Monday, December 3, 2018

Living 4 Crits @ PAX Unplugged

Wow, what a weekend!

It's been 24 hours since leaving PAX Unplugged and my brain is only now beginning to process everything that happened over the past four days. I have a lot of great pictures to share, and so many great memories from our first trip to this very new convention scene. I'll get to all of those in a few moments, but before I do, I want to share my impressions of PAX Unplugged 2018:

1) This is a convention that is still discovering itself. There was so much to do, and yet, nowhere near enough. I loved the roominess of the expo hall for those brief periods when  could shop. But it was so sad to hear from people who didn't get into a single scheduled role-playing game, even after waiting in a terribly long line. I know that I'm mostly on the role-playing game scene, so I wonder if this was similar for the board gamers. I know that we can do better next year, and I plan on being a part of the change.  

2) I love Jennifer Walls and Marc Plourde. Seriously, I don't know how I'd ever enjoy a convention without my wife and someone who I consider to be one of my best friends. I still adore my wife of 16+ years, and the fact that we can share these experiences together makes me the luckiest person on the planet. If I could have my way, I'd have Marc in every game that I run, both online and in person. I think the three of us make a super-team, and when we can pull in more friends, it's even better. Thank you both for being at PAX Unplugged this year! 

3) Jodi Black saved my con experience. Hands down, Jodi (Pinnacle Entertainment Group/Carolina Game Tables) totally bailed me out when, just a week prior to PAX Unplugged, she shared a link on Facebook to event registration. This form was buried somewhere, and when I told my friends at other game companies, they had no idea that it existed. I was able to get a pair of games scheduled, one of which is now tied for "James' Best RPG Event at a Convention". Thank you Jodi!

4) Charles Ryan has absolutely incredible stories about the gaming industry, and I could listen to him talk all evening over drinks, and I wish I had just another hour to hear more about the Dune RPG that I so, so, so wanted but didn't get. Wow, that was a run on sentence, but I think it most correctly conveys my message. Somehow, someway, someday we're going to hang out more, Charles. Even if it means that I need to drive to Kansas. 

5) Other Philadelphian gamers exist. Maybe I'm just used to the Pittsburgh scene, and running the Norwin Game Knights. I pretty much knew all the big-league gamers out on that side of the state, especially those that enjoyed the same games as me. But with the exception of my absolutely awesome DCC Road Crew group at The Games Keep in West Chester, I haven't found many other gamers here on the eastern side of the state. Turns out that they are out there, and they are awesome, and I want to hang out with all of them much, much more. 

On to the pictures!


This was it: game time. The night before PAX Unplugged I felt like Rocky after running up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I know, stereotypical Philadelphian reaction to any great endeavor. 

There is no better way to start off a convention than hanging out with incredible friends. Charles Ryan, Darcy Ross, Jennifer, and I all got to enjoy a great dinner at LaScala's on Chestnut on Thursday evening. Totally relaxing, but also the calm before the storm. 

My Timbuk2 bag was pretty jammed with everything I'd need for three days. Not knowing what to expect, I had my planned games tucked away, along with enough swag for three additional games. I'd shed my Mutant Crawl Classics and Numenera stuff Saturday. I wasn't running the former, and Monte Cook Games provided the latter at the booth. By Sunday I went crazy and ditched the bag entirely! 


Marc, Jennifer, and me all ready to rock and roll! 

We were a little nervous about the first day's entrance queue system. Unlike other cons, you can't just get right into PAX Unplugged. First, there were metal detectors. Then they herded everyone into this stupid-long line, so that we could all move, practically single file, into the expo hall.

Fortunately the next day I would have an exhibitor's badge as I was partnered up with Monte Cook Games. Easy access for me!

Day 1 of running demos! I started things off running Numenera and No Thank You Evil. Would end up running the demo booth all three mornings. For Friday and Saturday I used A Festival of Iron from right here on my blog for the demo scenes. Switched things up a bit on Sunday with an adventure based all around a living whale-boat. 

Jennifer spent a lot of time helping out at the Monte Cook Games booth. Here she is, helping Cypher Luminary Darcy Ross with some of the wonderful attendees at the con. 

For lunch on both Friday and Saturday we went with Molly Malloy's at the Reading Terminal Market. The parsnip fries were a bit pricey but really good. The avocado toast was absolutely incredible!

My first scheduled event was on Friday afternoon: Stephen Newton's Children of the Fallen Sun for Mutant Crawl Classics. Such a great adventure, with a ton of meat on its bones! I was a proud backer during the Kickstarter, and definitely not disappointed. 

Our MCC crew. Three familiar faces on the right: Will, Robert, and Rob from my monthly DCC Road Crew game at The Games Keep. On the left we have Lucian giving bunny ears to a very stern looking Mike!

Fun fact: I originally had way too many players for this event. I didn't realize that people could sign up for the events you submitted. I thought GM's had to get their own players. So I rustled up a bunch of players, but then four more showed up. I was looking at twelve people! Fortunately Glowburn host and MCC Judge Marc Plourde was there and ready to rock and roll. He grabbed four of my players, gave 'em 0-level characters, and sent them to Sky High Tower. 

For dinner Friday me, Jennifer, and Marc went over to the Hard Rock Cafe. Beer and kale salad? YES PLEASE!


Saturday morning at PAX Unplugged. For much of the con, this was the scene in the expo hall. Completely open and comfortable, with lots of room to walk around and enjoy the vendor spaces. Such a relief compared to Gen Con. 

Evie, Ella, and Carrie, ready for Saturday's gaming. Ella, Carrie's friend from back home in Pittsburgh, was a veteran of our Shudder Mountains campaign and a Numenera playtester, but this was her very first gaming convention. 

Let's talk about best gaming sessions at a convention EVER. Here I pose with Sam, Dennis, Jim, Kim, Mike, and Kelly, six of my new friends in the Philly area. I've been cooking up a little setting-neutral, wedding-themed Savage Worlds adventure that I hope to have released as part of the SWAG program. I've run the adventure using Deadlands twice, but though it would be a fun twist to run it with The Last Parsec: Irongate. 

Who knew that a prison planet would be the perfect place for a charming little colonial outpost wedding?

We had so much fun, and there was so much raucous laughter that the table next to us (also Savages, playing Seven Worlds) came over during one of our breaks to politely investigate. 

Since this was a wedding-themed adventure, one of the players (Sam, selected to be the party caterer) made a very detailed menu for the event. So much creativity in that group!  

I think it's safe to say that there is now a three-way tie for first place for most fun RPG event I've ever run at a convention. 

Hey look! It's Judge Brendan LaSalle in the wild, running Dungeon Crawl Classics! Jennifer was able to get Carrie, Evie, and Ella into a really, really fun game. 

Great selfie with Judge Brett Brooks, who spent most of his time running the Goodman Games booth. By the end of the con we would get him a little help. 

I think it's safe to say that the only Monte Cook Games product that goes completely over my head is Invisible Sun. I watched the Kickstarter video, listened to a few podcasts, watched a few videos, and even took part in an interview with Monte. Still don't think I get it. But at PAX Unplugged I was super, duper close to asking Charles or Darcy the most pressing question I have about this gorgeous but mysterious product:

What's up with the hand?

Little known untrue fact: Visible Moon, the unannounced and completely unreal (as opposed to surreal) sequel to Invisible Sun will feature a white sphere containing triangle cards and a statue of a foot. 

Look, it's Jennifer working the Monte Cook Games booth scene again! Maybe she can explain the hand to me? Or better yet, maybe she should GM Invisible Sun next year?

Another night, another dinner at the Hard Rock Philly. Charles and Judge Evie joined me and Marc after regaling me with some absolutely incredible gaming industry stories. I had no idea that Charles was involved with the Last Unicorn Games Dune RPG. To this day, one of my great gaming regrets was not getting my hands on that book. Had a couple of chances on Ebay, but didn't have the money at the time. I really wish they had finished the product. 

After dinner, me, Jennifer, and Evie went over to the open play room to check out all of the board gaming. Wow, there were a ton of games being played!

We opted for something simple: Giant Jenga. I was able to pull off my patented, ultimate Jenga move: the one block rip out. That's when you just yank out the single block and let the other's drop down like Tetris. It's only worked one other time, and only with giant Jenga. But it's a killer move!

Saturday night was also the only chance I had to play in an RPG at PAX Unplugged. When one of the players in Charles Ryan's Cypher System game had to step out, I stepped in. Played for about 45 minutes before having to go get the car. But it was late, and we were exhausted. Charles is an phenomenal GM, so I need to get to his table again some time in the future. 


My Sunday morning Numenera demo had a full table and was a blast. It was great to show off the Cypher System rules to those players unfamiliar with the game, and reveal the secrets of Numenera: Destiny to fans of the original edition. 

I also had the chance Sunday to introduce a new player named Micah to the world of role-playing games. I would bet that Micah was either six or seven years old, but when his dad (Scott) sat down, he told me that this would be his son's first RPG session. No pressure! Micah was quiet at first, but quickly got into the story. I love GM'ing for kids, and love that Monte Cook Games has given us a product that let's us bring families together. 

Mandatory Judge Evie selfie.

Mandatory Cooper with Potato Cat (Exploding Kittens) picture. 

During my demos at the MCG table, Jennifer took Carrie and Cooper over for the Connect 4 tournament. I heard that Carrie did very well... 

... as did Cooper!

Obviously, you can't have DCC or MCC at a convention without Judge Evie showing up. What made Sunday super special for our resident DCC-Fanatic-Child is that she was able to help Brett out in the booth. She organized product in front, and helped chase down sales behind the counter. 

Look out, Goodman Games, I think Evie wants to do this at every con now!

Some interesting exhibitors in the expo hall. 

As well as some interesting players. We see you Marc! I think he was ignoring us. 

James and Jennifer selfie while running the Monte Cook Games booth! Charles had to step away for a few, so the two of us had absolutely full control of all things MCG for about five minutes until Darcy realized what was going on and took over. Dangit! 

I think our favorite booth at PAX Unplugged was the Carolina Game Tables. As soon as we land a house we will be on the hunt for our forever gaming table. We picked out the type (banquet sized), our colors (elm with black felt), and totally talked the ears off of Jodi and Clint Black. Kinda wish we got a selfie, but maybe next time... or when we drive down to get a table in person! 

What helped to make this the perfect booth was the Federal Donuts that Clint shared with us. So good!

I guess it's finally time to say goodbye to PAX Unplugged 2018. Here was a great farewell picture from Evie and Brett at the Goodman Games booth. 

PAX Unplugged was nothing like the other cons we've visited in the past. Gen Con is far more organized, and Gary Con is much more relaxing. But PAX Unplugged still seems like a blank canvas. We know what worked, what didn't, and how best to plan for next year's experience.

We're Philadelphians now, and PAX Unplugged is our con. We get to make a mark, help our friends run events, introduce them to our city, and meet fellow local gamers. 

See you all in 2019!


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