Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Gencon 2013 Report Card

Another year down, another GENCON in the books. Folks, when they make the claim that GENCON is "The best four days in gaming" they are not messing around. GENCON for me is like every holiday and special occaision of the year rolled into one, and then launched into orbit on top of a giant beam of awesome. Do I get a little too excited about GENCON? Yes I do, and I don't pretend that I don't. I start looking forward to the next year's GENCON before the current year's is even over yet.

The sights and sounds of GENCON are just a marvel to behold. 40,000 gaming nerds all gathered together for the sole purpose of gaming and geeking out. For me that means playing a ton of RPGs. Specifically ones that are either new, or at least new to me. It also means seminars, and running games. As a card carrying member of the GM's union, and "GM for Life", it wouldn't be a geekfest for me if I were not running a couple of RPGs as well.

So without further adieu, I give you my report card for GENCON 2013. I always present my honest opinion in these reviews. No offense is meant to anyone who receives a harsh grade. All criticisms here are meant in honest good faith - with the intent of helping the GM in question improve their game. I hope to find similar critique of my own games out there. Let's go!

Hollowpoint was very high on my list of games to play this year. I picked up a copy from the IPR booth last year after hearing a lot of good things about it. I had only skimmed through it once or twice prior to this session. Enough to know I really wanted to play, but that I had not yet invested the time needed to run my own group through a game. Hollowpoint seems designed for one shot games, and what better place than a convention for such a venture? The two scenarios offered up by our GM were an old west theme, and a sci-fi / space opera theme. Neither of those seemed to really grab the passions of anyone at the table - and the GM picked up on this and offered to take suggestions. (This counts for major points in my book. She expertly read the table and reacted to it in a really enthusiastic and positive way)

We bounced ideas around and settled on 80's action movie in cold war Germany. Our GM, Nykki, took a few minutes and whipped something up while we players got to know each other a bit. Gameplay at the table was excellent. The group definitely hit it off with each other, and everyone really seemed to enjoy playing together, working our characters off of each other, bantering, etc. It was an absolute blast, culminating with out heroic, if crazy rescue of Brice Springsteen and the E Street Band, who were help hostage at the Berlin Airport.

Nykki did a great job explaining the rules and keeping the action flowing. The system isnt difficult per se, but can be hard to grok, and she really helped us all through it without getting anything bogged down or slowed up in the technicalities of rules at the table.
Overall - A

Fate of the Norns
I had a chance to play this game with its creator/author as the GM. I was very much looking forward to it, as I had backed the Kickstarter for the game, and recently received my book and runestones. FoTN is different, in that there are no dice, but there is a definitive random element to the game, in the form of runestones.

The stones are pulled from the bag randomly at the start of a round, and they will dictate which of your characters spells or special attacks are available to them that round. Alternatively any stone can be used to power any normal action, like a move or basic attack. You can also use extra stones to power up the range, or damage of an attack, depending on which color stone they are. The combination of symbols and colors makes for a very tactile and interesting take on random result generation for resolution, with the player in charge of how those results get applied. (In this regard it reminded me of the decision making required in PSI*RUN) The stones are also used to track damage. In fact everything you need to play is on a single sheet of paper, which is used as a playmat for your runestones. No pencil required for tracking things. I also liked this about the game.

On the GM side of things, Andrew was great. Its his game so he obviously knew it very well. You could tell that he also has spent a lot of time researching old Norse mythology - his storytelling and usage of that knowledge came through nicely. On the down side, I was able to see that running the NPCs in tactical combat seemed to mirror exactly the process used by the players. I don't have a solid basis to assume this from but it seems to me that more than a handful of bad guys would be cumbersome and overbearing to run. I could be wrong, but that is my gut feeling.

I was the only player at the table who was not bilingual (everyone else also spoke french) and the rest of the table excluding the GM were a group of friends. As Quebeqois, they would slip into French often, which made sense given that it is their primary language, but at the same time it felt fairly rude and exclusionary to me, who only understood about every 10th word they said when this was going on. I couldn't help but feel left out on the in talk at the table
Overall - B+

Shadows of Esteren
Some times you can sit down at a game, and feel all the signs pointing to a bad experience. I think theres even an internet meme about it. This was one of those times. GM bashing how dumb the players of an earlier session were? Check. GM telling you how great of a GM they are? Check. Another GM running a different scenario trying to dump his players into our group because he wants to go do something else? Check. Not enough characters to go around? Check. This one was firing on all 6 evil miserable cylinders, so I went ahead and excused myself before we kicked off. Its a shame because I still really want to play this game. I just wasn't about to sit in on that session.

This was a Games on Demand session. I jumped in having no idea what it was about, and man am I glad I did. This was my first introduction to any of the Lady Blackbird hacks, and it is a good one. Great sic-fi and a simple but effective system for making the mechanicals of the game interesting are just two of the highlights. The table was great with everyone jumping into character.

School Daze
Having the opportunity to play a game with its creator is always a great nerd experience. When that creator also happens to be a talented GM its even better. When that GM also happens to be a genuinely great person, you've got yourself a grand slam. This game session was a grand slam. We played a monster high school, in which my idiot goblin found himself with the ability to do mathematics at a galactic scale - time traveling dimension hopping maths. Of course it was all just a practical joke on him by Lillith, the school's resident demon girl. It was funny, fun, a little bit sad, and a great time.

I think I might be missing something, but as it turns out I started writing this last year and never finished. So in the completion of it, I know that I must be missing some details.
I hope you enjoy - or find it useful - or something :)

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