Friday, August 22, 2003

Earlier this week I posted my thoughts on this year's GenCon. As I'm pretty busy today, and will be off-line all weekend, I thought I would share some lengthy thoughts from two previsous GenCons today, that will hold you over all weekend.


WEDNESDAY: Twas me and me three droogs--my brother Eric, Troy "the Caveman" Holaday and Bart "Barticus Rex" Amburn on the road to GenCon, the biggest gaming convention in the entire multiverse. After a long day's journey into night we arrive at the University of Milwaukee at Wisconsin in Sandburgh Hall, the cheapest digs but surprisingly pleasant. We had an upper story lake front dorm with lots of conveniences including a private bath, for around 20 bucks a night. To warm up for several intense days of gaming we played a few quick modules of D and D from an old Dungeon magazine and a round of a new card game called Legend of the Five Rings, quite enjoyable, which I was beaten soundly by the Caveman.
THURSDAY: An early call for the first gaming session at 8 a.m.--the sessions run a rigorous 8-12, 12-4, 4-8, 8-12, and you can play any or all a day. I started with a solid D and D adventure run by Louis Arenas, who had a good DMing style which was a lot of fun. At the end, to my surprise, the 8 players in the session were supposed to vote on who the best player was to win a $5 gift certificate, and I was selected. My calls of "For Dwarven Honor!" must have paid off. Next at noon was the highlight of the trip--the chance to play a celebrity slot with Richard Baker, the co-creator of the new Alternity game from TSR. I won a chance to play from answering a sci-fi quiz in the pre-registration book. Alternity is an interesting sci-fi universe with an excellent dice system. It has a lot of potential and I feel it will be the next hot thing, although not to eclipse D and D. He ran "Assault on Bug Central", which had a real Starship Troopers feel to it, but the game can be adapted to any universe. I played with some really good experienced gamers and enjoyed it immensely. A jolly old guy stood and watched for a while, chatting with us, and when I casually glanced at his nametag I saw it was Gary Gygax. Gulp! I guess that made my next session, a 4 p.m. D and D game, a little disappointing. It featured some of the dreaded gaming caricatures, the smart-a DM, the rules lawyer, and a nihilistic "Vampire Kid". Important safety tip--never play 12 hours straight! I was, to say the least, slightly woozy by that evening.
FRIDAY: Missed a chance to get into a Call of Cthulhu game when I got to talking to another dude named John Dalton who was running a game that ended up not making. To my great misfortune it gave me the chance to go the exhibit hall,a place of dark yearnings and drooling excess. A shrine to the pagan god of impulse buying keeps the eternal flame at the entrance to the teeming-to-the-gills floor, where literally everything your shriveled heart desires is available. The night before, I had laughed at the Caveman, who appeared glassy-eyed and white-knuckled with armloads of booty from the exhibit hall, and soon I was choking on that bitter laughter. The death toll: I bought 52 miniatures, a Legends of the Five Rings starter deck, a series of "Pulp Dungeons" adventures, an old "Gamma World" boxed game system, a special GenCon-only Alternity rulesbook, several back issues of Dungeon magazine, and a stack of old Phantom Stranger and Gold Key Turok comics.But what I got in free stuff was tenfold; starter decks for Monumental Overpower, X-Files, a neat new Cthulhu game called Mythos, given away for playtesting, free comics and magazines, boosters for Mythos and Legends of the Five Rings, all kinds of dice, and more. The hot items were Shadowrun starter decks (free for the playtesting) and Legends of the Five Rings (slightly stingier with free booster packs). The exhibit hall is interesting--it's where you see the weirdest people, the fringe people, the ones dressed in vampire garb or chain-mail bras, and the like. Wise hard-core gamers shun the place as the Place Where Time Stands Still. In fact, the next thing I knew it was six p.m., and time to grab a bite to eat before playing the 8 p.m. slot with the Caveman. I played "Gamma World", a classic post-apocalyptic TSR game from the 80s. The DM, Kris Reeves, had a good adventure and we had a lot of fun. This game really should have never died. I tied for best gamer honors, diced for the $5, and lost.
SATURDAY: Hit a TSR "Pinnacle Event" at 8 a.m. with my brother--"Rumble in Mecca", a 60 person dungeon adventure. It was chaotic but a lot of fun. I unwisely left my brother unattended at the exhibit hall and went to play another D and D game, which I left halfway though because half of the players started getting a side game up that excluded several of us. It was the only bad experience I had gaming, and the worst of it was it left me free to wander the exhibit hall and auction area some more. But at 8 p.m. I came to my senses and joined a session of another classic game, "Champions", with my brother and Barticus Rex. We were all a bit punchy by this time but my character "Explodo" was well received and I split gaming honors with Bart. He had won four prizes, I had won or tied three, and the Caveman finished second three times. Not a bad showing for the Muncie crowd!
SUNDAY: Sunday was hard; after several days on three hours of sleep and sixteen to twenty hour days of gaming, I needed an IV drip.I was flat out of steam. But my brother, younger and more hearty, got in a few good sessions, giving high marks to the new horror-western game Deadlands and the new Babylon 5 RPG. Tired but happy, we headed for America's heartland once more.
THE REAL SKINNY: GenCon has something for everyone. I stayed with RPGs, but people into card games could go that route, or playing military/miniature battles, like our pal Caveman did. Or, if you haven't maxed out your credit cards, you could do the exhibit floor the whole time and just playtest stuff. We are all planning to go next year, and will probably drag some more compatriots along. We're even threatening to DM some games, so be warned! And to its real credit, I wasn't even burned out--I came home and played about 12 hours of D and D with my son and his friend Ted. Already we're dreaming about next year....


Although not fully recuperated from Chicago, the Back Issue crew was at it again, on their way to GenCon 1998. The lineup this year consisted of last year's veterans John, John's brother Eric, Troy "The Caveman" Holaday, and relative gaming rookie, Doug. Barticus Rex was serving this great nation of ours in the reserves, and could not attend this year's festivities. Hopefully, they made him put on his pants! A seven hour preparation lecture on the way to Milwaukee still could not prepare Doug for the sights, smells, and tastes of the world's largest Gaming Convention.
Wednesday: After a hasty 7 hour jaunt North, the boys made it to the convention center just ahead of the 10:00 pm cutoff for early registration. Troy, Eric, and John were furious to find out that combined they had gotten the same number of events as Doug who cashed in at a whopping ten pre-registration tickets. Biggest disappointment for John: didn't get into one Alternity event! For The Caveman: where are the miniatures? Nevertheless, it was back to the University of Wisconsin Dorms to rest up and prepare for the day ahead.
Thursday: The Boys managed to find their way back to the convention center early Thursday Morning, just in time to make their 8:00 am events. Doug found himself at the mercy of an even bigger comics fan than himself, as he played the Red Bee in an all Golden Age version of the old DC Heroes RPG. Alongside other Golden Age stalwarts Airwave, The Whip, Captain Triumph, and others, Doug was voted the best gamer of the round. Doug started off the Indiana contingency that won a whopping number of gaming awards last year. John and The Caveman sat in on a sequel to last year's Gamma World adventure, where the mutated creatures had to escort a ship across the remains of Lake Michigan. This was run by Kris Reeves, a great GM who ran the Gamma World event the gang played last year. Later in the day the crew found themselves trapped in the black hole known as the Exhibition Hall, where The Caveman reverted to the miniature hound of last year, Eric purchased the new Marvel RPG by TSR, and John playtested several new games from Legends, TSR, and Wizards of the Coast. His efforts garnered him a free Battletech Starter Deck which he flaunted to the others, daring them to playtest and then spin the Wizard's Wheel on the Exhibition Floor. This was a dare he would later regret. But there were no regrets on the dance floor, as They Might Be Giants braved the Milwaukee deluges and put on a strong free GENCON-only concert that night. Then it was back to the room, and of course, a round of Marvel RPG. It was The Thing (Caveman), Nick Fury (Doug, of course) and Power Man (John, of course) taking on Rhino and SuperSkrull (Eric). Villians win!
Friday: Learning from the mistakes of last year, John and the others decided not to game straight through from dusk till dawn. Arriving at the convention center at 10:00 am, John and The Caveman played a miniatures chariot race game called Circus Maximus, while Doug hurried off to play an officially sanctioned introduction of the Marvel Superheroes RPG by TSR. John also tried out a fun Deadlands module run by Pinnacle Games, and won a "Best Gamer" award that round. Unfortunately, the prizes weren't what they were last year; instead of a $5 certificate to spend anywhere, it was a $5 Deadlands certificate. C'est la vie--but still better than the "Thanks for Playing" certificate Doug got for his stellar turn as the Red Bee! When John and Doug met again on the exhibition floor, fate intervened.
Both playtesting on the WoTC floor, Doug chose to take his five stamps and get in line to spin. John decided to take a crack at one other game, so he was a good dozen people behind Doug when he got in line. Upon Doug's arrival on the stage, his goal, with five spins, was to match John and land either a free starter deck or a ten dollar gift certificate. After four spins, the best he had hit was a five dollar certificate, and he was tempted to walk with it, for fear a final spin would land him a booby prize. John egged him on however, telling him to go for the glory, ad a final spin landed Doug on the jackpot--a five hundred dollar chest of virtually everything WoTC, TSR and L5R make.
The challenge had not yet ended, however, as two of three trivia questions had to be answered. Doug, being the novice gamer that he was, begged the host to have mercy and got Comic Book trivia instead of Dungeons and Dragons, and eventually won the chest. His three questions: What character disappeared for a long time in the 70s because of copyright issues, and recently resurfaced with his family; what was Perry White's catchphrase in the comics; and what character's secret origin involved eating a radioactive carrot. After that insanity had subsided, John finally approached the wheel himself. Fending off jeers and insults from the crowd after passing on a ten dollar certificate, John miraculously hit the jackpot as well. The host was unkind however, and refused to allow two chests to go to home in the same van, making John's trivia extremely difficult. His questions: What game was played instead of poker on The New Odd Couple with an all-female cast; what was Kirk and Spock's secret code that referred to 3D chess; and what game did Bart Simpson shoplift on The Simpsons. This resulted in chaos unbounded on the stage, as John nearly had to be hauled off by security guards that rivaled Jerry Springer's!
Saturday: Another 8:00 am start for the crew, as John, Doug, and Troy headed once again for the miniatures floor to play another chariot race game called Circus Imperium, where 5 teams piled in the same chariot, with The Caveman and his gladiator coming out on top to edge out Doug and some other cheating schmuck and win the race. Later in the day the guys met for another round of Marvel Superheroes, this one played out with Toy Biz action figures. John was Dragon Man, Doug was The Leader, Eric The Black Cat, The Caveman was Rhino. The boys would have had more fun, except for a pain-in-the-butt "rules lawyer" who almost drove Doug and John to homicide. Troy came close to winning, but the real victory was knocking out the weasel-guy's Mandarin. That evening, a variant of Axis and Allies was playtested by all where the Russians and Iraqis take on the Saudis, Iranians, and Turks. Two genial high school kids from Milwaukee dealt out the whup-a to A&A vets Doug, Eric, and John. Still a great variant of a great game. With cries of "Pour it on!" the boys went back to UWM and cranked up a Battletech free-for-all to cap their last night, until Doug dropped over unconscious.
Sunday: With Caveman's immortal words, "If we eat less food, we can buy more miniatures!" echoing in their ears, the boys went to GENCON to take one last look around the convention floor. As Battletech was the hit of the year, John looked for some rules and a used Axis and Allies game, but had no luck. Eric went wild on Dragon Dice. Doug, John's co-dependent, convinced him to split an incredibly cheap box of Wildstorms CCG booster packs. The Caveman, literally down to about $2.50, looked forlornly on. The booty call: John and Doug bought so many 3 for a dollar comics, that they guy quit selling them after one day (His picture is on the GENCON web page, looking a little dismayed, probably after we pillaged all of his Defenders and Dr. Strange comics). John really liked the Battletech CCG and the Cheapass Games company, especially Kill Dr. Lucky. He also bought Deep Space Nine, Star Wars and Babylon 5 cards and lots of miniatures. John wanted to buy Legend of the Burning Sands but realized nobody would ever play it with him. Doug loaded up on more CCGs than he should of, icluding two expansions of the Echelons WWII comabt game, some choice OverPower and WildStorms tidbits, and a ton of dirt-cheap Sim City cards (plus the aforementioned 3/$1.00 comics). Eric grooved on Dragon Dice and Star Wars cards. The Caveman drooled over miniatures and the dice game Chaos Progenitus. The gang loaded up on a lot of different things this year, really showing the breadth and depth of gaming. Reviews of the first year of GENCON under Wizards of the Coast, the Bill Gates of gaming? More corporate, for better or worse. Less independents and more companies running their own games, for better and worse. Some confusion, and it was harder to get into big events this year. More hubba hubba with Jeri Ryan and Claudia Christian hanging around. Overall, we'll give it another chance.

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