GenCon 2009 Report

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This year’s GenCon, which most Death Cookie readers know is the world’s biggest (non-computer) gaming convention, was held August 13-17 in downtown Indianapolis. As you’d probably expect, a few members of the Hex staff made our way to the land of Johnny Cougar for a few days of game demos and shameless self-promotion. In addition to Hex staffers Ian Engle, Leighton Connor, and myself, we were once again joined by last year’s Knome of the Year (and author of the upcoming Sex, Lies, and Ultraspies supplement) Robert “Ruckusmanager” McCabe.

I arrived in Indy late Thursday evening with a vague plan to attend BeerCon, a publishers’ shindig sponsored by Troll Lord, Goodman Games, and Drivethrurpg. Upon arriving at the hotel, however, I became very aware of three facts: (1) I had been awake since 5:30 a.m.; (2) It was an hour later in Indy than in western Kentucky; (3) Five hours on the road is a lot more sleep-inducing now than it was when I drove a cab 12 hours a day. Eventually I opted for dinner and NapCon instead.

Since my first event wasn’t scheduled until 3 o’clock Friday, I waited until almost noon to head downtown. This was a bad decision on my part, because I arrived at about the same time as all the people who were going to the Colts/Vikings game. I spent the better part of two hours driving circles around downtown before I finally found a parking garage that wasn’t full.

This year all of the Hex games were in the Hyatt, which turned out to be a big improvement over the Omni (where our games were last year). I got there just as Ruckus was beginning up one of his Sex, Lies, and Ultraspies games (Submariners, I believe), which seemed to be off to a fine start. Since I hadn’t made it to the dealers’ room last year, I decided to make my way to the convention center to check out the Game Publishers’ Association booth. When I got there, I was impressed. The booth looked great and (best of all, from my perspective) Hex’s books had great visibility at the top center of the main display rack. After chatting with fellow Kentuckian Dave Mattingly (Blackwyrm Games owner, GPA Executive Director, and all-around nice guy) for bit, I moved on to the Marriott to scope out the room where my Comedy and Humor in Gaming panel would be held.

I’ve got to admit that I was a little worried about the panel. In addition to being a subject we haven’t done before, this was the first panel I’d be doing alone (normally there are at least a couple of Hex staffers or Knomes floating around who can be drafted). Since I still had over an hour before the panel started, I decided that I should probably have a few drinks to calm my nerves (and maybe even make myself more amusing) but the price of booze in the hotel bar cut that down to one drink. I’m not usually one to complain about hotel bar prices because you know the drinks will be overpriced when you sit down. But really, $6.50 for a Newcastle is ridiculous even for a hotel bar.

When I got to the panel, I was happy that the room was reasonably full and that Ian (whose game hadn’t gotten any players) was going to be joining me as a panelist. As anyone who’s attended more than one Hex panel probably knows, we tend to follow a formula: we give a brief overview of the subject, ask the audience what they came to the panel to learn, and then relate their questions back to various elements of the QAGS philosophy/party line (games should be fun, player and GMs should work together, the flash-bang style of magic found in most RPGs has no precedent in real-world mythology, etc.). Since my overview of the subject was very brief (a statement of why I think all games should have humor, and that monkeys wearing pants is hilarious) and most of the attendees didn’t have specific questions, things got off to a bit of a rocky start. Fortunately, Ian was there to offer his own insights, ask some questions to get the audience participating, and generally get things back on track when I ran out of stuff to talk about. I’m not sure that the audience got any useful gaming advice out of the panel, but I’m confident that most found it entertaining. A few hung around to talk to us afterwards, which I’ve found is usually a sign that people enjoyed the panel.

After saying our goodbyes to the panel stragglers, Ian and I went back to the Hyatt, where I grabbed a slice of pizza before my 5:00 p.m. game, Fratboys vs. The League of Alphabetical Madmen (A-H), with special guest player Ian Engle as the Wacky Foreign Exchange Student. As is usual for Fratboys, the game went off without a hitch. When the game ended (a bit early because I had killed off a few madmen off-screen, not expecting the players to have time to fight them all), Ian went to play in Robert’s Rocket Jocks: Forbidden Zone game while watched the final hour or so of Leighton’s already-in-progress Life is Random game, which featured mutant detectives (including a magic cow, a Captain Canada type, and a guy who could magnetize hamsters) fighting evil cultists.

My first game Saturday was Fratboys vs. The League of Alphabetical Madmen (I-Q), the second in a three-part series that I’d decided to run because I was feeling lazy when we’d submitted our games months earlier. While Fratboys has always worked in the past, I was a little worried about this one because it broke the normal formula of giving the players an hour or so to act drunk and stupid before the bad guys attacked. Fortunately, that wasn’t a problem; the players simply acted drunk and stupid in between fighting the bad guys instead. Except for one player from the previous game (who played a different character), this was an all new group (including Leighton, whose Revenge of the Space Gods game had fallen through), but everyone caught on to the basic premise pretty quickly. As the players fought mind-controlled mall dwellers, got into Benny Hill style chases, and learned the real meaning of freedom from a hobo named Cincinnati McGurk, my belief that Fratboys just can’t go wrong was reinforced once again.

After the game, Leighton and I went to check in on the GPA booth, which turned out to be a good plan as they were nearly out of the QAGS books Ian had dropped off at the start of the con. After making plans to drop off some more books in the morning, we grabbed lunch at the Ram and headed back to the Hyatt for our final games of the evening. My game was The Fantastic Force Family, a science hero game inspired by Tom Strong, The Fantastic Four, and Astro City’s First Family. Since I plan to write up an actual play of this one, I’ll just say that it turned out really well. After the game, I checked in on Ian’s Brokeback Mountains of Madness game (Rue Paul meets Cthulhu) a few times, but mainly watched Leighton’s Champions, Villains, and Vigilantes game, which I strongly suspect was the most successful game of the whole convention.  Once all the games had ended, we met up with Ruckus for a few drinks before heading back to the hotel. We had hoped to meet up with some of the Atomic Squash guys from Archon, but the phone service gods conspired against us.

Sunday I was scheduled to run the exciting conclusion of Fratboys vs. The League of Alphabetical Madmen (which, as you’ve probably already guessed, covered madmen R-Z). I got to the Hyatt with about 2 minutes to spare, and for a while it looked like the game might not go off. Around 11:30 my players finally showed up and we got started. The game went well despite the fact that everyone was a little worn out by all the con that had gone before. The PCs took out the remaining madmen in record time, allowing us to end the game a bit early so that the players could escape the parking garage without having to pay some ridiculous additional charge for staying past check-out time.

Once the games were over, we checked in at the GPA booth one last time and then hung out in the bar across the street until the dealers’ room closed. When we picked up our stuff at the end of the day, we found we’d sold twice as many books as we had at GenCon 2008. Many thanks to The GPA for giving us a place to sell our stuff and to the folks at Tabletop Adventures for doing a great job as on-site coordinators of the shared booth. With the con finished, we grabbed some food and parted ways, exhausted but happy that the con had been a success.