Wednesday, August 22, 2012

GenCon Digestion, the Report

We set off for GenCon a merry crew, three travelers in a tub-sized ship with naught but the endless stretches of I-80 before us and nothing behind save the lives that we had lived. We had stocked ourselves with provisions and then made off into the wild blue; our GPS told us where to go and we had no other thought but than to follow it to the ends of the earth or Indiana: whichever came first.

We found ourselves rather quickly entering Pennsylvania hill country along the great stretch of the trucking route I-80. On either side rose the wooded climbs, wild and mountainous. Occasionally a dell or little vale would be visible, the hills drawing back for a brief moment to reveal a steep fold in the land populated by pines and hardy oaks. The cocooning webs of spiders were everywhere, lending the endless forest a sinister aspect and the settlements of man were thin and far between. There were lonesome farmsteads and isolated cottages but it was a long way between the coal-mining villages that were speckled across the hills.

From Pennsylvania to Ohio we came, barreling out of the high hills and into the great level lowlands of the plain. Forbidding wilderness was replaced with girdles of tamed land: farms, acres and acres of them in all directions. Trucks along the great arterial road were now seen to be carrying massive blades, as of wind-farms that must reside somewhere in the state. We stopped but once at Grandpa's Cheesebarn along the road to stock up on delicious delicacies before we shipped out once more towards Indiana.

Crossing the border, we encountered more churches than I have ever seen before in my life. Billboards proclaiming the religious epiphanies of Christ and Tom Raper were everywhere. I don't think I've ever felt so uncomfortable before, or so much like an East Coast Librul.

When we arrived in Indianapolis the first thing we noticed was a devil-may-care Mad Max attitude towards urban renewal, at least in the outlying regions. There was a strong smell of burning rubber and a cloud of thin blue-white smoke that drifted over the road. Buildings were boarded up or closed down, the only ones still in operation being a gas station, a gun store, and a chicken shack. It did not bode well for our journey.

Nevertheless, we located the Clarion Northwest (some 20 minutes from the convention center) and got our rooms. The following day, we ventured into the Con for the first time. The center is absolutely massive, and the downtown area is actually very nice (at least for a few blocks in every direction).

Inside the center its like a small city. That first day we were getting our bearings and we wandered from the giant Robo Rally gameboard, through the Rio Grand room (where Jocelyn and I would eventually sit and play an airplane track-building game set in Europe) and into the Demo Hall which became a sort of home base for us.

That first day we spent almost every waking Con-hour in the Dealer's Hall. We were eager to move some of our copies of Sordid Stories so we decided to have some people sitting at a table in the Dealer'rs Hall at all times while we shopped/got lunch/etc. Only one fella was interested in picking up a FREE ADVENTURE(!) so that was a disappointment.

I was hoping to ambush Ed Greenwood, Bruce Heard, Steve Winter, or some other TSR fellow and shove a copy in their face, but I never saw anyone and thus never had the chance. That day we didn't even go to any events, save asking about True Dungeon and learning right quick that we needed to get event tickets for it online if we were ever going to get into it.

Merchandise abounded. Jason wanted two things when he arrived: Netrunner and the Iron Kingdoms pnp. He got neither. Though we entered the Dealer's Hall at 9ish Netrunner sets were already sold out. The company that makes Iron Kingdoms (whose name escapes me at the moment) was swarmed with hundreds of people so he rapidly abandoned that idea too. However, he did manage to convince me to try War Machine when he comes back to live in Connecticut in Sept/October.

So instead of Netrunner OR Iron Kingdoms, he bought a metric assload of Shadowrun stuff and we all decided that he was going to run a Shadowrun game for us in the future. Of course, I immediately set to work making my Face, SIN alias John Dee, an elven wizard of no little power.

After lunch (which we unfortunately got from the kiosk in the Dealer's Room) we began wandering again. We explored the Demo Hall, peered into our GenCon Indy booklets and picked out some things to try to get tickets for on the morrow. We went to a panel on dystopian futures in roleplaying games that was based primarily on the Hunger Games; while not amazingly insightful, it was certainly well presented and gave us some fodder for thought and discussion amongst ourselves. We saw the arcade, went back into the Dealer's Hall for even more goodies, spoke to the Forgotten Realms people from the Duel II booth (they run a sort of wargame with their computers, I guess?) and made our way back to the hotel.

The following day we played True Dungeon, which took up a good portion of the afternoon. Again, we visited the Dealer's Hall. This time, I spotted a booth with a good number of AD&D books and unloaded about 25 copies of Sordid Stories there to be given out for free. Their numbers didn't dwindle all that much throughout the con, which was disappointing but expected.

True Dungeon was in turns silly, glorious, and atmospheric. I had high hopes for it from the get-go, even though others in our party were instantly suspicious of the d20 mechanics that underlay it and the strange semi-immersion of its setting. Nevertheless, we enjoyed ourselves. Not realizing that the Giant's Travail was the first adventure of two, we went straight into Dracolich Undone and found ourselves confronting puzzles, combats, and traps. In the end, we faced off against the Dracolich Smoak (har har, clever) and would have won, save we had taken too much time failing a puzzle with a sacred anvil over and over again earlier. Smoak pulled down the ceiling on us and we all died.

I was considerably glad that we perished, anti-climactic as it was. It made those parties that found true victory all the more important.

Later that day Jocelyn and I rushed out to Michaels to get more ribbon to bind the last copies of Sordid Stories and paint-pens to fill in the Gamescience dice she bought me for my birthday.

The third day of GenCon was probably our best, barring True Dungeon from the day before. We hit the Dealer's Hall a third time, hard, and I left a stack of Sordid Stories at the OSR booth courtesy of Bill Barsh. He was kind as kind can be and promised to hand out a free copy with every purchase made there. I'm hoping he goes back next year and I can ask him to carry (and perhaps to sell on consignment or some such) the boxed set of the 10th Age that we're already working on.

We also took a look at the artists, but the main event of the day was playing Hirelings: the Ascent with its creators. We had a blast, played the game twice, and enjoyed every moment of it. Indeed, if it gets funded we strongly discussed dressing in Hirelings cosplay for at least one day of the con next year and acting out a living chess sized version! Tomorrow I will actually review Hirelings, which absolutely deserves your money, love, and adoration.

The last day of the con was rather depressing as booths were closing down, people going home, and we found ourselves lacking time to actually play D&D which was really the one and only goal I had when I went there. And so, without ever cracking open the AD&D books we went back to the hotel, watched True Blood, and went to sleep. The following morning we began the long and arduous journey home, back through the Ohio flatlands, the Pennsylvania hills, and the brief stretch of New York to find ourselves in Connecticut at Frank's house were we crashed happily, allowing the adrenaline to finally wear off as we sank into a deep and untroubled slumber.

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