Wednesday, August 12, 2015

There and Back Again: Gen Con 2015

Well, 'tis the season I guess - the season for people posting various "here's what I did at Gen Con" reports on their sundry blogs, podcasts, vlogs, scraps of napkin, etc. Never being one to resist a bandwagon, I'll hop on this one as well.

I've actually already shared some thoughts over at Unabashed Gaming in that podcast's post-con wrap-up episode. As I'm pretty sure I mentioned during that episode, this was my first Gen Con. Hell, this was my first gaming convention, full-stop. As a result, I knew I was going into it hopelessly naive, and that horrible mistakes would be inevitable.

I came in prepared to take things in stride.

That's a bit of a pun, you see, because the biggest mistake I made was not pacing myself in terms of walking. I have terrifically flat feet. We're talking Donald Duck levels here. So I had my orthotics and my expensive ankle braces and all the rest, and thought I'd be kind of okay. Brother, I wasn't okay.

There's an app on my iPhone that tracks how many steps I take in a day. I walked about 10 miles on the first day. The second day, when I thought I was "taking it easy," I still walked five miles. By 6:00 Friday evening, my feet were in open revolt. I barely made it back to my hotel room. As a result, my Saturday was extremely curtailed, and I didn't bother with Sunday. Took about a week for the blisters to heal and for me to be able to walk normally.

"But apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"

I was prepared as I could've been for the sheer scope and scale of the con, and it certainly didn't disappoint in that regard. My primary purpose for attending, it must be said, was networking. The tabletop gaming industry is still very much a "face-to-face" business, where meeting someone and chatting with them really counts for something. And I got to meet a lot of folks whose work I've long admired, and picked up some excellent leads for work in the process. So, mission accomplished there.

I also really wanted to experience the wonder of the dealer's hall, and I certainly did that. The place was larger than mere words can adequately describe. It was like a really big mall, but with every store selling something gaming related. Heaven.

I flew in, so I was mindful of picking up too much stuff. I think maybe next year I'll venture the two-day drive, just so that I'll have the trunk space for the return trip.

It just kept going...
Somewhat surprisingly, I focused my purchases almost exclusively on miniatures-related stuff. I snagged a copy of Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd Edition, got some stuff for Malifaux, a couple Ganesha Games titles... The only RPG I acquired was the Lone Wolf RPG from Cubicle Seven, and even that was simply picking up my Kickstarter due. (And getting the box signed by Joe Dever, even though he refused to sign the Random Number Table on the box interior. Boo.) This non-RPG focus is probably due to the fact that I'm quite happy with my current collection and system focus, and also partly due to the fact that I would've hit up the RPG booths on Saturday if only my wretched feet hadn't betrayed me.

Perhaps the biggest surprise came from the fact that, once I was at the con, I realized I have about zero interest in con gaming. I'd signed up for a couple RPG sessions and a miniatures game, but ditched them all. This was partly because of circumstances (the "Future of Chaosium" panel ended up conflicting with one of my scheduled games, and no way in hell was I going to miss that panel!), and partly due to my feet blowing up (the other RPG was Saturday night, and the minis game was Sunday morning), but I realized that I really wasn't broken up at all about missing those sessions. Once I got to the con and saw the reality of convention gaming, it...just left me cold. Sitting in a room filled with a bunch of active gaming tables, or even just sitting down to game with total strangers (I've traditionally only gamed with people I'd consider friends first), none of it appealed to me. And, like I said, I'm pretty happy with my current game collection and I'm not really looking to demo other systems at this time, so that motivation wasn't there either.

Eh. No thanks.
(I swiped that photo from this post, which presents a wholly opposite perspective to my stodgy stick-in-the-mud take on convention gaming. Honestly, I know there are folks out there who love con gaming, indeed some for whom it's their exclusive outlet for gaming, and I say more power to you if you enjoy that sort of thing.)

Having said that, I think next time I'll definitely make an effort to join a miniatures game or two; gaming with strangers in a noisy hall is not as onerous when it comes to wargaming. Also, I haven't ruled out running an RPG session. I might try and attend a smaller, more local con between now and next year and run something there, see how it shakes out.

At any rate, despite the physical limitations, I had a real blast and picked up a lot of valuable tips in regards to housing, food, parking, scope and scale, etc. I'll definitely be back again next year, when it's likely the total attendance will surpass that of the entire population of the town I'm living in. Yikes. I'll probably attend fewer panels (one of the reasons I did so much walking, all that trekking back and forth between panel venues) and definitely attend the ENnies ceremony (although I doubt next year will top this year for "surprise upset wins"), and, most importantly, pace myself.

Stray Observations

  • A friend, in a sarcastic text, asked if the ratio of men to women was around 10:1. I was happy to disabuse him of this notion. It perhaps wasn't at total parity, but I'd say the ratio was much closer to, say, 3:2. The stereotype that tabletop gaming is a largely male hobby really needs to die.
  • The Fantasy Flight Games line! I haven't seen a line like that since the last time I was at Disneyland. That's a game company that's doing very well, indeed.
  • On a related note, to file also under "more power to you, I guess," is the idea of going to a con and then spending hours standing on line for...what? A convention exclusive? Color me mystified.
  • I don't think anything will top the excitement of rounding a corner and seeing Ken Hite, then turning around and seeing Sandy Petersen and Greg Stafford a few feet in the other direction. That's the great thing about Gen Con - there's no barrier between you and pretty much anyone in the industry you'd like to talk to, even if it's just to shake their hand and thank them for their work.
  • Probably my biggest disappointment was being back at my hotel room, immobilized with foot pain, and seeing the notice come through on my phone that +Sean Patrick Fannon was running a Savage Rifts pick-up demo game. Now that's a con game I would've gladly participated in! Cursed flat feet!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

When Pipe Dreams Come True

It's been an amazing year so far for my own little niche interests in the RPG hobby, and we're not even at the halfway mark!

If someone had offered their predictions for 2015 and told me that Palladium would be granting a license to produce Savage Worlds material for Rifts, I would have laughed and said, "Yeah, well, it's nice to dream, isn't it?"

And if that same someone had then told me that later in the year Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen would be coming back as President and Call of Cthulhu line developer, respectively, I would have immediately felt that person's forehead, assuming they were at this point running a high fever and no doubt suffering from delirium.

Yet here we are. Both those things are true. If nothing else happens this year, I'll still call 2015 one of the watershed years in terms of exciting industry news. What a year to be going to my first Gen Con!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The "What Are You Good At?" GM Challenge

I challenge my fellow blogging Gamemaster to fess up, and tell us the five games you are great at running, three that you're not so hot with, five reasons why you consider yourself a good GM (or feel you are viewed as such by others), and three things you feel you need work on.
Okay, I'll bite.

"What genres, settings, or games in general do you GM best? Which ones do you think you totally rock?"

My Top Five

  • King Arthur Pendragon
  • Call of Cthulhu specifically, and...
  • Creepy/spooky games in general
  • "Historically-grounded" games (Deadlands would be an intersection between this category and the previous one)
  • 2e-era AD&D (both the system and the genre expectations that arose during that time)

Of those, I'd say right now my KAP skills are in their prime (although there's always room for improvement...).

"Which games could you use to work on? That is, if your group wants to play one of these games, you yourself would probably recommend a different GM."

My Bottom Three

  • "Old school" D&D of the sandbox/murder-hobo variety (I want to get better, but this isn't the style of D&D I grew up with and so it still feels a bit foreign to me)
  • GURPS (at this point, I would love to play in a GURPS game, but my days of trying to run it are behind me)
  • Superheroes (again, lack of familiarity with the genre; there's a lot here to love, but I'm not the best person to run it, unless it's TMNT...)
"What elements of Gamemastering do you do best? What aspects do you nail more often than not?"

My Top Five

  • Session pacing
  • Giving equal spotlight time
  • Table rulings
  • Improvisation
  • Stunt voices (Kermit the Frog, Sean Connery, Russian Guyovitch, etc.)
"Which elements are still a work in progress? Name some things that you don't do as well as you'd like."

My Bottom Three
  • Integrating table notes back into later adventure prep
  • Making most of my NPCs truly distinct from one another
  • Between-session mechanical bookkeeping (one of the main reasons I never got into d20!)
People who occupy the intersection of "readers of this blog" and "listeners of my actual-plays", please feel free to call bullshit on any of my self-assessments (good or bad). But I think that's a fairly honest look at things as they currently stand. And I'm pretty happy with that.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

10 Years Gone

Lowell Francis at Age of Ravens poses a great little thought exercise in his latest post:

What were you running/playing ten years ago? What systems have come and gone for your group?

Ten years ago I was coming off several years of pretty grim gaming. I hardly gamed at all from late 2000 to early 2003, and although I'd been seeing a sharp uptick in my gaming from that point forward, it was still proving difficult to sustain anything beyond a handful of sessions.

In 2005, I relocated from Los Angeles to San Francisco and resolved to use the occasion to make something of a fresh start with my gaming. The move (and resolution) didn't happen until September of that year, though. I'm pretty sure that around this time specifically 10 years ago, I was still stuck in the old patterns, attempting to run a d20 Iron Kingdoms campaign for my old high school/college group. I hadn't yet realized that I hated d20, and was experiencing quite a bit of dissonance between the absolutely awesome material that was in the Iron Kingdoms books and what was coming out at the table.

When that "campaign" failed after one or two sessions, the next thing I remember running is Hackmaster. We actually had a total blast with that system, and it carried us through to my leaving L.A. at the end of summer. It was a great way to cap off what had been over a decade of gaming with the same guys, since there were so many callbacks to the wonderful excesses 1e and 2e AD&D in those rules, and it was a wonderful tonic following several years of banging our heads against the d20/3.x wall.

As I mentioned above, my move up to San Francisco precipitated some serious thinking about how to achieve more satisfying gaming. Virtual tabletops were just getting started around that time (anyone remember OpenRPG?), and eventually in 2006 I would start things back up with my L.A. group via chat games. We tried to carry on with Hackmaster, but soon switched to a little game I'd had on my shelf for a long time and finally wanted to get around to running: Pendragon. But that wouldn't happen until 2006...

Looking back, I really see 2005 as a juncture between the end of sort of (often frustrating) gaming I did as a teenager and young adult and the beginning of the largely successful and satisfying gaming I enjoy today as a grown-ass man. I'm happy that I still manage to game with the people who were in my life at the time (2005 was also the year I introduced my then-girlfriend, now-wife to RPGs and miniatures gaming), and that I've added yet more awesome people to my circles. It's also interesting to reflect that, with the exception of Call of Cthulhu, I'm not playing any of the games now that I was playing then.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Aaaaaand...I'm back

Oh, hi.

Things have been quiet here. I've been busy elsewhere. Seems like late winter/early spring are my time for embarking on hare-brained blogging marathons. Last year, I clogged up your feeds with two straight months of daily posting here at the RPG Corner. This year, it was three months of weekly(ish) updates over on my companion blog, the Miniatures Corner, as I embarked on the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge.

So that, along with my contributions to the Pendragon game line and my ongoing run-through of The Great Pendragon Campaign, explains my absence. But, of course, I haven't ever really been gone. I've been keeping an eye on the RPG world through my magic telescope.

"Yup...everyone's still insane. Excellent."
My intention here is to return to my semi-regular posting schedule now that the Challenge is wrapped up. Presented as much for my own future reference as for your reading enjoyment, here's a short list, in no particular order, of what I've been thinking about or reading lately, and what I'm hoping to post about over the remainder of the year.

  • I expect anyone reading this blog is also already following Monsters & Manuals, or one of the many other outlets that have covered this, but in case you somehow missed it...Yoon-Suin is finally out! I've been tracking this thing's development since noisms first started talking about it back in...2009, I think? Earlier? Anyway, I got my copy last week and have been dipping into it at my leisure ever since. It's a rich, wonderful setting, as I knew it would be, and I desperately want to run something with it. Crypts & Things, perhaps? I'm backing the Kickstarter for that game's second edition, and thus have access to the draft manuscript. Hmm. Oh, and I should probably combine it with my copy of Dungeon Dozen for maximum random table gonzo craziness! If I do anything noteworthy with this setting, I'll be sure to post about it here.
  • The other fantasy RPG I want to explore more this year is 5E D&D. I started off skeptical, having been burned by 3.x/Pathfinder and 4E, but I gradually came to realize 5E is much more my cuppa tea than those other editions. Hell, I've even been impressed by WotC's non-existent release schedule! Late last year, I decided I was going to have to own the three core books, and to look into doing something with them. I have notions of (finally) putting together a mercantile-and-raiding-focused Viking Rus' hexcrawl, or else going back and re-developing my science-fantasy setting that I started to sketch out for ACKS back when I was playing around with that system. We shall see. If WotC put out some sort of open license that's agreeable to the masses, perhaps I'll even give some thought to whipping things into a publishable format.
  • Speaking of publishing things, work continues on various NDA-protected Pendragon projects. I'm mostly functioning in the role of copy editor and occasional content contributor, not really handling the crunchy rules bits, but it's been a great game-design internship so far. I'm hoping to find the time to create some material to submit for Jason Richards' excellent Breachworld game, and I've also got a line on perhaps finally getting a chance to take a crack at an old idea for a Call of Cthulhu setting book, but I shall say no more at this time.
  • Speaking of the Great Old One, I've had the e-books of the latest edition of CoC in hand since early winter, and the hard copies should finally be coming out this spring. My copy of the new edition of Horror on the Orient Express squats obscenely upon my bookshelf, lowering and menacing, daring me to tackle it. And this I most certainly shall do once The Great Pendragon Campaign wraps up in the late summer/early autumn.
  • Despite the fact that my weekly group is basically already "booked up" through the end of the year, I keep fighting off strange urges to run Castle Falkenstein for them. Perhaps a short campaign in between Pendragon and Cthulhu? Perhaps.
  • As for the Solo GPC updates, these too are on the ol' to-do list. If you'd like to see them appear with greater frequency, click on over to Patreon and throw a few coins into the kitty!
  • Oh, and in July I'll be attending my first-ever Gen Con. Who knows what tales of wonder I'll bring back from there?
Phew! That's a big list! Time to get crackin'...
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