Super Late Gen Con Wrap Up!

I think the title says it all, really. Three and a half days home on a bus combined with multi-stage con crud equals me not posting about Gen Con until a week later. Since you’ve likely heard all the reviews already, I’m just going to hit my high (and low) points of the world’s biggest game con, in no particular order.

1) Failed my Perception Check – During my layover in Detroit, and just after I visited the ATM, I had my pocket picked. First time ever. So when I hit Gen Con I had nothing; no cards, no cash. What I did have, more valuable than gold, is my band of Venture Officers who helped me without question while I was there. Without them it would have been a much gloomier con, so though I’ve said it elsewhere, It bears repeating: my fellow Venture Officers are some of the best people I know. Thank-you, all!

Okay, that’s a low point, and it was really the only one. Let’s move on…

2) Running Bonekeep – The first two levels of Jason Buhlman’s Bonekeep PFS scenarios were available for play at this year’s Gen Con, and I GMed both of them. I can’t give anything away, because then what fun would you have playing them? But these scenarios were created to offer a serious challenge to the PFS players and they are not for the faint of heart. Character death is a real possibility, and players have the option of leaving after any combat if they feel they’re in over their heads.

The party I ran through Level One was a very well put together group. Six friends who played together constantly, they were optimized with team feats and so on. While I didn’t kill any of them before time ended, they were definitely challenged throughout and did not manage to get through it all. And they were afraid of dying all the way through, which for my money is a much harder thing for a GM to pull off. So I was pleased.

Level Two on the other hand… Meatgrinder is a good description, but doesn’t quite cover the hopelessness and existential dread of the players as the dungeon proceeded to take them apart. The 5-hour slot started at 7pm and by 10:17pm (I looked at my watch) the players cried “Pax!” and we stopped. I’m not a GM that loves killing characters for the sake of killing characters, so while I felt good about the way I ran it, my sympathies definitely lay with the honoured dead.

That said, if you are a PFS GM these scenarios are a metric buttload of fun to run. And if you are a PFS player and have a chance to try either level of Bonekeep, do it! It will be the most challenging and fun dungeon delve you ever attempt.

3) The PFS Gen Con Special – Every year Paizo runs a PFS Special at Gen Con, and this year was no exception. Siege of the Diamond City was the big kick-off to the “Year of the Demon”, Pathfinder Society’s fifth season of organized play. And what a kick-off it was! This year Paizo was in the Sagamore Ballroom of the convention centre, which meant 150 tables of Pathfinder goodness all weekend long. The Special has a history of selling out its tickets, and so it was again this year with no generic tickets being allowed for the event.* That meant for five hours, 900 players and 150 GMs all took part in the same shared adventure, and it was glorious! Thanks to the excellent work of Thurston “Thursty” Hillman et al, the whole evening ran smoothly and players at every level felt like they were contributing to the action. That last is a hard balance to strike, so kudos to Thursty for pulling it off.

I have GMed the Gen Con Special twice now, and both times enjoyed myself immensely. As long as I’m going to Gen Con I’m going to volunteer to GM the Special for Paizo. There is just something about that huge shared experience which is powerful and gratifying, and I wouldn’t want to miss it.

4) Cheapass Games Booth – While most of my weekend was filled with Pathfinder, I did have my Sunday free. And since I fear free time at a con like a vampire fears skylights, I volunteered to help out at the Cheapass Games booth. I have to say, I’m really glad I didn’t decided to just end my Gen Con with wanderings, because I had a blast! James Ernest is a smart, funny man and it was a real pleasure meeting the person behind all the games I Demo Monkey-ed lo those many years ago. I also met Julie Haehn, Cheapass’ marketing director and all-round kick-ass person. I had a lot of fun working with her during the day, and learned a lot about the art of no-pressure sales.

One of the best parts of the day were all the industry folk that stopped by the booth to say hello/goodbye, it being the last day of the con. For a gaming nerd like me it was a star-studded day of gaming luminaries, though I’m sure none of them think of themselves that way.

The other cool thing was the number of folks who made a point to stop by the booth and express how happy they were that Cheapass Games is back. Gamers would just walk up out of the crowd, high five me and thank me for their favourite games. I stopped trying to explain that I had nothing to do with any of that, being a humble volunteer, and accepted that I was receiving the thanks in an ex cathedra capacity.

And that was my Gen Con. There are other things that popped into my head while writing this, so maybe there will be a second post later this week. But so many of those things were really “had to be there” moments, so maybe there won’t. Because that’s the great thing about going to something like Gen Con: the personal experience, the little things that happen or are overheard, that you couldn’t plan and could only happen in that moment.

So if there is one take-away I want my readers to have, it is: go to cons! Big, small, or in between, you need to get your gaming nerd butt to a convention. You won’t regret it.

Did you go to Gen Con this year? Or any other cons? Share your thoughts/stories in the comments!

Gaming on a Budget

It can be rough if you are a gamer on a budget.  To get the shiny source-books for your favourite RPG or the latest cool euro-boardgame, stores would prefer you traded them currency for their product.  And if you lack the required currency (say, because you were laid off seven months ago) you are not going to acquire all the gaming pretties you need/want.

But does living on a budget mean you have to stop enjoying RPGs and board games?  Heck no!  I would even go as far as saying hell no!  There are plenty of resources for the gamer on a budget, that range from cheap to free.  Most require only an internet connection, a printer and some imagination.  That last is probably the most important; a gamer on a budget has to get cunning, because throwing money at the problem isn’t an option.

So here are some ideas and resources for all you gamers that want to live large when the budget is small:

Find the SRD – Many role-playing games, such as Pathfinder and Spirit of the Century, have an SRD, or system resource document, available on-line.  These are essentially everything you would find in the RPG’s rulebooks, without all the pretty formatting, design and art.  They exist primarily as a reference document for anyone writing for the game, as they are a much cleaner and easily searchable version of the rules.  But in many cases anyone can access the website, which makes them a great resource for the gamer on a budget.  They are not as nice as having the books in front of you, of course.  And you will need to have a laptop or pad with internet access in order to use the SRD at the gaming table.  But if you just can’t afford the books this is the next best way to get playing a new game or keep playing your old one.

Search Keyword “Free” – Online stores like Drive-Thru RPG and it’s indie offshoot RPGNow are a great source for the gamer on a budget.  You can find low-cost .pdf copies of just about any gaming source-book you desire, including many out-of-print games.  But better than that, each site has a button located in the left-hand column of the home page, marked “Free Stuff”.  Clicking on that button is like opening a treasure chest of gaming material!  Yes, there is the usual slough of character sheets and promo items.  But you will also find complete RPG games, adventures, maps and gaming e-zines.  Best case scenario, you find a new game (like the Dogtown RPG) to take out for a spin with your friends and you have fun for an evening.  Worst case, you have plenty of inspiration and the bare bones of something you can re-skin or re-purpose for your own games.  Sure you have to do a bit of digging and thinking, but this is where the aforementioned imagination comes into play.

Cheapass is Not Just a State of Mind – Years ago there was a fine little company called Cheapass Games that made games on the cheap.  The idea was simple: if you already played board games then you likely had all the pieces that were standard between games (pawns, dice, tokens money and so on).  Cheapass Games, therefore, included just the bits you needed with their games, which in most cases was a board or cards or both.  This led to extremely inexpensive games, that also had the benefit of being amazingly imaginative and fun.  Sadly, there was a “Cheapass Games Interregnum” in which Cheapass Games stopped producing games.  I am happy to report that dark period is over! The new Cheapass Games website features links to all their popular games, plus a bunch of new ones.  Of note to the gamer on a budget is the page of games, free to download.  Some are just rules, some require you to print out cards or cards/game board.  But all of them are metric tonnes of fun.  And if the mood strikes you can (and should) support Cheapass Games with a donation; they even have a suggestion for donation amounts.

There you go, three ways to help your gaming dollar go a little further.  Of course, it goes without saying that if you can afford to support your hobby, you should.  That isn’t to say you grab every book that comes down the publication pipe.  But the companies putting out these cheap and/or free games for your enjoyment deserve some recognition for their work.  If you can swing it, hit the donate button every once in a while and help keep these companies producing.  And if you can’t do that, support them by being vocal about their work.  If you can help draw paying customers to a gaming company’s site, that will help ensure they are around to give us fun for a good long while.

Have any free/cheap RPG or board games resources to share? Slip them into the comments section below…