Wednesday, 5 March 2014

GottaCon 2014

My third GottaCon has come and gone this past weekend, and again the exhaustion I felt when it was over was also a sign of how much fun I had.

It's kinda amazing to think that I was still in the hospital recovering from two operations a month ago. When I was finally released and back home, one of my motivations was to gain back weight and recover strength so I could attend the convention and hopefully not let my health get in the way of my favourite hobby. One of the many reasons I had such fun was because it didn't. :)

Victoria's premier gaming convention was held at the Victoria Convention Centre first time this year, and I believe the majority of attendees enjoyed the new venue compared to the large gymnasium that was Pearkes Arena. Though the majority of my time was spend in the RPG area, I enjoyed the multi-level layout and the use of area for all the events. I think the only complaints were how PA announcements were disruptive to RPG gamers, and how long the auction took to submit items, picking items, and paying sellers. Nothing major though.

Here's the break down of what I did with my time:


Around 3ish, I went downtown to pick up my weekend pass before the official opening at 5pm. My buddy and his friend were nice enough to pick me and my box of auction items up later around 5:30pm. Despite it being the first place I went once we arrived, I had to wait in line about an hour till I had my turn to submit my lots for auction.

Photo credit: GottaCon 2014
I was also quite fortunate to win second place in a Logitech prize contest, and the event hosts wanted to get a photo of me with the first place winner whom was only available at the convention Friday. (For those curious, I was awarded with a fancy Logitech G602 gaming mouse, a G240 mousepad, and a G430 headset.) That pleasant interlude and waiting in line I ended up being late for my first game:

Legend of the Five Rings - "Full Metal Kimono (A 20 Goblin Winter)"

My buddy Nathan ran sandbox adventure of his own creation in L5R. Nathan is a big fan of the setting and probably has the most if not all products, both for the CCG and the RPG. Thus with our pre-gen character info he gave us each a small deck of sleeved cards from the Second City boxed set. These cards provided the details of the five stances you can take in combat, along with the techniques each our PC's had learned in our respective schools.

These cards were quite useful for providing certain rules to us players, along with making our stance selection during each round of combat. I saw similarity to the conflict and resolution cards provided in the Mouse Guard boxed-set.

We all had much fun searching the lands as ronin for 20 goblin and monster heads each to gain fealty into the crab clan.


Pathfinder - "Midnight Madness: The Trials of Heroic Sins"

I've played in a Midnight Madness game each previous time I'd been to GottaCon, but I regretting joining in this late night game later that day after a very short sleep. Though I know and like the GM we had and my fellow players were okay, I didn't really enjoy the session that much, possibly because it had an interesting homebrewed game mechanic:

Each table (I think five, each with a different adventure I believe) were using the same pre-gens, and the PCs could possibly gain and lose past memories every 10 min or so of real time. Every 'memory' came with both a narrative blurb and mechanical benefit. Each player was also given 12 points (6 acrylic tokens and a d6) that functioned kind of like sanity points. If a player wanted their PC to keep the memory they had when the time came to lose it and gain another they could pay one of these tokens to prevent so. At the end of the session any physical tokens remaining the players could keep for themselves if they wanted.

One of the problems was this mechanic wasn't very useful; occasionally a 'memory' and/or the associated mechanic applied to the situation in game, but the majority of the time it didn't. This led to most of the players at our table opting to swap them for a new memory given the chance. But since these 'memories' were distributed randomly from other tables, towards the middle/end of the night you might exchange it for something you already had before (one of our players ended up with the same 'memory' 3 times in a row). There was also some suspect by the end of the night that some players were hogging all the "useful" 'memories' and the "useless" ones were in circulation.

I think more variation to the 'memories' would have helped; since these 'memories' revealed some of the backstory of each character and their relation to other characters, it was disappointing to get one that you had seen before.

I also believe our story involved a bit too much puzzle solving for late night players, being helpless and restrained by the enemy, and despite being run in Pathfinder we only had two combat encounters throughout the 4 hour session, which also at the same time felt like they took too long (reminding again me why I'm not really a fan of 3.x or derivative RPGs anymore).

To sum it up, it felt like our PCs were impotent; which isn't really to be expected when you play heroic characters. Plus all that staying up late affected my gaming the next day and has lead me to make the decision to avoid playing in Midnight Madness and/or late night games at cons in the future. :\

Lamentations of the Flame Princess - "Tower of the Stargazer"
Despite walking home after Midnight Madness, getting to bed at almost 5am, and being back tired at for 9am, I wasn't that useless I think. I got my first chance to play LotFP and I must say I really enjoyed all of it: our GM, players, adventure, and the system.

Common rules on the reverse of the bookmarks. Excellent resource.
The basic rules and OSR dungeon crawl theme was exactly what I wanted/needed after being tired and disappointed. Our group only encountered two combats, but unlike the combats in Pathfinder they went much more quicker and were much more interesting. And despite having just two combats, along with a good amount of puzzle solving and great roleplaying, the group was kept engaged and proactive. As I GM, I know how important pacing is and player interaction and freedom. It helps one understand first-hand the appeal of OSR games. Plus our two PC deaths were hella amusing: killed by a chess-playing ghost and eaten by alien moss-creatures.

The small A5 character sheets fit right in my notebook. Brilliant!

I had heard much about the infamous LotFP, read a bit of the free artless core rulebook on PDF, and been blown away by the Better Than Any Man Free RPG Day adventure last year, but again up until this point hadn't had the chance to sit down and play it. I definitely want to pick up a copy of this game in the future. :)

Between this period I chose not to sign up for anything and actually tour the event, chat with people, check the auction, and peruse all the vendors that were visiting. After browsing a bit, hunger called and a few of us went to grab a bite downtown. After returning I resumed browsing the vendors, and found one selling the Explorer's Edition of Savage Worlds Deluxe. The hardcover copy I own is decent, but the two Deadland's books I own are A5 height; it was cheap, and I hadn't seen it locally or been able to order it in, so I purchased it.

Just after I had done so and turned to leave, I noticed something upon the bookshelf that wasn't there a minute ago. A copy of the Star Wars: Age of Rebellion Beta had must've just been placed there by an vendor. Way back when they first announced Age of Rebellion I tried to get it ordered in locally, but it never came and my interest waned when more information was released about it.

Still here was a fresh copy complete with a six pre-generated character sheets and adventure in the back of the book, and this was a convention... Aside from the Star Wars fanboy in me, and the desire to add the Beta copy to my collection, I was hot with the concept of running an impromptu session at GottaCon.

In retrospect, the idea was bold, but ill-conceived; further hampered by the fact that I didn't have a single one of my three sets of narrative dice. In fact not a single one of the vendors carried them, and the only set we came across was for sale at the silent auction, which wasn't ending till 6:30pm.

I'm disappointed to say I ran what I consider a less than ideal session: At least I had gathered a bunch of players I mostly knew personally for this impromptu game. I explained a bit of the system after handing out the pre-gens. I intended to read and run the adventure Operation: Shell Game on the fly, but turned out the plot was a little hard to run if you hadn't read it beforehand. I ended up improvising most of it based off of my Star Wars knowledge and cues that my players gave, which wasn't that hard.

Most frustrating for me of all was attempting to teach and play this game when converting standard dice to the narrative task dice. The game really broke down when we had to assemble a dice pool out of standard dice, note which ones are positive and which are negative, roll them and then figure out the result by consulting the table. One of my clever players was able to get the managers to print off a couple copies of an conversion table image I found on my phone, but the conversion process was still frustratingly slow.

I think my players had a decent time nevertheless; though the PCs didn't get that close to their goal, I chose to end the session short on an amusing note for everyone. I hope I didn't end up wasting anyone's time though, and I'm still annoyed I wasn't able to give my group my A-game GMing. :S

GM Protip: Always bring all the kinds of dice you have to a con; you never know what you might need.

Conan d20 - "Escape from the Island of the Iron Statues"
I was ragging earlier how I'd grown away from 3.x derivative games, partly because I find they're rules heavy and the tactical combat tends to drag on. But, I also firmly believe that any game can have it's flaws greatly lessened by a skilled GM. And my friend Ash is both a brilliant GM and lover of Conan, and the fact that he GM'd our session in the centurion regalia that he'd been wearing for most of the day is further testament to his dedication.

Our charismatic GM, Ash.
Photo credit: Angela De Hoog Gruber
Ash's oratorian tone and demeanour enraptured his players into the epic tale we were together weaving. Each dice roll was kept interesting and the common issues I had with d20-games faded away when adequately drenched with narrative and story. Our GM knew the setting and theme inside-out, and applied them perfectly. We all had a awesome time playing. I hope in the future we can finished what else was written.

System-wise, though I only had a single session to try it out, I did like how Mongoose Publishing tweaked and changed the d20-system to represent the low-fantasy setting of Conan's Sword & Sorcery world. I'm a fan when the rules support the setting well.


Savage Worlds - "Ace Town and other High-Falootin' Stuff"
After a more wholesome sleep, I made my way back to the convention for my friend Takeda's Savage Worlds game similar to a sci-fi western Firefly-esque Universe with mutated beings. Our goal was to prevent a mad scientist from releasing a engineered virus that had a high chance of further wiping out the remains of humanity (if it can still be referred to as humanity since all us survivors of the first virus had mutated).

This excellent session was further supported visually by a series of printed paper 3D terrains created by fellow a gamer. A feast for the eyes and a fun romp.

Fate Accelerated Edition - "Benevolent Zodiac Delivery Force"
I had mentioned before about missing the deadline to submit GM events due to my unforeseen health issues, but chatting with the awesome RPG managers I was assured a table to run something if I wanted. I brought along the material I had made for the minor FAE hack I made called Fortune Cookie Fate. All the game and setting materials were light and took little room in my backpack to I needn't worry about being prepared. (One can read the details of the hack and the wacky setting that developed around it here.)

Photo Credit: Angela De Hoog Gruber

My only concern was finding enough players who'd be interested in playing, which turned out I was worrying needlessly: The GM for one game had to cancel a session so there were several players in the 2pm slot looking for a game, that and I had spread the word to several of my friends at the con and they showed much interest. I soon ended up with a table full of seven players. I had printed off six character sheets but I offered my seventh player Larry (who GM'd games-on-demand throughout GottaCon such excellent indie titles like Dread, Dungeon World, and Fiasco) my pre-gen example character to run.

Once I explained the mechanics of FAE and how they were going to develop their own PCs, my players drew a couple fortune slips initially for character aspects and stunt creation, and I had them draw at the beginning of their mission for a one-time tag-able aspect. I forgot to have them draw another when gave them their second mission, but no worries.

Benevolent Zodiac Delivery Force!
Photo Credit: Susie Dancer
I believe it was a very successful session. My players seemed to really get into the wacky, absurd Tokusatsu theme I was going for and I believed we all had a great time. As a testament to its success we all posed for the photo above afterwards. I'm thinking of running this Fortune Cookie Fate hack at conventions in the future.

Final remarks
Despite taking a while submitting my items and slow initial interest in them by auctioneers, I ended up selling every single one! I made a decent amount of money, and better yet I got rid of my unused geek items to gamers who wanted them. I was also fortunate that a buddy of mine bought the White Wolf and Witchcraft books I was going to auction off of me before the weekend, so I had less to lug to the convention.

My better half's birthday was the 3rd of March, and I wanted to pick her up something from GottaCon to supplement what I was getting her anyway. She's not much of a gamer (though I have been trying to change this these years) so it was kinda difficult to find something that she'd appreciate as much as me, if not more. I ended up getting her a pair of cute blown glass earrings by Bling Squared, and a cute Gelatinous Cube plushie by Weregeek. Suffice to say she loved them.

Many of us agree: if we were a group of dungeoneering adventurers and encountered a Gelatinous Cube with a face like that, we'd seriously lose our sh*t.

Because I was fortunate enough to end up running 1.5 (by my count) RPGs at the GottaCon I was invited to a volunteer GM appreciation dinner at a local pub the following Tuesday. There we had a splendid time with food, beverages and much talk about games and other interesting topics. A nice evening to follow-up the convention. :)

All in all I had an awesome weekend at GottaCon 2014 and I want to give a big thank you to all the organizers, players, GMs, volunteers, and most of all friends who made it so!

Can't wait for next year!

Cheers! ;{١

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