Hi-ho, Vanir the blog here. Gen Con has come and gone, and (as usual) I returned full of memories, inspiration, and strange ideas. Here are a few of the highlights of my Gen Con 2013 Experience™:
Do not start a new job the day after Gen Con. WOW that was dumb. My head was full and my body was exhausted and I needed both. Fortunately, everything seems to be going OK but those first couple days were rough.
Super Secret Magic Draft
I started Wednesday night off with a bang: a Magic: The Gathering draft comprised of a veritable cornucopia of booster packs from the last 20 years. I only got into Magic within the last 5 years, so my immediate reaction to getting invited to this thing was “this is probably a lot cooler than I realize”. (I know, for his part, Dave was having some difficulty containing his excitement. He was sedated until the event and was able to save on airfare by riding in the cargo hold of the plane.)
The “entry fee” to get in was a non-standard-legal booster pack (to be given out as prizes at the end). I went to my FLGS to procure such an an item, and wound up with a booster of Ice Age, which somehow was the only thing they had available. I knew right away it was from the 90’s, as it had an evil jester on it. The others brought in equally ancient and wonderful artifacts, including (my favorite) a pack of old Spellfire cards.
The draft itself was a lot of fun. As I suspected, I was not getting as much out of the event as those who had been around since the beginning, but it was still amazing. Every two minutes, a wave of nostalgia would overcome someone at a table, remembering an old deck they’d used one of these cards in. It was frequently followed by some variant of “why would I pay 6 for a 3/3”, “holy crap these are hard to read”, or “this card is soooo broken haha I’m so glad it’s banned”.
At one point, the entire room collectively flipped out as our own The Main Event pulled a Jace the Mind Sculptor. It was shortly thereafter determined that it was one of the two most expensive cards he could have possibly pulled from any of the sets we had available (the really valuable old sets with all the Moxes and Black Lotuses and such were not included).
I wound up playing a green/white deck featuring lots of damage prevention and healing, and not so much attack power. Phil and I dubbed it “The Constipator” for its ability to cause a game to drag on three times longer than necessary. I got mangled (slowly) in the first round, then somehow managed to stave off my opponent in the second. In the third and final round, The Main Event later used his shiny new supervaluable Planeswalker on me during a match, and it became evident why it was thoroughly banned. My deck becomes my graveyard, my hand becomes my deck, and I have zero cards in my hand. Ow.
It was a really amazing to be part of this thing, and I must administer copious thanks and the maddest of props to Chris Tulach and my dark master Dave and everyone else involved. A++++ would timetraveldraft again.
I finally got to try out Dread on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, I had a couple things going against me. First, I woke up late and ran to the convention hall, barely making it on time. Sleepy me does not have all the roleplay capabilities that standard me does. Also sometimes he doesn’t have human speech. Second, I tend to be the nonserious character at the table, which doesn’t lend well to games that need to suck you in emotionally like Dread. But that actually became a nonissue because there was another (much more awake) player there willing to take on a nonserious role. For example, our scenario was Jurassic Park, and this fellow decided he was a Professor of Dinosaurology (who knew nothing of real dinosaurs). Now — don’t get me wrong — I would very much like to play with this guy in another setting (say, NASCRAG), but in this case it didn’t work so well. It is a problem I frequently have, so I wasn’t particularly frustrated so much as sympathetic. For my part, I played it fairly straight, with some dry humor thrown in (almost none of which I can recall, thanks sleep-mind).
I will say this, though: even with a nonserious tone taken, our GM still did a bangup job for being in a noisy, packed room at 9am. That, and the mechanics of the game are designed to elicit tension, and the rules are far simpler than I had ever dreamed. In Dread, if you do something dangerous, you pull from a Jenga tower. If the tower falls, you die. That’s it. Even the less serious of our table felt their stomach clench as the pickings got more sparse. Naturally, with my 4 DEX, I was the first to go. I think I pepper sprayed a velociraptor right in the eye right before I was decapitated. Man, if I can’t remember that, I was pretty tired.
Set Phasers On Oh My God Holy Crap Sir
Another highlight this year was getting together with some old friends and playing the Artemis starship simulator. Basically, there are a number of computers set up and each is one station aboard a starship’s bridge (helm, weapons, engineering, etc.), as well as one main viewscreen. One player is the captain, and (as captains do), doesn’t deal directly with the details of any one station but rather coordinates their actions toward whatever it is they want to do at the time (like firing torpedoes or raising shields or going to Starbase 339).
If this sounds like Star Trek, it’s because it totally is just like that. It is so like that, in fact, that you will find all the players instantly finding their “bridge crew voice”, where they will talk and act like this is the real deal. There are starbases all over the place, and they have a habit of being under attack. Your comms officer can try to parley with the enemies, or call in help from other AI allies. I don’t think it supports multiple Artemis crews in the same game yet, but that would be super cool. I was on tactical, so I communicated in a much different language — that of nukes and EMP torpedoes. And, let me tell you, firing a torpedo at something is much more satisfying when someone is standing behind you commanding you to “FIRE”.
We only had a limited time to play, so after fighting some enemies, we decided to check out something marked “Z” on the map — a “space monster”. We’d seen (and blown up) a few creatures so we figured we’d have one last boss fight and be done. Well, it turned out that thing was invincible and it nearly destroyed us, so we decided we’d fly into the black hole to end our session. Then our helmsman got the idea that he’d like to slingshot around the black hole’s gravity well, which we all laughed at because we thought we’d die until it totally worked. That slingshotted us halfway across the galaxy and directly near a starbase. We did some quick repairs and then blew up the enemy ships that were closing fast on us (We waited for them to draw into a close cluster before nuking the crap out of them and then picking off the stragglers with lasers. It was very satisfying.) As it happened, these were the only ships we needed to win the scenario, so we all cheered and it was super awesome.
As an immersive roleplay experience, I’m not sure I have seen its equal since the first time I did True Dungeon and we triggered a trap causing a wall to move and “crush” us. That produced a genuine adrenaline rush for a split second. In our space combat simulation, I worried for an instant about getting court martialled for firing on an enemy ship without permission. It was embarrassing for a moment and then I realized how into it I was and just decided to dive deeper and loved it the whole time. It’s definitely a game you could play without the roleplay (in fact, it seems to be designed without it), but it also makes it very easy and rewarding for someone who plays like I do to have a team experience like this.
As much as I enjoyed this, I would die if they managed to get an actual Star Trek license for this, complete with LCARS and Romulans and all that jazz. I would pay ALL THE GOLD PRESSED LATINUMS. As it is, it is merely superb.
The Dangers of Pickup Groups
I also had the good fortune this year to play in the charity NASCRAG game with a few old friends from my gaming group and one Lyndsay Peters. NASCRAG typically uses teams of 6 that all use pre-made characters. Since we had 4, we got placed with two strangers.
In NASCRAG, you typically try to come up with a funny team name and chant. One of our newfound party members (whom I shall dub ‘Muricaladriel) had her own ideas about how things should be done, and demanded our team name be changed to something like “Red, White and Blue American Justice” (chant: “USA! USA!”) despite Lyndsay’s protests that she was, in fact, thoroughly Canadian. Eventually we struck a compromise on “Mind Flayer Justice League” (chant: “Aberrations Assemble!”), and by that I mean we were talking about it and the judges showed up wanting our signup sheet before she could protest. Through the adventure, any time we encountered animals, ‘Muricaladriel would usually eat up 5 minutes to demand a ranger or druid speak with them to make sure they weren’t being mistreated in any way. That is, until the last encounter, when Rocky the Flying Squirrel came out of a hat to tell us we’d won the game, and she decided to try to kill him. I assume it was for America.
Don’t get me wrong. We still had lots of fun. To be perfectly honest, a lot of my fun came from that my character’s pre-made backstory was that my character was desperately in love with ‘Muricaladriel’s — which, predictably, drove her nuts when I played it all the way to the hilt. I probably enjoyed that more than I should have. There were some other very memorable moments, though, like the duet of “My Heart Will Go On” Lyndsay and I performed and our use of Mage Hand to shape all of our hair into giant Arby’s hat-outlines to impress a crowd of bloodthirsty hat-obsessive social elite.
I regret nothing.
To Infinity — And Improv
I got to play a game of Cosmic Patrol with my con-roommate Micah, some of the guys from Roll20 (I got to hang out with them before they got all Ennies-famous!), and a random dude that walked by and seemed interested. It was full of pulpy, cheesy sci-fi goodness. Anyone who ever liked the old Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers will love the setting — rockets and killer robots and scantily-clad Martian warrior-princesses everywhere. Good times.
It’s also the first game I’ve ever played where there is a GM, but that role is handed around the table after some of the story is completed. The rules for doing this are pretty sparse — in fact, they are optional. We played with one GM for about half the time until the rest of us worked up the courage to give it a go. The game itself runs a lot like Fiasco in that the rules are pretty sparse and you’re just coming up with things as you go along provided they Mostly make sense. This is good in some ways, but it doesn’t fit at all in the game in others. For instance, we improv-ed our way through a lot of things, destroying ships and robots and other things, and yet there are armor and health points and the weapons are supposed to do a certain amount of damage (but it was so little that it would take forever to actually kill something) and we were basically ignoring a lot of this stuff wholesale.
I am curious to see how this game run “right” feels. As it stands, it was a little off-putting but we still had fun making stuff up.
The Mission and The Superfan
My dear friends from Stupid Ranger (the blog, not the person) did not make it to the ‘con this year, so Stupid Ranger (the person not the blog) sent me on a very important mission: Mercedes Lackey, her favorite author in the history of EVER, was going to be signing books. Thusly, she sent me with a copy of Queen’s Own to have signed and a note to ask Ms. Lackey to read.
I showed up an hour early, and was happy I had done so because there was already a significant line. Fortunately, we were all in good spirits. I didn’t realize Matt Forbeck, one of the authors I follow on the Facebooks, was going to be signing as well. We talked for a few minutes, and he gave me a signed ebook copy of Dangerous Games: How To Win. So this was already a resounding success as far as I was concerned.
The line progressed at a steady pace until a young woman approached Mercedes Lackey. She was clearly nervous because she had turned pasty white and her lower jaw was quivering and receding a little bit. I was a little worried she was going to hurl, and I imagine she felt the same. She proceeded to produce from her backpack a very intricate and beautiful handmade afghan that she had made just for Ms. Lackey. There was crying and hugging from both of them. It was really neat and touching. Mercedes then gave her a copy of her new book and thanked her from the bottom of her heart. The young lady then asked if she would sign a couple more books, and received a resounding “of course!”.
30 books later, the line began to move again. Fortunately, the crowd had not yet grown murderous, and afghan-girl slipped away into the crowd beaming from ear to ear.
Soon, it was my turn. I was trying to figure out a way to ask for her signature in a way that didn’t make me sound like an idiot, because I honestly didn’t really know who Mercedes Lackey was other than Stupid Ranger’s favorite author. I opted simply to say that my friend loves her work and can’t be here this year. Mercedes signed the book, and then asked if she could call my friend on my phone.
“Hey, Tasha? It’s Matt. I have someone here that wants to speak with you.”
*hands phone to Mercedes Lackey, hilarity ensues*
I don’t actually recall what was said, but then again, I don’t have to. Making that call was some of the most fun I had that entire ‘con.
There Was Lots More
It is the nature of Gen Con to be so large that you cannot hope to do everything, and the same goes for remembering it as well. I had a fantastic time playing stuff, seeing lots of people I don’t get to see all the time, and basically letting my nerd-flag fly as high as possible.
Only 50 weeks left til next time.