Convention Reports
A Visit to GenCon 1994

This file is Copyright 1994 by Timothy J. Bailey, but may be freely distributed provided that this copyright notice remains intact and attached to the file, and that nothing is charged for it save normal download costs. It was originally uploaded to the TSR and Scorpia file libraries on GEnie, in case you're wondering just where it came from.

[ Note that this does reflect my views and biases, so for instance it talks a lot about Torg and Amber, while talking little about Vampire and Shadowrun. I've played all four, but prefer the above two. If you don't want to hear about a certain subject, then just skip over the section. I've tried to make it rather modular. It looks like you can halve the time spent reading this if you skip over the Magic section. :) If you're interested about something that I didn't mention, you'll likely have to find someone else who was there, because I didn't hang around the White Wolf or FASA booths very long. ]

GenCon 1994 (number 27) was held August 18-21 at the MECCA Convention Center in Milwaukee, WI, where it has been for many, many years. (MECCA is short for Milwaukee Exposition & Convention Center & Arena, if you were interested.) The weather was generally nice, except for some rain on Saturday. Not that we cared all that much. :)

While I don't know the official attendance figures yet (I have heard 35,000), it is pretty obvious that attendance didn't drop from last year. The Exhibit Hall was almost always packed. The RPGA events were well attended, There was always a crush of people milling around the halls, except for late at night, when the Convention Police were kicking people out.

People I saw

Well, from GEnie, there were Jamie Chambers, Drew Harris, Greg McElhatton, Jay Fisher, Brian McGhee, Brandon Blackmoor , Mike Levay and Jeff Stolt. From the Torg mailing list, I saw Ron Lundeen and Brian Mogged. Gaming company people from online were Greg Farshtey, Brian Schomburg and Brian Perry, all from WEG. Then there were Dave Gross and Skip Williams of TSR. Other "big names" I saw close up were Bruce Nesmith of TSR, Peter Adkinson, Steve Bishop and Johnathan Tweet of WOTC, and Erick Wujcik of Phage Press. Oops, and I forgot the RPGA people: Jean Rabe, Kevin Melka, Wes Nicholson, and a few more I forget the names of.

Magic: the Gathering

Need you even wonder? Of course there was a boatload and a half of Magic stuff in every nook, corner, table, area of carpeting and bathroom in the place. (Well, maybe not the bathrooms, but pretty much everywhere else. :) Now, I'm pretty heavily into Magic (I finally got that Jihad to complete my Arabian set, nyah nyah. :), but it was so prevalent that I was getting a little annoyed by the thing. Almost every open gaming table was Magic, and the game players and card seller/traders were seriously encroaching on walking space in the hallways.

Of course, Wizards of the Coast had a large booth, you silly people. :) Last year, they had I believe three of the 10x10 booths. This year, they had an entire island (10 booths), plus three more to one side for the artists. (For comparison, Fortress TSR itself was the equivalent of about 8x7=56 booths, with a few other satellite installations. FASA had 18 for its setup, the same thing in the same place as last year, I believe. Palladium couldn't make it this year, White Wolf had an island of 14 booths, Steve Jackson had three booths much like last year, West End had six, and Crunchy Frog had one. :) WOTC was in the back , a little to the right of the Fortress, with a pretty cool stand that was mostly marbleized black, with variations of Magic's color icons on some of the posts. And no less than three cash registers. :) This is related to the fact that Legends and Jyhad were being sold there for list price. One fellow GEnie- ite stood in line the first day from 10 AM (when the exhibit hall opened) to 11:50 to buy stuff. That line was long, even before the doors opened. (I was running the Open in slot 9 in a room with a view of the hall, so we took a break to watch people trample each other trying to get to the back and into the WOTC line. And of course, to buy Wraith at WW, but I digress. Of course, there were already about 30 presumably exhibitors in line for WOTC. :) I saw that the ration the first couple days was 4 boosters of Legends, but it subsequently dropped to 2 boosters. Jyhad was 2 starters and 8 boosters. After they ran out of Legends for the day, I went in and managed to get some Jyhad, which I have little to say about at this time, because I've only gotten through half the rules so far. Anyway, two of the cash registers served this line, and the third was the "No Legends Express" register. I got that cool Magic pin there on Sunday. They also had an area of Ars Magica books, sometimes manned by a lonely Johnathan Tweet, plus the requisite demo areas for Magic and Jyhad.

Which reminds me about the Spellfire demo area. :) It was probably at least half the area of the WOTC booth, and had three long tables for people to play at, and little line when I was there. At that point, Bruce Nesmith was exhorting (well, pleading) people over the local PA system to come and play Spellfire. What do you get? Well, you get to keep a free deck that you play with, plus you get a Spellfire poster, and there's the special bonus if you win three games, you get an uncut sheet of Spellfire cards. Because I got a darn good deck (and the fact that my first and third opponents had very few champions), I won one. Of course, there were probably more people waiting in line for WOTC than playing Spellfire at any given time. (At least before the daily allotment of Legends ran out, that is.) And I saw very little "extra-curricular" Spellfire. (Side note: While I do now have a little better impression of the game, and the boredom of the recycled art isn't quite as painful, and the lack of borders doesn't quite annoy me as much, why the heck did TSR have to use the exact same art on multiple cards? I had Charm and Sleep in my hand at the same time, and I did a double-take and had to look closely to make sure that they, in fact, were different cards. I consider that to be darn tacky. And some of the art is cropped so poorly that one of my opponents kept calling his Cleric of Malar "she.")

Anyway, back to Magic. In one corner, WOTC had a computer. Guess why? (OK, so it was a surprise to me at the time.) There's going to be a Magic computer game! It's being written by MicroProse, and has some astounding graphics. Each card has a somewhat good representation of the art off the pieces of cardboard, and you use the mouse to move cards around, tap them and so forth. Plus, besides this being a standalone product, they're going to get it on some online service so you can play online! The guy there mentioned the big ones plus Internet, and I of course voted for GEnie. I suspect that it will not be Internet, because you'd have to have telnet access to run it, and I further suspect that it won't be GEnie because Compu$erve has a lot more users. And GEnie just recently got a netrep, while I think CI$ and AOL have had them for a while. The game will come on CD-ROM, and probably cost $40-60. It'll be out on the Macintosh in about 8 months, and because they're writing it to be portable, on the IBM a few months earlier. :) (Seriously, I hope that it is not a direct port from the IBM to the Mac, because direct ports, like the Prodigy software, IMHO suck. I certainly expect the Mac version to sit in its own window so that I can switch to other things under System 7. Unlike a certain service's Mac software.... But I digress.) Anyway, the specs that appear on the flyer that I picked up are: minimum 386; runs in DOS or Windows (the demo I saw was not sitting in a Windows Window); requires 4 MB RAM, Windows 3.1 or better, DOS 5.0 or better, SVGA, and a mouse; compatible with Sound Blaster and several other sound cards.

Then of course there were the costumes. I saw the Vesuvan Doppleganger a couple times, although I didn't get a picture. (Awwwww...... They had a great costume. :) Likewise with the Urza's Doll. (You know, the one from Black Vise, Cursed Rack, The Rack and Wall of Wonder.) And the Counterspell guy. But I did get pictures of both the Bird Maiden and Prodigal Sorcerer, hamming it up. And I got the Natural Selection birdman from a distance.

And of course, there were the artists. Most of them were at the WOTC artist's signing area, but Mark Poole had his own booth, which was in front of the WW booth, which was in front of the WOTC booth, plus Susan Van Camp had her own at the back of the room on the other side of Fortress TSR, and the Foglios had their own booth in the East wing of the hall. (Yes, Phil looks like Phil of "What's New," especially while he's wearing his bowler.) About the only artist that I recall not seeing listed (besides the understandably absent Justin Hampton) as Jesper Myrfors. (And I wanted a signed Atog, among other things!) Let's see if I remember the names: Anson Maddocks was at the booth, as were Rob Alexander, Sandra Everingham, Daniel Gelon, Mark Tedin, Amy Weber, Jeff Menges, Drew Tucker, Tom Wanerstrand and Christopher Rush. Actually, now that I think about it, Quinton Hoover also wasn't there. Or I didn't see his name. I was lucky enough to snatch a picture of all the artists there, when they posed for a picture for =someone=, exactly whom I'm not sure. It must have been WOTC, because they pulled in the Foglios, Van Camp and Poole. Right place at right time, I guess. :) Anyway, I managed to get all 12 Urza's lands signed, and the same with the five Mishra's lands. I likely could have gotten my Strip Mines signed, but I wasn't motivated enough to get cards that I'm using in decks signed. (Four of six Strip Mines in use.) Plus I got a lot of Foglio signatures, from both Phil and Kaja (I asked, and she pronounced it to rhyme with "Hiya!".) They're both very nice in person, so make sure you say hi to them if you get a chance. (To digress for a moment, I finally was able to find a copy of "What's New? #2" at their booth, and of course I pounced on it, and got the signature and trademark Foglio grin it.)

Last year, I said that it seemed as if it was the year of the new role- playing game, because just about every big company had released a new one. (Amazing Engine, Buck Rogers High Adventure, Shatterzone, Earthdawn, Mage, Castle Falkenstein, etc. I did think last year at the con that Falkenstein was out, but apparently it came out this year...?) Certainly, there were new RPGs this year (World of Indiana Jones, Bloodshadows, Wraith), but this more truly is the year of (let's say it together) collectable trading card games. Actually, I only saw four that I was certain were out, and a few more that would be coming out. Magic: The Gathering is certainly available, as is Spellfire. (I hear that the Ravenloft boosters were going to be released at GenCon, but I didn't see it, probably because I didn't look too closely at the selling booths for TSR.) And Jyhad was released at GenCon this year. The only other one for sale was something called "Galactic Empires" from Companion Games. It's a science fiction game, and comes in starter packs (apparently all the same) and booster packs. It doesn't look too impressive, as the cards were just wrapped in cellophane and I didn't especially like the art. But I did not play in any of the demos they had, so it may have some worth. (I would have bought some, except I didn't want to spend $10 for a fifty card starter deck that is a clone of every other one.) I saw that the rules are in issue 2 of Scrye (which I picked up at GenCon), so I'll have to check them out to see if it looks any good.

Also in the making was Star Trek, which looks promising, at least from the graphics standpoint. I didn't get a chance to try a game, so I don't know how it plays, but the basic idea is that you pick one of the three major groups (Federation, Klingons and Romulans), set up six missions to go on (while the other does the same), put all of them in a row, and send your spaceships out to complete them. Each mission has a listing as to what empire(s) can complete it, so it's possible that your mission could be stolen by an opponent. I'm a little fuzzy on how a ship completes a mission (It has a certain distance it can go in a turn, while mission cards have a number corresponding to how many "movement points" are needed to enter that card. Once a mission is competed, it still takes up space on the board, but cannot be completed again.) Which people you have manning the ship and what artifacts you have along (like phasers) affect the success, though. It has a lot of characters, ships and missions from the TV series, such as the captain played by the actor who plays Frazier Crane. Trekkers and Trekkies will likely love this game, but I don't know how it will stand on its merits by itself. I saw mockups of the cards with good quality, but the exhibitor says that the final cards, out next month, will have a much better resolution.

They were also playing Illuminati New World Order at the SJG booth, with no-art mockups. They were playing a similar-looking version of Star of the Guardians at the Weis & Hickman booth. I saw some One the Edge cards from afar, but I'm not certain if they were real ones or just mockups. I didn't see anything about SimCity at Mayfair.

Crunchy Frog, never one to be left out, has released "Tragic: the Imitation," in starters and boosters. Basically, you play some Dirt and then you can tap to to summon Monsters. I hear it's inspired by some mildly successful game. :) But Tragic is better because all the Rares and Uncommons are marked as such, and have absolutely no play value whatsoever! (See, they come right and say it, rather then make you guess about how useful some of them are.... :)

Finally, I did see a couple interesting accessories for Magic. (The former you could use for basically any card game, actually.) It's called Spellground, and consists of a mat, like those felt-backed hex maps. In fact, I'm sure that's what the Armory made them out of. It's a mat to play Magic on, to protect your cards. :) Lots of people were getting artists to sign the mats, which actually is a pretty good idea. Only thing is, it was $14.95. I believe that those interested in it can buy it for the same price (despite the "CONVENTION SPECIAL!" sign there) plus postage. If it isn't in the latest Dragon, I'm sure that the ad will show up in the next one. The other one is a little wizard standing on a circle with the numbers 1-20 on it. You turn the wizard, who has a pointer, to the relevant number of life points you have. 21-40 is on the back of the disk, which is easily flipped over. I believe it's from Reaper Miniatures.

Actually, I pulled your leg about the "finally" thing. I saw some hand- drawn signs for "S.P.A.M.", the "Society of People for the Abolishment of Magic." Now you know all I know about the group. :) Plus, one booth, I think it was the Chessex one, had T-shirts from Parody Productions that had the word "Magic" in a circle, crossed out much like a no smoking sign. It went on to say, "Anti-Magic Zone. No! Magic cards can be played, 10 ft. radius." There were also flyers there for ordering that shirt through the mail.

Fortress TSR

Well, what can I say about Fortress TSR? It's the same old styrofoam castle that's been there the last 3-4 years. Yes, it's nifty, but it's too big. I wonder where they store it. This year, it had some dragons on the ramparts, but I did not notice any hologram, that Dave Gross, Assistant Director of the RPGA [name dropper! - Ed.] had implied that there would be. They didn't have demos running in all those alcoves, such as before. One was a "Photogeon", where you could get your picture taken with someone in costume. One was "Sage Advice," which Skip [Name dropper!- Ed.] [Hey, he said Friday night at the Star Wars game that he wasn't going to do it much more, implying that he had done it live for a while! - TJB] sat in for a while, spelled by others. In the center was basically a stage magician talking about Planescape in front of a display that evoked Planescape. I should probably have recognized this person, who was probably Zeb, but I didn't wait around for him to leave the stage and put his name badge back on, much as his lovely assistants did. Let's just say that I was thinking of the vegetable corn while watching him stick rods from the Plane of Radiance through one of his assistants' waist. Especially when one of the bulbs was burnt out and the part sticking out the back was still working. :) Other than that, it was pretty interesting. (Oh yes, the infamous Dragonstrike video, which held that position last year, was playing in one of the kiosks out front, so if you really felt that you needed another fix, it was available.)

White Wolf vs. Steve Jackson Games

Well, I certainly didn't see any altercation based upon the GURPS Mage situation recently brought to the public's attention on Internet, but maybe that's because the Fortress was in the way. Mortars wouldn't have had enough clearance with the ceiling above and the Fortress below. Anyway, White Wolf had what looked like a slightly smaller area compared with last year, and farther back. There was the requisite coffin, but it was a wood one and there was no hearse around this year. And yes, there was a rush on That Other Company From Washington's table 10AM Saturday when Wraith was released. I expect that there was not enough time left in the con by then for people to make heads or tails of Wraith. (At least, that is, unless White Wolf has improved their basic organizational skills.) I personally have little interest in playing a dead character, so I'm passing on this one.

And, of course, they were selling copies of their Street Fighter game. Along with having a new coin-op game in the interminable series (you could play here for free , though), and showing clips from the upcoming movie. Personally, I would lump this on the list of Bad Ideas for Movies That Should Not Be Made, but I'm guessing that people will go to it and enjoy it, which is what counts, I suppose.

And then there was the three foot pile of Street Fighter posters still hanging around Sunday afternoon..... :)

Meanwhile,. over at the Steve Jackson booth, there were some new GURPS stuff compared with last year. "In Nomine" is closer to release. And then there is the Yamara collection. Yes, the collection of the Yamara strips from the beginning up to Dragon #202, I think, along with character descriptions.

West End Games

What's new at West End? Why, Masterbook! This modification of the Shatterzone system, itself a modification of the Torg system, is WEG's new in-house system, along the lines of GURPS. I haven't read my convention special edition (which includes both new Masterbook games, World of Indiana Jones and Bloodshadows) yet, so I can't comment on it. Other news on the Final Fate of Torg will be down in the "Torg" section. I played a World of Indiana Jones demo, and it seems decent, although we didn't get into the system usage very much. It's, well, it's Indiana Jones. We weren't off to Egypt or anyplace exotic, but it had a bit of the flavor of Indiana Jones.

Mayfair

Well, Mayfair's RPG division has been severely pruned, so they were selling stuff off cheap. I got the 3rd edition DC Heroes rulebook for $2, and I got to pick out a module to go with it for free. Other than that, I'm not sure, I didn't stick around Mayfair very long.

Black Gate

Then there's this little company who had a booth just to the left of the Fortress that's put out this game in which you play an immortal. I haven't had a chance to look at the rules yet, but you can contact him at BBLACKMOOR here on GEnie for information. :)

Snarling Badger

OK, so I forgot what their product was, but I just had to mention the name. :)

Chain Maille Fashions

Yes, they were there again. (Some people wanted to know..... :)

RPGA Events

This year was the first time that I judged RPGA events at GenCon. (I've done both parts before, just not together.) I judged two different events, the first rounds of the Feature and the Open. (Both were three-round events.) The Feature was "Rustymane's Flight," and I highly recommend it if you see it listed at a convention somewhere. The characters are detailed and well done, and the adventure slightly less so. The Open "Trouble on the Border" was, shall we say, of a slightly lower quality. Of course, the role-playing information on the characters was less detailed, because (all together now) "it's not a role-playing event, it's a goal- oriented event." However, it was plagued with lots of typographical errors in both the adventure itself and on the character sheets, and there was confusion as to the race of one of the party members. But is was a pretty decent adventure. I won't go into the details of either to not give anything away for those times when these are run again.

Running the Open is a pretty different experience than running other events, because it's more of a "big business" type of event. Each group has a private room, and of course there is little or no role-playing. There was also the sense of camaraderie between the judges, many of whom have been doing it for years. It was interesting to watch. (The Open has a permanent command post/"ready room", while the RPGA events over in the Arena have a group of seats to gather the judges in.) Also, because advancement in the Open is by team, there is a necessity to make sure that each judge runs it the same way, which is why you Open players are kept waiting so long in the rooms. No, they didn't forget you. :)

Besides running some events, I got to play some too. Friday night I got to play the Star Wars game "Shadows in the Surf" with its author, none other than Skip Williams! While we didn't quite finish, we had lots of fun along the way. One of the less entertaining of the good moments was the renaming of our ship to the "Millennium Chicken." The more entertaining stuff.... :)

Then of course there was the Living City Benefit. It and the LC Challenge were mixed up in a blender and poured out willy-nilly into the pre-reg book, (the prices were swapped, for instance) so I just picked one, and I ended up with the Benefit. "Dark Harvest" was a good adventure. And not just because I solved the riddle. :) And that my character jumped from a second story window to get to the first fight, landed heavily, lost the head start she had on the rest of the party, and then was, er, removed from the fight on the first round. :( Oh, well.

And, then of course was the Torg event, "The Scent of the Rose." For some reason, we had only four people in the group, despite the high player-to- judge ratio. (One player was a fellow GEnie-ite.) It was reasonably entertaining, although the good ol' plot energy 2x4 was working pretty blatantly.* ("Oh, we seem to have run out of locations to go to here in the state of ______, let's go visit this one address we found in ______, which is hundreds of miles away." The names removed to protect the adventure's secrecy.)

[ * The "plot energy 2x4" is a construct that my Torg group invented to explain the blatant herding that commonly occurs in WEG products. "::whack:: Go there! No, not there, there!" :) Like that one adventure, "E Pluribus Unum," in which each encounter gives a pretty obvious clue to the location of the next encounter, which was not foreshadowed at all. ]

Amber

I was fortunate to catch Erick Wujcik at one seminar, and he mentioned that the next Ambercon would be late March/early April, depending on how the bids come in. Detroit has a lot of excess hotel space, so with minimal negotiation, one can get a good rate for a convention. He said that he was really looking into a residence inn of some sort, with two-story suites, including kitchenettes and fireplaces. :) Hey, what we had this year was darn cool anyway. :)

At the Phage Press booth (the first they've ever had at GenCon), I got my Amberzine, which they had just picked up on the way to the con. So don't worry if you're subscribed, it's coming. The American version of the Amber Tarot deck is still up in the air, but the French version is doing all right.

Torg

Ah, Torg. Here is a distillation of what I heard at the "Torg Talk" seminar, from Greg Farshtey and Brian Schomburg: (note that some of this is subject to change before publication)

Science Fiction Saturday

I'm told that John "Q" DeLancie and Majel "Number One" "Christine Chapel" "Computer Voice" "Lwaxana Troi" Barrett were there on Saturday, but I didn't bother to go see them, given the number of people who would be there. Plus, there were Klingons running around putting people in jail for charity. Plus there were some Romulans and Feds running around, too.

Computer Games

Why yes, MIDI Maze was back! After a total of two years of not playing it, I got to drive my smiley face around a maze and shoot other smiley faces. This is great fun when playing with friends. (Up to 14 could play simultaneously this time.)

Oh, yeah, they had a program called Doom running on huge TV screens and some things called "Battletech pods"... (Yes, I've played both before and enjoy them immensely, but I can only play networked MIDI Maze one weekend a year! <G> Plus it's only $2 an hour, not whatever exorbitant rate the other games were charging....)




I hope you enjoyed my little report on GenCon. If you have any questions, please post a message in one of the public GenCon-related areas and either I or some other person who was able to go should be able to answer it.



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