Monday, August 25, 2014

Gen Con 2014: Totally Worth It

tl;dr - Shit happens, but Gen Con and my friends are still awesome.

In the Basement, Mixing Up the Medicine
For the weekend before Gen Con, we met Jerry in Columbus for a soccer game and some Stay Alive! Well, Tom and Jerry and the Boy went to a soccer game. I stayed in the room and watched a delightfully awful monster movie. They invited me, but... alone in a hotel with a monster movie! After work on Monday, despite that beautiful new Player's Handbook calling to me from above my desktop, Tom and I did a bunch of last-minute prepping and printing, including having a spiffy poster made for Crawlspace.

On the Pavement, Thinking About the Government
Tuesday, Tom didn't get off work until after 8PM, so I had plenty of time to pack before he got home. Once he did, we were off to Indy... or at least someplace close to Indy. A combination of fatigue and the need buy easels & a dolly before we hit the whirlwind of downtown Indianapolis, made us decide to stop for the night in a smallish town somewhere northwest of our destination. Wednesday morning, we bought our supplies and made our way into the heart of Indianapolis.

Don't Follow Leaders, Watch the Parking Meters
We've pretty much got this setup thing down. We couldn't check in to the hotel until four, so we picked up our badges and I transferred all our stuff to the booth space while Tom watched the car. It may sound like Tom's slacking here, but I actually volunteered for the loading job because I'd rather do something like this than have to stand around and stress out over car protocols. While I was going back and forth, I snapped a picture of the main hallway in the convention center. It's not that the scene itself was all that interesting; it's just that I was suddenly so happy to be there and wanted something I could use to recall the moment later.

That done, we called our local friend Jordan and had lunch at Acapulco Joe's, and hung out with him for a bit. From there we stowed the car, started putting the Peryton Publishing booth together, and eventually checked in at the hotel. Heard a few times from Curtis and Tim, who were making their way over from Tulsa. That's another thing I was happy about - Curtis has been a dear friend since childhood, one of the first people I played RPGs with, and I've been trying to get him out to Gen Con ever since I started going in 2004.

Jump Down a Manhole, Light Yourself a Candle
Thanks to Tom, our Wednesday night gathering has a name: Old Home Eve. This year, driven from our traditional spots so the Diana Jones folks could reserve a space big enough for their egos (okay, I actually have no idea what these people are like personally or even who's on the list - I just liked the sound of it), we ended up having to meet at the Tilted Kilt. It was noisy, but the food was good and the staff treated us well.

Over dinner and drinks, we presented Jerry with his "event uber-overlord" t-shirt to thank him for herding all the cats of the Peryton Gamers group and translating our rants and scrawls into something the Gen Con staff could use.

I bailed around 10 or 11, I think. I wanted to get at least a little bit of sleep and not be hung over for the game I was running in the morning, and I thought it might be a good idea for someone to be at the hotel whenever Curtis and Tim got there, since they were rooming with us. Besides, while I enjoy a good buzz as much as anyone, I think I've mostly outgrown getting staggering drunk and stumbling from bar to bar until I can't find one that will let me in. Mostly.

Curtis and Tim showed up not long before Tom, around 2:30 or 3:00 AM. We didn't talk a whole lot, although Curtis expressed some alarm at the presence of large numbers of weeping angels in the hotel. There were even a couple of smaller ones skulking around outside our window. A few hours later, I shoved Tom back out the door to go "open" the booth.

Try Hard, Get Barred
Thursday morning, I was all proud of myself because I got out the door in plenty of time to show up early for my game. Then I made the mistake of going through the convention center instead of around it to get to the Marriott. You see, some people go batshit insane over the official opening of the exhibit hall at 10AM on Thursday.

By "some," I mean enough to sack Rome, all ninety gazillion of whom were packed into one great shoggoth-like mass between me and my destination. Once they had closed off my retreat, many of them absolutely refused to budge, possibly for fear that I might get in front of them and snatch up some exclusive limited edition version of something they wouldn't otherwise be interested in. Maybe next year I should bring a machete.

While slogging my way through this liquescent horror, I ran into Jordan and we chatted for a while before splitting off on our separate missions. Eventually, I got a break. A small formation of Gen Con staffers in a hurry to get somewhere was pushing its way through the crowd, and I was able to jump in behind them and ride their wake past the worst of it.

Get Blessed, Try to Be a Success
Of course, I was still a few minutes late. I had been a little worried about the turnout of "Storms Over the Isle of Dread." When I came up with the idea back in January, I thought it would be a great way to draw people in. I didn't find out until later that the D&D Next playtest had already insured that anyone who ever cared about the Isle of Dread was already sick of hearing about it. Still, I needn't have worried, because I got a great group of players and had a lot of fun. I think both of the male/female pairs were couples, but in any case I'm pretty sure they all knew each other, and that tends to work out well. They came up with cool characters like a fixer who was raised by a crazy janitor who thought he was vampire and a karcist who grew up hearing voices and tended to enjoy following their darker impulses. They were also great schemers and plotters, which is the kind of group I like for Qalidar. They took control of the greeter robots and then used one to get into the cyber-tyrannosaur and bring down half the plateau with photosonic cannons. They also correctly worked out the nature of a plot element which I had been fairly sure everyone would ignore, so that was cool too.

Ring Bell, Hard to Tell if Anything is Going to Sell
I texted Curtis to let them know I was done, and headed over to the booth to see who I might run into and how things were going. Seems like things were going well. I wandered off before long to do some shopping.

I took Curtis around the convention center to find where he would be running his Cards Against Humanity game and generally give him a feel for the landmarks. I don't think I did a very good job, but Curtis managed to find his way around in spite of my help.

We hooked up with Tom for a late lunch at Champions and were pleased to find that the menu of our traditional meeting place had once again become a real menu instead of last year's index card with nothing but deviled eggs and sliders on it. I was overjoyed. I don't think anybody else much cared.

Duck Down the Alleyway, Looking for a New Friend
Thursday night's D&D5 game was a new thing for me. I had been to other peoples' off-the-books games and I had been to pickup games, but I had never arranged one myself. Luckily, Caed (the other Robin) was involved, and she scoped out a cool corner for us in the lobby at the Omni. We did have to steal the bench from the piano to have enough seats, but the last thing anybody there needed was some attention-whore trying to play piano, right?

The game itself was lots of fun. Familiar faces included Curtis, Brian, Todd, and Caed at first. Jerry showed up later on and I clumsily hurled his character into the action mid-stream. I also got to meet Caed's son, Dylan, and a friend of hers whose name I keep forgetting. The scenario was ostensibly "Danger at Darkshelf Quarry," a recent prequel adventure included with the Slavers series hardback. I hadn't prepared much, so I ended up winging a lot of it to cut down on page-turning. I didn't even have the Player's Handbook until the previous Friday, so I just used the basic characters from the Starter Set. Twice. The fact that I was able to DM this pretty much off the cuff and mostly follow the rules as written confirmed my impressions about the new D&D. Definitely a game I want to play more of.

The adventure itself pretty quickly turned from a stealthy investigation to a wild chase. Curtis and Todd took turns trying to drive me crazy, so I'm pretty sure at least the three of us had a good time. Sometimes it was hard to keep up with what everybody was doing because the group was so large and not everyone was willing to shout their actions across the lobby at me. All in all, I thought it was beautiful chaos.

Don't Wear Sandals, Try to Avoid the Scandals
By the time I got into circulation Friday morning, Tom and his new protege were already stressing about an upcoming game they had planned. Tom ran off to help with that while I held down the fort. Mostly that's what I did during the day. I was snagged on the way back from a bathroom run by Icons, having just found out that it actually does away with the things that annoy me about FATE/FUDGE/ETC, and still being in the market for a fast-playing, low-prep superhero game. Seriously, I was just minding my own business, conscientiously returning to my booth, when that game jumped out and tackled me. I still haven't given it a thorough read, but it looks promising.

Friday night at nine was Aqua Teen Hunger Force time. I ran with a setup that Michael had suggested to me last year, and I wish he could have seen it. The premise was that it was time for Carl's high school reunion. He was hoping to score, and the other characters were determined to tag along for various reasons. I added the fact that all of Carl's classmates had been replaced with Plutonian replicants determined to steal the Foreigner belt for Emory and Oglethorpe.

I handed out nametags and sharpies to provide extra opportunities for the characters to be demented. The reunion was, of course, a disaster. I always have trouble remembering everything that happens in these games. I guess it's because it's all so non-linear. Maybe too many endorphins fry my brain. I dunno. Anyway, Frylock made 2Wykyd sentient, the Mooninites (a new option this year) were Mooninitish, Meatwad cooked up some mustard gas in an effort to help with the party favors, and almost everybody died or was mutated.

All of that only got us halfway through, though, so everybody swapped characters and I ran a follow-up adventure for the second half. Somehow Love Mummy, Billy Witchdoctordotcom, and Travis of the Cosmos ended up fused into one monstrous entity and, again, lots of other characters died. That's generally how these things go.
As I was closing down, I noticed Tom's Crawlspace game getting started over in the corner. I thought about staying to watch, because those sessions can be almost as much fun as ATHF, but I decided to head back to the room for some swag-wallowing and sleep instead.

Twenty Years of Schooling and They Put You on the Day Shift
I had been planning to sleep in Saturday, since Tom was opening the booth, but when everybody got up and started talking about getting breakfast, I figured I might as well join them for a high-priced waffle or two at the hotel restaurant.
 The exhibit hall was swarming. I don't think I've ever seen it this full, and they had more space than ever to spread out over. Seems like I hung around there for most of the day. Folks were in and out. I think that's when YogPaul stopped by, which was a nice surprise. We met him on our second or third Gen Con at a Cthulhu rally.

Get Sick, Get Well, Hang Around the Inkwell
After the hall closed, Tom handed off his Qalidar game to Scott, whose event that morning had fallen through, and staggered off to the bar. I had been feeling progressively more cruddy all day and called off my own evening game, then made the mistake of sharing this information with Tom.
Tom: Come on, have a drink with me.
Me: Blurgh blargh yargle fargle.
Tom: Oh, you'll be all right. We won't stay out long.
Me: Bleahhhh.
Tom: We'll just have one drink, and then we'll go see how Curtis is doing. You want to support your friend, don't you?
Me: Poop.
: That's the spirit! I'll see you downstairs in a couple of minutes!
So we had a couple of drinks and started wandering around. We did, in fact, check in on Curtis to see how he was doing. We also checked in on Scott. Both seemed to be getting along fine.

I started feeling quite a bit better, which of course made me feel guilty about dropping my game, but I got over it and bought one of those ridiculous plastic goblets they were selling in the Marriott lobby. I don't know why. Maybe some parts of my brain were still sick. It was kind of fun, though. Kind of like at a carnival where you know you're getting conned, but you try the game out anyway just for the hell of it.

Losers, Cheaters, Six-Time Users
We were on our way to pester Jerry at the auction when the guy who was supposed to be house-sitting called and said he just dropped by to discover that our apartment had been ransacked. We lost both our main computers (leaving only the netbook I had brought with me), our laser printer, DVDs, jewelry, and whatever other stuff they thought looked valuable (some of which was comically not valuable, but that wasn't very comforting). Tom took off to deal with stuff at home and make sure the cats were okay (they were) while I stayed to work the last day at the booth and catch a ride back to the Rustbelt with Jerry.

Walk on Your Tiptoes, Don't Tie No Bows
Sunday, I was lucky enough to have a lot of help. Friends provided moral support, helped run the booth, and even hung around later to help me box everything up and get Jerry's car loaded. And of course there was Jerry with the car. Ken St. Andre came by and helped sell stuff. I don't even think he knew anything had happened, but I think several of our sales were entirely due to his efforts.

And, sales-wise, it was a really good day, probably the best we've had since we started doing the exhibitor thing in 2012. Christopher Helton from Dorkland and Bleeding Cool stopped by and we chatted for a bit, too. Still, it was kind of hard to enjoy that particular day. No post-con victory celebration this year. Well, not immediately post-con, anyway. I still count the time we had at Gen Con as a victory.

The Pump Don't Work 'Cause the Vandals Took the Handles
I had taken Monday off because we originally planned to stay Sunday night in Indy, and Tuesday to decompress. As it happened, Monday and Tuesday were mostly dedicated to getting things up and running the best we could at home. Over the past week, though, I have been able to find a fair bit of time to enjoy the haul I brought home, and it looks like it's all pretty great.

We're thinking about moving. If our neighbors didn't do the job themselves, they had to have known about and not had a problem with it. And they were always douchebags even if somehow they're squeaky clean this time. I guess I'll never know either way. They'd best not try it again, though. This place is tricked out like the Tomb of Horrors, now.

Tom's write-up, as usual, is all over the place. There's a summary of the games he ran on one blog and then there's part one, part two, and part three of the general-purpose travel log on another. Whichever one you read, don't believe his lies. Jerry's is here. We're collecting a list of others in this thread.

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