Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Gencon 2011 Report

I've been back from Gencon since Sunday, but it's taken me a few days to decompress and gather my thoughts. Traveling to and from Indianapolis was time-consuming, especially with delays at the airport, and the hotel's air conditioning system being broken and switching hotels and all of the hassles that come with modern metropolitan living.

Still, the convention was probably the best I've ever attended.

It marked my girlfriend's induction into playing RPGs and the gamer culture. She's a self-admitted geek with a penchant for SyFy shows, Doctor Who and unicorns.

Yes, unicorns. Oy. Don't ask.

For her, Gencon was an opportunity to see me rubbing shoulders with fellow gamers and those in the gaming industry who produce the wonderful products people play. It was also our first real vacation together, since our hectic and hellish schedules leave us little time for travel.

Day One: Thursday, Aug. 4
Because of a delay our flight, which was scheduled to leave at 2 p.m., didn't actually leave until 2:30 p.m. We arrived at Indianapolis after 4 p.m. which gave us precious little time. When we arrive at our hotel we're informed the air conditioning was broken and the rooms would be ready for Saturday. The hotel was nice enough to arrange for our stay at a hotel located across the parking lot from theirs. We settled into our new temporary digs, then walked to the convention center where Gencon was underway. After some wrangling we got our badges and headed into the exhibit hall with a half hour to spare.

I made a beeline for the Studio 2 booth and snagged a copy of Savage Worlds Deluxe and chatted with some colleagues from Reality Blurs and Pinnacle.

After that, the girlfriend and I had dinner at Claddagh Irish Pub before heading back to the hotel and sleepyland.

Day Two: Friday, Aug. 5
After a power breakfast at the hotel, we headed out to the convention center. Gencon affords one the rare and unique opportunity to witness an abundant amount of cosplay. There are only so many photos one can take of women dressed like Princess Leia or Japanese ninja schoolgirls.

Like this chick.

Or this Smurf/fish girl or whatever the hell she's supposed to be.

Putting the eye candy aside, we spent the morning in the exhibit hall.

Since it was my girlfriend's first gaming experience, we procured her a dice bag and set of polyhedral dice. I obtained a few more goodies: a copy of Hellfrost Player's Guide signed by creators Paul "Wiggy" Wade-Williams and Robin Elliott; The Path of Kane , an adventure book for The Savage World of Solomon Kane; the Sticks & Stones card game and Echo Nouveau, a book of Art Nouveau illustrations by artist Echo Chernik.

There's no such thing as having "too many" dice.

Reality Blurs products! Note they only had the Deluxe Edition of Ravaged Earth left.

Following lunch at Noodles & Company, we went to JW Marriott, a brand spanking new hotel where my Ravaged Earth game was scheduled.

I ran a Ravaged Earth game I wrote, "The Vril Machine". The party consisted of Dawn Star (hobo psionicist), Conroy Rockefeller (dilettante), Coleston Baker (explorer), Thomas Alloy (gadgeteer), Abdul ul-Rashid (mystic) and an unnamed Man of Mystery. The adventure lasted four hours and pitted the intrepid explorers against the Vril Society in Germany. The group sneaked into a secret Nazi research base, freed two trapped Martians and battled members of the SS. The players had such a good time they applauded my game mastering talents.

Behold! The elusive and powerful Vril Machine!

Following the game, we visited to the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors and the prospect of an entire library/museum dedicated to his life and work filled me with childish glee. Chatting to the staff and viewing the artwork, murals and artifacts (including Vonnegut's typewriter and Purple Heart from World War II), only rekindled my appreciation of the man's work. He had a unique style and vision and his writing spoke to me during my teenage years. I remember heading to the shore for summer vacation and buying his paperback novels at a hole-in-the-wall bookshop and devouring his words on the beach. When I got to college, Hocus Pocus was published, and I wrote him a letter gushing about how wonderful I thought he was and what advice he had for young writers like myself. He never replied to my query, but I remained a devoted fan of his work for many years.

If Warehouse 13 needs another artifact, try Vonnegut's typewriter.

We had a delicious dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory, then headed to the Subterra Lounge for drinking and dancing. Actually, my girlfriend drank and danced. I just chaperoned and escorted her back to the hotel. Chivalry or just too damn tired? You decide.

Day Three: Saturday, Aug. 6
We relocated back to our original hotel and spent most of the day at the exhibit hall, making final purchases and soaking up the rich geeky atmosphere. Gaming is a hobby I enjoy and its participants are intelligent and funny people. Just walking around the exhibit hall and watching the cosplay, the vendors and playing a few demos was a great way to unwind. Though it's a chaotic, noisy exhibit hall, everywhere you look you saw a reference to pop culture, science fiction or fantasy. I'm proud to belong to an industry with such eclectic and creative people and some of the best fans on the planet.

Gamers gaming.

I would play Flapjacks and Sasquatches based on the name alone.

Redneck Life is like Milton Bradley's Life only with rednecks and trailers. The object is to not lose your teeth. I AM NOT KIDDING!

After hanging around the exhibit hall, we went to the Pinnacle seminar in the Marriott. As a licensee, I spoke about the wonderful products in the works from Reality Blurs, including Agents of Oblivion, a game of supernatural espionage, a revamped Ravaged Earth, and more Mythos Tales for Realms of Cthulhu and additional Old School Fantasy adventures.

Following a much-deserved nap, girlfriend and I had dinner, then went to Savage Saturday Night at the Omni Hotel, where I ran another Ravaged Earth game I authored, "Slave Pits of Agharta." The Jennings Ballroom was packed with tables filled with gamers playing various Savage Worlds games. In "Slave Pits", a group of daring explorers ventured deep into the dark caverns underneath a small town to locate a missing child prodigy, only to find themselves emerging into a new world - the Hollow Earth realm of Agharta! The players battled a dinosaur, brigands, warriors, a wizard and a dragon and had a blast doing it. This group also gave me a standing ovation following the adventure's epic finale. Savage Worlds fans are some of the best in the industry.

Thog the Jungle Lord maneuvers onto a pissed off T-Rex.

Day Four: Sunday, Aug. 7
Homeward bound. Not much to report here, save the Indianapolis International Airport has a clean and pleasant terminal. Oh, and there was also this to remind us of how things still suck in the publishing world:

Gencon 2011 was the best gaming convention I've ever attended. Within that whirlwind of bizarre costumes, pop culture references and RPGs and boardgames and card decks lies the heart of how important this hobby is to me. It's a strong community of people who share an interest in gaming. It's a group of strangers distanced by geography and time sitting around a table and adopting an alternate identity to cooperate and achieve goals as one. These goals may be epic quests over fantasy realms, or epic battles during World War II or exploring the uncharted depths of outer space. Whether they're fighting flesh-eating zombies, shooting Nazis or slaying dragons, these strangers interact together and share stories and laughter. I can think of no other panacea for loneliness than gaming. The chance to meet some wonderful people and build friendships makes Gencon special every year for me.

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