A Gen Con Memory

Here’s a story I submitted for Atlas’s 40 Years of Gen Con book. From my skim of the book it didn’t make it in, so I’m going to share it here.

I went to my first Gen Con in 1989. I had some punk friends in Milwaukee I could crash with, but even though they were actually gamers too and major Cthulhu-heads, they had never gone to Gen Con. Nor did me coming all the way from NYC convince them to give it a shot. So I went to the con itself alone and didn’t know a soul. And I had an awesome time. I went back to NYC and told my friends about it. The next year a few of them came with me and the year after that a few more. Soon it became a yearly tradition. We’d rent a van and do a two day road trip out and back. The crazy conversations and legendary arguments of those long drives became part of the fun. We always came back from Gen Con totally energized about gaming too.

One year we were on the return trip and talking about how we wanted to break into the game industry. I’d say most of us were about 22 at the time. We talked about starting a general interest game magazine (though thank god we didn’t). At one point Sandeep said, “You know, our generation has yet to make its mark on the game industry.” He was right and that stuck with me over the years as I started freelancing and establishing myself as a designer. Sandeep himself never had a chance to do what I did though. He died very suddenly in the late 90s. His father had passed away just a couple of years before, from a previously undiagnosed heart defect. Turns out Deep had the same thing but it killed him decades earlier in his lifespan.

I think about Sandeep every year when I’m at Gen Con.

Post PAX

August is almost over and I’m ready to chill out a bit. I went down to PAX on Friday night, got my badge, and did my first tour of the exhibit hall. It was not as loud as E3 used to be, thank god. My friend Patrick, who moved to San Diego a few years ago to work for Upper Deck, was in for the show. We met Jess at the Palace Kitchen and had a fun dinner. Pat used to be in my game group, but now we see him mostly at cons and oftentimes only in passing. It was good to get to catch up for longer than 10 minutes. The fresh pasta with prosciutto, pea vines, and chanterelle mushrooms was damn good too.

Saturday morning I did GR work and then headed back to the convention center around 1. I hooked up with ex-SJGer Andrew Hackard, who was there with Wil Wheaton. Wil had given the keynote speech the day before, but I had still been at work so I missed it. Apparently over 5,000 people attended. The PAX goers clearly loved Wil, as every time he appeared at his booth a huge line formed. Andrew and I chatted while Wil signed and people snapped photos. This was right outside the exhibit hall, so just by standing there I ended up getting to see a lot of old friends. Handy.

At 6 I did a panel on the future of tabletop RPGs. My co-panelist was Chris Perkins from WotC. PAX was supposed to provide a moderator, but whoever it was didn’t show so Chris I just did it ourselves. The result was a bit scattershot but came off pretty well I think. We filled up the theater and went half an hour over answering questions. I had feared it might turn into a “tell us about 4th edition” seminar, but it wasn’t until the very last question that anyone directly asked about it. Chris rattled off a laundry list of things they want to improve in 4E. When he was done, I said, “I’m really heartened you guys learned so many lessons from True20.” I think he took my good natured ribbing in the spirit it was intended. He’s a good guy and man does he love D&D.;

After the seminar I stopped into the two big parties of the night. These events are not normally my type of thing, but since fellow punk rocker Jenny Bendel had helped put them together I figured I’d check them out. Vivendi was promoting their World in Conflict game. Do you remember the shitty 80s movie Red Dawn? (Wolverines!) World in Conflict is basically the Red Dawn RTS, with the Soviets invading the USA. The party was one of those things that make hobby game publishers want to cry. I could probably run Green Ronin for a year on what they spent to rent vintage US army vehicles, hire an array of models to wear faux Red Army uniforms and carry fake AK-47s, and redecorate an art space with sandbags, chain link fences, propaganda posters, and the like. Plus the bar of course and the multiple stations showing off the game on big screens. The ArenaNet party was half a block away at Game Works. By the time I showed up all the game cards were gone. I did, however, run into Brian Campbell and it’s always good to catch up with him.

When I had my fill of the parties, I considered going home. I was pretty tired after the previous couple of weeks. I gave Andrew a call though and ended up joining him, his friend Paul, and Wil Wheaton for dinner at the Rock Bottom Brewery (why it almost felt like Gen Con in that regard). That was a good call because dinner was tremendously fun. Wil is a super nice guy and I’m glad we had the chance to hang out. He’s a geek of my generation, so in no time at all we were talking about comics, games, shitty Star Wars prequels, etc. We also compared notes on punk bands and the challenges of being a step dad. I only wish Nicole could have been there, as she’s a long time reader of his blog and would have really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, she was in Minnesota with Kate, so missed out on this and seeing Jonathan Coulton.

I got home late and decided to skip the final day of PAX. Instead Rick and I headed south Sunday to visit the Game Matrix, a store in the Tacoma area I have been meaning to visit for years now. It’s a good store, with lots of game space and some interesting stuff you don’t see often in a retail environment. I ate a Sizzler for the very first time. While it was the best food option we could find in the immediate area of the store, let’s just say it was no Palace Kitchen.

New Podcast Up

The second episode of the Green Ronin podcast is up on www.greenronin.com. This one was recorded Sunday night at Gen Con. It features an interview with Russ Morrissey of EN World, and then a roundtable discussion with myself, Nicole, Steve Kenson, and Chris McGlothlin in which we discuss many M&M; products, nazis, super pets, and more.


The Penny Arcade Expo is this weekend here in Seattle. It has grown so quickly that it’s now taking place in the convention center downtown, which makes it much easier for me to get to (it was on the East side in previous years). Flying Lab will have a big presence, of course, so if you want to check out Pirates of the Burning Sea it’s a great opportunity.

Saturday night I’m doing a seminar on the Future of Table RPGs. I’ve done this sort of panel many times before, but two things should make it lively. First, it’s happening a week after the announcement of 4th edition D&D.; Second, my co-host is Chris Perkins of Wizards of the Coast. Should be interesting!

5 Days in Indy

My Gen Con trip did not start well. My redeye flight on Wednesday night was delayed. When we got into Detroit, there was only the slimmest chance I’d make my connection. Then the plane sat at the gate for nearly 15 minutes because the ground crew wasn’t ready with the jetway. That meant a 3 hour layover there, which put me into Indianapolis at 11 am instead of 7:30. I thus missed the opening of the exhibit hall, which was a bit of a drag. I really like being there for that. I love seeing the doors open and the gamers spill in. It’s a nice feeling when people race for your booth to be the first to snap up the new books. I missed that entirely this year and didn’t make it to the hall until about noon.

Thankfully, it was pretty much uphill from there. We finally announced the Wild Cards license for M&M;, which we’ve had to keep quiet about since NY Comic Con in February. All 9 of our books showed up (7 by opening and the final 2 on Friday). We sold a ton of Paragons, Pirate’s Guide to Freeport, Hero High, and Hobby Games: the 100 Best. We once again did very well at the ENnies, winning 7 awards for GR’s own books, 4 for those we designed for Black Industries, and the silver award for Best Publisher. The fans were enthusiastic, the sales were great, and the show was exciting. So hats off again to Peter and crew for another excellent Gen Con.

I managed to catch up with a lot of old friends, which is one of the best parts of Gen Con for me these days. Others I missed in the madness, but there’s only so much time. Three members of my old college game group (Aaron, Bill, and Brian) made it out this year and it was great hanging out with them. We all live in different cities now so don’t see each other as often as we’d like. Saturday night, though I was dragging after working on 2 hours of sleep all day, I went to the open board game hall and played FFG’s new game Tannhauser with Bill and Brian. It was more of a minis game than I thought it was going to be, but that’s no bad thing in my book. The cleverest bit is that the spaces on the board are all color coded so you know instantly and without argument who has line of sight to whom. Great idea!

Sunday Bill and I spent a couple of hours walking the exhibit hall. I was disappointed that that there was so little in the way of historical minis, but otherwise the hall was bursting with stuff. Here’s what I took home:

Duel in the Dark: Z-Man’s new boardgame of British night bombing raids in WWII. This looks terrific and I hope to play with Ray soon.

Reign: Greg Stolze’s new fantasy RPG of power and politics.

Witch Hunter: Paradigm’s alternate history RPG of righteous puritans vs. the forces of darkness.

Legendary Encounters: Reaper’s entry into the pre-painted plastic minis market. I picked up all of the first wave. They look pretty decent, though I wish the bases were a little bigger.

Johnny Reb: This is a Civil War minis game by John Hill of Squad Leader fame. I found a first edition copy in good shape at Crazy Egor’s. It’s one of the games in Hobby Games: The 100 Best that I didn’t own and I wanted to rectify that.

Classic Battletech Introductory Box Set: Battletech’s new publisher, Catalyst, have hit the ground running with a great new entry point for the game. This is something BT has needed for some time and it’s really a great package.

Sword and Dragon: An expansion book for the above that delves into the history of a couple of Battletech’s classic opponents.

Battletech Tech Manual: A huge BT hardback with all the construction rules. Not for the faint of heart.

Battleground Fantasy Warfare: This is a “minis game on cards” by Your Move Games. I got the dwarf starter. I’ve heard good things about the game and I know Rick has a couple of starters as well so we can give it a try some Thursday. They were sadly out of the new lizardman starter with dinosaurs before I stopped by.

I was tempted by some other boardgames but I didn’t have room in my luggage so I saved those for another day. I got a quick look at Grey Ranks, a RPG about the rising of the Polish Home Army in 1944. It looks interesting, but it had no price printed on it and I didn’t have time to mess around so I left it for further investigation. I was seriously tempted by Dwarven Forge’s new water set, which has simply gorgeous underground rivers and pools, but my house just isn’t big enough to start collecting 3D dungeons.

My return flight was also pretty shitty. After an hour delay, we boarded the aircraft and taxied out on the runway. Then the plane stopped and they announced that we had to wait for another hour. I got back to Seattle hours late, totally wiped out. Now back to FLS this morning and of course there’s Penny Arcade Expo this weekend. Go go August continues!

Trip Number Two: Go!

My pickup is in twenty minutes and then it’s off to the airport at last. I started getting calls on my cell phone today from folks who assumed I was already in Indianapolis. Not quite yet! I’m packed and ready to go. Bought a new graphic novel to read on the plane, though hopefully I’ll be able to grab some sleep. I get in at 7:30 am, so hopefully I’ll have time to grab a shower before the exhibit hall opens at 10:00.

It looks like Green Ronin will be debuting 9 new books at Gen Con, which really is crazy. That’s more books than we put out in a year in our early days. Bring on the craziness!

What Does My Crystal Ball Show?

Back in January I wrote this:

“I expect to see an announcement from WotC this year about 4th edition D&D;, probably at GenCon. The types of products that they are doing show all the signs that a new edition is in the works: compendiums (first spells, soon magic items, and then rules), disposable adventures, experiments (Book of Nine Swords), and nostalgia products. This is all the sort of stuff that happened in the waning years of second edition. Plus 2008 will be five years since the release of 3.5, which makes it a natural time to hit the reset button.”

I guess I’ll found out in a day or two if I was right.

A Brief Interlude

I got home from England about 11 pm last night and went to work as usual today. I am totally wiped out but I have to pack again. Tomorrow I work at FLS and then leave for Gen Con.

The trip went really well. I have neither the time nor the energy for a big recap, but here’s a quick overview.

* Got in Thursday morning and hooked up with Charles Ryan. He took me south to Alton, where I met with Esdevium folks and got a look at their operation.
* Joined by the rest of Charles’ family, we visited the impressive Fort Nelson near Portsmouth. This 19th century fortification is now the Royal Armouries Artillery Museum. After that we had dinner and then it was back to their new house in the village of Liss. It was great to see Charles, Tammie, and the kids and hopefully I can get back there before long with Nik and Kate.
* Got up to Cambridge Friday afternoon after a brief stop in London for a late breakfast. I had a big traditional English breakfast, as I wasn’t sure I’d have the chance the rest of the trip.
* The con was at New Hall, a college of Cambridge University. Attendees stayed in dorm rooms, so it was real college flashback. The rooms came with breakfast each morning. A traditional English breakfast, so by the end of my stay I had had more than enough eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, mushrooms, and so on.
* The con drew between 200 and 300 people. The committee treated me very well and did a fine job of organizing the whole affair.
* I did 7 or so seminars and they seemed to go off well. Before each one I could go to the Real Ale Bar and get a pint of beer or cider. That’s something you don’t see at American cons. I kept thinking Rob Schwalb was made for a show like this.
* Other guests included Ian Watson and Jo Walton. Ian was a riot and very witty. Jo was frightfully smart and well studied in history. We had a great talk about historical what ifs, what could have been done to stop Hitler’s rise to power, and important silver strikes in ancient Greek history.
* Saturday and Sunday afternoon I had a few hours to walk downtown and see a few things. I visited the King’s College Chapel, which a truly magnificent piece of architecture and craftsmanship.
* I also went the Fitzwilliam Museum and saw their special Egyptian exhibit. They had excerpts of a 3300-year-old Book of the Dead that had just recently been restored. They also had a nice exhibit of medieval armor and weapons. One display of pole arms could very well have been featured in the 1E Player’s Handbook. It included a military fork, a bill, a ranseur, a bardiche, a halberd and not one but two holy water sprinklers!
* I had a hard time getting to sleep Saturday night because a woman was screaming and ranting for a good hour in the middle of the night. She turned out to be the con attendee who had previously insisted that her bed be set up in the gaming area because of her disability. She became so overwrought that a doctor was called. He brought in another doctor and they ended up taking her off to an asylum in the middle of the night. Strangely, the excerpt I had provided for the con booklet was a location from the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport: the Chambers Asylum. Maybe she had seen the Yellow Sign.
* Monday I went back to London and met James Wallis in Paddington Station. We had lunch and caught up, which was great fun. Then I took the high-speed train to Heathrow and headed home.

Now I need to pack and do some last minute Gen Con stuff. We are announcing the acquisition of a new license at the show and I need to make sure everything is sorted out for that. Go go August indeed.

Go Go August Begins

I’m leaving for the airport in an hour and jetting off to England. I’m the gaming guest of honor at a convention in Cambridge called Recombination. Today I’ve been trying to take care of dozens of small tasks so I can leave knowing that everything is well in hand. I’m taking a redeye and I got up at 6 am so there’d be a chance of me being tired on the flight. I’m coming back Monday night, working Tuesday and Wednesday at Flying Lab, and then taking another redeye to Indianapolis. If you see me the first day of GenCon, don’t be surprised if I’m completely zombified. To my vast relief it seems my toes were not broken, just badly bruised. It surely would have sucked to start two weeks of travel with three broken toes. Particularly when Gen Con means being on my feet for 12 hours a day.

The debut episode of Green Ronin podcast went up yesterday and you can find that at the company website. I was hoping the advanced copy of Paragons that the printer sent would arrive before I left, but it’s looking like it won’t. Guess I’ll have to wait until next week to get a look. So far everything seems on track for us to debut nine new books at Gen Con, which is pretty crazy. I think that’s more than we released the first two years the company existed!

After Action Report

Sunday was indeed a long day, but punk rock happiness was achieved. I saw 8 bands between the two shows. The Street Dogs were solid and the Tossers were great. Wish the latter had more than 45 minutes to play, as they have too big of a repertoire to showcase in less than an hour. The winner of the day was Christ on Parade though. Oh man, they killed. I almost didn’t mind having to wait 20 years to see them. My intention beforehand, with three possibly broken toes, was to hang back behind the pit. Somehow I found myself right up front though, dodging flying bodies and stomping boots. They were so on that I had to be up there. My kung fu was good and my foot took no more punishment, so it all worked out too.

Today I put the finishing touches on the first episode of the Green Ronin podcast. This is something I’ve been working on for awhile and it has been a learning experience. I think it came out pretty decently considering I was figuring things out as I went along and it should only get better from here. That should be up real soon now. Gen Con, which fast approaches, should be a good opportunity to record some fresh material with the far-flung Green Ronins.