My Belated GenCon Report

Well, I’m clearly failing in my attempts to tell GenCon anecdotes, so I guess I’ll paint with broad strokes. Overall, the con was great. It was just the sort of psychic boost I had hoped for my staff and me. When the hall opened at 10 am Thursday you could see the human wave approaching. A whole crowd of people descended on our booth for Mutants & Masterminds Second Edition. We had a line down the aisle and around the corner for an hour and a half. The frenzy was just incredible. The only downside was that man of the hour Steve Kenson couldn’t be there to enjoy the launch of his own game, as he was running a demo at the time. This is what happens when you have to submit your events six months in advance. I ended up signing several dozen games for eager fans, but I felt weird about it. I am the publisher and all, but M&M; is Steve’s baby and I wish he could have been there.

Lynn Abbey came to GenCon to help us promote the new Thieves’ World line that also launched there. She did signings in our booth, participated in our TW seminar, and even played in an after hours TW game that Rob ran. While we’ve spoken on the phone and e-mailed many times over the past year, this was the first time we’ve met. While other licensors we’ve had haven’t exactly brimmed over with friendliness or helpfulness, Lynn was a delight. It was pretty darn cool to be in a Thieves’ World game with her in which she played a S’Danzo fortune teller too. It’s not often you get the chance to play with the person who created the archetype.

Friday night was the ENnie Awards and man, have they come far in five years. The first awards ceremony was done in an internet chat room and hosted by Gary Gygax. This year they were in a big ballroom and definitely an affair to be remembered. Kevin “Piratecat” Kulp did a fine job as MC and his patter was accompanied by a nice power point presentation on an above head screen. They had medals and certificates for all the winners, and special trophies for winners of the four “big” awards. We took home two of these (Best Game and Best Publisher) and won a bunch of other gold and silver awards as well. I was delighted when WFRP won Best Game, since the game literally has consumed the last 20 months of my life. I really didn’t think we’d win Best Publisher again. No one has won it twice in the history of the awards and certainly not back to back. I was surprised but very pleased when it was announced. All in all, a memorable evening.

I didn’t get much of a chance to check out the con outside the GR booth, sad to say. With Steve, Nik, and Rob all running games daily, I wanted to spend as much time at the booth as possible. I only got out for maybe two hours over the course of the show, so didn’t see much. I picked up the new Confrontation minis rules, the Italian army book for Flames of War, and some cop and gangster minis from Copplestone Casting. Then Sunday was trade-o-rama, so much so I ended up shipping home a big box of rpg stuff because I couldn’t fit it into my luggage. The new Mage looks cool and the Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set is probably the ultimately expression of 1st edition design philosophy. I was hoping to trade for an Axis & Allies miniatures game starter, but since it was a pre-release it didn’t happen.

I did make time to see many old friends and had some nice dinners after hours. In addition to the aforementioned Thieves’ World game I played, I also got-together on Saturday night to try the Shadows Over Camelot boardgame with Bill, Crazy Todd, and Jeff Tidball. It’s a cooperative game akin to the Knizia Lord of the Ring’s game, so all the players are trying to beat the game (though one player may be a traitor). We played twice and it was quite fun. With my love of Arthurian stuff, I really ought to pick up a copy.

By the end of the show we had sold out of Mutants & Masterminds, Thieves’ World, and most of the WFRP stuff. We sent back far fewer books than we shipped in and that’s always a good sign. All in all, it was a great show. I wish they could all be like GenCon.

Too Many Stories

Far too much happened at GenCon for me to write up in a coherent fashion and every time I try I end up going off on a wild tangent. So maybe over the next few days I’ll just tell some random stories. Here’s one of my favorites.

Friday night after the ENnie Awards, the Green Ronin crew and special guest Lynn Abbey went out to celebrate. It took us half an hour to find a bar open after midnight, which was pretty ridiculous, but we finally stumbled across a Rock Bottom Brewery and hoisted a few there. The Fiery Dragon guys, who had won several Silver ENnies that night, showed up a little later. When the rest of GR split, I stayed behind to hang out with James, Todd, Jason, and Scott. We ended up closing the place down, but they had befriended a waitress who told us about another bar that stayed open until 3 am. Apparently, this is where bar and restaurant folk go after hours.

As the Rock Bottom was closing up, James and I waited for the rest of the guys to use the can. We were standing there talking and something thumped into my leg. I looked down to see a blond girl so drunk that balancing on her heels had proved too difficult. James cracked, “Man, you Gold ENnie winners get everything.”

“Yeah,” I responded, “when you win the Gold drunk women fall at your feet!”

I helped the young lady up and she staggered outside. We then went to the other bar and said hello to my old friend Mr. Tequila. I rarely get to hang out the Fiery Dragon guys so I’m glad I ran into them. It was a nice end to a great evening, though the four hours of sleep I got meant no late night hijinx on Saturday.

Sleep? Bah!

Nik and I left Seattle 24 hours ago and I haven’t slept at all since. We had a three legged flight of doom, going from Seattle to Salt Lake City to Newark to Indianapolis. The flights were uneventful but uncomfortable so sleep eluded me. Amusingly, when we got to our gate at Newark it had two flights listed: Indianapolis and Freeport! I was surely in the right place.

We got our hotel by 9 am and I was fully expecting the typical “you can’t check in until 3 pm” runaround. But amazingly, they checked us in immediately and were really nice about it too. A far cry from how we were treated the first year of GenCon in Indie under similar circumstances.

After checking out or digs, we hooked up with Hal for breakfast at a great place called Le Peep. Then we went to collect our badges and check out the booth. Hal tore open a box of Mutants & Masterminds Second Edition so we could see the final product. It looks fan-freakin’-tastic, so big kudos to Hal on that one. We then started booth set-up. This usually takes us an hour or so, but we have a big booth, many new books to debut, and new floor racks as well. We ended up staying there until 5 pm getting everything in order. And man, was it hot inside. They turn off the AC because the loading dock must be open all day for exhibitors. This makes it a like a furnace and we sweated like mofos all day.

At last we finished. Everything is taken care of except for some last minute booth graphics. All our new books are either here already or will be here tomorrow. Apart from being sore and exhausted, everything is going quite smoothly. I was seriously ready for printer or shipper screw ups, but it’s all looking good. I’ve had a long hot shower and soon we’re going to have a big GR dinner. I’m trying to stay awake until 10 or 11 so as not to toally screw up my body clock. So far so good.

Tomorrow at 10 am the madness of GenCon begins. I’ll likely be incommunicade until next week. Have a good week, wherever you are.

My Review Policy

I’ve had a pretty simple review policy for lo these many years. Basically, no matter how much a review of one of our books annoys me, I do not comment unless the reviewer is factually incorrect (say on a price or the content or some such). Otherwise, I try to keep my opinions of reviews to myself. It’s really hard to come off well if you get into it with a reviewer. Inevitably, you look like a thin-skinned artiste who can’t take a little criticism. It also makes it seem like you don’t have any better uses of your time than arguing with random people on the internet. So, as tempting as it is to make an exception this week, I’m sticking to my policy. I’m leaving for GenCon imminently and I’ve got far better more important things to do.

A Long Time Ago in a Corporation Far ,Far Away

Over on ENWorld, someone asked me why my proposed Star Wars space combat miniatures games never got off the ground when I was working at WotC lo these many years ago. Figured I might as well post it here, as I’m sure some of ya’ll will find this of interest.

First, the folks behind the original WotC minis division were trying to start a traditional minis business with primarily metal minis. This is a business model that can pay off in spades if done right but it takes time to build up. We were trying to launch this in the gonzo Pokemon era, during which such long term strategies were looked up as outmoded. The VP who oversaw the division lost all interest in what we were doing when we told him we weren’t going to make 10 million dollars the first year.

Second, WotC internal politics are viciously territorial. We were a new division and basically no one wanted to play ball with us.

Third, in the midst of all this there was a move to use Hasbro properties instead of licensed ones. I pushed for a Star Wars game but management didn’t want to do it because they’d have to pay royalties. One would think this would have occurred to them when they were negotiating for the Star Wars license.

So plans for a Star Wars game were shelved and we started working on a GI Joe minis game instead. I really wanted to do a WWII game, so I was briefly hopeful we could do classic Joe, but it was to be Joe vs. Cobra. Still, a good opporunity for an introductory minis game and this was to be the first attempt at a pre-painted plastic game. I started designing the game and we did some focus group testing that went very well, but less than two months into that project the plug was pulled. The sales people had decided that since GI Joe didn’t have a current TV show, it wasn’t worth doing a game. This just goes to show you how the success of Pokemon has messed with people’s minds. Like GI Joe isn’t one of the best known brands in the world, current TV show or not. The GI Joe game had been scheduled to launch in the summer of 2001. In other words, in the wake of 9/11 there would have been a game in toy stores where a “real American hero” fought Cobra terrorists. Another missed opportunity.

So I left the company not having gotten to do either a Star Wars minis game or a World War II minis game. Naturally enough, WotC did a Star Wars game last year and now they are about to launch a WWII game (the Axis and Allies minis game). So either I was a man ahead of my time or I just had the worst goddamn luck.

Kate and the Bataan Death March

A month ago when we were at Origins, Nicole, Kate, and I were walking back to our hotel from the convention center. This was the day before the show started and it was quite hot outside. The walk, however, was only a few blocks. When we were about maybe 200 feet from the hotel, Kate said, “It’s so hot and I’m so tired.”

I replied, “Oh, come on Kate, we’re almost there. This is hardly the Bataan Death March.”

“The what?” said the Katester.

“You’ve never heard of the Bataan Death March?” I said with feigned surprise. “Don’t they teach you kids anything in school these days?

“Well, Kate let me tell you about the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in World War II…”

“Look!” Kate exclaimed before I could get into lecture mode, “There’s Miranda!” The Jones family had just pulled up at the hotel and Kate had seen Miranda, Spike’s daughter and Kate’s convention pal of many years.

“But Kate,” I joked, “I haven’t finished telling you about the Bataan Death March yet!” She, of course, ignored me and the two girls ran off to play.

Flash forward to this morning. I had woken up at 4:30 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. As I was thinking about a design problem anyway, I just got up and spent the next couple of hours writing in my office. Then I went downstairs to have some breakfast and flipped on the TV. One of the History Channels was running a WWII documentary (a shocker, I know). The topic: the Bataan Death March.

Part way through Kate comes downstairs. “Kate, you’re just in time. Now you can finally learn about the Bataan Death March!”

Can you believe a 9 year old girl didn’t want to watch a war atrocity documentary at 8 in the morning? Kids today.

Golf Club Update

Yesterday Nicole turned into my very own PI. She looked up all the Kesslers in Seattle. When none of them turned out to live near us, she started calling each in turn and asking after Fay Kessler. She eventually tracked down the right guy. He turned out to be in his 80s and his car had been stolen with the golf clubs inside. Suddenly the road flares made a lot of sense. His car was insured, but of course the golf clubs were not. We gave him the case number so he could call the police and then he came by and picked up the golf clubs from Nik while I was downtown at the post office (mailing, amongst other things, a package to a certain freelancer in Australia).

Now the question is whether or not the kids in the alley boosted the car, or did they maybe find it ditched somewhere and loot the trunk? But hey, the mystery is at least partially solved and Mr. Kessler was very happy to get his golf clubs back. We think it likely they belonged to his late wife, so they probably have sentimental value.

If you’d like to hire Nicole Lindroos, PI, our rates are very reasonable. She’s also a helluva cook.

Golf Clubs and Arson

Yesterday afternoon I was working in my office and I had the window open because it was damn hot. As I was trying to write, I started to hear an irregular thumping sound coming from the alley behind my house. I went into the yard and looked through the fence. Several teenagers were in the alley, though one was already taking off when I got there. One of the others was standing at the neighbor’s fence but his back was to me so I couldn’t see what he was doing. He then jumps back and starts freaking out and I soon see why: genius has lit the fence on fire. Now my neighbors had lined their fence with a lattice of sticks (either for aesthetic reasons or to keep out cats, I’m not sure which). These sticks had been baking in the sun all summer long and they were bone dry, so they went up in flames instantly. I walk up to the alley and the kid who started the fire sees me and says, “I really need a cup of water!”

I go to my yard, find a bucket, and fill it up a third of the way as the kid continues to freak out. I hand him the bucket and then I try to get my garden hose out to the alley so I can spray the fire directly. The neighbor kid Mark comes around from the other side with his hose and we get the fire out before the whole fence goes up. As we’re doing so, the kids who had been in the alley to begin with all take off.

I now have a chance to take in the scene. There are two road flares burning next to my neighbor’s garage, the remnants of an old first aid kit are scattered in the alley, and a set of golf clubs stands there incongruously. What the hell? Then I notice there are golf balls at the end of the alley, clustered around our old car (the one that’s been broken down for a year and a half). Looking closer, I see the car has some new dents in. The thumps I heard in my office were the sounds of golf balls impacting on our car. Fantastic! Amazingly, they somehow managed to avoid hitting the windows.

Mark says he doesn’t know the hooligans, but I’m a bit dubious about that. I take the golf clubs as evidence and bring them into my house. I then call “Action Force One”, the neighborhood rent-a-cops whose name sounds like a bad Saturday Morning Cartoon. I explain what happened and the operator asks me if the fence was damaged. I say, “Well yeah, it was on fire.” She replies, “Gee, I guess that was a stupid question.” I can only agree. The operator says they’ll send someone by and then advises me to call the actual cops, which I do. They are very busy and can’t send anyone by for at least an hour.

Twenty minutes later Action Force One (“Now with Super Sloth!”) shows up at the door. I show them the alley and explain what happened. They are entirely clueless and soon depart. An hour later the cops show up. I tell them the story and give them my theory. Basically, that these teenage kids got into someone’s garage and stole the road flares and golf clubs. They then took them out to have some fun. The cops ask me some questions and take some notes. I tell them I have the golf clubs if they want to see them but they are not interested at first. I say, “Well, they do have tags on them, so I thought you might want to look at them.”

“Tags?” the friendlier cop says.

“Yes, like name tags. They say the clubs belong to a Fay Kessler.” I guess I’ve just watched way too many cop shows, but I thought this would be useful info for them.

One cop agrees to come in to look the golf clubs over. Then he says, “Well, we could take these with us, but they’d probably just sit at the station until they were eventually auctioned off. Or you could keep them here, in case someone shows up.”

Since they apparently had no interest in tracking down the owner I opted to keep them. I’m going to see if I can find a family by that name in the neighborhood. In the meantime, there are golf clubs in my house, which I can assure you is a first.

So late this afternoon I had to go downtown to FedEx some proofs back to the printer. While I was gone, Nicole and Kate got home from their trip to TN. I got a call from Nicole soon after. She had two questions. Where was I and why the hell were there golf clubs in the kitchen?