Monday, August 18, 2014

Once Upon a Gen Con

It's been a while since my last post, but I promise that I had a good reason to be absent from "Living for Crits."  This past week I attended my very first Gen Con in Indianapolis, Indiana and it was the trip of a lifetime!  I know that's a very cliche term, but its incredibly fitting for such a terrific trip.  Along with four friends of mine (Frank, Craig, Melinda, and Dante), our crew of "Norwin Game Knights" took to Route 70 and trekked across four states to the promised land where "the best four days in gaming" occurs each and every year.  

But I couldn't just go to Gen Con 2014 to "play" games, I had to take on the mantle of "game master" for the masses, just like I do here in Pittsburgh each and every week.  Thanks to the terrific folks at Monte Cook Games, I had the opportunity to help run events for their two incredible RPG's: Numenera and The Strange!  In fact, I ended up with an absolutely crazy schedule, running six games in all:


12pm - 4pm:  Numenera, Into the Violet Vale - Only had three players show up, but they blasted through the adventure in just over three hours  What a team of ninjas!

10pm - 11:30pm: Adventures in the East Mark - I ran an unofficial, after-dinner pickup game of eXtra-Dimensional Publishing's steamy box of OSR goodness and managed to kill off most of the party… with the help of the other party members.  


10am - 2pm:  Savage Worlds, Weird Wars Rome, Appian Slay - The gladiator army of the slain Spartacus descended from their crosses and the players had to deal with the terribly brutal ramifications with a crack team of Roman Legionaries.  


10am - 2pm:  The Strange, Eschatology Code - In which the party used Twitter and an over-40 fan club for an ex-child actor to take on the forces of evil.  

4pm - 8pm:  Numenera, Into the Violet Vale - Taught six brand new Numenera players the ins and outs of the Cypher System!


10am - 2pm:  The Strange, Eschatology Code - Incredible mission planning led to a extremely well organized and precisely executed assault on Father Foss's compound!

The Top 5!

But with all this role-playing awesomeness, intermixed with shopping, dining, perusing, carousing, and general lollygagging, there were some stand out moments that I wanted to share!  Please note, that these are in no particular order of favoritism…

… except for the last one, which is FREAKING EPIC!

Jeremy and Lex at Scotty's Brew House in Downtown Indy

A Lovely Dinner With Friends

Following a successful run through the Ninth World with a trio of Numenera Hunters on Thursday afternoon I was hungry… real hungry!  I grabbed my friend Frank and headed out to the food truck area, looking for something to scarf down.  But after I finished my chicken pot-pie, and Frank his mac-n-cheese, we were left with nothing else on our schedule we wanted to do.  We both had board games scheduled, but neither of us really wanted to sit down to another four hours of gaming just yet.  Much to our delight, two members of my Tuesday online adventuring party, Jeremy Land and Lex Starwalker (our celebrity!) texted me wanting to know what I was doing.  I grabbed Frank and we took our whole crew down to Scotty's Brew House, where we met not only Jeremy and Lex, but Mrs. Starwalker (Nikki) and Gray Detrick (whom I had never met before).  Soon after my buddy Craig showed up and it was a party!

Even though Frank and I weren't hungry anymore, we didn't mind sharing some drinks, nachos, and gaming stories surrounded by cosplaying waitresses and a whole mess of Imperial soldiers guarding the front of the restaurant.  Jeremy even got accosted by a local homeless man while in the restaurant!  It was so great to just sit back, relax, and think about the amazing events to come at Gen Con.  Afterwards we strolled down the JW Marriott to see what was going on in the Monte Cook Games room before settling in for a semi-drunken game of Adventures in the East Mark.  Good times!

Matt lost it when Brian started praying to his dice so that he could hit another player

Savage Worlds Weird Wars Rome Education

I love Savage Worlds, but as much as I consider myself a "Savage", I really don't play anywhere near enough to be a rules expert.  So when five experienced Savages show up at my Friday morning game, each looking me up and down with that "so you're the GM?" look, I gulped and started to shake with fear.  The last RPG four of the players played the night before didn't go so well, and they were demanding satisfaction… or else!  So I carefully spun my four-hour yarn, hiccuping on rules here and there, and withstanding a few minor corrections while I crafted a tale about Roman Legionaries dealing with some supernatural ramifications of the Third Servile War.

In the end the party was victorious, Spartacus' revenants were re-slain, and there were grins all around.  The crew's "leader", Brian, approached me at the end of the game and looked me straight in the eye.  I was waiting for a "talking to", a few comments about how I needed to polish my Savage Worlds GM'ing skills and do a better job writing adventures.  I'm a big boy, I can take some positive criticism, or even negative criticism.  But no.  Brian commended me on the adventure, it's pacing, and the fun the team had playing the game.  I learned so much with this team of experienced players, and  I know I've got a ways to go before I've mastered Savage Worlds, but I left Room 312 feeling victorious!

David and Fred watch as Becki tries not to roll a 1

Accidental Pickup Game with Grumpy Cat

By Friday afternoon I was starting to drag a little.  Following the Savage Worlds game, Craig and I did a little shopping in the exhibitor's hall before catching an absolutely delightful Doubleclicks show!  Craig never heard the duo before, but I've been a fan for a couple years.  Afterwards we had dinner at Panera with Melinda before wandering back into the convention center.  I let Mel have my ticket to a Dragonlance storytelling event, and when she and Craig waltzed off I slumped against a wall and sat down.  Carrying 30lbs of books in a messenger bag is hard work!  I was tired, and needed rest, but after a few minutes felt terribly alone.  It could be a while before I saw my friends, and there really wasn't anything for me to do.  But that's when I saw "Grumpy Cat!"  

Fred Ramsey is a fantastic "art-finder" on the Numenera Facebook Group, searching the internet for images with a special Ninth World flair, and while the picture he finds are spectacular, his distinctive profile pic is of a stern, authoritative dignitary… just like Grumpy Cat.  

Which made it easy to pick out in a crowd!

"Fred!" I yelled, and he turned to me with this look of "who the hell is this guy?"  But after introducing myself Fred told me that he and his wife Becki were headed to the Open Gaming room where they would be playing Numenera… and Fred invited me to tag along.  Within minutes Becki and I rolled up brand new characters, and soon we were joined by David (now a new friend!) and Craig, who's Dragonlance event ended earlier than expected.  Fred's somber visage melted away as I experienced one of the greatest Numenera adventures I've played in the last year!  Each of us was smiling ear-to-ear, and Fred's adventure, a home-brew which perfectly embodied Monte Cook's vision of "the weird", was outstanding.  I was so incredibly lucky to have had nothing to do Friday night, and I can't wait to play in one of Fred's adventures again!  

Dante, Mike, Mike, Ray, Shannon, and I take on Father Foss

The Greatest Game of The Strange Ever

Have you ever heard of L.G. Babcock III?  In Bruce Cordell's adventure, The Eschatology Code, one of the characters (L.G.) was an ex-child star turned agent of The Estate.  How lucky were we that one of our players, Mike, decided to chose this character and play him to the limit!  In one scene, where the characters were dealing with terrorist/gremlin activity on a plane, Mike rolled a "1" for his initiative prompting a GM Intrusion.  L.G., waiting to get into the fight, turned to the right and locked eyes with a dozen older women, each a member of the L.G. Babcock fan club.  The women charged across the aisle screaming "we gotta save L.G. from the lasers," restraining him from aiding the rest of the party for a short while.  Well Mike took this scene to a whole 'nother level!  

After learning that the fan club was gathering at a local Dunkin Donuts in Sioux Falls, where the evil Father Foss was preparing to aid in destroying the Earth, the party engaged in an all out Twitter war with Foss and his parishioners.  Images of L.G. were photoshopped alongside the dark pastor, with tweets like #FrFossLuvsLG inciting rage within the All Souls Church.  Soon, L.G. had enlisted the aid of his fan club to cause a distraction at the church, allowing the party to gain easy access to their target: a quantum computer.  

I'm pretty sure we had the only team of Estate agents that used Tweets as an asset while at Gen Con.

Shanna, Monte, and Bruce had to hear me tell a "my player" story

Idol Worship

It's well known that most RPG player LOVE to tell stories about their characters.  In fact, at a gaming convention it's pretty much expected.  But to tell stories about your characters in Numenera and The Strange with the creators of Numenera and The Strange… well that's the epitome of awesomeness!  It was Saturday night, around 10pm at the Monte Cook Games fan bash, and I was getting the chance to rub elbows with all of the luminous folks who make my two favorite games possible.  We were telling various stories of our games, both from the convention and at home, when Matthew MacKrey and Jeremy Land started sharing a picture by Justin MacAuley portraying my character, Serbrus, and his epic tale of woe in Robert Schwalb's adventure, Beyond All Worlds.  In our regular campaign, run by Lex Starwalker, Serbrus (a Doomed Glaive who Consorts with the Dead) was looking for his wife in a "prison" called the Mouth of the Devourer.  Not to get into too many details, but my glaive found that a certain corpulent villain had a cannibalistic encounter with Mrs. Serbrus.  In an act of disgust, vengeance, and sorrow Serbrus struck down the evil bastard, then reanimated him and cut him down again.  

Well Justin MacAuley crafted a terrific, yet NSFW, artistic rendition of this scene which Matt, Jeremy, and I shared with Bruce Cordell while I told the somber story.  Bruce seemed to love it, and he grabbed Monte Cook so that I could tell it again while showing off the art!  In return, Monte Cook shared his own story of horror, terror, and disgust in a Robert Schwalb crafted adventure involving a blast of maggots with human faces!  More stories were traded, laughs shared, and I was so sorry to see the night end. 

Parting Words

The four days went by too fast, and Monday crashed like a terrible wave against the euphoria of this phenomenal experience.  When I walked into work today everything seemed faded, dull, and completely devoid of color.  Being that this was my first Gen Con, I wasn't prepared for the sudden flood of emotions.  My wife Jennifer often tells me that my time at home in the evenings and on weekends playing games with my kids and friends is my "real life," and that the drudgery of my work week is the illusion.  I lean on this sometimes, using the promise of the weekend to keep me warm when life is cold and hard. I can always say "just a few more days until the weekend," and the problems of everyday life melt away.  Gen Con is a bright shining beacon to those of us who enjoy telling stories, sharing games, and learning new things.  It's a place of wonder, acceptance, and cooperation, and so the memories I took with me from this last experience are especially powerful.  

Luckily for us it's just a few days (346 to be exact) until the next Gen Con!  

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