Convention Reports
A Visit to GenCon 2000
GenCon projected on side of Midwest Center

Wow. This is my eighth consecutive report on GenCon (yes, including my late and short one last year). So, how was the last GenCon of the millennium? Fun! We have only two more to go before it moves to Indianapolis in 2003, so we have to make the best of things now.

This was the third year for GenCon in the new Midwest Express Center in Milwaukee, and the first with it completely finished. The main exhibit floor now reaches over Wells Street (to where the old convention center stood), so you can have the questionable thrill of driving through the convention center. It does look quite nice, though. Unfortunately, most of the block that held the old convention center is used for a surface parking lot. Given the sparse usage of it, I think that it was reserved for exhibitors or something like that. There was a really good opportunity there to build a whole parking ramp and/or another hotel there, to alleviate some of the stated reasons that Wizards of the Coast is moving GenCon to Indianapolis. Alas, it's not to be, for now. Perhaps they are keeping their options open with leaving it mostly open for now.

U.S. Cellular Arena

Another big change is that U.S. Cellular bought the naming rights to the Arena (part of the late, lamented MECCA trio of buildings, where the Bucks and Admirals used to play), and plastered their logo on it. It's not that bad of a look, really.

Wednesday, August 9 - Registration Confusion, and Holy Living Force, Batman!

Anyway, I was sick the week previous to the con, so I was not at strength to partake of as much as I wanted. I still made a good showing, though. I arrived on site about 6:20 PM on Wednesday to pick up my badge and tickets. Unfortunately, I ended up in the "owes money" prereg line (when I was fully paid) and was there for quite a while before this error was caught; fortunately, the nice workers who found this out put me at the front of the correct line (apologies to the people behind me). I got my badge and tickets and raced over to Solomon Juneau Hall (next to the Arena) to barely make the RPGA Members meeting starting at 7 PM. (It started a bit late, as Robert Weise needed to unwrap some awards, so it wasn't too bad.)

Before, during and after the meeting, I saw numerous people that have a presence on the RPGA-Talk mailing list. The ones I reall seeing were Jason Nichols, Keith Hoffman, Clare Hoffman, Troy Daniels, Erik Mona, Patrick Schultz, Danielle Ostach, Andrea Paulinski, Ben Harris and Greg Dreher. I also saw a slew of other CARP (Capitol Area Role Players - the Lansing, MI area RPGA club) people and people I've seen at the Wisconsin cons over the last few months.

Robert (RPGA HQ manager) started it off with a lot of introductions, including (eventually) the HQ staff and the international managers. (There was no charity auction, which I was happy about as they are of little interest to me and really take too much time.) He then turned it over to David Wise (worldwide RPGA director), who had a bunch of announcements, that I scribbled down.

Robert gave out a lot of awards (the first kind of like bronze Olympic medals on red, white and blue ribbons) to the Circle of 6, then some general ones, then some module editors and the ever-suffering LC coordinators - Keith Hoffman, Cindy Mullins, Christy Nichols, RPGA-Talk alumnus Alex Lombardi, and a couple others I've forgetting. Erik Mona was in there taking pictures that should be up on the web site at some point.

Then came the lifetime achievement award for Don Weatherbee, and then a bunch of module writing milestone awards - I'm so forgetting the people involved, exept for Robert himself at 50, and the prolific Tom Prusa at one hundred. (Yes, one hundred. Robert got all of the module authors to stand up and make a hazing line before announcing this last one - Tom got to go through and shake all of their hands on the way up to the stage.

Thursday, August 10 - Buzzing Like A Swarm of PHBs

This was =the= day, the largely anticipated one. 3rd Edition D&D came out! And there was much rejoicing, as AD&D is no longer as confusing! Now, I'm not a strong proponent of AD&D, as it's a confusing mass of rules that have very little consistency. In fact, I pretty much only play it because of the RPGA's Living City (and Living Jungle, to a lesser extent) campaigns. But, wow, 3rd Edition D&D makes a lot more sense. AC goes =up= as it gets better. A high roll is always desired. There are a lot more customization options. The bizarrely discrete proficiency system is gone, replaced with a skill system. i haven't done that much with it yet, but man, it's a lot better.

Anyway, the day started out for me in the Arena, with a Living City game called "Eagle's Landing". I rather liked it, as is usual for LC games set in Procampur. There was one particular combat I could have done without (that had my Selune priest lose half of his hit points in a round and then running for his life), but the rest was pretty neat.

At noon, I went over to the Exhibit Hall and picked up my pre-ordered Players' Handbook. There has been a lot of press about it, so I'll just mention that it looks very nice and "exciting", with color illustrations and color borders on each page. The paper is glossy, though, and there are some busy backgrounds that make it harder to read. I do like the diagrams for combat and certain spells, though. It includes a character generator CD, which unfortunately is Windows-only, but which I understand makes the character generating process a lot simpler. (There were no display copies out, you had to buy the PHB before you could take a look at it).

I'll talk about all my Exhibit Hall stuff now, to keep it somewhat organized. (The alternative, of course, is to break up stuff by each day.)

Anthony Daniels, C-3PO
Anthony Daniels (C-3PO in the Star Wars films) gets interviewed

Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) was the big media guest this year, and I did get a chance to glimpse him once or twice. J. Michael Straczynski (the creator of "Babylon 5", "Crusade" and "Rising Stars" and all-around great writer) was also there, although I did not get a chance to see him. I have been to several cons where he was a guest before, though, so I was not overly disappointed. Peter Woodward of "Crusade" was there as well, and I do regret not seeing him.

But now on to the good stuff.... Let's see what swag I got!

Leaving out the D&D handbook, my big purchase was the Heliograph reprint of "Space: 1889". I was enchanted with its premise when it came out, but never got a copy nor played it. Heliograph picked up the license to the entire line, and is printing them up in softcover format. I got the main rulebook, and will probably get more in the future. (In case you don't know about the game, it is set in a world in which Thomas Edison achieved space flight in the 1870's, and by the time of the game, the British and other empires have expanded to the Moon, Venus and Mars, which were previously inhabited. "Liftwood", which exhibits the peculiar attribute of anti-gravity was discovered in the Martian highlands, and enables flying boats.)

I also got the new "Tales From the Vault", the third volume of "lost" Knights of the Dinner Table strips. Kenzer & Co. was also selling their Kingdoms of Kalamar stock at fire-sale prices, so I picked up the boxed set for $5. "Nodwick" from Dragon magazine is now also a comic book, so I picked up the fourth issue (I had gotten the first three a week earlier at Wizard World 2000 - I hadn't really heard of the comic book before, despite it being out for several months, but I'm now caught up). It is now being published by the same company (Dork Storm Press) as another great gaming comic, "Dork Tower". All three of these gaming comics are great (actually, KODT now has two spin-offs as well), and all gamers should read them.

Card City
Card City, in the ballroom where the cards games were played

The WOTC castle was back, populated by mainly card games and small sections for the RPGA, Dragon and Dungeon magazines, and some other role-playing stuff. FASA had the same big banner this year, and if not the same 3-d demo setups, very similar. Those were the big, exciting booths. (Well, if you don't count the Mystery Machine van and giant Scooby and Shaggy heads.) Actually, come to think of it, things were not all that much different than last year. Other than the D&D launch, I don't think there were any big new releases.

The big release that should have been, wasn't in evidence at all. The revised edition of my favorite role-playing game, Torg, has been delayed due to cash-flow problems at the bankrupt West End Games. They did have a booth there, hawking their DC Universe and Metabarons (based on some obscure French comic book) games, but the only Torg item in evidence was the reprint graphic novel of the Torg comic series "Demon Invasion".

The usual booths were there, including the happy return of Steve Jackson Games. Crazy Egor was selling old games for far over retail price; Dwarven Forge was hawking their really neat Master Maze miniature dungeons; there were a number of artists including Larry Elmore, Nene Thomas, Susan Van Camp, Clyde Caldwell and Keith Parkinson; Flying Buffalo was there with its eclectic mix of games; Phage Press had new t-shirts, but no new Amber books (which is getting a bit tiring); and of course, there was Phil and Kaja Foglio.

I picked up some interesting freebies; first, is a flier talking about "Sparks". They are TrueType fonts (for Macintosh or Windows) that you can use to print out paper miniatures. They look really nice, and can be downloaded from the website Unfortunately, it seems that they cost between $5 and $10 a font. I'll try out the freebies I downloaded, but the whole "Download Some SPARKS for FREE at..." comment on the flier seems a bit disingenuous.

I also got a couple decks of an upcoming collectable card game called "Magi Nation", illustrated with anime super-deformed characters. I'm not sure if I'll actually try it out, but it looks cool. There were also a bunch of other loose sample CCG cards, mainly at the Inquest booth.

Sculpting a dragon head

Also, there was this dragon head being sculpted throughout the con, near the Exhibit Hall. I understand that it was a group effort, although I don't know how one got into the group. Across from it was a dragon skeleton that was used in the D&D movie.

The miniatures area was in one wing of the Exhibit Hall, the section that was not finished last year. I'm not much of a miniatures gamer, but it's fun taking a look at what's going on there. The most interesting one that I saw was a space battle between ships from Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5 and others I don't recall now.

Gail Reese, Troy Daniels, Tom Nolan, Brooks Banks do the raffle
Gail Reese and Troy Daniels run the raffle at the LC Interactive, with Tom Nolan and Brooks Banks looking on

I also stopped by the LARP my favorite Torg gamemaster (Todd Furler) was running from 12-9. It was initially going to run on Saturday when I had time to play it, but a WOTC error got it placed on Thursday, conflicting with my prior commitment at the Living City Interactive. It looked to be fun, a horror-type adventure in Los Angeles. Alas.

The Living City Interactive got going a bit after 5 PM in Solomon Juneau Hall, and I spent many hours enrolling LC dwarves in the Clerical Circle and selling holy water. I didn't get out much, other than to officially join my dwarf character with Clan Brightsword (this was really a no-brainer, as she is one of the dwarves brought forward in time from the Kingdom of Glimmering Swords). The Interactive wrapped up around Midnight, after an entertaining raffle run by Troy Daniels, Gail Reese and company.

Friday, August 11 - The Walking Dead have No Sense of Humor

8 AM until 4 PM was taken up by my favorite of the RPGA living campaigns - Virtual Seattle. ("Some People's Kids" and "Some Kid's Mother") There was a lot of mayhem of the magical sort, including a particular encounter that crashed my rigger's van - crash as in computer crash, not physical. The latter would have been more enjoyable. (Earlier, she had just driven her van through another that was blocking the way, with not a scratch - vehicle armor is great!) Fortunately, the van was fine after rebooting, but it was still shocking. Roughshod also got to go much farther away from Seattle than her native Sioux Nation, although she had to leave most of her drones behind.

I was feeling a bit run-down from the last vestiges of my illness, and methodically set about finally creating a Living Greyhawk character - which of course is in D&D Third Edition. I got to talk a bit during the process with Jae Walker, CARP member at large, whom I had missed at the RPGA Members' Meeting. (She was creating a monk; I was making a cleric.) A bit after 5 PM, I realized that my PC was not really ready for a 5 PM game that I wasn't signed up for anyway (and I understand LG games were very heavily attended during the con; some people were even turned away). I went upstairs to the Plankington Theater for the D&D movie trailer showing. Unfortunately, I got there after the trailer was shown. I did hear a lot of the discussion with a couple of the actors, who seemed quite excited about it. There was no distributor at the time, but New Line has picked it up since then. It's supposed to come out in a few months.

I was scheduled for a 9 PM Living Greyhawk game, (which would have ended about 1 AM) but I wisely refrained from it and got some sleep to shake off more of the illness. I wish I would have been able to do it, but well, it'll run again sometime.

Saturday, August 12 - Dwarves and Dinosaurs and Vampires, Oh My!

8 AM brought me back to the convention site - this time, another LC game, "Approaching Doom". Since it was a dwarf module, I played my dwarf priestess. It turned out that it was probably not the best choice, but she comported herself well and kept the dwarven factions from beating each other senseless. This is the first in a series of dwarf-related modules, and I look forward to playing some more.

At noon, I wandered over to the main convention building and caught Todd Furler's tabletop Torg game, "4th and Ten". (It also included Torg mailing list regular Garrett Taylor.) As usual, it was quite fun. (There were props!) If you are ever at a Pennsylvania-area con (or GenCon), catch one of his games. He'll teach you what you need to know about Torg (which is pretty straightforward, really), and give you an exciting game. In fact, this game started with an escape from the Torg equivalent of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Not to brag, but my Victorian big game hunter did manage to incapacitate the dinosaur long enough for everyone to escape. (Hoody hoo!)

After that was more Exhibit Hall stuff, and dinner. At 8 PM, I circled back to the Plankington Theater for "Oh, Barovia!" This was something like the 9th annual Ravenloft play, and a musical this year. It was pretty fun and ridiculous. I think that the script was written earlier the same day, and there were apparently no rehearsals. But it was funny partly because of the lack of polish, and the man playing Strahd (one Douglas Steves) was hilarious when he was walking around the audience and collecting people for a pile of dead bodies. A lot of fun.

Sunday, August 13 - There's Gold in Them Thar Hills

Finally at 8 AM, I got to play Living Greyhawk ("The Reckoning", with Wisconsin Triad member Chris Tulach and Wisconsin Regional Director Tom Terrill at the table). it worked out pretty well, our little trip out to the Cairn Hills to recover a treasure. The system worked well, although it certainly was not enough to make a thorough investigation.

After that, well, was some more Exhibit Hall and then the RPGA awards ceremony. It was not too long this year, focusing on the important awards. Unfortunately, I did not write down the winners, but those should be available elsewhere. I did meet more RPGA people there.

Afterwards, I drove some out-of-town friends to Cobeen Hall, the Marquette University dorm that was the home of RPGA judges this year. (They were at the dorm and not a close hotel due to a screwup that I won't go into here.) It certainly was not as nice as a hotel and farther away, but it seemed serviceable. At the very least, Robert Weise stayed there along with the judges. After that, I capped off my GenCon experience with an enjoyable dinner at Mader's with RPGA friends from Michigan and Ohio. While expensive, it has really good food.

Wells Street
Wells Street, as it passes underneath the Midwest Express Center

So that's it for this year! You should try to make it to GenCon at least once, it's a lot of fun. I merely scratched the surface as to the available events. There's something for just about everyone.