-choppers escaping from Toledo at the next table.

After a bit more booth-monkeying, Jerry came by towards the end of the day and informed us that they were selling dice rings for $5 to anyone with a GM badge. I got a shiny blue d20 one.

There was an interview for a podcast (the name of which I wish I could remember) and then Mike, Amy, and I met Jordan for drinks at Champions. I went back to the room for a bit and then it was time for Aqua Teen Hunger Force role-playing. I had my usual crew, plus Mike and one other player. Just like last year, I planned to get a picture and didn't, so you'll just have to imagine. The Aqua Teens, having borrowed Carl's two coolers full of beer to go camping in the Adirondacks, stumbled upon a meeting of the Love Mummy's hugging cult (the other players), and of course ranged across various other locations from the show until a Foreigner Belt mishap conjured a volcano under Carl's house and Frylock took Meatwad back out to go camping. Quote of the game: "Last time I saw him, Fry Man, he was straw deep in meat. Nobody should have to see that." That only took around ninety minutes, so we took a break and played another one. As always, it was awesome.

Next day's function - high class luncheon. Wait. Sorry, that's from a song, isn't it? First up was my second Qalidar session. It had been sold out for some time, but only two players showed up. I think some of the others switched over to the evening one. Anyway, the two players I had were such great gamers that it didn't matter. Also, they loved the game. I'm sure that didn't have any impact on my assessment. Seriously, though, playing a mystic and an ascendant, they carefully scouted out their surroundings and came up with intelligent plans to put the odds in their favor. There were a couple of fights that were practically impossible to avoid, so I toned those down because there were only two of them. Apart from that, they pretty much took on the beefed-up critter strength as it was.

The other concession I made to their party size was that it was more of an information-gathering mission for a larger expedition to follow, so, once they found the giant hive facility in Katun and figured out how they were getting their goods, where they were shipping them, and who was behind it, we called it a win. The game had already run a little over, but we had all agreed previously to keep it going. Then they each bought a copy of the book and had me autograph it. I always feel a little pretentious doing autographs, but that's something I can live with. Unless you count Aqua Teens, this is the first time I've gotten such an enthusiastic response to a game. I'm just gonna enjoy it while I can.

I went back to the exhibit hall and sat around there for a while, then took off and roamed for a bit, found Mike & Amy, and went looking for some place to have a late afternoon meal. We weren't sure where we wanted to go, so we wandered around the streets, hoping for inspiration along the way. I was about to just take them to Scotty's when we saw Rock Bottom Brewery and decided to go there instead. We had a nice quiet chat about how well the convention was going, after which I went back to the exhibit hall to close down the booth. Ken came by to pick up a copy of Qalidar, but not much else happened. I went back to the room to watch TV and nap a little before my evening game.

My third and final Qalidar game started at 9PM. Well, my game by default. Curtis was scheduled to run this one, but he was AWOL from the whole show, so, not wanting to send interested gamers away, I covered it. There were four at the table, and Tom dropped a fifth player into the mix for reasons that seem to change every time it comes up. There was certainly room, though, and he turned out to be a good addition to the group, so I guess it doesn't matter. With five people, we had every character but the karcist in play.

I'm glad I did run this one, because this party's exploits were something to see. I love how you can run the same scenario three times and get three completely different adventures. This group combined the second one's sneakiness with the first group's larger size and wider range of classes. They started off abducting and interrogating the extras, which even without a great deal of cooperation, led them much more quickly to the facts they were after. This was also the only group to meet the stardust mercenary and find out that he would be more than amenable to deserting his employers for the right price.

Exploring Katun with similar care, they were also the only group to find where the dobbers actually slept. Having chatted up the locals and studied the way the compound worked, they spent quite a bit of time figuring out what kind of attack would cripple the operation, free the enslaved population, and keep the dobbers from rebuilding here. The resulting plan was a symphony of ambush, sabotage, and synchronized demolitions. And except for a couple of slips and one piece of bad information that they were able to work around, it played out perfectly.

With no more events to tend to, I settled in at the booth. Tom and Ken showed up almost together if not at the same time. Maybe they had breakfast together or something. Anyway, Ken said he read the book and it was "weird beyond imagination," which I took as a compliment. Actually the most flattering thing to me was that he not only bought it, but read it right there at the convention. He also said it needed some jokes, which... okay. I'll have to take a look when I'm going over the final release and see if it's too dry.

Tom said I was throwing off his feng shui, so I left to shop with Mike and Amy. I found a nifty pendant with a fluorite crystal that was surprisingly cheap and bought that. Amy had become a big fan of the dice rings. I think Mike bought one more and she bought several. I have to admit, the percentage one she picked up is really cool. She also had me lead her back to where I got the crystal. We also went to see the statue of Lolth in the D&D room. I miss having the big D&D statues in the main concourse.

So, the final loot count included Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, the d20 ring, and the crystal pendant. Kind of a light haul, but the convention itself was so much fun that a few souvenirs should be more than enough. I had intended to pick up 13th AgeNumenera, and a couple of random Doctor Who DVDs, but unforeseen circumstances made the additional expenditures unwise.

Back at the booth, we found Jordan, his girlfriend Amy (let's call her Indy-Amy to avoid confusion), Scott, and John B. along with Tom and Ken. I think this is actually where Ken said the stuff about Qalidar, but I don't feel like moving it. We cleared out the booth and boxed everything really quickly, and then hooked up again in the Canterbury bar for drinks. Everybody wanted to do something different for dinner. Jordan and Indy-Amy just ate right there. Luckily, we were able to come up with a compromise that annoyed everyone equally. Still, Tom and I had a nice dinner at Bourbon Street Distillery followed by a pleasant early evening walk back to the hotel, and I got to meet a friend of Jordan's who took a look through Qalidar and described it as, "the stuff of nightmares."

Other Bits and Pieces
On Monday, we pulled off a surprisingly successful car-shuffling and packing plan, then Tom, Mike, Amy, and I headed out to Acapulco Joe's for... breakfast? It was still pretty early, so they weren't serving lunch. It was kind of weird to eat pancakes at a Mexican food place, but everything else on the breakfast menu was revolting (the incomprehensibly popular "breakfast burrito" included), so that's what I went with.

And, sigh, that was pretty much it.

JerryTomEloyKen, and Scott are all blogging about the event, although not all of them are finished, and some of them have barely started. Some of my other friends also blogged about it, but it's against the rules to link to people I didn't see. More blogs will hopefully pop up at this link. As always, don't believe their lies.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Early Comments on Qalidar

So hey, here's kind of a review for the Gen Con 2013 Preview Edition of Qalidar: Resistance, although the source might be just a teensy bit biased:

Yeah, I know.
But still, I had to post it.