D&D 5E Review Part 15: Spells (Actually a GenCon Report)

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Spells are a very important part of D&D, especially for spell casters. The selection of spells a spell caster has available to him can have a major effect on his or her spelling. I think the most important aspect of spells are their spell like qualities…ok, you got me, I didn’t read the spell section, and I’m not going to read it. It’s like 40 pages of repetitive entries, most describing things I’ve known since 4th grade with minor variations. Let’s talk about GenCon instead.

First off, the secret to a happy GenCon (at least for those of us who aren’t willing to fork over a few weeks’ pay to stay downtown): Leave your car at the hotel on Friday. Last year I drove in, paid $50 for parking just so I could stop driving around in circles, and still had to walk several blocks. This year I spent $50 to get a cab to the convention and back and never left JW Marriott property. Saturday and Sunday I drove in and parked across the street like always. Not having my first experience at the con be deep, intense hatred for Indianapolis, GenCon, and humanity in general really improved the weekend.

Friday was my busy day, with two games: Dungeon 13 and DinerPunk. While Dungeon 13 worked better than it did at Diecon, it was still a mess. I’d originally envisioned it as a very Qerthy game, with monsters coming up with wacky plans to protect their home from those interloping adventurers, but the miniatures and maps killed any chance of that. Once players spend the better part of an hour setting up what’s basically a small-scale wargame, there’s no room for role-playing and it’s just a slog (though at least it was a short one, thanks to giant spider webs being extremely effective). If I run it again, I’ll skip the miniatures entirely and set it up so the adventurers’ arrival is the beginning of the big final battle montage, not the beginning of the game. I’ll also probably officially brand it as a Qerth adventure just to reiterate that it’s supposed to be funny.

My second Friday game was “Vanishing Blacktop,” featuring an incredibly vague blurb for the DinerPunk game that’s still germinating. When I ran it at DieCon, it veered more in a “Smokey & the Bandit” direction than I’d imagined and we all kept wishing we had toy cars for the big final chase scene. So the day before I left for GenCon I spent way too much money on a bunch of toy cars. We didn’t really end up using them for much because this was one of the most unusual con games I’ve ever run. The adventure started off with the PC convoy on a mission to go to a truck stop in the next state and trade some mystery meat for fresh vegetables. My assumption was that I’d throw the “real” adventure at them along the way, but my players were focused on the lettuce and walked right past 3 or 4 potential plot hooks. Eventually I tied several of them together and managed to get the players to a point where they could fight the bad guys, but instead of trying to kill the bad guys and take their stuff, the group negotiated a trade that benefitted both communities. I’ve run convention games without combat before, but usually because of a deep hatred of the players involved and a firm decision not to give them the satisfaction of killing things. This is the first game I’ve ever run where there was no combat and it was entirely due to the PC group’s choice to play characters who acted in their own best interest. I was so impressed I went all Oprah and gave every single player a (Hot Wheels) car. Things were definitely looking up.

On Saturday, I ran Famous Monster Hunters of Filmland. The basic premise is that the players are actors who played beloved movie monster-hunters (real or imagined) who are guests at a big science fiction convention. Monsters attack, and since science fiction fans don’t have a great grip on the line between fantasy and reality, the actors are expected to save the day. [Side note: Completely by coincidence, Leighton ran his MarmiCon Conundrum game, also set at a con (and based on the novella in which I appear as a character), at the same time at the next table.]

The characters were Ron Perlman, Ben something (aka Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter), Kolchak the Night Stalker, an over-the-hill actress from a mid-80s “bad-ass martial arts chick in tight clothes” show, Horst Janson (look it up), and Roddy McDowell. The first act was a little rocky because it turns out that being a guest at a con isn’t very exciting to roleplay, but once the plot was introduced (the search for a “wizard” who had set a vampire loose on the con), things picked up speed and got increasingly absurd in a good way.

Sunday was Lance Jackson and The Red Sun. First, a little background: not long after I moved to The Armpit of The Midwest, I ran an M-Force game set in New Orleans. One of the characters was a washed-up former actor from the 60’s science fiction show “Lance Jackson and the Red Sun.” The player took a lot of inspiration from Adam West in Family Guy, and it was always fun. Lance Jackson was kind of like Star Trek, only lower budget. Also, instead of “socialistic sci-fi utopia,” it was more “heavy-handed Cold War propaganda,” with Lance Jackson and the crew of the U.S.S. Freedom protecting the solar system from the constant threat of commies. The “pulpy sci-fi heroes fight commies” premise seemed like it would run itself, and it basically did, especially once I threw some Space Nazis and a doomsday weapon in for good measure. While DinerPunk was by far the most surprising game of the con in a subtle way, Lance Jackson was definitely the purest fun of the weekend. I just regret that I didn’t get a chance to include a cybernetic gorilla with Lenin’s brain.

Next week I’ll talk about the D&D Appendices, then do a final wrap-up, then we’ll never talk about D&D again. [Full disclosure: that last bit’s almost certainly a lie].