Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Gen Con 2015 - Day 3

I usually say if you can only go to one day of Gen Con, go Saturday. It is the biggest day, it is when the cosplayers are out in force. It’s also when historically the best (public) parties happen. Plus, it’s when the big Brass & Steel LARP happens.

As I’ve been running games mostly while the X Hall was open, my plan was to spend most of the morning and afternoon in and around it. It’s where there will be the most to see people wise, plus I want to see if I missed anything during my hurried passes through on the previous two days.

Because I stayed downtown the whole convention, I only brought one costume, my steampunk Texas Ranger for the LARP. Fortunately not only was the weather decent, but I could stay indoors the whole way if I wanted. Air conditioning is a bonus if you’re wearing an extra 20 pounds of leather.

The crowding was insane at times in the X Hall. Gen Con broke another attendance record, at over 61k attendees, and it seemed like they were all in the X Hall. Of course this is exasperated by people’s insistence at towing luggage behind them or wearing huge backpacks the clean out half an aisle when they turn.

Lunch was at the Ram, taking a break from the madness. We’d thought by going after “regular” lunch hours, it wouldn’t be as nuts, but the Ram is popular with Gen Con attendees. Sadly, despite the upfront effort that the Ram puts into being ready for Gen Con, the experience (for me) has been declining. Service was slow, Weasel’s meatloaf sandwich tasted “gritty”, and the staff didn’t seem friendly compared to other locations.

I went back to the room to cool off for a bit before the LARP. It was nice to be able to take off the leather coat and hat and sit in the path of the AC for a bit. Having a room on site was really handy. If we get a similar room next year I’ll probably bring an additional day of costuming.

I headed to the LARP, grabbing some Brazilian chicken from one of the food trucks on the way. It was good to see some familiar faces at the LARP, there are players who have played year after year, some maintaining the same characters. I spent 5 hours suppressing my natural introvert instincts, plotting and scheming with and against 40 other people. As usual for the Brass & Steel LARP, a good time was had by all.

After the LARP, the B&S team invited people to join them at the Ram. I was hoping things had improved, that maybe lunch had just been an off experience. To give them credit, they did seat our party pretty quickly, especially for the size, but I was never asked if I wanted another beer after my first (and only). Of course, I did. Most of the televisions displayed sports instead of nerdery, I’m sure a concession to the muggles.

After the Ram, a friend and I decided to check out the Cosplay Deviants party. I’d had a really good time last year, especially once the muggles were let in. This year, it was in a different venue. By the time we got there, they were already letting muggles in, but we got to cut the line since we were Gen Con attendees. Inside was loud, hot, and full of people that didn’t want us there. We stayed for one beer and left.

I’d like to say that the Deviants party is the successor to the White Wolf parties, but based on this year that seems dubious.

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Friday, August 07, 2015

Gen Con 2015 - Day 2

This would prove to be the longest day of Gen Con, both in time and distance travelled (22 hours and 10+ miles). Up at 5 and out to the mustering area, a bit of a walk itself, we were ready for the Orc Stomp 5k. I was already regretting putting off returning to my long forgotten gym regimen until a couple of weeks before Gen Con. Finishing wasn’t an issue, but I was dubious about beating last year’s time, which was just over 47 minutes.

The weather was about perfect. We moved to the back of the pack, letting the real runners go first. Despite a twinge in my arch right after start, I marched the course at a 4 mph pace, finishing just a hair better than last year at 46:29.5. Trodding back to the hotel, having a room downtown turned out to be a huge boon, as opposed to last year where I had to drive home, shower, and return only to hit traffic.

After a return to the breakfast buffet (yay free voucher), I was ready for the rest of the day. I had another game to run at 1, but it was at the same table as yesterday so that eliminated the need to spend time tracking it down. After a visit to the auction store while the mob flowed into the X Hall, I started at the opposite end of the X Hall and worked my way towards the middle.

Most of this was preliminary shopping, figuring Sunday would be the actual buying day as I had no events. As usual, there were the typical traffic jams and people that insisted on wearing a backpack the size of a Winnebago into a crowd. The X Hall really could use some more space to widen the aisles a couple of feet, plus some booths should have been set up so that throngs of shoppers didn’t stop in the aisle to look at their wares. Cheap gaming books booth, I’m looking at you.

This time around, I ended up with 5 of 6 showing up (Weasel eventually showed up to take the sixth slot). All 5 were experienced with Brass & Steel, and 4 of them gamed together. This group turned out to be more scrupulous in that they actually took the bad guys to the authorities as opposed to just mete out justice themselves. My dice were again vicious, almost killing a couple of characters and almost letting the big bad get away when they had him contained, which would have prompted another running battle. They seemed to have a good time and my inexperience with the system didn’t hamper things.

We got out of the game a bit before closing time for the X Hall, but there was a new wrinkle in the dinner equation. Friday there was a One Direction concert at Lucas Oil Stadium, just south of the ICC, so in addition to the gamers, you had hundreds of girls and their parents swarming into downtown.

We opted for the Tilted Kilt. Besides the obvious reason, I figured it was unlikely to be impacted by One Direction fans. Wrong! I wouldn’t have guessed mothers would take their daughters to a breastaurant for dinner, but we were surrounded. Fortunately, the management had planned ahead and put all hands on deck. One of the waitresses told us they have 15 servers on the floor, as opposed to the typical 4 on a Friday. I presume the kitchen was similarly staffed as our food arrived quickly.

After dinner we had a D&D game. It was an odd scenario. I chewed on some scenery, there was some great role-playing (especially the two senile mages) and then got killed off by one of my friends (what are friends for?). I confess, I didn’t put up much of a fight because I had been invited to join the Brass & Steel team on their annual Friday night revelry at a local establishment that featured their staff in costume, a costume contest, and nerd-themed drinks.

As closing time approached, the other guys were ready to call it a night. I had just ordered a drink, so I decided to stay around long enough to finish it off before heading back. That was almost an expensive decision. On the way, a man approached me, talking rapid-fire. I assumed he was a panhandler, having seen them around during Gen Con. I picked up the pace to try to brush him.

“You don’t need to be nervous, man.” When he said that I snapped into red alert. We were heading towards a bridge that offered nowhere to go once you were under it. I was certain he was going to try to mug/rob me and earlier Weasel had paid me for his half the hotel room in cash.

Just going toe-to-toe I might have been able to hold my own, but odds were he at least had a knife, so that was a losing proposition, fortunately I was aware of a bar across the street and headed for it.

“I know this place. It’s closing, come on back out.” Yeah right. If I had to, I would make a scene or call the cops from inside. The bartender told me it was too late for last call, I pointed my thumb at my shadow and said he was following me.

The bartender pointed me to a barstool then watched the guy lurk around outside until he gave up and headed back the way he came. Once he was a couple of blocks away, the bartender told me it was cool and which way the guy had gone. I bee-lined straight for the hotel and called it a night, thankful I hadn’t had a few more drinks.

I’d like to think that gaming over the years helped me keep a cool head and quickly assess the situation when I had a random encounter of the urban kind.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Gen Con 2015 - Day 1

The biggest change that came with staying on site is that I didn’t lose a couple of hours to messing around at home and then trying to find a place to park. I was up early, hit the breakfast buffet (all-you-can-eat-bacon), and was ready for the con to open. I was running a game at 1, so I knew my time in the X Hall was going to be limited.

I swung over to GM HQ to turn in my regular badge as I now had my Gamemaster Badge (achievement unlocked). It took all of 30 seconds. Something I noticed this year was that the Gen Con team was very efficient. Weasel had reported the will call line stretched all the way down to Hall B (past the old exhibit hall) but only took 30 minutes.

There was the usual mob scene at the entrances to the X Hall. I lurked on the balcony upstairs while the Gen Con folks went through their opening day ceremony, culminated with the assembled horde chanting “Do Not Run!” as they marched into the X Hall. I gave it several minutes before I went down to join the mob, giving them time to disperse from the entries.

There were no “want” items this year for me going in. None of the games I played or at least followed had new releases. I knew I wanted some spare dice for the game I was running that afternoon, but that was about it. I started my traditional search pattern beginning in Aisle 100 and working my way up and down the aisles, grumbling at extra-large booths that blocked the flow of traffic. At the first Chessex booth (Chessex and Crystal Castle booth have multiple booths – gamers love dice) I loaded up on standard d20s and picked up a new 30mm d20 to use as a GM die.

I made it about 2/3 of the way through the hall, stopping for the usual Gen Con reunions, people I know from somewhere else that I happen to bump into at Gen Con (and sometimes only at Gen Con). I headed off in search of my table, a process that would have been quicker if I looked at a map to begin with.

Four out of six players showed up, all brand new to the game system (Brass & Steel), for my first Gen Con game ever as a GM. This was a bit of a blessing in disguise, as the smaller group was easier to manage in combat, and combined with the efficiency of the core mechanic, things flowed smoothly. Despite my new dice trying to kill off the characters left and right, they made it through, taking the unscrupulous mercenary route as opposed to the much more involved doing-the-right-thing route. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, even when my dice foiled their brilliant plan, and an early wrap let us hit dinner before the X Hall closed, driving throngs on hungry gamers into the streets.

We had opted for Scotty’s, a Gen Con standard. The manager and the staff are always very enthusiastic about Gen Con, plus it’s fun to see the muggles wonder what the hell is going on. We took the first available table, which was outdoors. Since the weather was decent, and it gave a good vantage point for people watching, it seemed like a good idea.

The angry yellow orb in the sky convinced me otherwise. The sun was at just the right angle that the table umbrella was useless and the buildings across the street provided no shade. Plus we got lost between servers for a good ten minutes. But once they figured out someone was supposed to be waiting on us, it was all good. On the plus side, the live entertainment wasn’t so loud that you couldn’t hear each other. After, gamers want to talk, they don’t care about some local band.

After dinner and a bit of wandering, it was time to call it a night. The next day started with the Orc Stomp 5k at 6 a.m..

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Gen Con 2015 - Day 0

While Gen Con touts itself as the Best Four Days In Gaming and officially starts on Thursday, over the years more and more have spilled over into Wednesday, hence Day 0. One of my keystone events, the Stink, is on Wednesday night and I’m part of the group that puts it on. But the Stink wasn’t the first thing for me to deal with on Wednesday.

This year I did something that I haven’t done since attending Gen Con in Milwaukee – I stayed in a hotel for the duration of the con. That might seem crazy since I live within driving distance, but it made a big difference in my con experience. My roommate for the con, Weasel, and I had lucked into the last of the train cars in Crowne Plaza. For me it’s the perfect location, between the Exhibit Hall and Union Station. However, it wasn’t totally trouble free.

When I went to check in, my name wasn’t listed despite the fact that my card had been charged the first day as a deposit. However, Weasel’s name showed up (he was also on the reservation) in someone else’s room. And it turned out they had no way to cross-reference the confirmation number provided by the housing bureau or my method of payment with the reservation. There was lots of staring at screens and consulting with managers (meanwhile a clock is running in my head as I have a lot to do before the Stink) before they admitted that yes, I did have a room and they had somehow lost track of it in the system.

Key cards and free breakfast buffet vouchers in hand, we lugged our gear up to the room. I pretty much got my luggage in and hit the ground running. It would be later I would find out that housekeeping had neglected our bathroom, including something that I won’t detail here but merited another visit to the front desk.

Every year Gen Con provides swag for the Stink, trophies for our awards, and lends us the huge dice. One of my Wednesday games is “track down where the Stink stuff went”. Fortunately someone at my first stop knew where everything was and was able to direct me there in short order. A couple of trips with my dice-dolly (I bought this two-wheeled dolly just for Gen Con) and I was ready to move on to the next mission.

By this time, I had worked up a bit of a sweat because someone had forgotten to tell the ICC (Indianapolis Convention Center) to turn on the AC. The halls were almost as full of people as they would be when the con was open. There was the first whiff of gamer funk. But now it was time to go into the X Hall (Exhibit Hall) to collect donations from exhibitors.

Every year I do this, I liken going into the X Hall on Wednesday to peeking down the stairs Christmas Eve night, trying to figure out what the packages are by their size and shape. Well this year Christmas Eve was in a blast furnace. Between the loading docks being open, propane powered forklifts, and no air circulation, the X Hall was sweltering. The people working in there were troopers. After I made my rounds and collected donations from USAopoly (huge donors year after year – they are awesome), IDW Games, and Skirmish Sagin, I went back to the comparative coolness of the rest of the ICC.

Stink set up was a snap. The Mavens have been doing this for years, and we all have our parts down. Come show time, we were ready and had probably the largest Stink yet. I had been concerned because of the growing popularity of the Georgia Street beer garden and associated festivities, but the weather had been threatening and we were more family friendly – not to mention you could sit down. As usual, attendees fell into their ovine ways and stayed in line after the swag table. We kept trying to break them up because it was bogging down the swag line itself, but for the most part they preferred to remain in line to see where the line was going.

Weasel and I had decided to throw a room party seeing as our usual Gen Con Wednesday night activity wasn’t happening this year and it looked like the beer garden could get rained out. I slapped something together on Facebook from my phone, invited folks I thought might be interested, expected only a couple to show up, and Weasel made a beer run while I worked the rest of the Stink.

The Facebook response was more than we expected, so we beefed up the beer supply (this would turn out to be overkill – I still have Gen Con beer in my fridge). The train cars are very narrow, so capacity was a concern. It ended up we had enough people to fill the room without spilling out. I ended up having a cross-section of my gaming life, going from people I gamed with in high school to the authors of the game I was running this year. All in all, it was a pleasant little get together.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Gen Con 2014 - Day 4

It has always seemed that Sunday would be the natural day for the Zombie Walk since by then many of attendees at Gen Con resemble the walking dead. People have already been burning the candle at both ends for three days with little sleep, a lot of people stay up late partying on Saturday night, so by Sunday everyone is spent.

The addition of Family Fun Day, where a family of four can get in for $30 has infused some life into Sunday. Not only is it more traffic, but it brings in people that aren't burnt out from the past days, and a lot of them there for the first time. It brings up the energy level of the Sunday crowd.

I woke up still feeling the after-effects of the previous night. I got ready and packed everything up, hit the breakfast buffet, checked out and took my luggage to the carbefore my 11 a.m. mini painting workshop. Something I try to do every year is take a miniature painting session to try and learn some new tricks. The trick is finding one I haven't taken already on a Sunday, but not too early and when the Exhibit Hall closes.

The year's class was... okay. I don't think I got as much out of it as previous classes and the instructor didn't seem as engaged. Not that she was bad, just the previous ones I've had were better. Once the session was over that left me with a couple of hours to kill before the X Hall closed.

It didn't seem like a Sunday. It was a lot more crowded than previous Sundays, between the aforementioned Family Fun Day and attendance in general being much higher. I visited with people, looked around for anything I might have missed the previous three days, and looked for any bargains from vendors that didn't want to transport stuff home that was too good to pass up.

As usual, I waited until the closing announcement before departing the X Hall. I dropped off my loot at my car, and made one more pass down Georgia Street on my way to Scotty's, where I've been having post Gen Con dinner the past few years. Even Scotty's was busier than previous Sundays. Some of the muggles whined that Lord of the Rings was on all of the tvs instead of football.

Finally I made the short trek home, unloaded the car and crashed, another Gen Con complete.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Gen Con 2014 - Day 3

If you can only make it one day to Gen Con, Saturday is the day to go. It is the day with the most people, the most costumes, and the most parties. It was rather novel for me to start Saturday so early. This year the big LARP I play in, Brass and Steel, was a 3pm - 9pm event instead of the usual 6pm to midnight, so I wanted to get going earlier anyways.

I put on my Steampunk Texas ranger costume (my character in the LARP) and hit the breakfast buffet in my hotel. The busboy showed my his Gen Con badge, enthusiastic for when he would get off of work and get to go to the convention. An older employee asked if he could take my picture, the first of many pics that day. After finishing my bacon heavy breakfast, I headed for the ICC.

I tell people that even if you can't go to the convention, Georgia st. is a great place to hang out and people watch. Fortunately it wasn't sweltering hot as it had been recent years, so that made hanging outisde a lot more pleasant. I hit the ICC right when the Exhibit Hall opened but checked out the Auction Store to let the crowds thin.

The one downside to Saturday is that it's the most crowded. In addition to the sheer number of people, since it's the biggest costume day, people taking pictures of cosplayers add to the traffic complications. I try to watch out for people trying to get photos and not walk through their shot. When people asked to take my picture, I tried to stand where I'd impact traffic less.

Everyday of Gen Con I hit the X Hall, and every day I see something new. I strolled the hall for a while, navigating the mass of humanity and keeping an eye open for any last minute additions to my costume while visiting the booths of people I know. When @knharter arrived with her daughter (who was born during Gen Con one year, so now Gen Con is like a birthday party for her), we met up.

There's a rule for how often someone gets asked for pictures. When you have more than one person, the frequncy goes up. Add kids in costume, it goes up again. So as we made our way around, we stopped for multiple photo requests. Every one was really polite, only taking pictures after they asked or when we were obviously already posing for pictures. I'm just disappointed I haven't stumbled across any of them yet.

Later that afternoon was the Brass and Steel LARP. This year it was held upstairs in Union Station, which helps set the mood a bit. The earlier time slot I think worked better, as people weren't tiring out towards the end. There were a lot of great costumes and a lot of great role-playing - the scenario was a diplomatic one, so it relied a lot more on the players than on game mechanics. Again, I wish I had remembered to get pictures of us in costume.

After the game, several of the people from the LARP went to the RAM. I was surprised that we got seated in relatively short order despite the number of people in our party. After the RAM we headed to the Cosplay Deviant party being thrown at Revel, a downtown club.

Once upon a time, White Wolf used to throw the big party at Gen Con. However, since White Wolf stopped heavily participating in the convention, the party went away. I'm not sure if this was intended to be a successor to WW parties, but it has potential. I was surprised how fast the VIP tickets sold out at $100 a pop (they included booze), and also surprised that they didn't sell enough general tickets - $10 each - to get the whole club.

When we arrived the party had been under way for a couple of hours and I thought someone said that the VIP booze had already been depleted. The VIP section was mostly typical looking gamers sitting in a line against the wall watching the dance floor with a couple of dressed up girls moving among the areas. We went upstairs where the bars were less crowded and we could look over the balcony and see most of the club.

Some of the muggles didn't know what to make of us. I had to explain what Gen Con was all about a couple of times, got a few free drinks, and was challenged to explain quantum physics after I made a Big Bang reference. I pointed out that I wasn't a quantum physicist or any kind of scientist for that matter and was rather drunk, but my explanation was deemed "close enough". By now all of my friends from the LARP had already called it a night, so I headed out just before last call to try to sleep off the evening's festivities.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Gen Con 2014 - Day 2

Last year when I declared that I would do the Orc Stomp 5k, I assumed they would still have a 8 a.m. event. When it came time to register, I discovered they had eliminated the 8 a.m. run and only had a 6 a.m. run. Well, frak. I had already told people I was going to do the run, so I signed up.

Friday I got up at 4:30 to make it downtown and be on site on time. As it was, I cut it close to the wire, despite the fact there was no traffic at o'gods early. My friend @knharter was running it also, but she was actually planning on running it, as opposed to me, which would be more of a power-walk. I wisely moved towards the back of the starting pack to stay out of the way of the speedier folk. This was my first event of this nature. I was surprised by how supportive and encouraging people were. I finished just over 47 minutes, which is what I had done on the treadmill at the gym.

After the Orc Stomp, I went home to shower and change (don't want to live up to the gamer stink) and returned downtown. During event registration, we had only secured 1 ticket for a tabletop Brass & Steel game, so I took some generics and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, someone else had gotten there first with generics, claiming the only no-show spot. Rather than game without me, KNH opted to skip the game and we hit the Exhibition Hall.

We both had mental shopping lists, mostly to do with Steampunk costuming stuff. I didn't much luck - what I was looking for was pretty specific, and the only person I saw wearing it didn't get it from the vendor booth he was working at. He was kind enough to get me a card, so I can get it for next year. After KNH left, I also managed to do my annual blessing of the dice. I know KNH appreciates me sharing my luck.

Scotty's was chosen as the dinner venue and I went there with a couple of friends. Despite the farther walk, we thought it would be worth it as Scotty's was most assuredly better prepared than the Ram. It was funny seeing muggles show up with no clue what was going on. A bridal party showed up only to find a geek invasion under way. Some sulked, others were good sports, taking pictures with the 501 (the stormtrooper group) and so forth.

I tried the Dogslicer Ale. It reminded me of Heineken. My second beer was a Klingon Warnog.

After dinner, I checked into my hotel. We did some walking around downtown and visited the WotC Tyranny of Dragons release party. I was underwhelmed. My friends took off, so I hung around the beer garden a bit, running into various people I knew. I got to try the Sun King Gen Con beer, but that was it. They ran out, so I settled for a Wee Mac and found more people I knew. A friend led me over to Tiki Bob's where some Gen Con folks were having a get togther, but the 4:30 a.m. soon caught up to me, so I called it an early night.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gen Con 2014 - Day 1

Every year I tell my self I will get downtown bright and early despite staying up late on Wednesday. Normally this is to beat the parking situation. My actually success in this in the past years has been hit or miss. Since I knew my parking situation was dealt with, there was less pressure, but I felt like I was making decent time, even stopping to grab breakfast I figured to be on site about 9. As long as I could get there around the time the Exhibitor Hall opened, it was all good.

My parking was taken care of, the traffic was a different story. It was as congested downtown as it would be by the X Hall. The traffic issue wasn't even Gen Con traffic, it was probably people being stupid. I ended up arriving just as they began the pre-opening speeches.

Speaking of which, if they are going to do that and want people to hear them, a few suggestions. First, stop the hall musicians during this time. There were a few thousand impatient gamers and one of the roving acts. Second, use a better sound system or turn up the volume. Finally, keep it short. As the crowd's attention wandered, their conversations rose.

When it comes to the actual opening of the X Hall, I don't try to go in with the tide of gamers. I'll wait until the crowds disappate. Then again, my sister found me to be infuriatingly patient on Christmas morning - she wanted to wake our parents at the crack of dawn, I was content to wait and avoid raising their ire before we could open our presents.

I met with a friend and we ventured into the hall, hoping to get a little shopping/sight-seeing before our game. We normally start at aisle 100 and work our way across. Evidently it was a popular idea. The crowd was significant, leading me to predict that Gen Con would break 60k. (Surprisingly, it was "only" 56k).

Our game of the day was a Pathfinder adventure. I picked the less-than-bright dwarf fighter so I could chew scenery with my quasi-Gaelic brogue. The GM was a bit less than prepared, and pacing suffered. My d20 betrayed me right out of the gate.

The fight before the "boss" encounter was a dragon that should have tore us up. Instead it was an hour of it playing apple-bobbing with our swimming cleric while our weapons bounced off and our wizard whittled it down. Time ran out for the session, so the GM declared that the dragon had killed the boss and taken the relics we were after, wrapping everything up. All in all, we still had some fun and I got out a few dwarf quotes on twitter:

"Kiss my axe!"
"I always keep my word... even if I can't spell it."

We went for an early dinner at the Ram (Oz tip - never plan to eat at 6 p.m., that's when everyone else will be leaving the hall.) We got a table in the bar right away, which seemed to bode well. However, service was slow and my medium burger ended up being closer to well and it seemed like our food had sat around a bit before being brought to us.

I called it an early night since I had to be up at 4:30 a.m. for the 5k Orc Stomp.

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