Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Living 4 Crits at Gen Con 2016!

A Very Walls Family Gen Con Vacation

Can we really call Gen Con a vacation? 

Four to six days of intense gaming, depending on when you arrive, book-ended by cross country journeys. Miles upon miles of walking, carting around weighty bags and fragile frames. Hallways packed full of people incubating the dreaded "con crud." Overpriced hotels, and budget crippling food orders. 

This is our paradise. 

Back in 2014 I made my first journey to Gen Con, and then in 2015 my wife +Jennifer Walls joined in the experience. This year, despite all of the aforementioned craziness, we decided to go all out, and bring the entire family. Me, Jennifer, all three kids, and both of my parents would brave the trek to Indianapolis to sling dice with the legends of gaming. 

Admittedly, there were several moments, especially when we were running from one event to another, when I relished having a few less people to corral on the trip. But it only took a single comment from my eldest daughter +Carina W. to give me pause to reflect on the importance of this journey. We were walking back to the Exhibitor Hall from the Hyatt after finishing several rounds of a new Dungeon Crawl Classics tactical funnel, and I asked Carrie how she was enjoying the convention. 

"I really like it," she said. Nice short answer, kid.

"Why?" I pressed.

Still staring straight ahead, she commented further. "Well... I really like how everyone here is just like me."

As she would say, all the feels.

Week in Review

We had a lot going on this past week, so here are the highlights.  If I missed anything (especially if you were a part of it), send me a picture and I'll try and work it in.


We begin our trip in Pittsburgh. After packing just about everything we could think of in our Chevy Traverse, we set out for a trek across four states. While driving we listened to the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording, and gave "thumbs up" to anyone who pointed at or honked at our car. We got a few weird looks while stuck in traffic in Columbus. 

Who says that the gaming has to wait until Thursday? Evie and I came to Gen Con prepared to play some X-Wing Miniatures with our friend +Ray Slakinski and his son Aidan. Sure it was late and it meant that Evie wasn't going to get a chance to swim in the pool until the next morning, but it was worth it!

Ray and Aidan fielded a 50 point TIE Bomber loaded down with rockets and torpedoes, a TIE-fo, and two regular TIE's. We had the Ghost, the Phantom, and a T-70 X-Wing. Evie took on the role of "good guys" with a little trepidation (she's more of a TIE Fighter player), but we ended up winning. I asked her if she would be interested in playing the Rebellion/Resistance more often.

She said no.


On Wednesday we finally made it to the convention center. Sure it was a little quiet, but we were able to explore a little, and get some great pictures and video.


After a long walk to the City Market, we made it to the Three Carrots for some fine vegan eating! Even if you aren't a vegan or vegetarian, this place has something for everyone. The seitan and dumpling soup was great! My parents were still full from lunch but we enjoyed a brief chat before the completely crazy Gen Con Thursday.


There were a ton of new game releases and reveals at Gen Con 2016, but none more epic than the first session of the Centigoats of Centaurus VII, a brand new Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure that I posted on my blog last week.  Ask anyone at Gen Con, and those Centigoats were the #1 topic of discussion at every table...

... okay, not really, but we had a fantastic time playing!

Putting out the call for players, we drafted +Ray Slakinski+Shannon Slakinski, both of their kiddos, Evie and +Carina W., and the fantastic +Marc Plourde.  Rather than hand everyone a pile of 0-levels, I gave each player a single 0-level, and we replaced them as they died.  That may be the way I run this in the future, as a tournament funnel variant.  

No spoilers, go follow the blog link and bring some Centigoats to your own table!  


Once Thursday rolled around, both of my daughters started working the +Monte Cook Games booth running demos of No Thank You Evil.  Due to scheduling, Carrie only worked a single slot, but Evie was a GM'ing machine!  She was running multiple 45 minute demos each day, introducing this delightful game to dozens of new and potential RPG players.

Evie didn't stop at just running demos, she worked the checkout  counter too.  So if you came by the MCG booth, there's a good chance you ran into this brand new shining star of the RPG world!

Evie didn't have all the fun at the demo table, I ran The Strange on Thursday and Friday at the Monte Cook Games booth.  +Thomas Howell tackled the nigh-impossible task of wrangling a bunch of Cypher System GM's to run game demos every 15 minutes through the entire convention.  He did an incredible job, and the demos were a huge success!    

While we purchased a ton of gaming swag at Gen Con, a lot of our budget went to Starbucks.  Now that we have two more Starbucks drinkers in our house, coffee runs have become a LOT more expensive.  

Gen Con can be really hard for younger kiddos.  Most of the games are for grown-ups, or at least older children.  Cooper's just turned six, so he's really limited in what he can sign up for on the Events list.  Thankfully, there is a kids section full of crafts!  Cooper spent several hours making a mask, a panda, and wearing cardboard box armor.  

+ConTessa is an exciting organization that promotes and supports women in leadership roles in the gaming community.   For Gen Con 2016, +Darcy Ross invited my daughter to be a co-GM for her Numenera adventure during the big, Thursday night Contessa event.  She was a little nervous before the event, especially since she was going to be GM'ing for all grown ups.  For several days ahead of time she buried herself in the adventure and the Numenera rules, all in preparation for this big event.  

While I spied a few minutes of the actual session, I tried to keep out of her way.  But everyone who I spoke with about the event said that it was a fantastic success!  I'm so proud of my eldest daughter.

With Carrie was co-GM'ing Numenera, Evie and I travelled over to the Embassy Suites for a dark futuristic DCCRPG after hours event organized by the legendary +Doug Kovacs: Punjar 50,000!  But before we go any further about this unforgettable experience, we need to discuss Evie's hat.

Virtually every picture of Evie at Gen Con 2016 includes her wearing that Dungeon Crawl Classics trucker hat.  We called it the "death hat," and for good reason.  Our first stop in the exhibit hall was the Goodman Games booth, and the hat immediately struck Evie's fancy.   So we bought the hat, and she wanted to get it signed.  +Michael Curtis+Harley Stroh, and the Dark Master himself +Joseph Goodman were all thrilled to sign the hat!  But there was one more autograph that Evie wanted...

... the mythical scrawl of +Doug Kovacs.  

Doug signed the hat, and then offered to write something under the brim.  The two of them settled on "DEATH" written out in a very metal style.  Doug even showed Evie how to flip the brim to show off the DEATH.  Evie spent the entire week flipping that brim!  Thanks Doug!

Punjar 50,000 itself was a crazy-awesome-over-the-top scenario.  It felt like old school D&D married with Judge Dredd, as our gang of "Terror Cultists" set out on a mission to back up all of the sewage pipes to those evil nobles.  I played "Mr. Snoop", and Evie was my wife "Mrs. Snoop."  I had other family at the table, as +Fred Dailey played my completely ungrateful son and +Troy Tucker my other devoted spouse.  I never figured out if Troy was a wife or a husband.  Neither are in the picture above because they left our table to join another faction.  Too bad for them.  

Our GM was +Tim Callahan, the creator of one of my favorite DCC zines - Crawljammer.  

There were three other massive tables playing in the same adventure, at the very same time, and all four tables were interacting throughout the entire evening.  Players could leave one table and join another, or entire tables (representing factions) could face off with another.  By the end of the night, only one group survived... ours.

Holy crap it was a great time!  

Mirroring Carrie's comment earlier in the con experience, this was the first time in my life when I was surrounded by a whole group of players and GM's that play their games the way that I do: 5,000 mph and gonzo crazy! 

Once her Numenera game was over, +Carina W. came over to the Embassy Suites with +Jennifer Walls, and they tracked down +Harley Stroh for a picture!  Carrie's played in two of Harley's adventures so far: Sailors on the Starless Sea and Tower of the Black Pearl.  Despite the common carnage that erupts out of Harley's adventures, he's an incredibly gracious and friendly gentleman. 


On Friday morning Carrie and I drifted over to the Hyatt to try out Warlords of the Purple Planet, a prototype board-game/war game version of Dungeon Crawl Classics that takes place on the world featured in +Harley Stroh's Peril on the Purple Planet.  

If this game was one of the highlights of Carrie's trip, it's only because she got to kill off her father's warband of Kith scavengers.  Here's her "death face."  So much death!

So here's my take on Warlords of the Purple Planet.  This game stands up against just about anything an Asmodee or Days of Wonder could throw together.  Loot grabbing, giant worm smashing, ruin raiding, and city plundering, Warlords is going to be an incredible game, and I can't wait for the rules to get released to the public.

This would make for an incredible Kickstarter!

You know it wouldn't be a trip to Gen Con without a Doubleclicks concert!  This was my fourth concert, Jen's third, but the kids' first.  The girls were extremely excited to meet Angela and Aubrey in person, and Evie got to hold the Cat Keyboard.  


Food truck eating is a necessity at Gen Con, and we found our favorite seating just inside the convention center, on the floor, in the middle of air conditioning.  

Cooper tours were common during our trip this year.  I'd throw Cooper on my shoulders and set off to explore the exhibitors' booths.  My favorite Cooper tour was on Sunday when my six-year old son grilled the writer and lead designer behind Torment: Tides of Numenera.  You need to realize, this kid didn't talk to any non-family members for most of the trip.  He'd hide, turn his head, and sneak away whenever anyone approached him.  

But at the Monte Cook Games booth, Cooper met Colin McComb.

"Is this on Steam?"
"Why isn't this going to be on XBOX 360."
"I think it needs to be on XBOX 360."  

Tough kid!  

But the interaction was one of my favorite moments from the convention, as Colin answered each of Cooper's questions with such patience and courtesy.  Just an amazing individual. 

It was late Friday night when we all realized that we weren't quite done gaming yet.  So we gathered +Thomas Howell+William Keller (and his friend John), and +Jeremy Land for a late night, ad libbed game of Dungeon Crawl Classics - Star Wars Storm Troopers.  I wrote the adventure, titled "Let's Kill Han", on the fly, jotting down a few notes during a short walk, and then throwing everything together.  

While the adventure was a ton of fun, what made it especially memorable was how the police showed up at the Homewood Suites to give all of the gamers a thirty minute warning before we'd get kicked out of the lobby.  


The +ConTessa celebration continued on Saturday morning with +Jennifer Walls and Evie rushing to the JW Marriott for a 10am game of No Thank You Evil.  By this point in our trip Evie was a con-GM veteran, but not Jennifer.  Not only was this session Jennifer's first convention experience as a GM, it was the first time she was a game master, period.  Now we have four GM's in our house, but I have a feeling that Cooper isn't far behind.    

On Saturday morning I scratched two things off of my bucket list:

1) Play in an official Numenera game at Gen Con (I always GM).
2) Play in one of +Troy Pichelman's games.

Carrie and I had our fingers crossed that we would be able to spend some time on the other side of the  Numenera GM screen (not that Troy uses one) at Gen Con and Troy ran an exciting scenario by +Shanna Germain called "The Skein of the Blackbone Bride."  No spoilers!  Troy is an incredible GM, and while I've watched his performances from across a room, as he gets up, jumps around, and throws tons of excitement into his sessions, its nothing like being in one of his games.  Just awesome!

Here's +Carina W.'s sketch of her character "Echo", and her faithful bear/goat/dog "Link."  

Everyone in our house, from Jennifer to Cooper, is a fan of Bill Cavalier, the legendary +Dungeon Bastard!  Before Gen Con 2016 we gathered around our television to watch all of the DB's Gen Con 2013 videos, from Wednesday to Sunday, as preparation for the big event.  Meeting the man in person was everything we could've dreamed of... and more!  

If you are even remotely thinking about attending a future Gen Con I highly recommend starting with this video.  Also make sure to subscribe to the Dungeon Bastard YouTube channel!

Picture courtesy of +ConTessa 

+Carina W. and I went on a media blitz Saturday afternoon, as podcast guests and panelists!

First up was our interview with +Chris Fuchs (the esteemed "Savage Mommy") from the SavageCast.  I'm a big fan of Savage Worlds, and the SavageCast podcast, and Chris, Carrie, and I chatted about gaming, gaming with kids, and some of the recent Savage Worlds releases and Kickstarters.  I'm sure you'll be hearing the interview soon.

Next came our most anticipated event of the entire convention: +ConTessa's Tabletop Gaming with Kids Panel, hosted by none other than +Darcy Ross.  Carrie and I were both panelists, as were +Shanna Germain+Lynne Hardy, and +John R. Harness.  We discussed just about every aspect imaginable regarding children and RPG's, from game design to coaching new GM's.  Great panel, and I was so incredibly lucky just to be included with the other panelists... including my daughter.  She was the star of the show, and gave some incredibly insightful commentary on the topics.  

Great job Carrie!

While my dad video'd the Contessa panel, the rest of the family headed over to see +Professor Shyguy in concert.  Unfortunately this was the best picture that I was sent (Cooper rocking out!), but according to +Jennifer Walls and Evie everyone had a great time.  I'm so jealous I missed it!  Evie was invited on stage and got an autograph.  

Make sure to check Professor Shyguy out, as his music is awesome!  Next year I'm definitely getting a ticket for myself... maybe the kids can come too.

I don't remember these giant boxes (essentially $35 blind bags) being for sale during previous Gen Cons, but they were all the rage this year.  Pretty much a box full of stuff you don't need, with a theme that you may enjoy.  We left with three of them.  Here's Cooper being forced to drag the Tardis box around the convention center.  He wasn't happy.

Apparently we couldn't get enough No Thank You Evil at Gen Con 2016.  Saturday morning I threw together a quick adventure scenario titled "The Berenstain Honey Badgers and the Backyard Brawl Behind the Bookshelf."  Think "No Thank You Evil meets Fight Club."  After a filling food truck dinner, we hauled all our gear to the Marriott and set up shop at one of the open tables.  +Jennifer Walls and I managed to wrangle +Ray Slakinski+Shannon Slakinski, and their two children for a quick pickup game.  

There's something about Evie wearing a Dungeon Crawl Classics hat with the word "DEATH" under the brim, holding the cute No Thank You Evil book that is just... evil.


After packing all our stuff in the family crossover, we made one last trip into downtown Indianapolis.  +Carina W. and I had a Savage Worlds game to run so +Jennifer Walls took Evie and Cooper to Castle Stuffies, a fun, stuffed animal laden LARP for kids.  The feedback was phenomenal, and both Cooper and Evie thoroughly enjoyed the event.

Here's a terrific picture of two of Gen Con's newest GM's: +Jennifer Walls and +Shannon Slakinski!  For both of these amazing women it was their first time GM'ing at Gen Con.  As mentioned earlier, Jennifer ran No Thank You Evil on Saturday, while Shannon ran Lamentations of the Flame Princess for +ConTessa on Thursday evening.   

My final event for Gen Con 2016 was a Savage Worlds adventure: Accursed - Monsters Hunted.  I described the game as "The Adams Family meets Van Helsing."

Up to this point it had been an incredible convention experience, and it would be hard to top any of the prior game sessions or groups of players.  The bar was high.

That said, this game was not only my single greatest Savage Worlds game, but quite possibly one of my favorite gaming sessions ever.  +Scott Robinson+Rustin Coones, +Mikael Vikström, Thorin, and Scott were so much fun to play with, and came up with some wild and crazy solutions to a slew of bizarre and twisted problems.  

Oh, and +Carina W. did a fantastic job as co-GM and cameraperson. 

I'm pretty sure this entire adventure is going to end up on Living 4 Crits in one form or another, but here's the quick and dirty recap of how this session was created.  Rather than a set backstory, we used a "Mad Lib Style" introduction, with the players filling in words, to guarantee a different experience at the table each time the adventure is played.  Story gaps were filled with Rory's Story Cubes.    

Carrie with a frap, and Rudolpho, the collective/hive minded Cranium Rat butler.  Surreal moment mid-game when Carrie asked if she could buy me a coffee... holy snot she's growing up!

We played the game with a map by 0-hr Art & Technology, using Lego minifigures.  

The entire session was completely outlandish in the best way possible.  In the end, the family of monsters managed to complete the ritual by stuffing a whole giraffe, dragging it to hell, and getting Elvis to roast it on a spit created by the Devil.  When the players needed to find a left-handed orphan to prepare the giraffe, we introduced a flashback sequence with one of the PC's killing off potential parents of an NPC.  

You had to be there.

Sunday brought some chance meetings for me and Evie!  Here I am posing with one of the greatest Savage Worlds GM's of all time: +Karl Keesler.  Karl ended up GM'ing his Goonies meets Ghostbusters game in the room next to ours, so we only had a few minutes to say hi, shake hands, and get some pictures.  But I'm so grateful for the opportunity!

Back in June Evie got 4th place in a Dungeon Crawl Classics tournament funnel, featuring +David Baity's killer clown themed adventure The Carnival of the Damned.  Even though she was quite upset that she didn't get a trophy (there were a few tears), all of the other players gathered around and let her know how well she did.  With the exception of Carrie, she was the only other person under the age of 16 at the event.  

Some pictures were posted of the event, and I commented on G+ that I was going to get Evie a piece of cover art for the adventure if her soccer team performed well at a tournament.  The team swept the tournament, and Evie, most often a goalie, even scored a point herself.  But David heard about the funnel, and the soccer tournament promise, and offered to send us some original material from the adventure.  When the care package came it was full of amazing stuff!  Dice, pens, pins, prints, and an original piece by +Todd McGowan.  

It was Evie's mission at Gen Con 2016 to meet David in person, but for most of the week our two schedules were out of alignment.

Then on the last day, in the last hour of the convention, this picture happened.

This picture represents the gaming world at its finest.  A game designer meeting a young gamer, and exchanging just a few words of encouragement.  I know Evie will never forget this moment.

Thank you David.     

Ready for Gen Con 2017

So that's it... that's the trip. A six-day whirlwind, following months of planning, preparation, and dreams. Gen Con 2016 set the bar really high for next year's adventure.

We're just going to have to try a lot harder to fit more into that week!

If I missed anything, or if you have any pictures of any of the Living 4 Crits crew, we'd love to see them! Please comment, private message, or email me to share!

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