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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