GenCon 2014 Wrap-Up
Posted on August 17th, 2014
Table of Contents/TL;DR
- I am excited about Project:Dark
- Ran my first GenCon event
- Enjoyed the 7th Sea LARP, again
- Enjoyed my annual Eclipse Phase game and also talked Fate of Transhumanity
- Went to some good panels
- Had some serendipitous moments
- Saw cool people and got some cool stuff
Played Project:Dark with the creator, Will Hindmarch. I have been anticipating this game because I enjoy Will's work, because I have play-tested one of his games in the past (sadly, one that never got produced), because I love the use of playing cards in RPGs, and because the material and settings sound interesting. I joined the Kickstarter during the campaign, and ordered everything. I had high hopes, and Will exceeded them. We had a ton of fun. The mechanics, story, and setting are all great. As Luke Crane says (paraphrased) "if you don't have rules and follow them, you're not playing a game, you're having shared story time." While I actually do like some things that could be called “shared story time," I also like games. Dark, however, gives you great story time and great gameplay at the same time. Some additional high points:
- The way skills are chosen (aptitude, education, experience, and acclaim) is a great setup, and acclaim ends up being a measure of both fame and infamy, which is cool for this genre
- The Gumshoe-sytem-inspired (I assume) method for casing/preparation is a great way to setup a stealth-adventure
- There are lots of subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways that you learn about the setting through play, and that is a lot of fun (examples include details you get during casing, conversations you overhear while sneaking, and items and loot you investigate or take during play)
- The character creation and advancement system gives just enough options and direction that I think it will hit the sweet spot of feeling free and excited about choices without having to do homework
- While setting up an adventure initially seems like it could be hard or time-consuming, the way the GM rules & mechanics are designed assist in improvising any parts of the adventure that you don’t want to fully detail ahead of time
- The various ways the cards are used (for point value, for special power, for edges/bonuses), as well as how hand size & replenishment is tied to the narrative situation are both great ways of making the use of cards meaningful and intelligently-integrated
The only parts where I am still a little unsure are the “face card powers." (I’m not sure of the correct name). It wasn’t always clear when to use them as part of an action or on their own, or if they should be played or directly discarded. There was also a little bit of overlap on the sheet (causing confusion) between what values they counted as vs. what values were in your deck. I suspect these issues wouldn’t be a problem if you made your own character (we had pregens).
I am really looking forward to this game coming out! If any locals want to try the scenario we did, I will have it, soon.
Ran My First GenCon Event with Jason Ward and Accidental Cyclops. We ran a LARP using Matt McFarland’s Curse the Darkness setting and a light version of Rob Wieland’s Fate rules for the setting. We ended up with 22 players, including at least 3 people who had never LARPed, before. Players said the tension was good and they had a great time. I really appreciated where they held large LARPs this year (in the big rooms upstairs in Union Station), as they were great rooms with a number of items to alter the space (tables, chairs, curtains, various lighting options). While Jason and I have run lots of events before, we haven’t run any GenCon events. Here are some of our lessons learned:
- Try to include everything about your event when you submit it, and use notes if necessary. Events staff at GenCon never replied to any of our questions, nor addressed any of the updates we asked to make to our event. At a bare minimum, we will make sure to include a URL for the event when we submit, so that we can make updates that are external to the system.
- Large-group games like this can have great fluctuation in numbers, so be flexible on your character counts & preparation. Leading up to the event, we had 18 registered, which was enough to play. Then, near the start of GenCon (and even during GenCon), we got 7 more registered, with a few more who said they were going to show with generic tickets. While we had prepared a few extra sheets, we had not prepared that many, so I ended up writing several more characters by hand to meet the 25-30 estimate we then had. Our final count of arrivals, as stated, ended up being 22. Turns out, that was the exact number (4 extra) that we had already prepared, so we didn’t need my rushed characters, after all.
- Frame your location. This is a lesson we already knew, but frankly, I feel I failed a bit, partially due to miscommunication with my co-ST. While we managed the internal spaces for the game ok, we left open the story and scenario enough that characters wanted to venture offsite too much, which was a bit of a red-herring and detracted from our availability and from the ongoing drama.
If you played in this game, we would love to get feedback from you on:
- What you liked
- What could have been better
- What types of settings would be fun for you to try next year
- If game results should persist into the world when that setting is played, again
- If your character met all your goals, and you want to brag about it and make a character for next time
7th Sea LARP was a good time, again. Every GenCon, I look forward to this event. This year they sold out all 50 tickets in the first 7 minutes after registration. They had to open more to allow the people who had been coming for years to be able to play. It ended up being a little too big (I didn’t even get to interact with every character, this time), but I still enjoyed myself. I had met all my goals and been a “winner" the last two years, so I asked for a hard job, this year, and they delivered in spades. I was an itinerant priest who was a member of Los Vagos, and I was tasked with unmasking all the hidden Inquisition members and finding the head of the local inquisition. I also had several other goals. Needless to say, I did not meet them all, this time. I tried to draw out the inquisition by pretending to be a member, but nobody took the bait, and I didn’t even get to talk to some of the characters that ended up being members of the inquisition. I’ll be back next year, and hopefully I can play the pre- or post-tabletop session, again, too.
Played my annual GenCon Eclipse Phase game, and we had a good time. This year, some of the games were in a sort of long con format wherein the factions that players played earned points for that faction, with results being calculated at the end. The scenario I got to try this year involved protecting/controlling Pandora Gates, and we had a lot of fun. For instance, we convinced an AGI that it was, in fact, a Barsoomian and our ally. I’m looking forward to their writeup of how the long con format ended up.
In other Eclipse Phase news, I got to talk to Ryan Macklin for a while about the upcoming Fate conversion, which is probably my most-anticipated RPG book, ever. I love this setting, the game is about really interesting things, and the people who make it are awesome; but the rules-as-written are too much for our busy gaming group. Fate is great, and with the right dials-turned and enhancements made, I think this will work very well. Ryan and I talked for a bit about how to do Fate in “hard" settings such as Midnight (which I am currently running), a survival horror game (which was actually a pre-Eclipse Phase game that I was running), and Cthulhu (of which he has recently finished Achtung! Cthulhu) Ryan has some great ideas for addressing consequences when you re-sleeve, for handling the types of horror that come from existential threats to transhumanity & ever-present conspiracies, for handling morphs, and a number of other things. A lot of people think that Fate is really only good for pulp-y and light stuff, and by default, it does favor proactive, powerful characters, but the system is very versatile. I am really looking forward to this coming out.
Panel Time included the usual update panels from Posthuman Studios/Eclipse Phase and Evil Hat/Fate. I also went to a panel on economic systems in games and one of my favorites: Campaign Doctors. Rob Donoghue was just as thoughtful and gracious as he is in G+, Jack Graham engaged in his usual fun banter, Luke Crane gave us another hilarious dose of snarky and brutal unconventional-conventional recommendations, and Rob Boyle exuded his usual quiet wisdom. I’m looking forward to finding out who the mysterious people are that Posthuman are in talks with for an Eclipse Phase novel line and (separately) for industrial-music soundtrack(s).
Games on Demand led to both my best game of the convention (Project:Dark as mentioned), and also a chance to try out some things I otherwise would not have. With one notable exception, the people hosting Games on Demand were great. I wanted to get into more games, there, but my panels, events, and dealer-hall time kept splitting up my time such that I couldn’t get in until Saturday. In addition to Project:Dark, I got to try Translucent University (still in development) and Ryuutama (in post-Kickstarter English-language production). Translucent University has an interesting set of mechanics that feel sort of like a combination of Fiasco and Fate. I liked the rumor mechanic so much, I may incorporate it into other games. Ryuutama is a lighthearted game that feels very much like playing a JRPG.
Finally, I enjoy running into or meeting people at GenCon, and I got to do a lot of that, again, such as at the Indie Game Developer Network meetup. I also got to pick up the newest from Iron Kingdoms, nab some things from the Indie Game Developer Network & Indie Press Revolution (and ran into Brian Engard while getting a physical copy of Fate Freeport, who signed: “Aspect: swashbuckle like a boss")), talk with Eddy Webb (after Matt McFarland) about Vampire licensing, chat with Thomas G and co. over at Shadows of Esteren, and have a fun conversation about various games with John Wick.
Looking forward to GenCon2015!
Image: my acquisitions from GenCon.