“There and Back Again: A Gamer’s Tale”
Arrival and Purchases
I have been attending gaming conventions since 1991 and each one has been unique and special. This year’s GenCon continued that streak. Once again, we loaded the van up and headed south to Indianapolis. Cox and Hayes met at my place and were on our way at 8 a.m. We ended up at the Convention Center just after noon on Thursday (We lost an hour due to Indy being on eastern time). The first thing we noticed was the expansion of the center is almost complete. In fact, it will open in December and I look forward to seeing if GenCon will take over the entire space, which could be very cool. Will Call pick up of badges went smoothly and the only disappointment was the absolutely LAME swag bag. Other than the coupon book and D&D comics preview, there was really nothing in the bag. Origins had much better freebies.
We hit the floor and I once again was blown away by the sheer size of this convention. Origins doesn’t even compare. There are 24 aisles numbered 100, 200, 300, etc. By the time we left at 5 pm we had not even walked half the floor. It was also packed, even on Thursday. This would be true all four days. I haven’t seen the final numbers but I’m sure it was near 30,000 attendees. I knew that Thursday was a day to grab items that would sell out by Saturday so I insisted we walk across the hall to the Wizards of the Coast booth. I had read that WotC had brought enough of the new limited edition Icons miniature of Orcus for 25 people per day. They were handing out raffle tickets until 2 pm and then would pull 25 numbers. Those folks would then have the opportunity to buy Orcus for $60.
When we got to the booth, we had our second big disappointment of the convention. The Wizards booth sucked. First, it was small. Half of it was dedicated to Magic. The other half was taken up by waiting lines. One led to a chance to roll a big d20 and win some kind of small prizes. The other led to a small counter to buy things. It was also the line you had to stand in to get a raffle ticket for Orcus – and it was packed! I wasn’t going to waste my time standing in a line. Also, they had a display case built into the counter but the only way to see anything was to wait in line. Dumb!
A while later, we stumbled into a 3rd party vendor from St. Louis that was selling tons of miniatures at pretty good prices. To my surprise, they had 2 Orcus’ for sale for $60. I thought, why should I wait in line? I’ll buy it here.” Then one of the owners says, “Hey! We have a $5 off coupon in the Coupon Book in your swag bag!” So I ended up buying the 2nd to last Orcus at their booth for only $55!!! It was the bargain of the Con because I saw Orcus for sale at other booths for as much as $85!
My other big purchase that day was at Alea Tools. We use these magnetic condition markers and have grown to love them. I picked up more white and some new pink markers, as well as a few large size markers. I also added a ton of conversion units to add to plastic minis. They had a new addition: sticker labels for the markers with “bloodied”, “marked”, and other conditions. They even have one with numbers 1-10 to designate creatures. Love it! A few packs of cheap Clix later, and I was done.
Since I made my big purchases on day one, I really didn’t buy much the rest of the Con. I picked up a few things for the girls. I also added some D&D mini singles on Sunday. As my final purchase, I ended my two year ban on myself by visiting the Reaper Miniatures booth. They have started to create “knock off” minis of D&D races such as tieflings, warforged, and…dragonborn!!! So I just had to buy one. I also replenished my dried out paints and made a vow: I will paint all my metal minis and terrain pieces by GenCon next year.
Overall, the vendor floor was once again overwhelming and gigantic. I was surprised by how many clothing vendors were there and steampunk clothing was everywhere (although I still don’t know what game these people are playing!). Larry Elmore was there and being honored all weekend. Weis and Hickman had booths next to each other. And there were plenty of costumed babes. Some were even good-looking.
In terms of gaming, this was my best convention ever. I played D&D in the hotel three nights in a row, did two Dungeon Delves in the RPGA room, and played for over two hours on the car ride back on Sunday. Yes, I actually DMd in a moving vehicle travelling between two states.
On Thursday, Hayes and Cox sat down for the next episode in “Seekers of the Ashen Crown”, part of our our on-going Eberron campaign. We also managed a first: Drew “Skyped” in and joined us. Apart from one technical mishap, it actually worked! Of course, the party almost died but I gave them a chance to redeem themselves, which they did. On Friday night, Drew was there in person and Bessey and Tomaso showed up to join us. Do you know what a TPK is? It stands for Total Party Kill and we almost had one. In fact, I had my first actually character death in several years as Tomaso’s warlock, Mina, got her head sliced off. Yuck. The group dragged their fallen comrades out, Tomaso changed the character’s name to Mona, and they returned, barely winning. Saturday night was more of the same: near deaths, another TPK scare, but eventual victory. But combat took so long that we didn’t get through as far as I had hoped. But all was redeemed on Sunday. Since we were stuck in the car on the drive back and the next part of the adventure was mostly role-playing, I sat in the back of the van and DMd for Hayes, Cox, and Drew. It was awesome!! We got SO MUCH done in the module. We even ran one combat encounter against some wights and zombies! It also made the trip fly by. Right as we pulled into my driveway, we finished the section and are now ready for the third part! I’ve never done that before!
The other new gaming experience occurred Saturday and Sunday. We played through two Dungeon Delves. These are sponsored by WotC and run by the RPGA. It is held in the Sagamore Ball room, which is a giant space holding several different events, including the D&D tournament where you play as a team and see how long your team can survive. There were demos of D&D using the NEW Red Box and demos of the now shipping Castle Ravenloft board game. They were also doing Dark Sun coliseum battles. Now a Dungeon Delve costs $4 in generic coupons and you just walk up to the area and wait for a table of 6 to be ready. You sit down with an RPGA DM, grab a pre-generated character, and roll for initiative. The DM starts a timer and you start playing through two encounters. At the end of 60 minutes, your Delve is over. If you survive the first room, you get 2 points. If you survive the second, you get 2 points. The DM can also award an extra point for surviving or doing something cool. He stamps a card and you can redeem the card for two kinds of prizes. The first are “virtual” prizes that can be used in any other Delves during the Convention. The more expensive ones include shirts, bags, and condition cards.
Saturday morning, we rolled out of bed WAY too early and were at the Convention by 8 am. Since the vendor floor didn’t open until 10 am, all six of us – Dohrer, Hayes, Cox, Tomaso, Bessey, and Drew – walked in and were promptly seated at a table. Of course, we had NO IDEA you needed generic tickets so after a short delay, we played. We actually survived the first encounter and were into the second when time ran out. It was awesome! I loved playing with all six of us. It felt like we should have “Team Bessey” shirts or bowling shirts or, YES, hockey jerseys!! On Sunday, the four of us played with a couple and experienced the “toughest delve” of the convention resulting in a TOTAL PARTY KILL!!!! I mean we got smacked BAD! But we still got some points and since we were in the final delve of the convention, they gave us all kinds of prizes. Hayes and I each got a pack of condition cards that will start showing up at the gaming table back home. And each of us chose one free “virtual” prize that I am allowing them to give to their Eberron characters.
I did attend two seminars, one on running a long-term campaign and the other on upcoming products from WotC. Both were good and instead of talking about them here, I’m going to link to several sites that summarize the announcements. You can even listen to a podcast of the product announcements from the Wizards site or through iTunes. In the middle of the seminar, you can even hear me make a snarky comment to Bill Slaviciek from WotC!!! I’m famous!
Links to new release info:
The upshot of all the announcements is this: Dungeons & Dragons is in good hands and is not going to be screwed up. All the controversy about the “Essentials” line is really just Wizards trying to introduce new players to the game we love and ensure that it will be around for generations to come. There are several products we are all going to be buying soon, including the Rules Compendium, new dungeon tiles, and some of the Board games based on D&D. Gamma World is back and looks great. Their special miniature for the year will be a set of beholders. And they are releasing a Ravenloft game setting. They were not able to talk specifics about DDI or the miniature line, but they did indicate that Atari is coming out with a D&D based console video game soon.
Hayes and I accosted an RPGA leader and complained about the poor communications we have had with the RPGA over the years. As a result, I was able to score a limited copy of the 4e version of Village of Hommlet, which will make an appearance at a gaming table near you very soon!
It was great to see WizKids back. The new clix look great. They are prepping TWO Star Trek based games that have possibilities. And Pirates is not gone but they don’t have any plans to announce just now. Paizo won all kinds of Ennies and Pathfinder makes me want to play 3.5 again…kind of.
Indianapolis keeps getting better. There are more restaurants. They are building more hotels near the Convention Center, which will double in size as of this December. And did I mention that GenCon starts on August 4th, 2011? What do you say? Shall we play a game?