Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What Havoc Have I Wreaked? - Gen Con 2015, Days 3 & 4

Gen Con 2015, Day 3.
I don't know what time it is, but it's . . . late.

Today's activities centered around just one thing that I wanted to do.
Run a Mega-Fiasco for up to 10 players.

John, Bonnie's hand, and Lance in character.
When I was first approached about attending Gen Con by my friend Dan, I wasn't sure what to expect. You could submit events and games to run, and once they were up, you could buy tickets for whatever events you wanted to check out. I was told that some people, when they go as a group, just walk around and jump into games as they find the time. I found this tack a little hard to follow along with. Here's why . . .

I'm relatively new to this hobby, but it is something I've found that I'm passionate about. I don't consider myself a power gamer, but when I'm in the presence of games, I want to play. I want to jump in on a game that's about to start, start a game others can jump in on, or watch one unfold in an entertaining manner. And I want you to join me, but if you're not interested in this game, I may play the game while you do whatever it is you feel like doing. I do that because if it were me skipping out on a particular game, I would hope you'd be okay with me not spending valuable, precious, and very rare gaming time doing something I didn't want to do.

As I'd discovered the previous day, making a game happen on the fly only works when everybody you're asking is down with making it happen. Which is why the RPG I ran the day before turned out to be a short one with 4 other random strangers.

So I put the word out about the Mega-Fiasco, told everyone I already knew what was going to happen, and to meet me at this place at 1:00 p.m. Then I told as many people as I could think of, and quickly scoped out a place in the hallway of the JW Marriott, next to the walkway going towards the convention center, and texted & posted to Facebook the exact location. I made sure we had a flat gaming surface and enough room for 10 people, and then I sat and waited. This was about 10:00 a.m.

Funny thing about waiting 3 hours for 9 other people to show up in a space large enough for them . . . occasionally, you might be joined by someone who just wants to cool their heels. A man who introduced himself as David sat down and we began to make conversation. I told him what I was setting up for, and he sounded interested, so he asked if he could contact a couple buddies of his to see if they could join the game. I told him the more, the merrier.

Ryan, Mike, and Tim.
Eventually, people started showing up. John of Fear The Boot and Ryan, both of whom I was rooming with, were there. Bonnie and Lance from the podcast THE ESTABLiSHED FACTS joined us, and David roped his two buddies, Tim and Chuck, into playing with us. Earlier in the day, I had met a photographer named Mike who was helping to get shots to promote a game in the Playtest Lounge called The Coterie (I tried to get in on the 8:00 a.m. playtest slot, but they were all sold out and full up), and he seemed interested in the idea of a large-scale Fiasco game. I told him where we would be, and he said, "Well, at 1 o'clock, I'll be in the 2nd floor lobby of the JW Marriott looking for you." And sure enough, he found us.

So with 9 around the table, we settled on using the Reunion: Class of 1994 playset that I created and ran at Fear The Con 8, to great feedback, and we began rolling up our characters.

Now, I'll say this much. I love this game, because how realistic, convoluted, gonzo, and absurd it goes all depends on what the players bring to the table. We had some players that kept their motivations pretty grounded, and other players who took things to the extreme right away, and it was gloriously goofy.

I recorded the game, but after careful consideration, there is NO WAY I'm releasing it as a podcast. I'll produce it and pass it along to those who played so that they can enjoy it over and over again, but some of what was put out in that game was very . . . well, let's just say that The Back Burner Podcast is PG-13 rated, and much of what happened in the game was straight up rated R. Like, a very hard R. You know all those end-of-the-world scenarios you thought might happen in high school? Magnify some of those by 90, and you'll have an idea of what kind of carnage was wrought.

I will tell you that all of the 1994 graduating class of the Gary Busey Academy for the Gifted and Insane stayed true to their characters and motivations, seeing the consequences of their actions out to their logically illogical conclusions. I hate to say that you had to be there, but . . .

Yeah. You had to be there.

+ + +

Later that night, I wandered around, trying to find some decent food that didn't cost an arm and a leg. I called a Chinese place that said they delivered and asked for a delivery order. "What's your address?" came the reply.

"I'm staying at the JW Marriott."
"JW Marriott?"
"Yeah."
"Okay, I need an address."
"I don't have the address, I'm staying here as a guest."
"Okay, without an address, I can't put--"
*click*

THE FOLLOWING PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT HAS BEEN PAID FOR BY THE BACK BURNER PODCAST:
If you're a restaurant that delivers to downtown Indianapolis, and there are more than 2 hotels in your delivery vicinity, you should probably have the precious addresses you so desperately need close to the phone so that you can save yourself from losing out on potentially THOUSANDS OF PAYING CUSTOMERS WHO CRAVE YOUR DELICIOUS CHINESE FOOD.

End rant.

I found a few food vendors in the convention center and settled on a grilled veggie sandwich, which featured veggies that were neither grilled nor hot, but did a great job filling the hunger void.

I then journeyed -- once again, without aim -- into the gaming hall and found a table where someone had a demo copy of Splendor, a game I'd heard a lot about but hadn't experienced. A few joined us, and pretty soon we were into a 4-player game (one great thing about Gen Con is that board games are often full to the maximum player count). I found it a great strategy game that's easy enough for novice gamers to pick up on right away, and it may find its way into my gaming closet one of these days.

King of Tokyo.
Afterwards, I met up with Bonnie again (along with Beth from Fear The Boot and a few other people) and eventually, we were joined by the rest of THE ESTABLiSHED FACTS crew for a few short tabletop games. Afterwards, most everyone went back home, but I was able to hang out just a little while longer with Big Don (Bonnie's husband) and one of his friends. We hoofed it over to White Castle for some late night food, as it was decidedly less crowded than Steak n' Shake. We talked, traded stories of what we'd experienced that week, and just enjoyed the company of fellow gamers.

Eventually, Don's friend took off, and Don had been put up in a hotel room by the company he was volunteering with, so when he retired for the evening, I had some time to relax and write on my own into more of the wee hours of the morning.

+ + +

The next morning, I woke early enough to grab a shower and get some breakfast from the Executive Lounge, then gathered my stuff together for the journey home. In the car, I got to know a little bit about Beth (from Fear The Boot) and Adam (published author and formerly of Kicked In the Dicebags) on the road, and I reflected on the weekend I'd had.

Once again, I was blown away by the passion for this hobby, and for others who share in this hobby, shown to me by everyone I came across. It wasn't the most well-rounded experience it could have been, but for my first time out, I was able to attend for three full days, and in that respect, it was very fulfilling.

Gen Con may not be an every year thing, because it's a significant cost, but the next time I go, I'm planning early, signing up for games, running a few myself, and making the most of my time out there. I may go by myself, or I may take a friend or two with me, but I'll for sure make the effort to get out there again, one way or another.

When I do, make sure you look me up. We'll get some Chinese food.

There Is No Box.
Zach

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

No RPG, Yes RPG - Gen Con 2015, Day 2

Saturday, August 1, 2015.
4:34 a.m.

Dan Repperger, the moderating host of Fear The Boot and an old friend of mine from my days as a school lad, just came into town less than 2 hours ago, and I just helped him polish of the better part of a pizza. It’s the 2nd actual meal I’ve had since 9:30 a.m. Friday morning, but I’ve packed in a lot in between those 2 meals.

So the day started much earlier than this.

I’d scheduled a roleplaying game on Friday at 11:00 a.m. to run a session of the RPG system I’d designed, the QuintSystem Roleplaying Game System, but out of everyone I knew who expressed interest in trying it out, none of them showed up.

Hey there, loser.

So I took on the Exhibitor’s Hall. Now, if you’ve never been to Gen Con and you’re considering going, what everyone usually suggests is that you save one day for walking around the Exhibitor’s Hall. They’re not joking. There are so many game design companies, authors, artists, and vendors where you can demo games for sale, buy games, buy custom clothing & costumes, game supplies, and really anything and everything related to tabletop and roleplaying games. I ended up purchasing 4 games and a graphic novel, plus some card sleeves. I’m the type of person that used to never see the need for card sleeves, but after seeing what one of my friends had done to a role card in my copy of The Resistance, I figured I would need some extra protection for my newly acquired box of Two Rooms and a Boom.

So, yeah, I walked. A lot. I mean, a TON of walking is what it takes to survive, and your body has to be ready for it. You have to have the right shoes. the right deodorant, the right constitution, and the patience to navigate the space. But then you have to be careful not to become overeager – if you skip sections in the exhibitor’s hall because you see something bright and shiny a few rows down, then you’ll be backtracking over areas multiple times while still completely missing certain rows.

Paradox - coming soon to a table near me.
Of course, if you plan ahead and schedule your games and events, you can get in on some great sessions. I sat in on a playthrough of Paradox, a game whose Kickstarter ended the Sunday before Gen Con. I participated in the Kickstarter, so I’m going to be getting a copy of the game, but playing it for the first time was a trip. Mix a wonderfully beautiful set of artwork to represent a planet’s past, present, and future timelines with a symbol matching/swapping mechanic to create energy so that you can save enough planetary timelines to gain victory points, and you’ve got a system that’s unique every time you play. It’s deceptively simple, but elegant enough that as you play, you can see things with a particular amount of certainty.

After that game was over, I ran into a couple who were running playtests of a new game of theirs in the Playtest Lounge. I had expressed an interest in playing their game the day befor, when I first walked in, but the only time slot left that I knew I could attend, 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, had already been sold out for. They told me to come by anyway, and if they had too many players, they would gladly hang out and play again later in the day. Sweet couple.

Junta. Like Risk and Monopoly, but longer and more political.
I had a few appetizer foods in the Executive Lounge with my hotel roommates and Mike Perna from Game Store Prophets, while we played a truncated -- but no less convoluted -- game of Junta for as long as we could muster. After that, Mike had to leave, and everyone else was eager to play some party games. I still had a hankering for a roleplaying game, so I decided I would hit the convention hall game floor to see if I could find a few people that wanted to play in a game I wanted to run.

I’ve learned that if you ask enough people if they want to play in an RPG that you’re running, you will eventually find people that will say yes. And I did after asking only about 20 people (it could have been a whole lot more!), and then gathering a couple more. I ran them through a truncated session of a game I ran at Fear The Con 8, although then, I ran it in the Risus system. 

The QuintSystem RPG system. Comi
Tonight, I ran the game using my own invention, the QuintSystem Roleplaying Game System, and I got overwhelmingly positive reviews from everyone at the table. So much so, that it’s caused me to think about how I can make the game even better for future play so that anybody and everybody can pick it up and start roleplaying, even if they’re brand new to the hobby. I was very encouraged.

Then some other stuff happened. I don’t know, I’m way too tired to remember all of it. I just know that today was a great time, and a wonderful experience. But when I’m ready to kick it down in a 10-person Mega Fiasco come 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, it’s gonna go off with a bang. Or a whimper. Something like that. Either way, it’ll be remembered.

Right now, it's 4:59 a.m. I gotta get some rest. I almost fell asleep while writing that last paragraph down here in the hotel lobby. See you on the flip.

There Is No Box. 
Zach

That Chair Looks Mighty Comfortable - Gen Con 2015, Day 1 Part 3

Friday, July 31st, 2015. 3:13 a.m.
I’m in a chair.

I’m in a chair in my hotel room, and in a little while, I’ll be asleep. In this chair. That’s because one of the guys I’m sharing a room with has decided to Bogart one of the double beds. I’m not even sure which guy it is.

Not that I'm complaining -- I DID  tell the guys earlier that if I was out and about later than most of them, which was likely to happen, that it didn't matter to me if I ended up sleeping on the floor. Of course, I didn't think that statement through when I said it.

We’re all tired, some of us more so than others. I only got 3 hours sleep before this journey began today, and I should be sleeping now. But the excitement of being here with so many other members of my Tribe is pretty strong, and I kind of can’t help myself.

While still on the road, John, one of the guys I’m with, told me about the 1-2-3 Rule of attending Gen Con.
1.    Get at least 1 shower per day.
2.    Eat at least 2 full meals per day.
3.    Sleep for at least 3 hours per day.

I need more than 3 hours’ sleep in order to function. At 11:00 a.m. tomorrow, I’ll be running one of my homebrew games using a new RPG system I developed, and on Friday, I’m going to run another Mega Fiasco for up to 10 people. With all the thousands of people around here, I’m hoping there are a few that would like to just hang out and play a fun game. So many people come here for the premieres from popular game companies and publishers, for game tournaments, for the True Dungeon experience, for the meet & greet autograph panels with A-list and sci-fi celebrities. You know, the big tentpole events of a convention this size. I’m hoping that some people will take a chance on a new game, or a new spin on an old game.

So before we made our way up to the room tonight, we had dinner at The Ram Brewery, which goes all out whenever Gen Con comes around. They put up signs and posters, they put geek-centric viewing on the TVs (we saw parts of Gremlins, Indepedence Day, Legend, and Time Bandits, among other things, while we were there), and even change the menu to reflect the fantasy setting akin to many RPGs. While we were there, another Booter, Ed, came by and ran a short module for Star Wars: Age of Rebellion. The game was COMPLETELY foreign to me, but he was a great game master and helped me and the others figure out what to roll and when.

After that, we spent some time down in the lounge on the ground floor of the hotel and played a couple rounds of Pandemic. We lost the first game pretty swiftly, then had to bite our nails through the second game until we were able to cure all 4 diseases and win the game.

From what everyone's telling me about Gen Con, impromptu games pop up all over the place, and many of the scheduled events have already sold out, so there aren’t many things to fill in those gaps unless you play a pickup game. I’ll barely have time to scour the Exhibitor’s Hall on Friday, and I may have to wait until Saturday to hit it, since it closes at 6:00 p.m.

We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, I’m gonna catch my Number 3.

There Is No Box.
Zach

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reflections from the Backseat - Gen Con 2015, Day 1 Part 2

I had no internet access at my hotel unless I wanted to play $15 a night for it, so the rest of the parts of this story have to be continued piecemeal. For instance, this.

+  +  +

The view from the backseat.
Thursday, July 30th, 2015. 
2:39 p.m.

The backseat can be revealing.

I’m in the backseat of a Volkswagen Somethingorother, on my way to Indianapolis, Indiana, to attend Gen Con for the first time. 6 of us will be staying in a single hotel room, but the hotel is attached to the convention center at the center of everything. This is going to be a huge, raging weekend of gaming, both tabletop and RPGs, for me.

I’m going to meet people I may never see again. I’m going to find out about new games coming out in the next year that I may never play. I’m going to miss out on a lot of things that I might like to see or experience, simply because there are only so many hours in the day. But mostly, I’m going to get a huge GeekHigh.

Community is a huge thing for me. I love being a part of a group of people. I thrive in the camaraderie of others, the gathering together under one unified purpose, whether it be a concert, conference, or convention. I love social gatherings, and I always want to build on the gathering with new people.

That being said, I don’t care to gather with people that don’t have the same interests as me, or that I have nothing in common with. It’s frustrating, because I hate nobody. I’m wired, however, to engage more with people of like mind or like interest.

Before I left, my wife asked me, “Are you nervous about riding in the car 4 hours with people you don’t even know?” No, I wasn’t. These guys and I, while relative strangers, have something in common – the love of The Game.

We just had lunch at Steak n’ Shake in Effingham, Illinois, and while I can’t stand driving into that town (I’ve worked too many 7-hour wedding receptions there), I enjoyed the time we were there because I was connecting with new kin.

Maybe there’s someone that will be at this convention that is completely on their own, and really desires to be connecting with someone, anyone, because they have nobody at home they feel like they can connect with. I hope that’s not the case, but the reality of this hobby and the people who love it is that it is highly likely a loner will be milling about with no one to engage him or her. Maybe it’s a social anxiety thing, or perhaps they’re introverted and are uncomfortable with the initial meeting.

Everyone deserves to connect on a common level with someone else. We all need community, fellowship, with others. Finding others in your Tribe, no matter how big the Tribe may already be, cements in our hearts and minds that we’ve chosen the right people, and gives us a sense of belonging on a larger scale that being a part of a family ever can. The Tribe becomes the new family.

Tribal HQ.
Yesterday, some random person on Facebook said that he was planning on selling many of his games because he and his children were going to be homeless in a matter of days, and he needed to make some kind of arrangement for a new place to live. In a time like that, it doesn’t really matter what the circumstances are behind him losing his home (relationship split, eviction, whatever). In that moment, you feel for the man because he’s got children, but more so because he’s one of you. I don’t give money away to just anyone who needs it, but I felt compelled to send him a few bucks. It wasn’t much, but it was something. I didn’t even want one of his games – I figured when you’re trying to secure a place to live, the last thing you need is to go through the hassle of boxing up and mailing merchandise.

I can’t tell you why I felt emotionally connected to this man in that moment, except that I knew he was a part of the Tribe.

We should all have a Tribe. Christians have a Tribe, but so many of us don’t understand this concept. So many of us don’t live by it.

We don’t help those in need, even within our own circles. We say we’ll pray for someone, but we won’t stop what we’re doing and actually pray for them right then and there. We shake our head because we can’t imagine being in that person’s situation, but we don’t do anything practical to help them out of their situation. We think that because what they really need is a miracle of God, then whatever thing we're able to do won’t even measure up.

How small-minded we can be! Every little thing you do matters. It matters. Big, small, once, ongoing, it doesn’t matter.

If sites like Kickstarter, IndieGogo, PledgeMusic, and the like have taught us anything, it’s that hundreds of people coming together to give small amounts of money can make great things happen en masse. They just beak it down in small, bite-sized chunks. Can’t invest $500 into our company? No problem. For $15, you can get this new album before anyone else. For $35, you can get this game. For $100, you’ll have creative input on this project.

It’s democracy in financial form, and it happens through community. It happens through involvement of the Tribe. We all want to be a part of something, so why not be a part of something we like? Something we love?

Find your Tribe. Then invite others in. Give to a cause. Serve in your church. Put on some boots and work gloves and make something happen for somebody else.

A little bit from many does a whole lot more than you can imagine.

There Is No Box.
Zach