Gen Con 2012

There’s a reason I write this blog.  Well, probably more than one.  But, if nothing else, it acts as an archive for me.  I was reminded of the importance of this when Gen Con ended and Andy and I got to talking about one game I played four years ago, which was an example of an amazing RPG experience.

There were none of those this year, but here’s what happened:

Wednesday

Get in half an hour to 45 minutes late, didn’t really matter as I had my convention badge and event tickets already.  In fact, because Andy was will call, I pretty much had to wait for him, anyway.  What was quite noticeable was that there were fewer people at the hotel, then it seemed like fewer people at the con as will call’s line was much shorter.  I talked to staff and apparently attendance was higher than last year.  Andy breezed through the line and we decided to eat at some place that wasn’t Steak & Shake – my go to place since I need things like burgers at 7AM, possibly had all of my meals there last year.

Another roommate was supposed to get in, but it turned out he had a flight cancelled and would arrive the following day.

Thursday

There was confusion with the HoR staff about when I was volunteering to GM.  Thursday was going to be all day for me in the HoR room, which was in the convention center again for the first time in a bunch of years, likely due to AEG’s influence.  But, I was unneeded in the morning, so I sat around until the exhibit hall opened and did my dealer’s room stuff.  Mostly, I got my promos – True Dungeon free pull, Gen Con die.  My pull?  Turkey Leg!!  I so win at life.  I bought something at the “buy 1, get 3 free” booth, looked at stuff I wasn’t going to pay retail for, and did a demo of Blindside.

Blindside is a checkers/shogi/customizable board boardgame.  Hexagonal, the board can be pulled apart to configure in various ways, including leaving a hole in the board.  Pieces are discs with spaces for removable arrows, up to six.  The arrows show which directions the pieces can move – the way a number of pieces were set up for the demo, it reminded me of the generals in shogi.  They also determined how far the pieces could move.  Chits on certain hexes were “spinner” locations where you could change direction in your movement.  If you land on an opposing piece, which can only be done with maximum movement, you take one arrow from the piece and teleport it to a spinner location.  You can jump pieces, taking all arrows from opposing pieces in the line that you jumped it.

My five arrow piece took many arrows.  The demoer said that it was normally 17 captured arrows for a game, but it quickly became apparent that that seemed like too many.  She agreed and said her games are often 10-12.  The problem is that you are reducing movement range of pieces as you capture arrows while also burying pieces in the corner of the board, so the game slows rather than accelerates as it goes.  My reluctance is not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with how it plays, but that it’s inelegant.  There are too many moving parts what with the ability to change the board shape, the way pieces can be configured, where you place your spinner locations, etc.  It just seems like too many options to get people to take it seriously, like people take chess variants and, even, checkers seriously.

Back to sitting around fanning myself in the HoR room until the afternoon slot occurs.  I volunteer to run New Beginnings and realize that I have like 3.5 hours to run a mod I expect to take 6.  I let the beginning drag a touch since the players are new to HoR, and then, try to rush through the rest of the mod.  I end exactly when our slot was supposed to end.  I forget to turn in my GM report sheet, but Andy takes it over Saturday night when I find it.  Things went well.  Only one person seemed to know the canon storyline any to this point, so he appreciated how the story diverges from canon.

Thursday night was Welcome to the Second City, an intro adventure to the L5R (not HoR) boxed set campaign set in the colonizing base after the Destroyer War.  The event was $32.  There was supposed to be sweet swag.  I was thinking they might give out copies of the boxed set … until I found out that they ran $80 retail.  Instead, we got stuff I don’t think I care about, the main thing apparently being a coupon for a promo card for the CCG, that I gave away to one of my L5R CCG playing roommates.

This turned out to be my best game.  Because the ridiculous Spider Clan exists in canon, there was the option of playing Spider.  Since the Spider Clan is so ridiculous and no normal people allow them in a campaign, I figured this was my only time to play one, so I played Daigotsu Anzai, Indiana Jones (Phobia: Snakes, explorer) with a limited memory.

The characters, by the way, were atrociously designed.  They were obviously designed by people who don’t know the RPG and made no sense for newbs; or, really, at all.  Chris D., sitting next to me, pointed out his Crane had Wary, which gives a bonus to Investigation rolls versus surprise, … and no Investigation skill.  I had Daredevil, which keys off the Athletics skill, … and no Athletics.  The most offensive thing about the Spider monk wasn’t that he was blind.  The funniest was probably the Deathseeker, with Bitter Betrothal even though the reason he’s a Deathseeker is that he got his betrothal killed, but who had the Sacred Weapon advantage!!!  The HoR campaign doesn’t even allow that advantage (normally) and here is a disgraced dude trying to get killed in action running around with one of the clan’s, um, sacred swords.

The adventure is the one out of the boxed set, basically.  The plot was nothing special and there weren’t terribly interesting things to do in town.  No, what made this awesome was my getting to play a low Honor character with Failure of Bushido: Courtesy.  In the middle of the mod, I constantly berated an Ashalan (generally considered good guys) about how he failed each of the tenets of bushido.  After that, because the party wanted to travel by elephan-tu, my Courtier roll, a whopping 3k2, was the one that convinced our Otomo patron to requisition an elephant, and we traveled into the wilds where we:  fought a tiger on the back of the elephan-tu; came across a wandering gaijin who did nothing but give us healing balm; got to the “evil” crystal, being used by the Ashalans to possess people, and fought possessed Bayushi, two tigers, and a great ape!  I got beaten up some by the ape, fortunately our elephan-tu was bull crazy and smashed face, ribs, whatever.

Good thing I never ran into any snakes, you know, like the one (non-venomous!) the Yoritomo PC, that nobody chose that had Phobia: Sailing and Doubt: Sailing, had as a pet.

Friday

On to non-L5R play.  Feng Shui, something that’s often hard for me to get into, even though it turned out to be a backup game for somebody at our table.  We were an adventurer’s club in the 1930’s, attending the World’s Fair in Cleveland.  I was a lucky wanderer, of a good family – Percy Chaff, Esq.  All of the characters had normal Feng Shui templates but obviously oriented to 1930’s flavor, so we had a magician, a reporter, cyborg, etc.  I run across an old explorer buddy who had claimed to have found Atlantis.  A mining thing at the tech exhibit goes nuts, so we go in to do the hero thing, I ramped a ’30’s bicycle through the window to get past the crowd.  The drilling machine is finally subdued but only after I rescue a damsel and use part of her dress to fend off one of the drilling capsules.  This was obviously a diversion and Germans make an escape with my old chum by u-boat.

We go to his house to look for notes on where Atlantis might be and find out that a section of the Rhein is important, so sneak our way into the area of Germany posing as a film crew.  In the river, is a portal to an undersea realm.  German soldiers have gotten there ahead of us and we must fight an awakened “war golem”.  Our sciencey dude and I run after the officer and discover an army of “golems” that we flee from, bringing down the house.

My notes are actually fairly sparse.  Quite a bit of action was done separately.  Still, it met expectations and the GMs did a good job.  Probably the amount of combat with so many players was what made it feel filling but also limited the amount of actual doing.

Next was Epic: Gods & Heroes, to be renamed next year.  I thought this sounded familiar and it turned out be the same system as the Greek Mythology game I played last year, only with a Norse setting.  I once again chose to be the Cunning Hero, as I had great fun with it in Greece.  I had less fun with it this time.  My cunning plans weren’t as cunning.  I had fewer props to work with.  I wasted my Legend Point, which I only ever got one of, on something that didn’t matter.  I couldn’t come up with a way to use my epithet of “Charmed In Life” to good effect, except in an awkward way at the end.

Anyway, our village needs food.  Before we can set out, other vikings attack us.  I oil up our dock so that I can get a couple of vikings to slide to their death into the sea … I’m not sure why they had to break their necks when slipping off the dock, but the point mechanically was to remove them from the fight.  As our best sailor, I naturally roll horribly and lose us for weeks at sea in our hunt for fat, food gifted Belgians.  Instead, we crash on rocks and get attacked by Draugr, intelligent zombies – the sea variety that can turn into seals, without being otherwise seal-like.  Yes, zombie seals.

We escape them, see a crowned, armored dude leading them and find a village.  The village is acting weird.  A villagewoman, Ava tries to warn us, but we act strange.  We stay at Sven’s house for the night.  Ava disappears and we find out from her family it was because she talked to us.  Olga, hottie widow gives us info that a troll that bothers her can let us know where the Sea King’s sea cave is.  Troll is into stories and riddles, so we hole up in an abandoned farmhouse (apparently with a bunch of food, the town is quite prosperous), and I do riddle battle with Bonegnasher.  He hints at a place of power, so we go looking for the “singing stone” and find a stone spire at a waterfall that has been corrupted to be used for necromancy as well as air and water magic.  I plant some flowers.

We go to the sea cave without using the waterbreathing talismans I procured for us with my Legend Point, and we do battle with the Sea King and his Draugr minions.  Ava is dead behind the throne, and the Sea King rants about his ex-wife, Olga, who murdered him and made him do the Sea King thing for whatever evil reason.  More details on Olga’s naughtiness are inscribed on the back of the throne.  We confront Olga, as the rest of the party thinks that Olga deserves more than a slap on the behind for her misdeeds and they slay her while I watch, our souls occasionally wrenched by her magics.

I was “charmed in life”, but once the bitch was dead, eh, time to move on to someone who wasn’t quite so evil and husband-killing.  With nothing impressive on my record for the adventure, the best I can come up with for a new epithet is “Jagr, Charmed In Life, Who Cleansed Odin’s Finger”.  My flowers of life battling the necromantic reconfiguration of Odin’s Finger, the basalt stone at the waterfall.

Going into the con, this is the point where I figured I’d have a read on how good the con was going to be, gamingwise.  Thursday’s not gaming to be available to GM, a mistake I won’t make again, I knew was going to affect things.  At this point, almost the halfway point, things were going well.

My first HoR playing slot was Friday evening.  I played The Price of Weakness with Andy and Steve (never did play anything with my third roommate, Mateo).  Steve was playing a messed up Shinjo – Insensitive, Antisocial, etc. as well as generally paranoid.  The GM messed with his paranoia throughout.  I did play with some others I’ve played with before.  There were three Mantis in our group, including myself.  We talked futilely to NPCs a lot, so we took a long time on the mod.  I see no great reason for spoilers since nothing I did was terribly notable, besides not failing an Honor Roll (I wasn’t going to).  This mod set up the battle interactive in the morning.

Saturday

The battle interactive.  This is what I most look forward to in HoR.  I think combat … no, this is a complicated subject, I don’t think I want to go into how I think about combat in HoR3 at this time.  Anyway, I like the team-based nature.  I like that it has story implications.  I fear what may happen.

Unlike the mods, there’s no reason not to talk about this event since it doesn’t spoil anything.  The peasants have an army.  Forces from Otosan Uchi, under the command of Seppun Muruyasu who had been appointed based on the results of the political interactive I avoided, led heavy infantry, infantry, archers, and cavalry.  I was in the heavy infantry group, assigned to the support table by virtue of being rank 2.  It turned out that support wasn’t what I was thinking of when choosing heavy infantry, and it was a bit messy trying to figure out how we could help the other tables.

The basic mechanics were that we needed to make skill checks each round in addition to engage enemy forces.  Our skill checks would send tactical bonuses (Battle pluses), healing (Medicine rolls), and so forth to the other heavy infantry tables.  The list of actions we could do was both encouraging – my Medicine roll is strong – and depressing – only infantry support got to do Engineering rolls, my character’s focus, and Intelligence/War Fans would have been the hotness last campaign with Jun.  The difficulty of the rolls was set by the tier of the encounter.  The number of successes by that and our number of players.  If you died, you had two choices.  You could either have a heroic death, or you could get a random disadvantage, which seemed to be rather terrible.

We start off with a unique encounter.  A rank 4 ronin shugenja and a buffed ashigaru lead a force of ashigaru against us.  We mostly or entirely roll higher than the shugenja on initiative, which turns out to be more important than we think.  We have a fairly easy, if slow, time of it with the enemy, as the shugenja takes like 250 wounds for us to put down.  It turned out that we were very close to getting people killed as the shugenja’s spells would have been heinous.  Instead, we skate and rush to get skill checks in before the end of the round.

Having realized we were in a lot more danger than we thought and still not having mastered how the support table works, where we can swap out players with other tables, we decide to take an easy encounter.  Too easy.  By far.  Because of the low tier, we needed few successes, which meant we did little to help others.  The encounter was so pathetic that they never threatened us.  I did fail to hit an ATN of 18 for a peasant, rolling a 10, which was sad enough, but with heavy armor on, was effectively a 5.  For comparison, someone attacking me needed to roll a 35.  The peasants ran off before our Phoenix void shugenja could guard the Phoenix Daidoji Iron Warrior, who was the only one getting hit, which would have been hysterical.

In the third round, we were the only table given the option of engaging forces sneaking on to our command tent, so we did a unique encounter.  It was brutal.  There was swapping right and, sort of, left (two guys out of six never left our table).  Six ashigaru had been buffed with four spells each from shugenja who lifecasted.  I would have rather faced the oni that another table faced.  I got taken out in the first round, never acting due to my low initiative.  Only the power of three Daidoji Iron Warriors, two of rank 3, eventually won the encounter as I got swapped unconsciously to another table.

In the end, I did very little.  I would have likely done far more if I was at a normal table or we thought through better how the support table was supposed to work.  Of course, it’s not like I did much in any other battle interactives, either.  I really need to either power up and be a mainline hitter or just die.

Saturday afternoon was the first chance to play Confusion at Court, so there were many tables.  Apparently, it was the first time Chris’s Ide and my tattooed monk had ever played together.  This mod is full of spoileryness, so I won’t go into the plot.  I have tons of notes, though, for a mod in which I did virtually nothing.

I had three hours between ending Confusion and my 8PM, yet-another-viking-game, game.  Three of us went to an Irish pub for food as I made an effort to try different places rather than live off of Steak & Shake.  As it happened (and happens in my strange, boring life), there was a major biker rally/race going on in Indy and we walked right through the biker area to the pub.  Food didn’t excite me.

Yggdrasil was next.  The English version of the game just came out.  The original was apparently French, which was funny when we got a French-Canadian woman with a strong accent as a player.  Notable to me was just how Chicagoan our GM was.  Even I, who has little sense of regional Americana and a poor ear for accents, could not help but be Chicagoed by our GM, from the accent to the way of saying things to the body language to the pronunciation of certain words.

I’m normally good about notes and tracking who is who, but I got so lost in all of the names and relationships.  It was quite the soap opera, without the relationship mapping meaning a whole lot to us.  We were supposed to ensure the marriage of a Jute princess to a Danish king.  We come across some pirates attacking Jutes and wade in.  I spend the entire combat (one round) casting a spell to improve my physical defenses, while our noblewoman massacres pirates and her bodyguard flails impotently.  We learn that the princess’s ship has been attacked by pirates, so we head off to The City of Chains, where the pirate king rules.

Oh, I was playing a crazy druid.  Character stuff and play mechanics are complicated enough to not go into at the 3300 word count mark.

We run across a spy for our team and gather info on the numerous relationships between the king and queen, the queen and any man nearby, vassals, vassals of vassals, hirdmen (yes, hird, for hired men) on the queen’s side, berserkers on the king’s side, the prince … the what? … the Danish king’s son who has taken a personal interest in the princess, Danish sailors, couple of skalds, and whatever.

Our noblewoman meets with the king after her bodyguard tries to work with the queen.  I heal kitchen staff to have an excuse to be nearby.  Our lady suggests a more private meeting, which pisses off the queen, and excites the king.  She, then, explains our plan to liberate the princess that the king has as a prisoner, which upsets the king, more so because he was hoping for less talking and more fun.  King attacks her.  Player had a great line when that happens, “I never said no!”  Fighting breaks out between the hirdmen and the berserkers.  I walk casually through the fighting to come across the wounded noblewoman fleeing the king and heal her.  King is slain, prisoners freed, prince is thrown off a cliff in another city (what the?), and the queen runs off with our skald.

Good enough game, but I wasn’t feeling it.  I didn’t want to joke too much.  I was playing an outdoorsy character in an urban setting.  The mechanics weren’t all that important to what little I did, so learning the system wasn’t that interesting.

Sunday

8AM, such an awesome time for games.  People were feeling sick due to sleep deprivation.  Anyway, I got into a Doctor Who game, something that’s generally challenging, though not as bad now that there’s a new game out and the publishers are promoting it.

A very tired person played the Doctor.  She played him badly.  Not horribly, just uninspiredly.  The Doctor did too little and wasn’t entertaining enough.  A father and son played Rory and Rory’s nurse buddy Daniel, who was looking for his son.  A teenage? girl was playing Amy.  I played Lady/Madame Vashtra.  And, a guy who had to leave due to sleep deprivation briefly played Jenny.

The opening was that Jenny and I were looking into tunnel bats in Victorian London.  The Doctor and companions get time traveled to our time in a train tunnel.  We find out weird stuff about the train company – time travel circuitry on the backs of bricks.  We talk to the night watchman and find out that the previous watchman saw strange stuff and that Sir Arnold Heath, the owner of the company and nouveau riche due to designing an advanced steam engine after a mine collapse, will be holding a charity dinner the next evening.  We talk to Bert (Burt?), the previous watchman, and run across a waif, her scary “Mr. Rook”, and harpy monsters.  I fend off harpies while the others run around and we see a weird train, full of soldiers, go past.

We go to the charity event.  The poor folks, who were invited to be in the same building as the wealthy donors are asked odd psychic testing questions and given either a red ticket or yellow ticket.  We listen to a speech by a society woman basically saying how the workers are the fertilizer of our society, essential to enabling our society to grow.  Heath turns out to be nervous and guilty.  The Doctor talks with him while the rest of get red tickets and journey to a pocket dimension where a crashed police time ship of the Constant of Harmony, a society far far into the future, is connected up to a bunch of stuff and workers are being converted into steamborgs.  We run around a bit before meeting up with the Doctor and “Zorath” (Zorath 1), who is the conciliator behind the operation.  He claims that Pequod is a criminal conciliator he was taking back to the dawn of time, where he can’t possess anything.  It’s fairly obvious that this is really Pequod, but we take his spirit sucking cannon and hunter train to capture “Pequod” (Zorath 2, aka Zorath for realsies).  Doctor messes with it some.  We encounter Daniel’s kid, whose body is being possessed by Zorath, talk to him, fight steamborgs, soulsuck some corn fields, and return to the pocket dimension only to find it abandoned by Pequod as he goes for the TARDIS.  Heath is wandering about, so we pick him up, and off we go to the TARDIS.  We fight another train, I tongue Mr. Rook and eat him.  Amy fires the cannon, while Pequod was reaching for the TARDIS opened by Rory, and we capture Pequod.  Simon, the boy is reunited with his father, Zorath leaves the Doctor’s body and inhabits Heath to take us to the Constant of Harmony to get conciliator help, and Jenny and I clean up the mess left in London.

Finally, we get to Hansel & Gretel – Bounty Hunters.  This is another QAGS game along the lines of my Happily Ever After game from 2009 where I played Rumpelstiltskin played by Danny DeVito as an employee in a private investigator agency.

I play Hansel, nobody plays Gretel.  Hansel is, of course, played by Dog, The Bounty Hunter.  Our agency posts bail for witches, who typically are up on charges of aggravated pedophagy.  One of them, Griselda, has not checked in.

From my right, going left around the table, my employees were:  Old McDonald, our driver, gimmick – Animal Empathy, weakness – Too Old For This Shit, played by Wilfred Brimley; Ariel, The Little Mermaid, our face, gimmick – National Treasure, weakness – occupational hazard, played by Lucy Lawless; Rumpelstiltskin, magician, duct tape and chicken wire, gambling, Mandy Patinkin; Red Riding Hood, job – bisexual gunslinger, hide in plain sight, clumsy, Selena Gomez; Lu, the Big Bad Wolf, tracker, courage, nervous around redheads, Robin Williams; Dorothy Gale, assassin, right tool for the job, homesick, Reese Witherspoon; Alice, statistician, Wonderland logic, “I’ll eat anything once”, somebody from the show Numbers.

My gimmick was “posemaster” as I don’t actually know a lot about Dog and mainly tried to channel Hulk Hogan.  Weakness – punching bag.  The only skill I chose that I used, the others were silly, was marketing.  “Hansel & Gretel LLC, we bring the authenticity to capturing fugitives” and such.

We go down to 1313 Gingerbread Lane to look for Griselda.  While I’m in the restroom and my character is posing, the party struggles to get into the house past the cat.  Eventually, they get the cat stoned with catnip, pick the lock on the door, and Red uses hiding in plain sight to sneak around inside, in some order.  We get some info.  We go by Witchiepoo’s place at 666 Gingerbread Lane, as she was the cosigner on the bail.  We find out that Griselda has been seeing a new guy and that they were dancing at the Red Shoes.  Glynda tells us a bit more about the exterminator, aka pest relocator, and we have lunch at the Red Shoes, where Ariel gets us favorable treatment, and Billy Goat Gruff is the bouncer.  Rumpelstiltskin illusions himself to look like Griselda while we are gathering info without telling us and I cuff her, my only successful roll to this point.  The valet parking guy points us to the Pied Piper’s pest relocation company.  The women go in, talk to the receptionist (Minnie Mouse) and wait for Dieter, the Pied Piper.  They intimidate him (he is played by Matthew Lillard).  Wolf smells children in the back, and we get him on procuring children for witches.  Only person likely to get Griselda papers to leave the country is the Grand High Witch (Angelica Houston).

Ariel, Rumpel, and I go talk to her, while the others sneak around back and infiltrate.  We have tea and the other two have pieces of gingerbread man for cookies.  The others find children in cages and attack the gingerbread men servants in the kitchen.  Yes, Alice takes a bite.  Eventually, we all meet up, run, and Dorothy ovens the Grand High Witch.  We never do find Griselda, who was upstairs.

The nature of this sort of game is, of course, humor.  And, there was likely more humor here than in other games at the con.  While I won best role-player for playing Dog playing Hansel with my frequent posing, comments about Gretel being the bitch in charge, my marketing plans, my narration of Hansel & Gretel LLC’s activities, my two best lines were at the end.

Ariel kept getting Griselda’s name wrong.  Usually Grimelda but sometimes other things.  When she finally got it right at the Grand High Witch’s, I stood up and proclaimed, “Hansel & Gretel LLC.  We get names right!”  Also, the group talked quite a bit when it was kind of obvious what to do, so at one point, I said, “Team, something we should talk about, there’s an awful lot of talking.”  The only other line I wrote down (too many in gaming, especially at something like Gen Con) was from Old McDonald, who had the skill survivalist – “I’ve been preparing for the gingerbread man apocalypse.”

Going to forget a few things, but I’ve got to end this at some point.

I invented a solitaire game on the flight home, so I’ll post something about that.  And, I tried to find my notes from Gen Con 2008 as I was telling Andy about the mind-blowing game from that year, only to find that I never did write up the whole con, only sent an e-mail to Berkeley John because one of the players reminded me so much of him.  I’ll edit my comments and post some details about that game because it was such awesomeness, even if my notes suck.  … and, that’s why I need to have this blog.

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