Note: A lot of this is sort of tongue in cheek, especially the opening section. Please do not take this too seriously.
This GenCon,as usual, was quite fun. Even then, there was a dark cloud hanging over it. An event (which will not be specified here) occurred, that jinxed the entire convention. In fact, while this event seems rather innocuous to those not of my local circle of friends, it in fact is on the order of one of the Signs of the Apocalypse. This event cause several things to happen in the time-space continuum, of frightening aspect. The power of the event was such that it even caused certain bad things to happen before itself.
Consider these repercussions, approximately from broadest effect to least:
- TSR releases a video that is touted as a great step forward for the industry, yet stinks royally.
- TSR plans a sequel of said video.
- RPGA plans on changing its name, apparently uncaring of what its members say.
- Rules knowledge of games, in both RPGA and non-RPGA events, goes down
across the board. This manifested itself as the following errors
perpetrated by GMs and most of the players at the table at the time:
- In Torg, if one is unskilled in a skill, one rerolls on 20s, not on 10s. (The truth is that it is the other way around.)
- In Star Wars, one declares use of character points before the roll, and Force points after. (It's really the other way around.)
- In AD&D's Dark Sun, magic is openly used. (No, it isn't!)
- Phage Press' _Shadow Knight_ is still under development, after four writers and at least a year.
- A repulsion field activates in Milwaukee, keeping many GEnieites away. (Some people, such as John Terra, had a personal luck field that negated the effects of this.)
- MIDI Maze, despite advertising in the on-site program, was nowhere to be seen. This is obviously a violation of our civil rights, because where else can you blow away 11 other smiley faces for an hour for only $2? Seriously, most of my local friends, and I were greatly disappointed.
- There were only two Torg events, including the RPGA one. Fortunately, neither was "Torg: The Possibility Wars," the adventure that ran at I believe the last three GenCons, that included a hardpoint tank and a zombie PC.
- The Torg seminar showed up in the slot that I had pre-regged for the RPGA Torg event, so I couldn't go. [As if you personally cared. ]
As you can see, the evidence is that a heinous event occurred that cast a shadow over the entire convention. (If you have other examples, go ahead and email them to me.) In order to protect you, I will not reveal this event, for it is too terrible to comprehend.
, OK, now on with the serious part.
GENIEITES I SAW
- Dave Nyman (don't quite know him or his address, but we talked at the meeting Wednesday night because he recognized my EAU T-shirt)
- Brent Christensen (MACHIAVELLI)
- Steve Hovland (S.HOVLAND)
- Mike Levay (M.LEVAY)
- Bryan McGehee (CASCA)
- Ian "Wally" Feinberg (I.FEINBERG)
- Boris Schoner (B.SCHONER1)
I hear that I missed The Tripper (DAVE.S, sorry don't know his real name), and I think Sam Orlando (MYTHIASIS) was there also.
And also, the Famous Game Designers and Famous Other People On GEnie I saw:
- Greg "Earthdawn is really, really cool!" Gorden (G.GORDEN)
- Ed "They screwed up my novel name in the program!" Stark (WESTEND)
- Greg "Attitude is everything in Shatterzone." Farshtey (WESTEND)
- Christopher "I can role-play a troll really well" Kubasik (MAYFAIR)
- Lester "Amazing Engine is, er, cool!" Smith (used to be LESTER.SMITH; he seemed to be a little tired when he ran that AE demo for me)
- Paul "Dread Frog God" Lidberg (P.LIDBERG)
- Skip "Jack of many trades" Williams (TSR.RPGA, assistant director of RPGA, writes Sage Advice, and I hear he's now a TSR game designer)
And there were the usual assortment of normal famous people, including, in no particular order:
Jean "Jim, stop modifying my Living City magical items!" Rabe, Jim "hyperReality (tm)" Ward, Erick "_Shadow Knight_ is ::sigh:: coming along" Wujick, Jeff "I can kill them as fast as you, Tracy" Grubb, Tracy "No, you can't" Hickman, Richard "I can do it better than both of you together" Garriott, Lou "You there! Now wouldn't you like this nice copy of Earthdawn?" Prosperi, Bill "Captain Kescivals" Slavicsek, David "Zeb" Cook, Rick "Wouldn't you like to buy a copy of 'Berserker'?" Loomis, Larry "SnarfQuest" Elmore, Clyde "And this is my lovely, scantily-clad assistant..." Caldwell, and a bunch of others I can't remember at the moment.
THE DEALER'S ROOM
This year, the dealer's room expanded into the East gaming hall, which was displaced across the street into Bruce Hall (the auditorium). The West gaming hall remained in the same place, and I never entered it, not being all that interested in wargaming. So I don't have anything to say about that section. Actually, only about half of the East hall was taken up by dealers (GEnie included). The other half was some exhibits of science fiction memorabilia, and the cafeteria. I sort of liked this arrangement, although GenCon has reached the limits of MECCA now. There is no where else to go, unless they want to take over the Hyatt's ballrooms.
Fortress TSR, the Castle of Styrofoam, was back this year. Complimenting it in the large open area in front of it was a small tower with video games, I'm not sure from who. Also complimenting(?) the Fortress was Castle Crunchy Frog, with ramparts of green construction paper and blinking Christmas lights. Presided over, of course, by GEnie's own Dread Frog God, Paul Lidberg. Other highlights were White Wolf's hearse and casket, and FASA's huge two-story (at least) mural. And then, of course, there were all the normal booths. But you could find some interesting things if you made sure to look at everything. More on that later.
There was a lot of new neat stuff out this year. As you probably know, there were several new RPG systems out this summer, from just about every major game company except Steve Jackson (look for "In Nomine" next year, though) and GDW. (Although I think they have a new version of Traveller out, plus an actual module for Dangerous Journeys), plus other smaller companies. In alphabetical order, the ones that I am aware of are:
Amazing Engine (TSR)
I played a demo of this (a Bughunter combat) with Lester Smith. I have not seen a rule book yet. The core system looks pretty good, certainly better than AD&D (at least the combat). Characters have four stats on a percentile scale, and these are the same for each different world (such as Bughunters or For Faerie, Queen and Country) that they enter, but pretty much everything else changes. This is an interesting concept, and the combat system used in Bughunters, at least, worked pretty well, You roll percentile dice, trying to roll under your Reflexes(I think that's the stat) to hit. If you do, you check your gun's lethality rating. If the ones digit of the roll is equal to or less than the lethality rating, then you do lethal damage, otherwise you do stun damage. Each gun has a certain number of dice to roll for damage. Armor subtracts damage points from each hit, so you have to do a certain amount to do either kind of damage. Maxing out on stun damage knocks a character out, while lethal damage causes, as expected, death.
All in all, an improvement from AD&D. The only reservation I have in what I know about it is that the other character has no effect on whether you hit or not. So it's as easy to hit an elephant as it is to hit a pussycat.
I don't think that there is much on Amazing Engine online, but I'm sure that there are people over at the TSR roundtable that will be happy to tell you about it.
Buck Rogers Cliffhangers (TSR)
I know approximately zero about this game.
Castle Falkenstein (R. Talsorian)
Same thing with this one, no knowledge.
Earthdawn looks pretty cool, if only because I have a limited edition copy of it. It's loosely based on Shadowrun, and is several thousand years earlier in the same universe. I have neither looked at it in depth nor played it at the con, so basically all I can say is that it shows similarities to AD&D in the class-based system, with levels ("circles"). It does have an interesting method to handle die rolling, though. You look up your character's stats on a chart, to find their "step", which corresponds to a certain kind of die to roll for checks with that stat. Talents (similar to class abilities) are added to these steps to come up with the die (or dice) to roll for using it (to attack, cast a spell, etc.). Plus, there is a neat background story.
Of course, one could always ask in the FASA category for more info.
Kult (Metropolis Ltd.)
All I know here is that it is dark fantasy.
Mage (White Wolf)
This is the third in White Wolf's Storyteller series, which also includes Vampire and Werewolf. I'm not sure of the mechanics, but the world shared by these three seems rich and very well done.
MetaScape (The Game Lords)
This is the game that has been advertised the last few months with the cloaked figure wielding the "light saber." It looks to be rather unique, with six character races, none of which is strictly human. Each race has a special ability that sets it apart from the others, although PCs of any race can get (not always easily) any power: psionics, the Sorce, psychosomatics, high-tech powered armor, bioware, and cybernetics.
You use a doubling die as part of your roll, and if you roll a 16, you roll again for another multiplier. I think that they said the highest roll they've had is 132,000. I like this kind of open-ended die-rolling, plus the snippets of the background I got were interesting, so I almost bought it. Only the $30 (normally $40) price tag put me off, even though it comes with four softbound books, all the dice needed, plus miniatures.
Shatterzone (West End Games)
Now here's probably the coolest game out this summer. With a game system based on the well-thought out Torg system, it starts out well. It happens in the far future, in a sort of cyberpunk meets Star Wars setting. The game is named after a mysterious, gargantuan asteroid field that seems to cut our section of the galaxy from the rest. There are numerous alien races, most of which can be PCs. You buy special abilities with the same points that human characters spend on cyberware, ships, etc, so things start out pretty well balanced.
Of course, I did run this for WEG at the con, so I'm a little biased towards it. The rules are a bit more developed than Torg, with a few of the kinks worked out, but the setting is not quite as compelling as the Possibility Wars.
Apparently, this is a game in which former super-soldiers fight the corrupt government. I learned this from reading my free copy of White Wolf magazine after the con. It makes me wish that I had stopped and at least paged through a copy, because the reviewers were raving about the interior layout, apparently in color. And the setting is well-detailed, too.
(Mayfair had these neat pads of paper at their booth, made up as Free Speech Permits. These had to be the coolest freebees at the con.)
There were other neat stuff, too. For instance, this year I found no less than 3 card "games," not counting TSR's Cardmaster dungeon design set. The coolest one, and the one I bought, was Wizards of the Coast's Magic: The Gathering Deckmaster set. There are 60 randomly distributed cards in each Starter Deck ($7.95), and another 15 in each Booster Pack ($2.45, more of the rare ones in here). Basically, you buy a deck or two, then trade to come up with your personal dueling deck. Then you find an opponent, and chuck spells at each other. You get magical energy each round from the "land" cards that you have played, and can use that to cast spells and summon creatures. When you reduce the other player to 0 life points, you win, and get a card of your opponent's that was randomly selected before play (each player antes a card). This makes campaign or league play very interesting, as you can win (or lose) valuable cards. No "Ho hum, I lost a duel"! You feel it. And the cards themselves are beautiful. Some of the artists up in the art show were collecting the cards that showed their artwork.
Another set of cards was Stellar Games' Destiny Deck. Basically, you select one card from each of five piles, that give you a basic setting, mood, opponent, and I forget what else to create an adventure at the spur of the moment. It was OK, but not, I judged, worth $12.95.
The third set was actually a reasonably standard card game, called "Quest for the Faysylwood." In this game, you and your opponents play gods each trying to help their personal hero to find the elusive tree called Faysylwood. You can give your hero treasures, and put monsters and natural disasters in front of your opponents. All in all, an interesting game, especially since if your hero dies, you just start over. They said that this made it easy for new people to join in , or drop out, at any time, without affecting the game too badly. I was intrigued, partly because the black & while artwork looked pretty good, but I decided not to spend the $12.95.
Let's see, magazines handing out free copies were White Wolf, Shadis, Computer Games Strategy Plus and Role Player Independent, a British magazine. The layout of White Wolf pleasantly surprised me, because it was rather amateurish the last time that I saw it. The interior is more cooly laid out than Dragon. I did find half a dozen typos in my quick perusal of it, though. Shadis is a small independent magazine that seems to cover a broad range of RPGs. Gary Gygax even had an article in it.
And there was a lot of neat small press stuff. Besides Crunchy Frog's Mega-Duel game system and Wooden Suits & Iron Men, I picked up some maps from a little place called Arden Games. There were 20 large page-size hexes (that one has to cut out if one wants to make a single large map) on parchment-like paper for only $3.99, and it came with some other goodies, too. You can use them for wilderness maps for your players, but I think that it'll look neat as a poster-type ceiling hanging. They come with little symbols, and for a couple dollars more, you can get reports that list names and stats for creatures at each symbol. Pretty neat product, although the woman there looked sort of lonely, not doing too much business. Oh, well.
Other interesting products that I saw included this book detailing a city (Keopolis) that you could write up a character for, and it would be included. This product, coming out this winter, I think, looks like it could be interesting to just browse, at least. Especially if you have your own character in it. I unfortunately didn't have time.
There was also a place (DIGITAL Alchemy) that had a program for Windows called Adventure Writer that you can use to draw maps with. You have all sorts of icons to put in the maps, and can either do hexes or squares. ANd print in color. All for only $30. I might have considered one, except there was no Macintosh version.
The art show was in the East Octagon upstairs again this year. As usual, there were all sorts of artists there, with lots of prints in the back, some recognizable from elsewhere, and some for sale. The big-name artists, such as Elmore and Caldwell, had their booths downstairs. I don't suppose there was much more to tell, except Kelly Freas was sick (I forget what) and couldn't come.
Where MIDI Maze should have been, there was all sorts of virtual reality stuff. The Battletech simulators were there, really expensive ($5/5 min). There was also the game called Dactyl Nightmare in which three people put on VR goggles and try to blow each other away while pterodactyls fly around, pick up and dropping people to their doom. And a demo of a new Mac game that I never managed to find time to try, and a game that I was quite satisfied with never trying. You stand inside a triangle of posts, and when various lights on each one light up, you whack them with a pole. I forget the name of it, Warlord's Challenge, or some such.
The coolest "seminar" was the Killer Breakfast. (My first time this year.) Basically, Tracy Hickman, dressed up in a Commander Riker uniform, and assisted by Jeff Grubb and someone I think was Richard Garriott (Lord British), proceeded to kill 145 people in 3.5 hours. Basically, six people started out at the front table, and when one died, the next person in line took his or her place. The goal of the ever-changing party was to kill Wesley Crusher, hence the name "Bring Me the Head of Wesley Crusher!" Each person got a choice of six character sheets for 1st or 2nd level AD&D characters. Not that it mattered. People usually died from at least 80 points of damage. When someone arrived, the current GM would ask him how he got there. If the way was stupid, he got immediately killed. Otherwise, you stuck around until you did something stupid or the GM just felt like clearing the table.
The people that stayed around the longest were those who brought bribes (cookies, usually) or were exceptionally clever. For instance, one person kept Lord British from killing him for several minutes by feeding him fig newtons. Another person brought this quart Ziploc bag full of homemade cookies. He lived quite a while. But I think my favorite survival were the two who survived when the Enterprise blew up (there must have been a dozen different scenes). This one woman had come there because she said "Calgon! Take me away!" and it did. To Navigation, I believe. Anyway, after she announced that she was looking for clothes, (no one had realized the full implications of the Calgon joke, I think) the Security officer had gladly escorted her off the bridge. When the Klingons blew up the Enterprise a minute later, killing all the characters, they saved by announcing that they were not in the Enterprise, they were in bliss. OK, I guess you had to be there. It was clever enough that they survived to the next scene. Another clever thing I remember was a person dressed up as a vampire tried to hypnotize Godzilla. Didn't work all that well, and he was crushed just as he turned into a bat to escape the teetering lizard.
Other seminars I went to included the Crossed Sword demonstration of stage combat. It was very interesting, although very similar to the one I saw two years ago. The married couple demonstrated rapier dueling, all sorts of hand-to-hand attacks (including the ever-popular groin kick), and some broadsword and shield combat.
And then Friday night was the Amber seminar. The following is shamelessly lifted, with a few additions, from what I posted in the Amber topic:
_Shadow Knight_ is coming along. Wujick has gone through four authors, and is now doing it himself, so it is done right. There'll be stuff on the new characters, and new stuff on the old characters. Plus, there will be a section (Wujick's slaving over it, the last section, at present) on "Zelazny as GM," in which Wujick explores how Zelazny was Merlin's GM in the second series. (Corwin was an NPC, even in the first series.) This does make sense to me, in explaining how the second series got so messy toward the end. I can almost see it as a campaign log, especially that stupid trip through Undershadow.
After _Shadow Knight_ comes _Chaos Rules!_, the book about the Courts.
Phage Press is planning on putting out a black and white Trump deck by the end of the year, and will also be selling the French color version. Wujick says that the style of Art isn't his forte, but it is by the same artist that did all the French Amber covers. Her artwork is identified with Amber over there. Amber is, for some reason, wildly popular in France. In a few years, Wujick plans on doing a US full-color version by two artists that I forgot. This will be a while because he needs an obscene amount of money to set up for a full-color laminated Tarot set.
This year, one of his friends, whose name I can't remember either, was selling a diceless game called "Once Upon a Time..." If someone knows more about this, please post, because I never ran into this person and I don't remember all the details. Next year at GenCon, this person and Wujick are planning on releasing a diceless game called "Bugtown," based on a British comic book. All the rules will be on the back cover, and the rest of the 320 (?) page book will be background on the setting and role-playing tips. Sounds cool. (For instance, you'll get role-playing tips from a newsletter of the Bugtown role-players' club.)
Amberzine is not likely to be sold at cons any more, because Phage is limited to printing only a thousand of each issue. Wujick encourages subscriptions, because in future issues there will hopefully be some Amber short stories by Zelazny (at least one; in issue #5) Issue #9 is going to be a huge issue that would go for $25 if sold separately, but will count as a normal issue to subscribers. Wujick said something about that if you are an Amber fan, you will kill for this issue, but he wouldn't say any more.
BTW, Wujick was wearing a T-shirt that said "Gott (I forgot this word) Nicht", or the famous quote from Einstein in the original German: "God does not play dice." Or, "God is diceless." They were selling them for $15.
I think that's it. Wujick encouraged us to buy buy buy!, so that he could afford to do the Trump deck. (BTW, he said the Amber is selling better than it was a year ago, despite all the people in the industry that say a diceless system would never work.)
The gaming was totally in the Arena and Auditorium this time, so it was a nit of a haul from the main section of the convention. Darn noisy, too. I wish there was a way to damp the noise, but there is only so much that can be done.
I don't want to give away too much here, in case you run into some of these tournaments in the future, but I can say that the Benefit, a Dark Sun event, was pretty fun, if a bit linear Especially since I got to be the Thri-Kreen. I played in the RPGA Torg event, which was an all-Orrorsh adventure (love those Perseverance Checks). It was well-written, although I wish there was some cosm variation.
I was also in the RPGA Star Wars event, which had some neat ideas in it, but wasn't too interesting due to the fact we took over an hour to plan. And then there was the only non-RPGA Torg event, "The Channel." It was all right, although there was some massive rules-raping in the characters. For instance, the martial artist had 88 stat points, instead of the normal 66, plus had only 3 or 4 skills, at massive adds. And the last straw was that "His martial arts style is so old that its required axioms are low enough he can use them in a Land Below pure zone without a reality bubble." Excuse me? [ BTW, this, both rounds, included Sheri Prosperi as player, who I assume to be Lou Prosperi of FASA's wife, seeing as he was watching most of the time. ]