I Went to Gen Con

Gen Con

I did. It was my first time and everything. Yes, I’m a little tardy in summing up my experience. I was out of town for two weeks for not only Gen Con but NecronomiCon as well, and had work waiting or on its way to me when I returned. But, finally, I’m passing on a few thoughts.

So, how was it? It was quite nice, really. As a first-time attendee of such an enormous and long-running convention dedicated to gaming, I was prepared to be overwhelmed, which was indeed the right mindset. Having experienced Comic-Con International‘s staggering expansion over the last twenty years, I have developed convention survival skills that serve me well. While Gen Con isn’t as big (you don’t need to squeeze through people or perpetually stand in line), it’s still difficult to see and do everything you’d like to.

Eternal LiesI got to reconnect with and meet a lot of people that I’ve worked with. I picked up contributor’s copies of Eternal Lies and The Esoterrorists, 2nd Edition from Simon Rogers of Pelgrane Press, who released ten new books at the convention. As with all things Pelgrane, they’re beautiful books, and I’m honored to have had a hand in them as a copyeditor. Eternal Lies is Trail of Cthulhu‘s foray into the kind of globe-trotting campaign that Lovecraftian roleplaying is renowned for, and The Esoterrorists, 2nd Edition is a refinement with additional material for the game of occult conspiracies that introduced GUMSHOE’s investigative genre emulation to roleplaying. I met Mike Mason at the Chaosium booth, congratulated him on Call of Cthulhu‘s 7th editiThe Esoterrorists, 2nd Editionon, and told him how much my group enjoyed playtesting it. His new role as line editor hadn’t been announced yet, so I didn’t have an opportunity to congratulate him on that as well. He gave me a print copy of the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules (the updated version is now available for download). I met lots of other great people and chatted with them about their games, and I attended some instructive panels on freelancing in the industry.

Gen Con’s a game convention, but I didn’t sign up for any beforehand for a couple of reasons. Again, not having attended before, I wasn’t sure how much time I could devote to that activity. Also, I wasn’t able to log on when game registration went live, and, considering what I’d heard about how quickly games fill up, I wasn’t surprised that there wasn’t much available for me. I started hearing about Games on Demand in the days before the convention, so I knew to check that out.

I don’t have a lot of experience with playing games in convention settings, so the hard-working folks behind this have set the high standard that I will now judge all such activities by. It was an excellent opportunity to try out different games. The flexibility Games on Demand provides worked out just great, and I got to play in five fun games over the course of the convention (and if I’d wanted more, I’m sure I could have gotten into some). It could sometimes be hard to hear over all the commotion, but I’m sure players at the adjoining tables were occasionally frustrated by my own volume.

I played School Daze written and run by Tracy Barnett and Carolina Death Crawl presented by Adam Drew. I played in a Dungeon World game run by Will Hindmarch, the head writer of Eternal Lies; I also played Always/Never/Now, his cyberpunk game based on Lady Blackbird, run by Mark Causey. And I got to try out Monsterhearts, run by Anne, a game I’d been intrigued by for a while. I read it a couple of months ago, and it was definitely interesting but not necessarily something I foresaw getting a group together for, especially  for a campaign. With the wrong group of players, Monsterhearts could be a disaster. That’s true of any game, but the sexually charged subject matter in this game makes the chance of blundering into the wrong group and having an uncomfortable experience seem a little higher than usual. I’m quite happy that I had a great time with it, developing more of an emotional attachment to the characters than I almost ever do, especially in such a short time. I’d love to be able to explore that particular story further.

Sex has never been a big part of my roleplaying experience. Even in games where players take more time with creating backgrounds and developing characters during play, romantic connections are rare or an afterthought. And, when I’m the GM, it’s not something I press. But thinking back on it lately, I realized there were more positive experiences with it in my history than I initially remembered, some quite recent. It was far easier for me to recall the awkward or annoying experiences, the ones that help make me trepidatious about including such material. It’s a quandry that we are generally more comfortable with roleplaying violence than we are with romance and sex. I know I’m not alone in this; it’s been a fairly frequent subject of discussion lately. Here are two recent Google Hangouts on the part sex can have in roleplaying: Indie+ Sex and Dice, with game designers discussing how it factors into design and gameplay, and Sex & RPGs, where two of the Games on Demand folks discuss how they approach sex in their games.

The X-CardI also got to experience the X-Card at Games on Demand, a device for creating a safe playing space by allowing any player at any time to non-verbally indicate that the game has veered into uncomfortable material. Of the five games I played, only one didn’t utilize it (and, in that one, we had a discussion beforehand about what themes we didn’t want to include). After its introduction each time, the card sat in the center of the table, accessible but, ultimately, unused. Regardless of its inactivation, I think its presence was a positive one. Just because no one at any point saw fit to use it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t doing its job. I found it reassuring, even though there’s very little, at least in the abstract, that I am likely to object to in a game (it depends on presentation, and I’m more likely to be annoyed than outright offended). Possibly I was more reassured to know that everyone else had recourse to it, in case I or anyone else verged into uncomfortable territory. Certainly, when you’re playing a game like Monsterhearts with complete strangers, a device like the X-Card can be very welcome indeed.

So I did indeed have a great time, both productive and fun. I’m going to do my level best to get there next year. And I expect I’ll make some time for games.

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ACHTUNG! Trail of Cthulhu

My Trail of Cthulhu conversions of Modiphius‘s first two Achtung! Cthulhu scenarios are now available.ACHTUNG! CTHULHU The Achtung! Cthulhu setting pits agents of the Allied nations against those of the Axis as they seek to harness the cosmic power of the Mythos. The backdrop of WW II has previously appeared in Cthulhoid roleplaying, but Achtung! Cthulhu is the first setting to provide substantial material for games set in that era. Here’s a link to a bundle deal on the PDFs (where they can also be purchased individually).

The scenarios are Three Kings and Heroes of the Sea, the first two parts of the episodic Zero Point campaign, written by Sarah Newton. Each stands alone, providing an individual mission to challenge the players. Modiphius previously provided versions for Call of Cthulhu, Realms of Cthulhu, and PDQ. This is one of the benefits of PDF publishing, though print versions will follow at some point. Based on the great success of their recent Kickstarter—which started with two books and funded to about five times that, with the addition of miniatures, a board game, and more—this line will have a long and healthy life.

My conversions provide statistics and rules, including, of course, Trail of Cthulhu‘s method of providing clues. While these scenarios have more opportunities for furious action than Lovecraftian ones stereotypically do, they have many of the familiar qualities of investigation, cautious approaches, and mind-shattering horror. If you are unfamiliar with Ken Hite’s Cthulhu Mythos version of Robin D. Laws’s GUMSHOE rules, more information can be found on Pelgrane Press’s website.

While a lot of conversion work is more or less mechanical, though requiring creativity and judgment (this stat equals this one, this Call of Cthulhu skill used to find the clue is equivalent to this Trail of Cthulhu one, etc.), this project’s setting provided further interesting challenges. Sarah Newton had provided CoC rules for vehicle combat and large-scale engagements (including rules for PCs commanding such forces). I wrote rules for these aspects of warfare to fit ToC‘s style, and this was probably the most extensive design work I did on these. Also of interest to Keepers are the numerous spells I converted (three for Three Kings and seventeen for Heroes of the Sea, with two overlapping between them). Some of these are spells I’ve converted in the past, but I looked at each one to determine if changes needed to be made to fit the scenario or my own evolving sensibilities.