It’s Been a While

The annual nerd festival I run is over for another year, and a number of other impediments have fallen by the wayside. So this is me getting back in the saddle. Sorry for the long silence, but expect to see more from me more often.

I haven’t been entirely idle, of course. I wrote some things over at The Rat Hole, and you can catch up there. I’ve been jumping in on the monthly RPG Blog Carnivals, which has been excellent fun. Not only are the subjects interesting, but it has helped connect The Rat Hole with other TTRPG bloggers. And I highly recommend checking it out if you just want a curated list of good bloggers writing about good topics.

In addition, work has proceeded on the Uncaged Anthology, and Volume Two drops on Tuesday, July 2! Of all the projects I have recently worked on I think Uncaged Anthology is the one of which I’m most proud. I am forever grateful that Ashley Warren allowed me on board as one of the editors, and I look forward to the adventurers I’ll get to work on for Volumes Three and Four. And if you haven’t picked up Volume One yet, I recommend getting on that.

I’m also excited to take part in Ashley Warren’s RPG Writer Workshop this July. I’ve needed to get some focus on my own creative efforts, and I’m hoping this workshop will help me get a handle on better managing my adventure writing. The people and resources involved are impressive, and I look forward to coming out the other side of July with a publishable D&D adventure.

Editing proceeds apace, of course. My June was full, but I have time in my schedule July onward. So if you or someone you know is looking for an editor for an upcoming project, check out my page and get in touch. I’d love to talk to you about your project.

And one scant month from now I will be at Gen Con! I’m running a few games of Crossroads Carnival in the Magpie Games room (which have already sold out, so thank-you to my players!), and I will be at the ENnies Award Banquet on Friday night. Otherwise, I’m there to take in excellent panels and play some games. I’ve scheduled a few things each day, but I also have a mitt full of Generic Tickets so I can try to jump in on games or panels that catch my eye. If you’re running something, or have a panel, drop it in the comments so I can check it out. I can recommend the Uncaged Anthology panel if you want some behind-the-scenes info on how an anthology comes together. It’s also a great opportunity to get your copy of Volume One signed, if that sort of thing appeals to you.

And that’s my summer! Expect me to post more regularly here over the next couple of months, as I keep you up to date on my writing, editing, and playing. It’s looking like a good summer for TTRPGs, and I can’t wait!

Uncaged Volume One: Updates

I was just going to add this to my previous post regarding Uncaged Volume One, but there was just too much!

The hardcover version is now available through Drivethru’s print-on-demand. And there is a special bundle price if you want the PDF and print copies together. Which is what I did; the PDF is easier to use at the table, and the print copy is easier for me to pick up and read through. Plus it’s way easier to get the print copy signed at cons. Sharpie is just so hard on my laptop’s screen.

Also, a huge thank-you to everyone who purchased a copy so far. Thanks to you, Uncaged Volume One is currently a Platinum Best-seller on DM’s Guild, and steadily working its way to Mithril. That’s all down to the support you have shown this amazing project. If you have purchased Uncaged, please also leave a review on the product page, as active reviews help keep it in everyone’s eye. It’s not a surprise to me, having read through it, that Uncaged is enjoying an average of five stars.

If you have a moment, stop by and tell Ashley Warren how much you appreciate the work she has done in pulling these anthologies together. And if you are so inclined to thank her in a more tangible manner, you can check out her website for other things she has worked on, and purchase whatever strikes your fancy.

As well, Uncaged is partnering with Non-Toxic Gaming to host a charity stream benefiting RAINN. The community around the Uncaged Anthologies is so wonderful, it’s probably one of the best parts of being part of this project, to be honest. Details at the link, but keep your day free and your wallet full for that.

What else? Uncaged Volume Two is on track for its April release, so get ready for more adventure goodness. And if you’re going to Gen Con, keep your eye out for an Uncaged panel on the schedule; no details yet but it will be a good time and I plan to be in the front row with all the enthusiasm of a winning sports team’s biggest fan! I’ll leave the airhorn at home, however.

Get in the Con Game!

cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgGen Con started today, with tens of thousands of gaming nerds gathering in Indianapolis to celebrate the hobby they love. Sadly, I am not among them this year, though I have made the pilgrimage to gamer mardi gras in the past. If you have the means, I highly recommend attending Gen Con at least once in your lifetime. The experience is like nothing else.

But even if you can’t get to Gen Con this year, there are likely plenty of smaller gaming conventions just waiting to entertain you. There are regional and local cons held all over the world, run by nerds who love the tabletop hobby as much as you. Sites like Upcoming Cons and Game Convention Central can help you track down nearby cons. Most local cons will advertise where the gamers hang out, so check out your FLGS or game café for posters and/or flyers.

I live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and we have a number of local cons which feature gaming. It wasn’t always the case, of course, but with the general rise in popularity of tabletop gaming came an interest in sharing that experience with others. Even five years ago you could struggle to find something year-round. Now, I’m actually staggered a bit by choice. For those living in Edmonton (and the rest of Alberta, if you want to make the trip) here are some upcoming gaming cons happening in our fair city.

Edmonton Expo (Sept 23-25, 2016) – While not a gaming con per se, the Expo is a big convention and has a little bit of everything. In the last couple of years the tabletop gaming area has expanded and improved, and the Expo has introduced hundreds of new people to the hobby, as well as showing off new games to the veteran players. Full disclosure, I’m the Tabletop Gaming Team Lead for the event, so I might be a touch biased. But we try to make the tabletop gaming area as welcoming as possible, with an eye toward getting folks around a table and playing something. Because playing the game is the fun part, right? This year I’m excited because we have a number of local game designers and companies demoing their stuff, and folks can come try out games which are fresh on the market.

FallCon (September 30- October 2, 2016) – Not a local con, but definitely close by when compared to other cons you could travel to, FallCon happens every year in Calgary, AB. Currently in its 29th year of operation, it is currently the province’s longest-running gaming convention. And it shows; every year FallCon is a well-run weekend of fun for boardgame enthusiasts. Also a great con to help get an idea of what it’s like to travel to a con, if you haven’t done that yet. Think of it as the start of your training regimen for attending Gen Con.

IntrigueCon (October 14-16, 2016) – Locally run by Hazard Gaming, IntrigueCon is an annual role-playing convention. Its attendance is growing nicely, with a wide variety of both new and classic RPGs for local gamers to try out. The staff and volunteers are great, and the times I’ve managed to get out and run a game have been a blast. Edmonton gamers, if you’re looking for a great con experience while still being able to sleep in your own bed at night, this con’s for you.

Gamealot (October 21-23, 2016) Yes, that’s right, you can get in two back-to-back gaming conventions in the space of a week. One of the Edmonton area’s longest running gaming conventions, Gamealot used to be run out of Mission: Fun and Games’ store every September. This year they finally acknowledged that the store could no longer contain all the gaming goodness, and have moved to a much larger off-site venue. But in true Gamealot fashion, the weekend is shaping up to be just as packed with boardgames and card games as ever. And this is definitely the place to go if you want a boardgame palette cleanser after your IntrigueCon RPG experience. You’ll likely find me there running some Cheapass Games and the like.

KefCon (November 19-20, 2016) – An acronym for “keeping evenings fun”, KefCon is brand new boardgaming convention just entering its second year. No dates are announced for the next one, but they seem to be trying to run a single-day event every six months (the last was in mid-July). I haven’t been myself yet, but friends have told me it’s a good time, not unlike spending a day at your friend’s house playing boardgames. You know, if your friend’s house was the size of a local community hall. Update: They’ve picked some dates in November, and have expanded to two days. Tickets are on-sale now!

GOBFest (April 8 & 9, 2017) – Organized by local group POGOB (Players of Games on Boards), GOBFest is a wonderful two-day boardgaming event. Went to KefCon and you’re ready for something a little heftier? This is for you. Not only do they feature scheduled games and tournaments, but they have an impressively large library of games you can borrow for open gaming. Not to mention a number of “life-sized” games, for when you want to be the meeple. I’ve run games and played games at GOBFest, and had a blast doing both.

Okay, that’s my list of Edmonton gaming cons available for your enjoyment and titillation. Did I miss one? Did I get something wrong? Drop a note in the comments. And for everyone not living in my city, get out there and see what’s going on near you. You’ll be surprised at what you might find with just a bit of digging.cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpg

Convention Time, Part Deux!

A longish while back I wrote a post about going to conventions, with some tips and tricks I use when conning around. Since then I’ve written a few posts on subjects touching on gaming conventions; if you search the convention tag I’m sure they’ll pop up. Since the Grand Daddy of all gaming cons, Gen Con, starts this week, I thought it was a good time to P1000011_smtalk about them some more.

I have long believed gaming conventions are one of the best parts of the hobby. They offer a way to try new things with new people, in a generally supportive and positive environment. Even playing your favourite game with new people can be eye-opening. I love discovering a new strategy for a game by getting my butt whipped, knowing I can take that strategy back to my regulars and unleash it on them.

If a regular gaming convention does this for you, Gen Con ramps that up to Eleventy-One. Let me start by reassuring you, you will never get to do everything at Gen Con at a single Gen Con. Why is that reassuring? Because you have an ongoing reason to go back, my friend. And you will want to go back. There is no other con in North America, possibly the world, which can offer as much concentrated gaming goodness in one location. Whether you’re on the hunt for shiny new thing in gaming, or an OG looking to relive the games of your youth, Gen Con has it and you can play it. I have never been disappointed.

So I wanted to offer some tips to make your experience as good as it can be. Some of these are specific to Gen Con, but most will make any con better.

Be Considerate – This covers a wide variety of situations at the con, and obviously isn’t limited to just Gen Con. But there are just so many people at Gen Con that dickish behavior can quickly spiral. However, considerate behavior can also spiral, so follow Wheaton’s Law and keep it wholly.

This includes but is not limited to: bathing and using deodorant; not blocking the aisles for too long as you look at the new shiny or take a picture of cool cosplay; asking the cosplayer if you can take a photo in the first place, and being okay if the answer is no; not arguing rules during the time-limited game event you’re playing in (yes, you’re very smart and likely right. Who cares? Shut up and let everyone play!); follow Thumper’s Law (“If you ain’t got nothing nice to say, don’t say nothing at all.”); play the demos, play all the demos, but don’t hog the demos. If you want to play more of the game, sign up for one of the events or buy the game; watch your language, Gen Con is a family friendly con; say thank-you, every chance you get, to anyone who deserves it (food servers, game masters, the woman who ran your demo, game designers and authors you run into…the list is Me and the Eyeballendless).

Do the Things! – With an event catalog the thickness of the average game manual, it can be easy to be stymied by analysis paralysis as you try to figure out what to do next. You can spend hours sitting around, pouring through the events, trying to find the Best One. But you didn’t come to Gen Con to read the con guide, pretty as it is. You came to get your nerd on!

Hopefully you picked some events early and pre-registered, so you’ve already got those on your schedule. But hopefully you also left holes in your schedule for picking games/events as they appeal to you or as you find things you didn’t notice before. If that’s the case, don’t get too bogged down trying to figure out the Single Best Solution, because there isn’t one. Honestly, pick the first event that looks fun and get in there! As I said before, you won’t be able to do everything at a single Gen Con. So just do everything you can, and save the rest for next time. As long as you are having fun you are Gen Conning correctly, so don’t worry about what you might miss.

Look After Yourself – Gen Con is an endurance race, not a sprint. Trying to do all the things all day and night will burn you out. By Day Two you’ll be a wreck, and by Day Three you’ll be curled up in your hotel room trying to recover. So:

  • Get sleep, at least six hours a night.
  • Shower every day. We touched on cleanliness under the first point, but it is also a good way to look after yourself. You’ll just feel better if you’re clean every day, fact.
  • Eat actual food at least once a day. Anything served from a kiosk in the convention centre barely counts in this category, but even the con food is better than a steady diet of chocolate bars, soda, and chips. However, within five blocks of the convention centre are a variety of excellent restaurants and food trucks, all wanting to exchange currency for delicious, fresh food.
  • Drink water. How much? Hard to say, since it depends on a wide variety of physical factors. But here’s a tip: if your urine is the same colour as any of the various Mountain Dew varieties, you aren’t drinking enough (and if it’s the same colour as Code Red see a doctor immediately).
  • Try one thing you wouldn’t normally try. Could be a game, could be LARP, could be anything. Try something outside your comfort zone, at least once. You might pick up a new hobby, but at the very least you’ll gain an appreciation for something you’ve never tried before.

Thank the Volunteers – They were there before you in the morning and they’ll go home after you in the evening. They are constantly in motion, doing things you’ve never had to think about, so your convention experience goes smoothly. No convention in the world, Gen Con included, could run without volunteers. So say thank-you. Takes a second and it can make a volunteer’s day. And they deserve it.

And if you can swing it, volunteer. You’ll work your ass off, but you’ll also gain an appreciation of how much work goes in to making a convention run well.

Those are my tips. I’ve also got a a page with suggestion on what to pack in your Convention Kit, so check that out. If you’ve got a con tip please drop it in the comments below.

RPGaDay #28: Most Memorable Encounter

I was stumped on this one, until I decided to broaden my interpretation.

In 2010 I attended Gen Con for the first time in over a decade. I travelled down from Edmonton with a group of friends, and since it was my first time back in a while, chose to get the VIG, or ‘Very Important Gamer’, weekend pass. If you manage to snag one, I recommend trying it out at least once, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

One of the benefits of the pass is early admission to any of the big name panels; they jump us to the front of the line, and we sit in the front rows set aside for us. My friends and I were going in to see Wil Wheaton speak and read excerpts from his latest book (no, he’s not the MME in this case, though meeting him later would certainly qualify). As we were shown to our second-row seats (the very front row was reserved for industry and convention staff/volunteers), who should be sitting in front of us but Peter Adkison. Yep, Wizards of the Coast founding, Magic: The Gathering creating, Gen Con owning Peter Adkison.

A bit of back story. I was managing a gaming store during the period of TSR’s floundering and D&D’s near-death experience. I have a fine appreciation for what WotC buying TSR meant for the hobby at a retail level, because at that time we were staring down the barrel of a hobby without D&D. That was not a bullet most game stores could have survived, never mind the broader hobby in general. And beyond that, my favourite game of all time would go away (I hadn’t met Pathfinder yet). It was a bleak time.

Back to Gen Con. It meant a lot to me to meet the guy who unbleaked my hobby, and I really wanted to tell him that. Typical Canadian, though, I decided not to bother him and just bask in the proximity. Minutes after we sat down, of course, Mr. Adkison turns around in his chair and says, “Hey guys, enjoying Gen Con so far?” Buh.

Somewhere in the conversation which followed I managed to thank him for saving D&D from extinction, and went so far as to get him to sign my Gen Con badge. He was a very sweet, casual man, and a pleasure to talk with.

Now, that would have been cool enough. But over the next few days we kept running in to him at panels, and every time he would make a point to say hello, ask us how our con was going, and chat with us about…stuff. Most surreal moment: Peter Adkison talking to me about a character he’s playing in his home campaign. It was just such a perfect gamer nerd moment, and it’s one of many reasons I love this hobby.

RPGaDay Roundup, Part 2

The RPGaDay Roundup continues! If you’re just joing us, Part 1 is here. Let’s continue:

Day 13: Most Memorable Character Death

When I was in high school, I had a Paladin I had managed to get up to 16th level. I started that guy in junior high school, and at that time it was my longest running character.

For our younger gamers, a little history lesson: paladins were a rare breed back in 1st Edition D&D. You had to have multiple stats in the 17-18 range (one of which had to be Charisma), and you couldn’t just show up to a game with one already rolled up. You had to roll those dice in front of your GM to make sure you were on the level. I couldn’t believe my luck when I rolled the necessary scores, but there was no way I was going to let the chance pass. And thus, Sir Bennett was born.

Sir Bennett survived through every horror imaginable, including vampires, dragons, demons, and @%&$head DMs who just wanted to destroy a paladin. He was also the first character of mine who ever married; he met, was courted by, and wed a fighter in the party when they were both around 12th level. She later died and Sir Bennett, unable to save her, became a broken man for a while.

Sir Bennett died defending his keep from a marauding army of devils and undead which threatened to sweep across the land. He was victorious, earning the heroes death he truly deserved. As another first, we actually role-played out the reading of his Last Will & Testament (character Wills were the rage back then). Sir Bennett was allowed to return in ghostly form to render his bequests, and a great deal of fun was had, as I recall.

So raise a glass to brave Sir Bennett, a paladin just!

Day 14: Favourite Convention Purchase

It has become a tradition for me to visit the Chessex booth when I’m at Gen Con and purchase a mug of dice. If you don’t know, Chessex keeps a bin of assorted dice at its booth. You can pay a flat fee (this year it was $9) to scoop out a mug of dice from the bin. Mostly the bin is full of regular dice, but there is usually some of their odd or custom dice in there as well. I do it every year to restock my spare dice pool, and see what little oddities I can add to my growing collection. Pro Tip: if you do it, make sure to get your mug as close to the bottom as possible, that’s where the d4s and oddities usually hide.

Day 15: Favourite Convention Game

I will usually bring a few games with me to a con to play in the long line-ups, or when there is a spare chunk of time between scheduled events. So things like Zombie Dice or Cthulu Dice are my go to; they’re easy to teach, fast to play, and fit easily in a pocket of my bag.

If we actually have a chance to sit down at a table, and can take a bit of time, I like to pull out a game my friend Devon introduced me to called King of Tokyo. Has all of the qualities mentioned above, but requires a bit more of a set-up so it is not for all occasions. But it never fails to entertain, and I find it a great palette-cleanser between sessions of other, more intricate games.

Day 16: Game You Wish You Owned

Not so much a game as a game accessory, I deeply covet the Rise of the Runelords Deluxe Collector’s Edition. I’m currently GMing through the Rise of the Runelords AP with my regular Thursday night group, and I love everything about it. When Paizo first released the Adventure Path line, I though it was the smartest idea for a game accessory I had ever seen, and they’ve only improved upon the idea since.

But RotRL started it all, and the Collector’s Edition is ostentatiously gorgeous. Slap me with the Rune for Greed, I wants it so bad! Someday it will be mine, as a present to myself.

Day 17: Funniest Game You’ve Played

Hands down, this title goes to Tales from the Floating Vagabond from Avalon Hill, a perfect gem of a beer-and-pretzel game from my early gaming days. For many years I new the game only as a series of ads in The Dragon, but it hooked me with ad copy like: “Why is The Floating Vagabond like an anole? Sometimes it’s green, sometimes it’s brown, but it’s always a small Caribbean lizard.” I knew I had to play this game.

When I finally did, I wasn’t disappointed. The premise is pretty simple, as with most beer-and-pretzel games. The owner of the Floating Vagabond wanted to drum up business, so he installed a trans-dimensional gate in his door way which, for a few seconds, would randomly connect to a bar doorway somewhere else in the multi-verse. This transports any person walking through the door at that moment to the Vagabond, where he could sell the disoriented patron a drink or five.

What this means, of course, is that you can play anything. Any character you can dream up, who might want to get a drink at some point, can make an appearance in the game. The game does suggest some tropes to ease character creation. The game also uses Schticks to bring the fun and help flesh out your character. Schticks can include things like Never-ending Ammo, Errol Flynn Syndrome (you never enter a room through the door if another way is available, there will always be a rope to swing on), and one who’s name escapes me, but essentially meant that technology you don’t believe in doesn’t work around you (“Sir, I am a simple farmer from 14th century Sussex. Human flight is impossible!” *sounds of planes crashing all around*).

Maybe it had something to do with discovering the game around the time I discovered booze, but I loved this game. Ridiculous from start to finish, the game never takes itself seriously. It was one of the few beer-and-pretzel games I’d found which published modules. But with names like Cosmic Paternity Suit, Adventure with No Name, and Hypercad 54, Where Are You?, the modules never took themselves seriously either.

Tales from the Floating Vagabond was Kickstarted a little while back, and reached its funding goal. So I’m hopeful I’ll be able to lay my hands on a new version of the game very soon.

Day 18: Favourite Game System

Pathfinder RPG is still my favourite system these days. I know it, I’m comfortable in it, and I have a number of years of history with it. I don’t see it losing the top spot in the foreseeable future.

But a system I’m currently seeing on the side is the new Star Wars: Edge of the Empire game. Everything about the game mechanics supports playing a game with the feel and tone of Star Wars, which is something previous editions have missed for me. Also, the game doesn’t try to explain things which don’t need explanation; we don’t really care how computers work, for instance, so very little time is spent on that type of tech. And I’m a big fan of the custom dice used with the game. Yes, you’ll need to learn what the symbols mean, but once you do resolution becomes very quick and intuitive. I also think they were smart not to give us Jedi right out of the gate. As cool as they are, we know it’s the scoundrels which really make the Star Wars universe cool.

The State of the Tabletop Industry, and Why It Really Doesn’t Matter

Maybe it’s because fall is coming, and the threat of winter right behind; maybe it’s because the latest burst of game releases are behind us. But this is the time of year, it seems, when every game blogger and vlogger wants to speculate on that age-old (in this case, age-old would be defined as 39 years) question: What is the state of the gaming hobby? Is it going strong? Is it teetering on the brink of collapse? Okay, three age old questions.

Some would have us believe the hobby is in its “Final Days of Rome” stage; things look great on the surface, the populace is really happy and we are replete with the gaming bounty before us. Jump cut to the barbarian hordes encircling the city, ready to bring Rome to its knees. They feel there is a crash coming: too many publishers and wannabe publishers, too many games (I know, I know…) means the inevitable bottoming out of the hobby’s quality. Leading inevitably to the hobby dwindling and dying as interest in the now sub-par games wanes. The arguable failure of D&D 4th Edition is often pointed to as a sign of things to come.

Others look at the diversity of content as a sign the industry is at its strongest. They see the rise of the small content producer as a boon, not a bane, to a hobby that has always valued creativity and imagination. Add in the Kickstarter phenomenon and it would seem the influence of the individual hobbyist has never been stronger in the gaming industry. And the hobbyists will keep the hobby strong.

There would seem to be evidence to support the optimists. In its post-convention newsletter, Gen Con revealed some interesting statistics:

  • More than 49,000 people attended the convention, from across the US and the world
  • The convention generated an estimated $47 million dollars for the local community, second only to Indianapolis’ hosting of the Super Bowl.
  • A record number of events, more than 12,000, were offered this year
  • As well, a record number of Exhibitors were on hand (368)

All of that would seem to indicate that tabletop gaming, on both the industry and hobbyist side, is stronger than ever.

I’ve given a lot of thought to which camp I fall into, and my honest assessment is…I don’t care. Whether the gaming industry is strong or not is of no consequence to me as a gamer. Don’t get me wrong, I love the new gaming releases, I love discovering new games and finding new stuff for old games. But I am already at a point (and every gamer is at this point, whether they realize/accept it or not) where I can not possibly manage to play all the games I want to play. If I won the lottery today and spent the rest of my life gaming every day (*singing* To dream the impossible dreaaaam…!) I would still be on my deathbed regretting the games never played.

So do I love that the industry behind my hobby is strong right now? You bet! I am an active volunteer supporter of both Paizo and Cheapass Games; I love both those companies and I’ll promote their product to whomever will listen. But much like if the sun went out we would still have sunlight for about 8 minutes afterwards, if the gaming industry collapsed tomorrow I would still have enough games to last until my eventual heat-death. Role-playing games alone, I already have more campaign ideas and plans than I’ll ever get to, whether or not more books get published.

I really feel the question of the state or health of the industry is one that needs to be put by for a while, if not forever. Instead of asking whether the hobby will live, we should be focused on its quality of life. How is the hobby treating its members, for instance. Misogyny and other forms of gate-keeping, by both the industry and fellow hobbyists, is still a real issue. And in a hobby formed, arguably, by the excluded, it is frankly ludicrous we still have so far to go to fix the issue. So let’s leave off the wasteful hand-wringing, and settle into the needful work of making the hobby something we’ll want to keep going. Let’s make the hobby want to live.

What do you think of the state of the gaming industry? Drop your thoughts in the comments and share them with the class.

Super Late Gen Con Wrap Up!

I think the title says it all, really. Three and a half days home on a bus combined with multi-stage con crud equals me not posting about Gen Con until a week later. Since you’ve likely heard all the reviews already, I’m just going to hit my high (and low) points of the world’s biggest game con, in no particular order.

1) Failed my Perception Check – During my layover in Detroit, and just after I visited the ATM, I had my pocket picked. First time ever. So when I hit Gen Con I had nothing; no cards, no cash. What I did have, more valuable than gold, is my band of Venture Officers who helped me without question while I was there. Without them it would have been a much gloomier con, so though I’ve said it elsewhere, It bears repeating: my fellow Venture Officers are some of the best people I know. Thank-you, all!

Okay, that’s a low point, and it was really the only one. Let’s move on…

2) Running Bonekeep – The first two levels of Jason Buhlman’s Bonekeep PFS scenarios were available for play at this year’s Gen Con, and I GMed both of them. I can’t give anything away, because then what fun would you have playing them? But these scenarios were created to offer a serious challenge to the PFS players and they are not for the faint of heart. Character death is a real possibility, and players have the option of leaving after any combat if they feel they’re in over their heads.

The party I ran through Level One was a very well put together group. Six friends who played together constantly, they were optimized with team feats and so on. While I didn’t kill any of them before time ended, they were definitely challenged throughout and did not manage to get through it all. And they were afraid of dying all the way through, which for my money is a much harder thing for a GM to pull off. So I was pleased.

Level Two on the other hand… Meatgrinder is a good description, but doesn’t quite cover the hopelessness and existential dread of the players as the dungeon proceeded to take them apart. The 5-hour slot started at 7pm and by 10:17pm (I looked at my watch) the players cried “Pax!” and we stopped. I’m not a GM that loves killing characters for the sake of killing characters, so while I felt good about the way I ran it, my sympathies definitely lay with the honoured dead.

That said, if you are a PFS GM these scenarios are a metric buttload of fun to run. And if you are a PFS player and have a chance to try either level of Bonekeep, do it! It will be the most challenging and fun dungeon delve you ever attempt.

3) The PFS Gen Con Special – Every year Paizo runs a PFS Special at Gen Con, and this year was no exception. Siege of the Diamond City was the big kick-off to the “Year of the Demon”, Pathfinder Society’s fifth season of organized play. And what a kick-off it was! This year Paizo was in the Sagamore Ballroom of the convention centre, which meant 150 tables of Pathfinder goodness all weekend long. The Special has a history of selling out its tickets, and so it was again this year with no generic tickets being allowed for the event.* That meant for five hours, 900 players and 150 GMs all took part in the same shared adventure, and it was glorious! Thanks to the excellent work of Thurston “Thursty” Hillman et al, the whole evening ran smoothly and players at every level felt like they were contributing to the action. That last is a hard balance to strike, so kudos to Thursty for pulling it off.

I have GMed the Gen Con Special twice now, and both times enjoyed myself immensely. As long as I’m going to Gen Con I’m going to volunteer to GM the Special for Paizo. There is just something about that huge shared experience which is powerful and gratifying, and I wouldn’t want to miss it.

4) Cheapass Games Booth – While most of my weekend was filled with Pathfinder, I did have my Sunday free. And since I fear free time at a con like a vampire fears skylights, I volunteered to help out at the Cheapass Games booth. I have to say, I’m really glad I didn’t decided to just end my Gen Con with wanderings, because I had a blast! James Ernest is a smart, funny man and it was a real pleasure meeting the person behind all the games I Demo Monkey-ed lo those many years ago. I also met Julie Haehn, Cheapass’ marketing director and all-round kick-ass person. I had a lot of fun working with her during the day, and learned a lot about the art of no-pressure sales.

One of the best parts of the day were all the industry folk that stopped by the booth to say hello/goodbye, it being the last day of the con. For a gaming nerd like me it was a star-studded day of gaming luminaries, though I’m sure none of them think of themselves that way.

The other cool thing was the number of folks who made a point to stop by the booth and express how happy they were that Cheapass Games is back. Gamers would just walk up out of the crowd, high five me and thank me for their favourite games. I stopped trying to explain that I had nothing to do with any of that, being a humble volunteer, and accepted that I was receiving the thanks in an ex cathedra capacity.

And that was my Gen Con. There are other things that popped into my head while writing this, so maybe there will be a second post later this week. But so many of those things were really “had to be there” moments, so maybe there won’t. Because that’s the great thing about going to something like Gen Con: the personal experience, the little things that happen or are overheard, that you couldn’t plan and could only happen in that moment.

So if there is one take-away I want my readers to have, it is: go to cons! Big, small, or in between, you need to get your gaming nerd butt to a convention. You won’t regret it.

Did you go to Gen Con this year? Or any other cons? Share your thoughts/stories in the comments!