Where I’ll Be at GenCon Oz Wednesday, Aug 26 2009 

In which our intrepid hero outlines a beaver’s itinerary.

GenCon Oz looks to be less hectic than it was last year, which is both a good and a bad thing. Last year, I ended up hobbling from event to event, grimacing with tremendous back pain, and sweaty and bloated from a toxic reaction to painkillers. I wasn’t a pretty sight, but at least I still smelled better than about 70% of the con.

On the other hand, the con itself is smaller, and whereas it boasted names like Tracy and Laura Hickman, Robin Laws and Peter Adkison last year (the latter pictured at right with Beave), Robert Picardo tops the bill in 2009 (who, incidentally, I still think of as “the cowboy guy” from Innerspace—now, I’m showing my age).

Only very lately does the website mention that Eberron creator Keith Baker and Paizo‘s Jason Bulmahn will be there, along with homegrown talent Steve Darlington (AKA SteveD) and David Conyers.

Either there are far fewer seminars this year, or they’re much worse at organising them. My gaming schedule is much heavier than it was last year, when I bulked out my weekend with seminars. But none of the five or so seminars listed when I booked everything this time around appealed to me, and the one I did want to attend wasn’t listed yet, either. I imagine—since I did the right thing and booked early—that seminars will start to appear en masse on the GenCon Oz rego site now. Sucks to be an early adopter.

Bitching done, so on the off chance that anyone reading this would like to catch up and say hi at GenCon Oz, here’s my schedule for the weekend:

  • Thu Sep 17, 2pm-11pm: Stirring the Embers. My main reason for playing this (and Burning Scent, below) is that I’m itching to try out the monk class from the PHB3 preview, but don’t want to take too much of the spotlight away from my regular Living Forgotten Realms character. Plus, I’m curious to see how the six-double-session Embers of Dawn story arc develops—a much longer arc, it seems, than any previous quests in LFR.
  • Fri Sep 18, 9am-5pm: Dark Age of Nerath. Normally, I’d be more inclined to try out some indie games, but I have an ongoing discussion with a con organiser here in Sydney regarding D&D4e. She claims (not without reason) that there’s no demand at gaming conventions for D&D games lasting more than 4 hours, whereas I contend that many of the perceived problems with 4e actually stem from poor GMing and LFR’s rigid writers’ guidelines.As an 8-hour, non-RPGA, D&D4e event, Dark Age is the perfect opportunity to test both hypotheses.
  • Sat Sep 19, 9am-1pm: Ghosts of the Past. Since Mim K/W can’t make it to GenCon Oz, I guess I have to do something to convince myself it isn’t a holiday. Hopefully, Ghosts may be sufficient to nudge my aforementioned, regular LFR character—Deus X, the warforged invoker of Gond-cum-artificer—somewhere up into the higher reaches of level 6. See? Character maintenance is hard work!
  • Sat Sep 19, 2pm-5.30pm: Miser’s Run. The blurb for Miser’s promises gritty, low-fantasy action. Given that D&D4e—moreso than other editions of the game—strikes me as particularly high-magic sword-and-sorcery, I’m curious as to whether the designer pulls this off purely through narration, by limiting PC choices to martial characters, or through the skillful application of system-mechanics jiggerypokery.Consider this a research mission. Or, at the very least, a prime opportunity to use the word jiggerypokery in a sentence.
  • Sat Sep 19, 7pm-11pm: Jailbreak. I’ve been a fan of Unknown Armies forever, and Jailbreak is the iconic UA convention scenario. Given the speed with which it sold out, I guess that I’ll be playing with other UA fans—something of a rarity here in Australia, but a very welcome change. Last time I played UA at a con, some three or four years ago, the other players seemed to think it was some sort of permutation of d20 Modern.Not long after I booked the slot, however, SteveD reminded me of his WHFRP freeform, Sunset Claws. But as I was about to change the booking, I discovered that Mim K/W had paid the phone bill with my debit card, so I was pretty much broke. That, and the fact that it’s a costume freeform—and therefore would entail time, money and luggage weight I don’t currently have—sort of ruled it out. Which is a damn shame, as Beaver already has the perfect halberdier uniform to go with it.

    All that said, however, SteveD’s a great writer and a great guy, and you could do much, much worse than spending three hours in his capable care. Give the characters a look and grab yourself a spot.

  • Sun Sep 20, 9am-5pm: The Burning Scent of Perfumed Swords. Part two of the Embers of Dawn mini-campaign (see Stirring the Embers, above), which we antipodean RPGAers apparently get a few days ahead of everyone else. Woot. Does anyone else’s Freud gland go haywire when they read that title?

If you’d still like to catch up, but aren’t playing in any of the above, then I should be pretty easy to spot around the con—I’ll be the guy conspicuously displaying his plush beaver. Which sounds a lot worse than it is, I admit.

Of course, there’s a possibility that more than one beaver-wielding freak will be in attendance; on the other hand, if the universe sees fit to inflict a surfeit of plush beavers on the one unsuspecting con, then who am I to rectify the ensuing chaos?

Too Late for Christmas Monday, Nov 24 2008 

In which our intrepid hero crosses a couple of Warhammer FRP books off his wishlist.

I just took a saunter over to FFG‘s relatively recently renovated site, in the vague hope that I might find something newish and interesting in time for Yuletide, such as the alluded-to Shades of Empire or Career Compendium for WHFRP.

Sadly not—Shades won’t be out until January; Creatures Anathema (for Dark Heresy) will be out around the same time. So neither will be in my Solstice tentacle. Oh well, it’s not as if I was good for a whole year anyway.

(In the interim, though, another Dark Heresy book will come out: Disciples of the Dark Gods releases this month, and should be on shelves out here in the Antipodes sometime before Christmas 2150. Just order it direct from FFG. Seriously.

Who knows when the Career Compendium is due.)

Tangential to Shades of Empire, co-author Steve D (interviewed here and appearing with our very own Beaver) has mint-condition, autographed copies of WHFRP sourcebooks Night’s Dark Masters, Realm of the Ice Queen and The Warhammer Companion for sale; you can check it out on his blog here.

No, I mean go there now. Give yourself (or someone you love) the gift of Warhammer this Christmas. And give Steve the gift of cold, hard cash so he can buy something he wants but otherwise couldn’t justify to himself.

His soul bleeds so he can bring you gamerly goodness. Buy his stuff. Now.

    My Name is Dave, and… Friday, Nov 21 2008 

    In which our intrepid hero confesses his deep-seated need to blog.

    When your ADSL is down for a month whilst changing providers (thanks a bunch, AAPT), your RSS-feed reading list tends to back up a bit.

    My friend Alison was nice enough to lend me a USB 3G modem, but even then, things went slow; I didn’t want to eat up her bandwidth, and in any case, it appears that I live in a 3G-specific Faraday cage.

    When Telstra finally connected my ADSL back up, I had several days’ reading ahead of me. As I flipped from blog to newspaper to blog, I fell into a very bad habit: I started posting links to my Facebook profile. In the end, my friends were probably getting two to five links a day, each with a snarky comment attached. It’s a wonder that I still have friends on Facebook at all.

    It took me a little while to realise that this sort of behaviour is perilously close to blogging anyway.

    In the meantime, however, I missed out on telling the world about the boarder we had for two weeks (until he shut one of the cats in the fridge, poured lighter fluid over his arm and set himself alight), the charity that tried to repo two of our cats, months after we’d bought them, and sundry other strange occurrences.

    So I’m back, and I’ll try to post a little more regularly now.

    In the interim, I’ve been playing a lot of Spore. In fact, I’ve been spending much more time in Spore’s creators My first few public creations are below:

    I haven’t tried this yet, but you should be able to drag each one straight from this blog and drop it into a windowed Sporepedia, if you so choose. From there, you should be able to use them in Spore.

    When not Sporing myself into unconsciousness, I’ve also slowly (as in glacially) been coming to terms with D&D 4e. I’m not really in the position to GM a game at the moment (due to player issues, mostly), so I’ve been exploring it on my own.

    I’m still annoyed that WotC hasn’t yet put up their promised fansite license, nor done much towards their vaunted Digital Initiative (despite D&D Insider moving to paid subscription).

    That said, I’m willing to concede that 4e isn’t entirely as crap as I first opined. I’m even willing to post 4e content here in the near future. Screw the license (or lack thereof).

    Anyway, it’s early morning, and Mim K/W is watching entirely too much Bridget Jones. I should probably get some rest.

    Catch you soon.

    Beaver Goes to GenCon Oz, Part III Thursday, Jul 31 2008 

    In which our intrepid hero begins to feel con fatigue.

    Continued from Part II

    Before I go on, there are a couple of things I should mention. Firstly, GenCon Oz was big. From an email I received a couple of days ago:

    After two years of planning and four of the best days in gaming, we’re now at the end of the first ever Gen Con Australia. What an amazing event! Gen Con Australia, for its first year out, managed to attract over 10,000 attendees. This was a fantastic attendance for our first show, and sends a clear message that this event is here to stay.

    Over 500 events, 40 seminars, 20 amazing special guests and panelists, 48 exhibitors, and 10,000m2 of space equated to the largest interactive games event in the country, and from what we have been told, the second largest Gen Con in the world besting both Paris and the United Kingdom.

    How this works in a country of only 20-odd million people is a little beyond me, but it’s probably related to the success of huge shopping malls and enormous multi-cinema movieplexes in the far reaches of the Adelaide suburbs, where no sane man would put them.

    Secondly, Steve Darlington was recently interviewed at the Altdorf Correspondent—and a certain buck-toothed critter put in an appearance. That goddamn beaver is a camera whore.

    Anyway, the Saturday morning saw Mim and I arrive late for Hickman’s Killer Breakfast. Or maybe that should be Hickmans’—this time, Laura came to the party as well.

    I’m not sure how to describe this event. Think of it as a gamer-themed gameshow with musical numbers, only you don’t want to kill the host—instead, he kills you. And every other member of the audience, one by one. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

    We quickly grabbed food and headed to Freelance Game Design: The Next Step, apparently a sequel to a seminar I’d missed. Once again, Steve Darlington sat beside Robin Laws, and Kyla Ward also put in an appearance. The trio more or less stated what I already knew about freelancing: it’s far from an easy life, and if you’re outside the US or the UK, it’s doubly tough.

    After lunch, Mim and I hauled ourselves upstairs to Robin Laws’ and Peter Adkison’s What’s Going On in Gaming? Laws and Adkison were fairly informal, entertaining but sadly not particularly memorable. Maybe I was just beginning to get tired, or maybe the following couple of hours eclipsed it.

    Fortunately, I didn’t have to move for my next seminar: Hickman’s Xtreme Dungeon Mastery. Although he referenced his earlier Hickman’s Mythic Journeys, much of the seminar was like a revival meeting for old-school GMs. It may sound odd, but I’d travelled 1000km to see a guy from the other side of the world speak, and far beyond any other event at GenCon, I truly felt at home here.

    Hickman’s vision for gaming is not just to entertain, but to teach, to tell stories and to give. It’s about friendship, but it’s also about much more: a sacred duty to make the world a better, nobler place. He didn’t say as much, but his work behind the GMs’ screen was clearly an extension of his missionary work in his youth.

    As cynical as I can be, I can also acknowledge greatness in mankind, and I saw it that afternoon in Tracy and Laura Hickman.

    After stopping to pick up a metric crapload of Campaign Coins, a long meal and a chat discussing the Hickmans’ thoughts on gaming (and after my jeans decided to commit suicide on an uncomfortable restaurant chair), Mim and I headed back to GenCon to play Death in the Skyfire Wastes, another of the RPGA’s Living Realms previews.

    I said my piece on these adventures last post, but of the three, Skyfire Wastes was the most satisfactory. Although by that stage—we began at 7pm—my brain was toast, we had a very good GM, the puzzles led into each other and the combats had more interesting features for the players to use to their advantage.

    Alone of the trio of adventures, Skyfire Wastes didn’t seem like a waste of time, although looking back, I enjoyed Thursday’s Warhammer FRP game much more.

    Barely conscious, we returned to our hotel and its uncomfortable bed after 11pm, for the second night in a row. Hopefully, the last day, consisting solely of seminars, would be a little easier to cruise through.

    To be continued…

      Beaver Goes to GenCon Oz, Part II Thursday, Jul 31 2008 

      In which our intrepid hero gets a little more roleplaying done.

      Continued from Part I

      The following morning, I arrived bright and early for the How to Fight Like a Jedi workshop, presented by General Grievous’ fight double, Kyle Rowling. Unfortunately, the workshop was cancelled at the last minute, as Rowling had injured himself shaving whilst trying to articulate that extra set of arms.

      Instead, I joined Mim for a hastily rebooked seminar on Philosophies of Game Design, hosted by Steve Darlington, god of independent gaming Robin Laws and (belatedly) Peter Adkison, frighteningly charismatic founder of Wizards of the Coast and CEO of GenCon LLC—the latter pictured at right.

      Adkison came directly from Brisbane Airport and soon the panel became a Laws-v-Adkison debate on breaking into the great untapped female teen-and-tween sector in the market. They presented an interesting dichotomy: attempts to “girlify” tabletop gaming are often too heavy-handed and only serve to alienate the potential new clientèle, but at the same time, are necessary to target products to said clientèle and hold their interest.

      Adkison also made the observation that the barrier between geekdom and the mainstream had eroded to the point where not only are most people geeks to some extent, but even that geek is becoming sexy.

      (Perhaps, then, tabletop roleplaying suffers because it’s failed to position itself as a conduit from the mainstream into geek culture in the way that, say, World of Warcraft or the iPhone have. Just a thought, but one that might merit some further blogging…)

      This was immediately followed by Nasty, Brutish and Short, ostensibly on the subject of horror gaming, hosted by accomplished Western Australian author Stephen Dedman (right) and Sydney roleplaying writers Kyla Ward and David Carroll.

      What, in fact, it turned out to be was Dedman struggling to keep the seminar on track and attempting to partition its subject matter from the following day’s Can Rolling Dice Really Scare You?, whilst Carroll and Ward annoyed the audience with self-congratulation and in-jokes about their Ravenloft campaign.

      Although Mim and I were due to go to the Authors Talk Worldbuilding seminar, we needed to stretch our legs and our brains needed a break. We had lunch and then parted ways.

      Mim headed to Someone Else’s Playground, a seminar about the interplay between gaming and fiction, followed by Hickman’s Mythic Journeys in Writing, an examination of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth.

      Meanwhile, I plunged into the RPGA’s 4e and Living Forgotten Realms preview modules, Escape from Sembia and Scalegloom Hall. The former consisted of a series of rolls against a poorly-explained skill mechanic, the latter a collection of combat encounters from out of the back of the DMG.

      I was even less impressed than Beaver looks. I know we had the Game Day adventure to get a feel for the new edition, but these adventures (along with the following day’s Death in the Skyfire Wastes) are supposed to give us not only a sneak peek at 4e, but the RPGA’s new Living setting. Not so.

      Although WotC would have us believe otherwise, I can only take them on example. I’ve yet to play Keep on the Shadowfell (my nascent gaming group dissipated after the first encounter), but all I’ve seen is combat, combat, combat, and a chance to roll against an obsolescent skill mechanic. Four adventures—four officially sanctioned adventures—and nary a roleplaying opportunity in sight.

      Ick.

      To be continued

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